A tale of two wards

Kate Bowden ’11 said she wanted to run for the Ward 1 seat on the Board of Aldermen. She had a platform, a campaign manager and a heartfelt desire to help bring about change in the Elm City.

But there was just one problem: Bowden does not live in Ward 1. She lives in Timothy Dwight College, which is part of the neighboring Ward 22.

The Yale campus spans several aldermanic wards. While Ward 1 includes most Yale undergraduates, students in Timothy Dwight, Silliman, Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges belong to Ward 22. Under the current district lines, future Elis residing in the proposed new colleges would fall in Ward 22.
The Yale campus spans several aldermanic wards. While Ward 1 includes most Yale undergraduates, students in Timothy Dwight, Silliman, Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges belong to Ward 22. Under the current district lines, future Elis residing in the proposed new colleges would fall in Ward 22.

“The whole process was very disheartening,” Bowden said. “It’s disheartening because I thought that serving my community as an alderwoman was a good goal.”

Because of the mandates set by the city’s charter, each of New Haven’s 30 wards encompasses about 4,100 people, and Yale College, with its 5,310 undergraduates, is too big to fit in one ward. Because of this, Timothy Dwight, Silliman, Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges, along with Swing Space, sit in a separate ward.

That leaves approximately one-third of Yale students unrepresented by the Ward 1 alderman, even though city officials widely consider Ward 1 the “Yale Ward.” And with the two new residential colleges slated for eventual construction on Prospect Street — additions that would bring 850 new students to an area currently within Ward 22 — the ward dynamic hangs in the balance.

New Haven Democratic Committee Co-Chair Susie Voigt maintained that ward boundaries should not be reconfigured solely to benefit Yale students. She added that undergraduates should feel lucky that they are represented in not just one, but two, wards.

“Yale should feel that it’s getting more, rather than getting less,” Voigt said.

TOSSING AROUND BORDERS

Bowden said she cannot live off campus next year because Ward 1 off-campus housing would be too expensive for her to afford. And when she approached the masters of all eight residential colleges in Ward 1 last week, asking to transfer into their colleges, she was turned down by all: An aldermanic campaign is not a compelling reason to change colleges, she said they told her.

New Haven ward boundaries are readjusted every 10 years, pending data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The year after the census occurs, officials establish the districts for state legislators. Only after the establishment of state congressional districts can ward districts be adjusted to best coincide with state legislative districts.

As mandated by the city’s charter, wards must be designed to create 30 districts of roughly equal populations — a simple division exercise determines the number of residents per ward. The wards are also determined by counting the number of residents, not the number of voters, which can sometimes skew representation. In the redistricting conducted in 2002, for example, the smallest ward had 2,464 eligible voters, whereas the largest had 3,896.

Then, five members of the Board of Aldermen are selected to meet in a special committee to argue for certain neighborhoods or streets to be included or excluded from each ward’s boundaries.

It is a political process, Aldermanic President Carl Goldfield said, and aldermen attempt to keep their strongest supporters within their jurisdiction. Borders, he said, often get tossed back and forth. Pierson and Davenport colleges, for example, have switched wards in the past.

“The issue is really that though Ward 1 is in many respects a ‘Yale ward,’ those lines are drawn without consideration of the University, and we respect the way that ward boundaries are established,” Ward 1 Democratic Committee Co-Chair Rhiannon Bronstein ’11 said.

UNDERREPRESENTED?

Four colleges and Swing Space are all currently represented by Ward 22, a district which also includes parts of the infamously crime-ridden Dixwell neighborhood. This contrast between Yale and the rest of the ward is striking; blocks away from Ezra Stiles, gun violence and theft remain prevalent problems.

Although Bowden expressed enthusiasm to run for an aldermanic seat, she said she had no interest in Ward 22: A student only seeking a single term, she said, would not be a fair representative of the residents of the area.

But Bronstein said more Yale students not only should limit their allegiance to “the Yale ward,” but also should become involved in the area in which they reside.

“Ward 22 is its own special and unique community, and people should feel free to get involved there,” Bronstein said. “That’s part of what it means to be a member of both the Yale and New Haven community.”

Dismissive of the issue, though, Ward 22 Democratic Committee Co-Chair Cordelia Thorpe said she does not consider Yale students an integral component of her ward’s constituency. When she thinks of Yale students, she said, she thinks of Ward 1, and she believes the Ward 1 residents and Ward 22 residents have fundamentally different needs for representation.

“I have senior citizens and people working two jobs to keep their property,” Thorpe said.

Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead did not return several requests for comment.

Although the Yale residential colleges are split 2-to-1 between Ward 1 and Ward 22, the aldermanic dynamics may change when the two new residential colleges are eventually built on Prospect Street.

