in an effort to maintain their two seats on the Board of Aldermen and perhaps even add to their caucus, New Haven Republicans are focusing their attention on four wards across the city in next month’s elections.
Facing fierce Democratic challenges in the two wards they currently control, Republicans decided earlier this year to only run candidates in a small number of wards where they felt they had the best chance of winning. As a result, the party decided not to challenge five-term incumbent Mayor John DeStefano Jr. or several of his allies on the Board of Aldermen.
Richter Elser ’81, who was elected chairman of the New Haven Republican Town Committee earlier this year, said the party was trying to create an electoral base in New Haven on which it could build.
“The goal is to take a look at what our resources are and running a few good candidates rather than focusing on getting a candidate in every single race,” Elser said. “We can do a better job marshalling our resources and start building the party.”
Republicans have historically faced an uphill battle for political power in the Elm City, where a Republican has not been elected mayor since 1951 and registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a ratio of about 13 to one. Two Republicans — Arlene DePino of Ward 18 and Nancy Ahern of Ward 25 — currently serve on the Board of Aldermen, along with two members of the Green Party and 26 Democrats.
But Elser, who ran against Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro in 2002 and plans to challenge her again next year, said he hopes Republicans can pose an alternative to “autocracy in City Hall.”
“The ideas of the mayor get promoted, oftentimes, at the expense of the individual neighborhoods,” Elser said. “Realistically, voters in New Haven need to be concerned with having absolute control centered in City Hall.”
Ahern, a six-term incumbent who is running against Democrat Ina Silverman ’80, said her constituents in Westville were better served by a Republican alderwoman. Ahern, who defeated a Democratic challenger by three votes two years ago, said her Republican affiliation gives her a louder voice on the Board as minority leader and a member of several important committees.
Ahern also said her experience and independence gave her an advantage over an opponent closely allied with DeStefano.
“I believe that the mayor would like to have 30 DeStefano Democrats on the Board of Aldermen,” Ahern said. “I don’t think that would be a good thing for New Haven or the 25th Ward.”
But Silverman said her opponent’s argument — that the Board of Aldermen would become toothless without Republican representation — was “fallacious.”
“While in some cities it makes sense to have minority representation because it is effective, in this city, it is silly, because the only thing a Republican can do on the Board of Aldermen is symbolic acts,” Silverman said.
New Haven Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Suzie Voigt said the claim that New Haven voters need Republican aldermen to be effectively represented in City Hall is inconsistent and untrue.
“I think people use this argument that we can’t have all Democrats only when it is convenient for them,” Voigt said. “These are the same folks who also say we should vote for the best possible candidates.”
In addition to Ahern, DePino is running for re-election against Susan Campion, while Joseph Vollano and Edmond Duenkel are trying to capture Democratic seats in Wards 8 and 13, respectively.
Elser said he hoped success in these four races can convince registered Independents and even Democrats that voters can join the Republican Party and still have a voice in New Haven politics.
“To rebuild the party, we have to do it taking steady steps,” Elser said. “We’re going to ultimately provide people a better choice by getting people out there who are articulate, who can express themselves and who can present themselves as a viable alternative.”