Candidates spar over access

In campaigning for last spring’s special election and today’s Democratic primary, Ward 22 Alderman Gregory Morehead said he has knocked on more than 400 doors at Yale. Challenger Cordelia Thorpe said she has knocked on none — because Yale officials won’t let her on campus.

It is the University’s role in the Ward 22 election that has proven divisive between Morehead and his two challengers. While the first-term alderman has been a familiar face on campus, his opponents in the race said they have been practically banned from courting Yale voters.

Thorpe said Morehead’s base of support within Yale has given him a marked edge against her and Lisa Hopkins in today’s primary election, regardless of how voters might feel in Dixwell, where voter turnout is historically low. The city’s Democratic leaders arranged it that way, she says, in order to ensure that a candidate aligned with City Hall will be elected.

Morehead, meanwhile, has now completed four months in office, and has said much of wanting to “unify” his ward, which comprises a large swath of the depressed Dixwell neighborhood and four of Yale’s residential colleges — Silliman, Timothy Dwight, Ezra Stiles and Morse, in addition to Swing Space. Morehead attributes his success in attracting the Eli vote to the fact that few Ward 22 candidates have reached out to Yale students in the past.

But his opponents said the only reason Morehead has been more successful at courting Yale voters is because he is the only candidate who has been allowed on campus to campaign. Morehead has noted that in the springtime election, he knocked on more than 400 doors across campus, canvassing entryways with members of the Yale College Democrats. The Dems had endorsed his candidacy in the April special election. They do not endorse in primary elections.

Without the College Democrats’ endorsement last spring, Thorpe and fellow Democrats Hopkins and Reggie Lytle said they were left out in the cold, forbidden from campaigning within Yale’s walls and, in turn, left with no way to communicate their message to an important swath of the ward. Thorpe said she was reduced to standing outside the entrances to Yale’s residential colleges and hoping someone would let her inside, usually to no avail.

“I’d like to reach out to some students,” she said in an interview on Monday. “I tried, I got to the gate and I don’t know how to get in. I don’t have a key.”

Thorpe said she asked officials in the Office of New Haven and State Affairs if she could campaign on campus. “They said, ‘Absolutely not,’” she said.

In the entire campaign for today’s election, Thorpe said she has been permitted on campus for only one event — last week’s Ward 22 debate at the Afro-American Cultural Center, which Morehead and Hopkins also attended. Morehead, meanwhile, was a regular visitor to campus last spring and said he has been able to reconnect this fall with many of the students who supported him in the special election. Hopkins did not return a phone message on Monday.

By policy, the University does not take any action to allow or deny access for candidates to campaign on campus, said Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, the associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs. He said he was not aware of any candidate’s request to campaign on campus this fall.

“Yale and other universities do not institutionally participate in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office,” he said in an e-mail. “Individual students and student organizations, however, can and do.”

More than 100 Yale students voted in the April election — representing about a quarter of the total 439 votes cast — and most of them are believed to have gone for Morehead. But Morehead, who won by a more than 2-to-1 margin, has noted that even without any Yale votes, he still would have won the election by a sizable margin.

Morehead is expected to win today’s election, and with little Republican influence citywide, a primary victory on the Democratic ticket generally ensures a general election win. Still, Thorpe has vowed to run as a write-in candidate if she is defeated today.

With only one candidate for alderman in Ward 1, which comprises most of Yale, the attention of politically-minded Elis has focused on Ward 22 in the six months since former alderman Drew King resigned after being arrested on assault charges.

In Ward 22, though, the four colleges and Swing Space represent only about 10 percent of the total area of the ward, which is comprised primarily of the Dixwell neighborhood and Science Hill. Given that, some in the ward have questioned whether Yalies should even be exerting their political influence in a ward better defined by the relative poverty of the Dixwell neighborhood than the few scattered residential colleges within its boundaries.

Morehead said yes.

“It’s all about bringing everyone together,” he said. “The reason why I reached out to Yale in the first place — and I’ve been criticized for doing it — is [because] a lot of the students call New Haven home while they’re here. Why not reach out to them?”

Thorpe said she did not object to Yalies becoming involved in Ward 22. But she said students are, in effect, being used — that they are only being corralled to vote as a way for the city’s Democratic establishment to install Morehead, who is allied with City Hall, in the Ward 22 seat.

Morehead disagreed. Yale students “want to be involved, they want to work and have input in what goes on,” he said. “So why not include them?”

The polls in Ward 22 are open today from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Wexler/Grant Community School on Foote Street, about a half mile north of campus.

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