Seven months after one of the most divisive elections in city history, New Haven Democrats elected veteran political organizer Suzie Voigt as their new chairwoman Monday night, paving the way for what some hope will be a thorough healing process.
Voigt’s convincing 44-12 victory over Deputy City Clerk Sally Brown represents a symbolic triumph for New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who has backed Voigt to lead the Democratic Town Committee since the party suffered a deep split last year.
During the contentious Democratic primary race last fall, outgoing party chairman Nick Balletto withdrew his support for DeStefano, a five-term incumbent, and threw his weight behind state Sen. Martin Looney.
In casting his lot with DeStefano’s challenger, Balletto broke ranks with the rest of the 60-member Town Committee — a move that brought to the surface several years of tensions within the powerful party. Democrats outnumber Republicans 13-to-1 in New Haven, meaning the Town Committee makes almost all important political decisions in the city.
DeStefano said he is confident Voigt’s abilities will enable her to lead the oft-divided organization.
“It was clear after the primary that there was going to be a change in party leadership,” DeStefano said. “I think [Voigt’s win] is just an extension of the change that’s occurring.”
Voigt, a business manager at Yale’s Peabody Museum and a charter member of Yale labor union Local 34, said she hopes to lead a more unified party.
“I want to use our collective power as Connecticut’s largest Democratic organization,” Voigt said, speaking before the crowd of about 150. “If this means we have to get into vans to lobby in Hartford or we have to rally on the [New Haven] Green, we’ll do it.”
After calling the meeting to order and presiding over the election, a balding Balletto jokingly warned Voigt that he had a full head of hair when he took the position six years ago.
Balletto’s joke earned several laughs, but his light-hearted commentary did to a great extent belie the true nature of the post.
“It’s great to hand over the Town Committee to such competent leaders,” Balletto said. “But I think they’ll have difficulties. There are factions. There’s healing and there’s mending.”
Despite being pleased with the results of the election, DeStefano warned that the healing process will be a long one.
“Tonight’s not the end,” he said. “It’s just the beginning.”
Voigt promised to use her new post to examine the party’s finances and operating structure. She also pledged she would lead new grass-roots efforts aimed at reaching members of New Haven’s neighborhoods.
The 60 ward co-chairs, who run the party’s operations in each of the city’s 30 wards, also elected Norma Rodriguez-Reyes and John Cox to serve as Town Committee vice-chairs.