This election year, for the first time, four New Haven aldermanic candidates have hired political consultants to help them with their campaigns, a move that may significantly change the tenor of New Haven’s aldermanic campaigns, experts on local politics said in interviews over the last week.
According to campaign finance records, at least four aldermanic candidates — including incumbents Allen Brison of Ward 10 and Elizabeth McCormack of Ward 24, as well as candidates Lisa Hopkins of Ward 22 and Claudette Robinson-Thorpe of Ward 28 — hired consultants this year. The records show that two Yale students, Hugh Baran ’09 and Sochie Nnaemeka ’10, were paid between $500 and $1,650 this year by each of the four candidates’ campaigns, which New Haven Democratic Town Committee chair Susie Voigt said typically do not cost more than $4,000 to run.
Paying for outside consulting has long been a common strategy in state and national elections, but not as often in local elections, which once relied solely on volunteer efforts, several aldermen and political experts said in interviews.
“It’s sort of a professionalization of aldermanic races that we haven’t seen in the past,” Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield said. “I’d hate to see us start to really gear up these races into a place they haven’t been so it requires a lot of money to run for an alderperson.”
McCormack said she hired the pair in response to the needs of her campaign, which had no volunteers who could do voter-data analysis and graphic design. She said she hired Baran and Nnaemeka because they had been recommended to her but said she did not remember who had recommended them. (Brison — whose campaign paid Baran and Nnaemeka $1,650 for work done through Sept. 30, according to the records — declined to comment for this article.)
Nnaemecka, who had previously volunteered on the campaign of Ward 1 candidate Katie Harrison ’11, said people typically think negatively about the use of political consultants in small elections.
“I think the word [‘consultant’] is what is so harsh,” she said, explaining that when people think of this it makes them see the campaign as less grassroots and authentic.
Nnaemecka also said that hiring consultants does not require a candidate to have a lot of additional money, since the consultants earn their own salary with the donations they bring in.
Baran did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Harrison said she could not speculate as to why the two decided to work for other aldermanic campaigns. Prior to working as consultants, both Nnaemeka and Baran participated in New Haven politics by working with the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the economic and social welfare of working families in the state.
New Haven Independent editor and Yale political science lecturer Paul Bass ’82, who has taught a seminar on New Haven history, said he was wary of paid consultants in aldermanic politics. Although mayoral candidates hiring consultants is nothing new, he said, he cannot remember a prior election for which an alderman hired a political consultant.
Ward 28 Alderman Mordechai Sandman, who lost to Robinson-Thorpe in September, said he thinks the introduction of paid consultants into the race was reflective of the changing reality of what it takes to become elected in New Haven.
Still, two of the nine local political experts and aldermen interviewed said they do not believe the use of paid political consultants will catch on in New Haven aldermanic races. Ward 1 Aldermanic candidate Mike Jones ’11 said he would not use paid consultants in future aldermanic elections because it would send the wrong message to his constituents.
If hiring consultants catches on in aldermanic races, Yalies, who have historically volunteered in aldermanic races, may find a new job market open to them, Voigt added.
“It strikes me that if the weaponry of campaigning so to speak starts to get more sophisticated, then I guess there’s the possibility that Yale students will have a new part-time job,” Goldfield added.
But Yale College Democrats President Sarah Turbow ’10 said she does not foresee large numbers of Yalies becoming paid consultants for aldermanic candidates in future years.
The aldermanic elections will take place Tuesday.