Despite minority status in city, GOP tries to stay alive

Elephants may not be native to New Haven, but a few are working to grow their population.

This election season, Republicans will appear on ballots for only three local races — two for aldermanic seats and one for mayor. Republican leaders and candidates said they have been trying to become more prominent in New Haven — where 4.3 percent of registered voters were Republicans in 2006 — by appealing to young and unaffiliated voters in the hopes of promoting the minority voice.

But some of the city’s Republican residents, like Chi Te Chen, said they are turned off from the party because of its small ranks — which inevitably results in a vicious cycle.

“I believe Republicans aren’t active in New Haven because they know this isn’t a winnable town for them,” he said.

Other local Republicans — some interviewed at a Ron Paul rally on the New Haven Green over the weekend — said before local leaders can strengthen the party, New Haven Republicans need to win back members who have lost faith in them.

Ward 18 Alderwoman Arlene DePino — who is the only Republican on the Board of Aldermen and is currently running against a Democrat for her fourth term — said having more Republicans in the local government would bring much-needed diversity and a “better system of checks and balances” to what is essentially a single-party government.

DePino said she supports the Republican candidates trying to make their mark in the community by reaching out to unaffiliated residents.

Republican candidates and leaders said New Haven residents are unwilling to vote Republican in local elections because their negative views of the national party affect their views of the local party — which DePino said do not operate the same way.

“People have to look at the party on the local level and the ideas [candidates] share, how hard we work, how active we are in the neighborhood and city,” DePino said. “In the local level, it’s a whole new ballgame, and people have to understand it’s different.”

Still, Republican Town Committee Chairman H. Richter Elser ’81 — who is currently running for mayor against incumbent Democrat John Destefano Jr. — said it is often more difficult and more important to have Republican candidates than to have registered Republican voters. He said he plans to enlist more Republican candidates through the RTC by identifying and recruiting new Republicans to run for aldermanic spots.

In 2006, only 21.4 percent of New Haven residents voted in elections, according to the Connecticut State Register & Manual.

The manual indicates that 22 percent of residents are between the ages of 18 and 24. These young people move into New Haven with an “open mind” and make up the majority of the 27.7 percent of registered voters who are unaffiliated, DePino said.

Greenwich RTC Chairman John Raben ’67 said he thinks the people who register as unaffiliated are sympathetic to Republican values because Democrats are such a majority that there is “no incentive not to register as Democrat” if the person is sympathetic to that party.

Despite the small Republican numbers in New Haven, both Republican and some Democratic politicians interviewed said people should appreciate the presence of such a party in politics.

“Regardless of your party affiliation … give a silent thank you [to minority parties] for being able to give competition to the majority party and being able to give citizens an alternative,” Raben said. “A competitive two-party system allows the government to keep the best interest of the voters.”

But Ward 25 Alderwoman Ina Silverman — who is campaigning to defend her seat against Republican Tom Malone — said a variety of opinions already exists within the largely Democratic Board of Aldermen.

“I think the reality is that the board has many factions, so we do have a multi-party system, or at least the benefits of one,” she said. “We all hold each other to the various standards. We all don’t agree on everything — it would be easier if we did, but we don’t, [which] serves the purpose of having these different ideas presented.”

In 2005, 554 registered Republicans voted in the general elections as “perfect voters” — those who voted in all four levels of elections they could participate in that year, Elser said.

The New Haven RTC will hold a town hall meeting on Nov. 1, five days before candidates for the Board of Aldermen and mayor face the voters on Election Day.

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