The next chapter in Ward 22’s political history will begin with today’s special aldermanic election, capping off a race that has seen its share of fireworks and controversy.
As far as aldermanic races go, the campaign for the seat vacated by former Ward 22 Alderman Rev. Drew King — who resigned under a cloud of scandal after being arrested for assault — has been a doozy. With four candidates, acrimonious debates, threats of lawsuits and allegations of corruption, the Dixwell election has not been without drama.
But interviews with over 20 students in the Timothy Dwight dining hall showed that despite the efforts made by campus groups such as the Yale College Democrats to reach out to Yale students, most still appear uninterested in the race.
These students are a group that, as Eric Kafka ‘08, president of the Dems, said, are often just not that interested in the ward — a largely black neighborhood that has seen a spike in youth violence and a dearth of job opportunities.
Most of the students interviewed said they were not going to vote in today’s special election, and many had only heard about the election from one or two emails they had received.
“I think it’s more important to vote at home,” said Rita Alway ’09, a thought echoed by many other students.
Eating in TD, Sylvia Bingham ’09 said that while she had met one of the candidates — Greg Morehead, who has been endorsed by the Dems, New Haven Action Fund, and even Mayor John DeStefano — she thinks the Board of Aldermen is irrelevant.
“Greg Morehead came to my room two or three weeks ago,” she said. “But I don’t really care that much. I’m not really sure what local politics can achieve here.”
Danny Hakim ’10 said he only found out about the race because his suitemate was “pushing” for Morehead. He said he would vote for Morehead if he could fit voting into his otherwise busy schedule.
“He seems like a young, bright energetic guy,” he said. “That’s good enough for me.”
Out of all the students interviewed, only one mentioned Morehead’s opponent and most vocal critic: Cordelia Thorpe. Thorpe, along with fellow candidates Reggie Lytle and Lisa Hopkins, have contended that the political forces on campus have unfairly shut them out, while allowing Morehead unfair access. Morehead was the only one who campaigned on campus, and Lytle told the News last week that no other candidate had even been allowed inside, a charge Kafka denied.
But Whitney Haring-Smith ’07 — a member of New Haven Action Fund— said that “access runs both ways” and that other candidates could have made more of an effort to reach out to students.
“To the extent that there has been a difference of access, it’s due to the difference in their drive to engage students,” he said.
The race has pitted Thorpe, a Ward 22 Democratic Committee co-chair who lost the last aldermanic race to King in 2005, against three political upstarts. While all of the candidates agree that Dixwell is in desperate need of more youth services and businesses, Thorpe has focused on eradicating poverty and has dubbed DeStefano the ruler of a corrupt political machine. She has also accused the Susie Voigt, chairwoman of the Democratic Town committee, of using illegal methods to select Morehead for its endorsement.
Though not as vocal in his opposition to Thorpe, Morehead, a motivational speaker and sometimes-drummer for Ludacris, has pushed back some — going so far as to accuse Thorpe of slander at one point. But he has also called for unity in the ward.
Lytle and Hopkins have focused on their community roots; he is a football coach, she is a block president. Hopkins wants to make the Stetson Library the focus of the community, in contrast to the other candidates, who have called for the Q House community center to be reopened.
Kafka, a strong Morehead supporter, said he is glad the candidates have focused on youth services.
“I’m so glad youth services has been a priority,” he said. “We need to be building new youth services and focusing on small business development.”
The Dems have organized shuttles from Yale to the polling place, at Wexler-Grant School on 55 Foote St., every 20 minutes. Kafka said even though yesterday’s downpour will continue, he hopes the turnout to be high.
Those shuttles could prove to be a factor influencing the levels of voter participation in one of the most heavily contested elections in recent memory — an election that Yale students could play a major role in determining. Hakim said the shuttles might spur him into participation.
“If there’s a car ready to take you, I could probably make the effort,” he said.