While Connecticut’s gubernatorial and Senate elections captured most of New Haven’s attention Tuesday, city residents in three wards chose new representatives to fill vacant seats on the Board of Aldermen.
For the city’s only contested seat, Democrat Erin Sturgis-Pascale topped independent candidate Evelyn DeJesus-Vargas by over 100 votes to win in Ward 14, capping a month of fierce campaigning in Fair Haven, a predominately Hispanic neighborhood east of downtown. Democrats Roland Lemar of East Rock and Beaver Hills’ Moti Sandman won uncontested elections in the Wards 9 and 28, respectively.
Tuesday’s special elections, which precede next fall’s city-wide aldermanic vote, fill three seats vacated after a flurry of resignations earlier this fall. Ward 28 Alderwoman Barbara Rawls-Ivy resigned in September after pleading guilty to embezzling almost $50,000 from a local non-profit, while Ward 14 Alderman Joe Jolly gave up his seat to attend Cornell Law School. Ward 9 Alderwoman Elizabeth Addonizio GRD ’09, who represented many Yale graduate students and professors in East Rock, stepped down to care for an ill relative.
“I had six short weeks to get out and talk to people, and I was really working from a base of community activism,” Sturgis-Pascale said Tuesday night. “I really knew a lot of people in our community, and those ties I had with so many people came together really well.”
The contest in Ward 14 followed a month of aggressive canvassing, even though the Republican and Green parties failed to run candidates. Sturgis-Pascale won the Democratic nomination over DeJesus-Vargas by a 26-11 vote of the Ward 14 Democratic Committee last month, but DeJesus-Vargas opted to challenge Sturgis-Pascale again in the general election, this time as a petitioning candidate.
DeJesus-Vargas — who lost to Jolly in the Democratic primary for the Ward 14 seat last year — filed a lawsuit this month in New Haven Superior Court over the legality of the ward committee’s vote, but her case was dismissed Monday on a technicality. DeJesus-Vargas could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez, chairman of the Board of Aldermen’s Black and Hispanic Caucus, said the controversy over the Democratic ward committee’s nominating process could have been avoided if the city had updated its nomination rules in special elections.
Perez, who supported DeJesus-Vargas in the race, said Sturgis-Pascale won because she ran on the Democratic ticket.
“I had no doubt in my mind that Evelyn would get 75 to 100 votes more as the endorsed candidate,” he said Tuesday night. “People just couldn’t find [DeJesus-Vargas].”
The two candidates did not differ significantly on the issues, Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Susan Voight said, and would both bring to the Board a strong dedication to their community. But Voight said Sturgis-Pascale’s commitment to change — especially with regard to traffic and pedestrian safety, her top issue — made her the stronger candidate.
Monday’s court ruling was only the most recent escalation in the heated month-long campaign. Both DeJesus-Vargas and Sturgis-Pascale have sparred through the local press, complaining of stolen lawn signs and making accusations over race and language to the New Haven Independent.
DeJesus-Vargas, who is of Hispanic descent, told the New Haven Independent that Sturgis-Pascale would not be able to effectively represent the Ward 14 because she does not speak Spanish, while Sturgis-Pascale accused DeJesus-Vargas of making race too much of an issue in the campaign. After the election Tuesday, Sturgis-Pascale said she would make an effort to learn Spanish.