Just two months ago, Rachel Payne ’12 and Amalia Skilton ’13 had only ever read about each other in on-campus publications. Now, they are running together to co-chair the Ward 1 Democratic Committee.
As co-chairs in Ward 1 — the aldermanic ward where most Yale students live — the pair would be responsible for endorsing Democratic candidates for alderman during their two-year term. The job also entails overseeing voter registration and encouraging voter turnout in the ward, New Haven Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Susan Voigt said.
Currently, the duo is the only group running for the positions, and if they remain so by the March 2 primary, they will automatically become co-chairs before assuming their positions the following day, Voigt said.
Payne and Skilton said they are hoping to bring Ward 1 Democrats together to promote discussion about New Haven politics among Yalies. They said they hope to bridge the gap between Yale’s “mainstream” liberal organizations, such as the Yale Democrats, and organizations such as the Undergraduate Organizing Committee and the Yale Student Environmental Coalition.
At Yale, both students have been involved in activism on campus. Payne, a sophomore in Saybrook, is the founder of Students Against New Coal and a member of YSEC. Skilton, a freshman in Calhoun, is a member of the Yale Dems and a coordinator of Fierce Advocates, a new Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender advocacy group on campus that grew out of Yale Maine for Equality. Skilton was co-director of Maine for Equality, a student group that worked in the fall to oppose a ballot initiative to ban same sex-marriage in Maine.
“Between the two of them, they really cover a wide spectrum of liberal left Democratic interests on campus,” Yale College Democrats President Ben Stango ’11 said, adding that Payne and Skilton “can take charge and really lead.”
Payne and Skilton said they were asked to run for the position by Rhiannon Bronstein ’11, one of the current Ward 1 Democratic Committee co-chairs. Bronstein said Payne and Skilton were her first choice and that they have “proven themselves as really fantastic student activists.” Adzua Agyapon ’11, Bronstein’s fellow co-chair, was not available for comment because she is studying abroad this semester.
Stango and Ward 1 Alderman Mike Jones ’11 said Payne and Skilton have the potential to make the Ward 1 Democratic Committee an active forum for discussions about local politics.
“Traditionally the Ward 1 committee hasn’t done much when it’s not focused on the Ward 1 election,” Stango said. “We’re kind of looking at an open slate.”
Jones added that he looks forward to working with Payne and Skilton and that he thinks they have an opportunity to make the Ward 1 Democratic Committee more than just a group that organizes elections. Payne said she and Skilton hope to hold Jones accountable for his work on the Board of Aldermen. Asked what she would hold Jones accountable for, Payne said she is not “coming with a particular agenda.”
Bronstein said she and Agyapon worked with former Ward 1 Alderwoman Rachel Plattus ’09 to hold political events when they began their tenure in 2008. But as the 2008 and 2009 election cycles rolled around, Bronstein and Agyapon focused more on the elections, Bronstein said. During the 2009 aldermanic campaign, they coordinated the Ward 1 Democratic endorsement vote. Ward 1 held an April pre-primary endorsement vote in April of last year because the September primary happens shortly after Yalies return from summer vacation, preventing students from having enough time to familiarize themselves with the candidates. Skilton and Payne said they do not know if they will hold an endorsement vote for the Ward 1 aldermanic election in 2011.
Voigt said the endorsement vote forces the Ward 1 alderman to campaign constantly and shuts out potential candidates who did not campaign early. But she said the vote also helps to facilitate voting for Yale students.
Payne said last night that the pair has received the 66 necessary signatures from Ward 1 voters — representing five percent of the ward’s registered voting population — that are required by Wednesday in order for she and Skilton to be eligible to run.