In a dramatic seven-hour convention Sunday, the Democratic Ward 1 Committee endorsed Ben Healey ’04 as its nominee for alderman, following the unexpected withdrawal of Anne Leone ’03 and the withdrawal and reemergence of Lex Paulson ’02.
In a run-off election, Healey defeated Paulson 23-15, with four abstentions and one vote for Michael Montano ’03, who was technically eliminated in the first round of voting. In the first round, Paulson received 17 votes, Healey 13, and Montano 10, with two abstentions.
“I’m excited,” Healey said. “Everything I said I needed to learn, I look forward to learning.”
Montano and Paulson were both quiet in defeat, congratulating Healey but giving no further reaction. Neither would comment on whether he will seek to enter a September primary election against Healey by gathering signatures.
Many thought the chances of Healey, the lone freshman in the race, were weakened by his inexperience in New Haven. Throughout the meeting Sunday, he admitted that he did not know about issues, often answering questions by saying he had a lot to learn.
Committee member Jacob Remes ’02 said Healey’s willingness to learn was a positive attribute.
“I think that he has shown a tremendous capacity to learn about New Haven,” Remes said. “I have very high hopes for him.”
Healey was chosen under a run-off system reinstated by the committee after it was abandoned a week ago.
Members of the committee, which originally included 48 students, outgoing alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99 and co-chairmen Bruce Blair and Frederick Streets, were critical of aspects of the endorsement process last week, and a group of students had even discussed a possible walk-out. That walkout failed to materialize, but the committee was presented with a few surprises nonetheless.
Paulson withdrew from the endorsement process on the eve of the convention, a fact many in the committee knew as they convened the a Law School amphitheater on Sunday afternoon.
During opening statements, Leone announced she would withdraw too, saying she was not ready to bear the responsibility of alderman.
After committee member Samantha Jay ’02 read a letter from Paulson confirming his withdrawal, the committee expected a debate involving only Montano and Healey, although Rory Neuner ’03 officially nominated Paulson despite his withdrawal.
Less than an hour after Montano and Healey began answering questions, Paulson entered the room. Anika Singh ’01 moved that Paulson be included in the process and given a chance to give an opening statement, and the committee approved the motion 23-16. An animated Gonzalez voted in favor of the motion.
Paulson told the committee he withdrew because of concerns he had about the fairness of the process, adding later that Neuner’s renomination of him restored his confidence in the ability of the committee to act independently. He fully participated in the rest of the meeting.
While Montano avoided criticizing Paulson, Healey did not.
“If Lex wanted the endorsement, he should not have withdrawn from the endorsement process,” Healey said.
The majority of the meeting was taken up by questions from the committee. The first stage of the process consisted of questions formulated by a volunteer subcommittee, which the candidates answered using a “Jeopardy!” format. In the latter stage, individual committee members asked questions either to individual candidates or to all three.
Questions covered a variety of city issues, including homelessness, labor, housing and voter registration. Committee members also addressed the character and problem-solving abilities of the three candidates.
While there were a few procedural lapses, the meeting ran quite smoothly under the guidance of Streets and Blair — a marked change from last week’s sometimes-chaotic preliminary meeting.
The last few hours of the meeting were devoted to deliberations, which were closed to the public and to the press. Twice during deliberations, Liana Chang ’02 emerged in tears. She left before the voting was completed. She said she felt tokenized as one of the few Asian-Americans on the committee, adding that she thought she should have received more information about the endorsement process and the issues facing New Haven.
Abigail Levine ’02 said that due to events occurring during deliberations, including the complaints of Chang, she volunteered to head a group which will review the endorsement process.
Rob Smuts ’01, who was heavily involved in developing the endorsement process, said he agreed with Chang that committee members were not provided with enough information, and took full responsibility.
“While my senior essay advisor will probably give me a hard time for the amount of time I spent on this process, by any measure I should have spent a lot more time,” Smuts said.
Outgoing alderman Gonzalez said he thought the deliberation process went fairly smoothly and expressed his confidence in Healey.