City voters reject charter reform

New Haven voters narrowly defeated a city charter referendum on Tuesday that would have extended the terms of the mayor, the Board of Aldermen, and the city clerk from two to four years.

Residents rejected the proposed changes by a vote of 6,405 to 6,158. The referendum would also have provided for special mayoral elections in the event of vacancies, given the mayor express authority to issue executive orders, and changed the system of appointments and promotions within the civil service.

A 15-member Charter Revision Commission proposed the changes in April. The Board of Aldermen must appoint a new commission to review the city charter at least every 10 years. After Tuesday’s vote, however, the language of the charter will remain unchanged.

Ward 3 Alderman Juan Candelaria said he was disappointed that the extended term for aldermen was not implemented.

“I think that four years would have been good because [the aldermen] wouldn’t always be worried about the next campaign,” Candelaria said.

Ward 7 Alderwoman Dolores Colon said the revisions to the charter would have had been a positive step for local government.

“I thought it would be a good way to stabilize the politics in this town,” Colon said. “But it seems the people disagreed.”

Although she approved of the referendum herself, Ward 1 Democratic co-chairwoman Shonu Gandhi ’03, said some voters may have thought the four-year term for aldermen was excessive.

“I think that when you have 30 aldermen for a city the size of New Haven, people want the aldermen to be responsive to them,” Gandhi said.

Gandhi is a staff columnist for the Yale Daily News.

Defending city voters’ rejection of the measure, Ward 21 Alderman Willie Greene said he believed the shorter term is crucial to local government.

“I think we need to go back to the voters every two years to be accountable to them,” Greene said.

New Haven’s police and fire unions also opposed the referendum. They objected to proposed changes that would have required all police and fire chiefs to have bachelor’s degrees and would have included candidates from other cities in the selection of new fire chiefs. The firefighter’s union posted signs around polling places saying, “Save Your New Haven Firefighters –Vote No on Charter Changes.”

The format of the referendum also stirred up controversy. “Shall the proposed changes to the city charter be approved?” was the only question voters were asked on the ballot. They could not vote on individual proposals.

“Some of the aldermen thought [separate questions] would be too time-consuming,” Colon said.

But some aldermen expressed regret that voters were unable to select which reforms they wanted.

“It was a very deceitful way to try to get that passed,” Greene said. “They really underestimated the voters in New Haven.”

Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01 had encouraged her constituents to vote against the referendum.

“I think it was an insult to the voters to think they would not be educated enough to vote on each proposal,” Chen said. “Unfortunately, none of [the proposals] are going to take place because it was put in one package.”

Chen also objected to the process of constructing the referendum.

“Many of the proposals weren’t even considered,” Chen said. “The charter changes that were recommended did not reflect what the public wanted.”

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