In an election that drew a record number of voters, independent candidate Nick Shalek ’05 defeated sitting Democratic Ward 1 Alderwoman Rebecca Livengood ’07 Tuesday.
Shalek received 432 votes to Livengood’s 375, according to official returns. This year, 44 percent of the electorate turned out to the polls, compared with a 26 percent turnout for 2003’s aldermanic race.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. was also re-elected to his seventh term Tuesday with 77 percent of the vote. In his victory speech, DeStefano pledged to work toward a resolution of the controversy over unionization at the proposed Yale-New Haven Cancer Center and said he would remain focused on New Haven throughout his race for Connecticut governor.
Shalek and Ward 18 Alderwoman Arlene DePino, a Republican, were the only non-Democratic winners in New Haven’s 30 aldermanic wards.
Shalek’s victory marks the first time in over a decade that an independent challenger has defeated a candidate who received the Ward 1 Democratic Committee’s endorsement. Although Shalek ran as an independent, he identifies himself as a moderate Democrat. Brett Edkins ’06, Shalek’s campaign manager, said Shalek only ran as an independent due to the difficulty of challenging Livengood in the Democratic primary, which would have taken place two weeks after the beginning of the school year.
Shalek said his priorities as alderman will include working to encourage increased economic development in New Haven, as well as encouraging a speedy resolution of the controversy delaying construction of the Yale-New Haven Hospital Cancer Center. He said he does not yet know which candidate he will support in January’s election for president of the Board of Aldermen, in which current President Jorge Perez will be challenged by Alderman Carl Goldfield.
Turnout in the Ward 1 election was high compared both to past election cycles and to turnout across the city as a whole. From a total electorate of 1,855, 807 voters cast their ballots, a 44 percent turnout. According to mayoral spokesman Derek Slap, citywide turnout was approximately 25 percent. Only 447 voters cast ballots in the 2003 Ward 1 aldermanic race, when incumbent Democrat Ben Healey ’04 defeated independent challenger Dan Kruger ’04.
Shalek said he was particularly proud of his campaign’s success in mobilizing first-time voters.
“I think we gave a lot of Yale students a chance to weigh in on New Haven issues, and we reached across the political spectrum and across campus activities,” he said. “While the issues didn’t always shine through in the race, in the end we got out enough people to vote who understood the issues and cared enough to vote.”
Livengood, who had been endorsed by the Yale College Democrats and was supported by City Hall, said she was disappointed by the results, but she was proud of the high turnout and looked forward to continuing her work on local progressive causes, including expanding the living wage and increasing clean energy use.
“Nick has said that he and I have a lot of the same interests and values, and I hope that he’ll represent them on the board,” she said. “Nick did a good job of turning out people that he knew, and I don’t think that it was any failing on our campaign. Something we can all be proud of is the really high voter turnout that is higher than any voter turnout in an aldermanic election in recent years.”
City officials and volunteers on each side attributed the high turnout to particularly intensive canvassing efforts by both campaigns.
“That’s a heck of a turnout,” DeStefano said. “It shows real vibrant interest in the city, and that’s a good thing.”
Livengood’s campaign knocked on every door in Ward 1 to register and canvass voters, while Shalek’s campaign reached out through networks of friends in their efforts to engage voters. Edkins said Shalek’s campaign deliberately departed from the norms of canvassing in choosing not to go door-to-door.
“We basically realized that there’s two ways to convince a voter: There’s banging on their door … or talking to friends, and with friends, you can really engage with them on the issues,” Edkins said. “[Livengood's campaign] depended on typical voter outreach efforts like putting out signs, canvassing, phone banking … but that kind of politics is extremely impersonal, and so on a local level we thought we’d try something different.”
In an effort to boost turnout, Shalek’s campaign provided transportation to the polls for roughly 80 athletes who had been practicing on the fields, Edkins said.
Dan Weeks ’06, who challenged Livengood last spring for the Democratic endorsement, said new voters played a crucial role in determining the outcome of the election.
“Just from looking at the voter rolls, many voters were added, which I think is great, and I sincerely hope that those who turned out today will continue … contributing to New Haven,” he said.
Although heavy canvassing efforts contributed to the high turnout, some students said they were bothered by how frequently representatives, especially from Livengood’s campaign, contacted them.
“One particular candidate got in touch with me so much that it turned me off,” Marjorie DeWitt ’09 said of Livengood’s campaign. “My two suitemates were going to vote for Rebecca, but over the course of the past two days, they changed their minds.”
In addition to knocking on doors throughout the semester, Livengood’s campaign went through Ward 1 voter rolls and called students throughout election day to urge them to vote, Amanda Elbogen ’07, her campaign manager, said.
“When it got down to the wire, both campaigns knocked on every door and tried to turn out their voters,” Alissa Stollwerk ’06, president of the Yale College Democrats, said. “Nick did a fantastic job of reaching out. I’m sure there were people he registered here who weren’t active before, and I think that’s great.”