Ward boundaries will change once again in 2012, using the statistics from the 2010 census. Although the census will not reflect the additional 850 students living in the two colleges, those students will be incorporated into a ward once they arrive. Whichever ward into which they are incorporated will likely be the largest ward in New Haven.

Voigt maintained that the additional students from the new residential colleges will not have a bearing on the ward redistricting, simply because they will not yet be counted in the 2010 census. But Goldfield said he was less convinced; after all, he said, politicians want to be re-elected, and 850 additional constituents will almost surely factor into their attempts to engineer new ward borders.

“Everyone’s aware that it’s on the horizon,” Goldfield said. “And though it may not be official, it will be in the back of everyone’s minds.”

A YALE CAMPAIGN

The three candidates for Ward 1 — Minh Tran ’09, Mike Jones ’11 and Katie Harrison ’11 — all said they are not distinguishing between Ward 1 residents and other students when it comes to campaigning for the ward, even though about one-third of students will not be able to cast a vote in the race.

And the voting dynamics can get convoluted: Some students, such as freshmen in Morse or Ezra Stiles, will have the opportunity to vote in the Ward 1 primary, though once the new alderman is elected, these students will have moved to Morse or Ezra Stiles and will then technically live under Morehead’s jurisdiction in Ward 22.

Moreover, although Ward 1 holds its pre-primary in April to accommodate the academic calendar, Ward 22 does not yet extend the same convenience. Yalies in Ward 22 must vote in the Democratic primary only a few weeks after returning from break, giving them little time to learn about Ward 22 candidates and their platforms.

Chris Magoon ’12, Jones’ spokesman, said the Jones campaign sees itself as representative of all Yale students, and will appeal even to those undergraduates not legally represented in Ward 1. A few members of the Jones campaign team do not even live in Ward 1, he added.

Tran’s co-campaign director Scott Nelson ’10 said that, in addition to canvassing in Ward 1 colleges, Tran’s campaign intends to find a method to encourage Ward 22 students to vote in their respective ward.

Goldfield asserted that there are many reasons for a Yale student to feel ties to the Ward 22 community. But in the end, he maintained, the Ward 1 alderman is usually the only alderman with the freedom to focus on sweeping, high-minded legislation, not the “meat-and-potatoes” issues of city governance.

“That’s the thing about Ward 1,” Goldfield added. “It’s always been Yale’s Ward 1.”

Comments

  • oh.

    THAT's the mysterious 4th candidate? what a wacky story! this dynamic sheds some interesting light on city government.

    although is there no more productive way to talk about the disparities ward 22 than the blanket-statement ghettoizing on display here?

  • alum

    "Four colleges and Swing Space are all currently represented by Ward 22, a district which also includes parts of the infamously crime-ridden Dixwell neighborhood"

    Statistically, "Dixwell" is safer than just about any other neighborhood in New Haven, and safer than many suburban towns. You're probably thinking of Newhallville, which is farther up Dixwell Avenue. Please check your facts.

  • '11

    I don't think it's fair to characterize Dixwell as an "infamously crime-ridden Dixwell neighborhood." Sure, it has its share of crime that poorer neighborhoods have, but not more so that other similar areas of New Haven. Furthermore, it adds to the stigma of non-Yale parts of New Haven to tell Yalies that Dixwell is a scary place where you should never. I volunteer at the Wexler-Grant school in Dixwell twice a week and walk around there with the students I mentor, and I'm not in a constant state of terror. That sentence exaggerates the current state of affairs and describes the neighborhood in an unnecessarily harsh light.

  • Yale 08

    This is hilarious -- that a UOC member made this [major] oversight makes it even more amusing. Would it be possible to get a framed version of this article?

  • Joe A

    She would make a fine Alder. Run in 22
    Bring with you your intuition and insight
    ..CommuniversityQuiltPatchWardsShellGameFud….bring your soup ladel, and potion for the potables, bring your new suburbanite friends and introduce them as the Mayors people - and they're here to help.

  • Katie Harrison

    @Yale 08, just to clarify: I'm a UOC member; Kate Bowden, the subject of this article, is not. I know Kat(i)e was a popular name in the late 80's and it gets confusing, but we're actually different people!

  • Yale 08

    Ah, my mistake … speaking of oversights. :-P Even so, it's still ironic that the subject of the article was so enthused about representing a district that she forgot to make sure whether or not she lived in it!

  • Anonymous

    Yale 08,
    As a New Haven Citizen & a commissioner, I can assure you, the Ward boundaries are confusing to EVERYONE :). Not just enthusiastic Yale students who want to do some good.

  • Link

    Actually, Yale08, I know her story and the problem was not that she wasn't aware of the Ward boundaries (she very well knew that she was in Ward 22), but that she was not allowed to move colleges into Ward 1 (and also couldn't afford to move into Ward 1 off-campus housing). The crux of the story is that Yale administration stifled a student's opportunity to represent her community, something the writer did not do a very good job of highlighting.