By Marcel Przymusinski
In some ways, not much has changed in Ward 1 in the past two years: In 2003, as now, an independent political newcomer emerged to challenge an endorsed Democratic incumbent.
The similarities go further: Like Daniel Kruger ’04, who ran against then-Alderman Ben Healey ’04 in 2003, Nick Shalek ’05 styles himself as a moderate alternative to a current officeholder closely associated with Yale’s unions. And like Kruger, Shalek may face tough questions about his employment for the University and his relative lack of experience in city politics.
But Shalek, who is running against newly appointed Alderwoman Rebecca Livengood ’07, hopes that the final outcome is different. In 2003, Healey handed Kruger a resounding defeat, raking in more than 75 percent of the vote.
Still, Healey had at least one advantage in 2003 that Livengood lacks: He ran as a two-year incumbent, while Livengood has been alderwoman for roughly one week.
“She’ll only be an incumbent in name,” Shalek campaign treasurer Geraldine Gassam ’07 said. “Mainly it’ll be an uphill battle because Nick entered the race late. In terms of name recognition, that’s where the uphill battle’s going to be, and we’re working on that.”
Shalek said name recognition is particularly important in his case because he is running as an independent candidate in a Democratic ward.
“Where Ben was seen solidly as the Democratic candidate, and Dan Kruger got tapped as more conservative, I think the key in this election is for people to understand that I consider myself more representative of many of the Democrats on campus than Rebecca is,” Shalek said. “I think while she’s very focused on supporting the unions and the people who are her base, like GESO and the UOC, I’m sort of focused on the democratic process and making sure that Yale students from all walks of life get involved in this campaign.”
Shalek’s comments mirror some of Kruger’s criticisms in his 2003 campaign, which began during a three-week strike by Yale’s unions. Kruger characterized himself as more critical of the unions’ tactics than Healey, arguing in one debate that the incumbent was “forming a division between town and gown that is not productive.” This year, Shalek has made the Yale-New Haven Hospital Cancer Center expansion one of his main priorities, suggesting that Livengood’s support for union organizers at the hospital risks endangering the project’s progress.
But Healey, who endorsed Livengood after she won the Ward 1 Democratic Committee’s endorsement in March, said he thinks there is an unfortunate tendency in Ward 1 to label candidates as being either union supporters or more on the side of the Yale administration.
“I think it’s a silly way of analyzing the race,” Healey said. “The more revealing way to think about the campaign is to look at how each candidate has chosen to use their time at Yale, by participating in student groups and New Haven groups.”
But Kruger said he thinks union issues play an important role in the ward’s politics.
“I think you really need to look very carefully at someone who’s running for office in New Haven … and figure out exactly where they stand. That’s especially true when you get to union issues,” Kruger said. “I think it would be better to have an elected official representing Yale who’s not in lockstep with the labor unions, just because it would be better to have an independent voice.”
Kruger was seen by some in the 2003 race as a Yale administration supporter because he held a position in Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs prior to running for alderman. Shalek is also a University employee, working at the Yale Investments Office, but he said his position is different because he works in a department that does not deal with New Haven issues and in which his coworkers see his political views as unrelated to the workplace.
Apart from policy differences, Healey said the Democratic Party label is valuable on the Board of Aldermen in gaining access to the powerful Democratic caucus — Democrats currently hold 29 of the Board’s 30 seats — but he and Kruger agreed that the label itself is not essential to winning the election. Kruger acknowledged that it’s “very, very hard to win” against an endorsed Democrat in Ward 1. But he cited political organizing as the primary advantage of the party’s endorsement.
“If I were to critique what I did two years ago, it’s that we didn’t come close to matching Ben Healey and the Democratic Party’s level of organization,” Kruger said.
But he said he was not discouraged by the vote in 2003; instead, he celebrated the municipal election’s relatively high turnout, with 531 votes cast among the ward’s 1,696 registered voters. While a 31.4 percent turnout rate may not sound high, it was more than double the number of people who voted for Healey in 2003, when the election was uncontested.
“When I ran, I viewed it as a win-win situation,” Kruger said. “You lose the race, you still win higher voter turnout; you win greater participation, you win debate.”
Healey said Livengood stands to benefit from the campaign organization and the contacts she developed while working to win the Ward 1 Democratic Committee endorsement in March. But ultimately, Healey said the small size of the ward means the election’s outcome is likely to depend on each candidate’s door-to-door reach-out efforts.
Livengood, whose campaign kicked off its voter registration effort on Old Campus this week with the goal of registering 200 new voters in Ward 1, said she remembers the excitement of canvassing for Healey’s 2003 campaign as a freshman.
“I think it’s great that we have 30 alders in this city, though I know a lot of people think it’s a little unwieldy,” Livengood said. “Every alder can talk to every constituent.”
In order to reach out to untapped groups of potential voters, the Shalek campaign is focusing on voter registration, having appointed liaisons in each residential college in charge of registering a specified number of voters and offering a feature on Shalek’s Web site that allows people to sign up to have registration forms personally delivered to their dorms by a campaign staffer.