Post-election paths diverge

The Democratic candidates for Ward 1 Alderman met again Monday night in a debate moderated by New Haven Independent editor Paul Bass ’82.
The Democratic candidates for Ward 1 Alderman met again Monday night in a debate moderated by New Haven Independent editor Paul Bass ’82. Photo by Nick Bayless.

Katie Harrison ’11 and Minh Tran ’09 are moving on from their loss to Mike Jones ’11 in the Ward 1 Aldermanic Democratic Endorsement Vote in April, but only one of the two is continuing with city politics for now.

Last week, Tran, now a teacher in a New Haven public charter school through Teach for America, was appointed by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. to serve on the city’s Youth Commission. Meanwhile, Harrison has moved on to helping with a student club at Yale, the Responsible Endowment Project.

Tran said in a recent interview that he joined the Youth Commission because he wanted to serve as an advocate for New Haven’s youth. Harrison said her work for the Responsible Endowment Project is not a departure from her City Hall aspirations but rather the fulfillment of something she has wanted to do since her freshman year.

“Honestly, my running for alderman grew out of the work that I’d been doing since I was a freshman,” Harrison said. “I am not someone who covets political office, or could see myself as a politician, and it was exhausting.”

Jones, for his part, said a loss in the political campaign should not compromise Harrison’s and Tran’s commitment to public service.

“I would expect them to continue to give back to New Haven just as they did in the past two years,” Jones said. “Nothing from the outcome of the election should” change their minds.

While campaigning during the aldermanic endorsement vote, Tran focused on education reform and Harrison focused on economic development. Harrison said she is continuing to work on economic development through the Responsible Endowment Project, a student organization founded in the fall of 2008 that urges the University to update its policies on endowment transparency and investor responsibilities. But although Harrison canvassed with Lisa Hopkins for her Ward 22 aldermanic campaign, Harrison said she has done little else in the realm of city public service since her April loss.

“Running was an incredible experience,” Harrison said. “But I’m glad I can spend the rest of my time at Yale with more freedom to explore different kinds of political and academic work.”

Harrison, an American studies major, said she is focusing on her studies now. She added that she has no plans to run for any other New Haven office.

“It’s a personal health choice for me,” she said. “I want to put more time into my classes, and I’ve seen other people make that choice after they’ve thrown themselves into a whole lot of things. I’d like to get re-involved, but after being so intensely in that world, I just need to take a break from all that.”

Meanwhile, although Tran now serves as a fifth-grade mathematics teacher at Elm City College Preparatory Middle School in New Haven, he is continuing public service through the Youth Commission, which works to improve the quality of life for youth through social programs. Tran said he joined the commission after he was approached by Sean Matteson, the mayor’s chief of staff.

“The Youth Commission has granted me another platform to continue on in my commitments towards education reform,” Tran said.

In the past, some aldermanic candidates continued work in public service even after they lost their campaigns. After Rebecca Livengood ’07 lost to Nick Shalek ’05 during a close Ward 1 aldermanic election in 2005, Livengood worked with Shalek to revise the process by which the Ward 1 Democratic Committee would issue its aldermanic endorsement. (Shalek had run as an independent in the general election after he lost the Democratic Committee endorsement to Livengood.) As part of the revised process created in 2006, an April Aldermanic Democratic endorsement vote for party candidates was established; Jones, Harrison and Tran were the first to run in such an election.

Regardless of Harrison’s and Tran’s decisions, Yale College Democrats President Sarah Turbow ’10 said the two former aldermanic candidates are still devoted to the city.

“Both Minh and Katie ran strong campaigns and brought important things to the table,” Turbow said. “I don’t think that their losses have affected … their commitment to democratic ideals.”

Correction: Aug. 3, 2012

This article originally misidentified the type of school at which Minh Tran ’09 teaches. It is a public charter school, not a magnet school.

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