An effort by Yale and city unions to increase the power of labor on the Board of Aldermen won a resounding victory in Tuesday night’s Democratic primary.
With Board President Carl Goldfield, a 20-year incumbent from Ward 29, falling to labor-backed candidate Brian Wingate and a slate of other union-endorsed candidates unseating incumbents Tuesday night, the Board of Aldermen and city looks set for a significant political shift. In the three primaries in which most Yalies voted, union-backed candidates swept: Jeanette Morrison toppled incumbent Greg Morehead in Ward 22, Jessica Holmes edged out incumbent Matt Smith ’98 and in Ward 2, Trumbull dining hall cook Frank Douglass defeated Doug Bethea.
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Even Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who has been subject to much dissent from the unions this past year, acknowledged the dominance union-endorsed candidates showed during elections.
“The unions kicked ass tonight,” said DeStefano, who handily won his own primary Tuesday, at his victory party at BAR.
But while city unions celebrated their endorsee’s victories in a jubilant press release, organized labor’s success was not universal. In Ward 18, City Hall-backed Sal DeCola defeated union-backed Sarah Saiano, and absentee ballots remained to be counted in a tight battle in Ward 25, where union-backed Adam Marchand holds on to a 24-vote lead.
Still, the stated goal of union leaders to strengthen the Board of Aldermen’s resistance to the DeStefano administration appears to have moved considerably closer to reality Tuesday night. Union organizers were extremely effective in their voter turnout efforts, DeStefano said, adding that he respects their opinions and is willing to listen to them.
While most Yalies are registered in Ward 1, which did not have an aldermanic primary Tuesday, hundreds turned out to vote in hotly contested elections in Ward 22, which contains four residential colleges, and neighboring wards 2 and 9.
In an upset partially fueled by her mobilization of Yale students in Morse, Stiles, Silliman and Timothy Dwight colleges, Jeanette Morrison unseated two-term incumbent Morehead.
Yale students interviewed at Dixwell’s Wexler-Grant School, where the ward’s polling occurred, said Morrison’s efforts on campus, which began in April, motivated them to support her more than any Ward 22 candidate in recent memory.
“I really believe in her vision for the city,”said Mac Herring ’12, who worked on Morrison’s campaign and is managing Sarah Eidelson’s ’12 campaign for Ward 1 alderman. “Ward 22 is ready for a change, and she’s ready to provide that change.”
The Morrison campaign, which throughout Tuesday had nearly 30 students engaged in voter turnout efforts, operated regular shuttles running from the four colleges to the polls at the school.
“Two of my friends came to my room and told me about the race and why they’re voting for her,” Daryl Hok ’14 said, adding that the convenience of the shuttle helped convince him to vote.
Morrison won 355 votes to Morehead’s 165, while Lisa Hopkins received 124 votes and Cordelia Thorpe received four.
It was déjà vu Tuesday night at Ward 9’s Wilbur Cross High School, where shortly after 8 p.m. — just as in last November’s special aldermanic election — Jessica Holmes, a former Yale union organizer, and Matt Smith, a graphic designer, huddled with their supporters as a poll worker prepared to announce the results. The crowds hushed as the results were read: 438 votes for Holmes and 305 for Smith.
Unlike last year, the crowd of Holmes supporters, many of them Yale graduate students, erupted in cheers and tears of joy.
Smith, who is also registered as an independent candidate, said he has not yet ruled out a general-election challenge to Holmes, who lost narrowly in their face-off in last year’s aldermanic election.
In attendance at Wilbur Cross was a prominent Ward 9 resident, former alderman and current state Rep. Roland Lemar, who said both Smith and Holmes deserved praise for a hard-fought race that inspired productive conversations about the future of the ward and the city.
“Every door got knocked on, every person was spoken to,” said Lemar, who declined to publicly endorse a candidate.
Indeed, voter turnout in Ward 9 exceeded that of every other ward in the city except Westville’s Ward 25.
While Frank Douglass’ won in a landslide over Doug Bethea in Ward 2 with 358 votes to Bethea’s 172, the heat will not subside until the Nov. 8 general election, when Bethea will challenge Douglass as an independent. The primary was “just the beginning,” Bethea said.
“This is halftime,” he said. “Now we do a full-court press — if he can beat me in November, then he deserves the job.”
While the atmosphere was friendly Tuesday outside the Troup School on Edgewood Avenue, where many off-campus Yale students voted together with their Dwight neighbors, Bethea said the unions’ victories were cause for concern. Aldermen who are elected with financial and organizational backing from unions are likely to be beholden to the agenda of those unions at the expense of their constituents, he said.
“I don’t think people realize that they don’t want outsiders running their community,” he said.
But the city has nothing to fear from unions, Morrison countered. Unions simply lend a voice to working residents who are concerned about their future.
DeStefano said while he respects the “political muscle” the unions showed Tuesday, he did not fear that his efforts to negotiate concessions with city employees on their health benefits and pensions would suffer from the presence of several strongly pro-labor aldermen.
“People in this city are still just as opposed to their taxes increasing, and the reality of the budget hasn’t changed,” he said.
Over 11,000 New Haveners voted in the entire city Tuesday.
Nick Defiesta, Cody Pomeranz and Robert Peck contributed reporting.