The Ward 1 Democratic endorsement race — a revamped process designed to attract a larger field of candidates — saw its premature end Sunday night when the committee’s co-chairs announced the election’s cancellation and the party’s official endorsement of Rachel Plattus ’09, the only candidate who filed to run.
The committee’s endorsement of Plattus came after a weekend in which some speculated that Nick Shalek ’05 — who announced last Wednesday that he would not seek the Democratic Party’s endorsement — might relocate to a different ward for the 2007 election. Some said such a move could introduce a new dynamic to the relationship between New Haven and Yale on the board, but Shalek denied that he has any intention to make the move.
Ward 1 co-chair Cynthia Okechukwu ’08, who up until Sunday had not yet endorsed a candidate, said she will fully back Plattus along with her co-chair, Hugh Baran ’09. They both said Plattus, as a student interested in engaging the undergraduate population, is the ideal candidate for Ward 1.
“We are so glad that Rachel has taken the purpose of this process seriously and has been running a campaign designed to do exactly what we hoped holding this election would do,” she said. “Rachel has carried out the logical end of this process by running a campaign centered around increasing student involvement in the city of New Haven.”
In a somewhat ironic twist of events, the Democratic Committee’s endorsement for alderman actually came two months earlier this year than in past years. The new rules, which were expected to extend campaigning and shift the burden of endorsement from Ward 1 leaders to the voters, in effect had the reverse outcome. But Plattus’ campaign will not stop, though her candidacy is uncontested. She plans to hold more discussion events to engage students in the city.
“It’s exciting to be endorsed Democratic candidate, but I do still think it’s disappointing that more people didn’t take advantage of the new process,” Plattus said. “I will continue to work hard to promote dialogue about the important issues,” which she said may include homelessness, the environment and any other topics students are interested in talking about.
Shalek said he was surprised to hear that the co-chairs were endorsing Plattus and a “little upset” that they had not called him in advance to tell him.
“I’m disappointed that more candidates didn’t emerge this time but am thankful for the work of the co-chairs and others who have helped lay the groundwork for a fairer and more democratic nomination process,” said Shalek, who won the 2005 election as an independent with a campaign calling for increased student participation in the election process.
But in recent weeks it became clear that Shalek lacked a wide base of student support on campus, a factor — in addition to lack of time to campaign — that may have informed his decision not to seek the Ward 1 endorsement, which some said would have been a long shot. In interviews with more than two dozen students last week, as well as interviews with some of Shalek’s friends and past advisers, it seemed unlikely that Shalek would have the same support he had in 2005 to edge out Plattus for the endorsement.
That is why, some said, Shalek may elect to move to a new ward, such as Ward 22, for the 2007 election. The current Ward 22 alderman, Rev. Drew King, will almost certainly not run for re-election. After several recent brushes with the law have led some aldermen and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. to express distrust in King’s ability to carry out the remainder of his term, let alone run for reelection. The only declared Ward 22 candidate is Ward 22 co-chair Cordelia Thorpe, who has lost in past elections in part due to what she called her difficulty reaching Yale students without feeling as if she were an intruder on the Yale campus.
But at this point, Shalek says such plans are not in his future.
“People on campus who feel the Ward 1 alder should be a student have approached me about running in a different ward, but I have no intention of doing so,” Shalek said.
Whitney Haring-Smith ’07 said Shalek’s running in a different ward would be ideal because he said students deserve an alderman who is a student — Plattus — and the city deserves an alderman who is particularly astute in tackling New Haven policies behind closed doors. Shalek’s colleagues said his greatest strengths are working behind the scenes to tweak city economic policies and to promote city development.
What was once considered to be a potential contest between Shalek and Plattus, which would likely have turned on each candidate’s differing conception of the role of the alderman, may actually become a complementary relationship. Plattus’ campaign had no comment as to whether she would welcome a reciprocal interaction with Shalek if he decides to run in a different ward.
But all parties were in agreement that even if the Ward 1 endorsement election had not worked as planned in its infant year, it has paved the way for a new future for student-city relations.
“I know that what we set up here will be a model that will be carried through in the future of the ward,” said Jen James ’08, one of the now-canceled election’s supervisors.