Tribunal to look at endorsement

A tribunal has been formed to determine the legality of the New Haven Democratic Party’s endorsement of Gregory Morehead for the Ward 22 election, a process that Cordelia Thorpe, Morehead’s main opponent in the election, formally protested last week and challenged again in New Haven County Court on Thursday.

Morehead, who was endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee last month, won the Ward 22 aldermanic election Tuesday. The tribunal — consisting of three members of the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee appointed by its executive director, Justin Kronholm — will meet Thursday, April 26 at the party’s headquarters in Hartford. Those involved, including Thorpe and Town Democratic Chairwoman Susie Voigt, will give testimony.

Residents demonstrate their support for Cordelia Thorpe on Election Day. Thorpe is disputing Gregory Morehead’s Ward 22 victory.
Ryan Galisewski
Residents demonstrate their support for Cordelia Thorpe on Election Day. Thorpe is disputing Gregory Morehead’s Ward 22 victory.

“[Mayor John] DeStefano and the city of New Haven have mafia-style politics, and I’m prayerful that justice will prevail,” Thorpe said, adding that she hopes to have the support of Yale students in her protest.

The tribunal was formed yesterday in response to complaints that Thorpe lodged last week, prior to the election. She also filed what she said was a 30-page complaint in court Thursday, asking a judge to void Morehead’s win because, she said, the election should have been postponed until after the tribunal met. If her motion is successful, a judge’s order could delay Morehead’s immediate induction onto the Board of Aldermen.

The question that will be presented before the tribunal is, at its core, about whether or not the Ward Democratic Committee must meet prior to the Town Committee in New Haven. In Morehead’s case, it did not, breaking with past precedent for endorsement elections.

State laws imply that the ward committee need not meet for an endorsement to be made, while New Haven party rules vest the endorsement power in the ward committee. Thorpe asserts that the state laws allow for city rules to take precedence and that the election must be overturned in order to avoid “disenfranchisement” of the ward.

But Voigt, who maintains that her understanding of the rules compelled her to call a meeting of the full town committee before the ward committee, said last week that she tried to follow relevant laws. At that meeting, she cast the tiebreaking vote, handing the town committee’s endorsement to Morehead. Voight did not seem worried by the possibility of the election being protested, which occurred for similar reasons in New Haven only last September in Ward 14.

“I work very hard to abide by state statutes and party rules, leaving time for these kinds of confusions and difficulties,” Voigt said. “I have faith that there’s a process to sort it out.”

The endorsement is important because it determines who occupies the top slot on the ballot and receives the financial and logistical support of the Yale College Democrats and the New Haven Democratic Party.

Morehead, who could not be reached for comment because he is on vacation after more than a month of virtually nonstop campaigning, has said that he would not let the protests distract him from his attempts to unify Ward 22.

The laws do not appear to provide a clear answer in the debate, although given Morehead’s sweeping victory and the fact that Kronholm — who gave Voigt some of the legal advice in the first place — appointed the tribunal, it is unlikely the election vote will be overturned.

What might be more likely is that the court declines to certify the election until after the tribunal releases its decision. But that would hardly make an impact: By law, it must pass down a verdict on the special election several days after meeting. That would mean Morehead would miss only one aldermanic meeting, for which the only item on the agenda as of Thursday was swearing in Morehead to his seat.

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