Even outside Yale-encompassing Ward 1, students will be a crucial voting bloc in today’s Democratic primary, including in neighboring Ward 2.
Incumbent Ward 2 Alderman Frank Douglass is facing a challenge from Greg Smith for office in the ward largely comprised of the Dwight neighborhood west of campus and home to many students who live off campus on Park, Lynnwood, Howe and Dwight streets. Yet both candidates’ interest in courting the Yale vote and their views on issues directly and indirectly related to Yale University differ sharply.
While Smith has kept a relative distance from the University and its voter base in the ward, Douglass’ ties with Yale run deeper. Douglass has worked at Yale for over 20 years, currently as a maintenance worker and previously as a chef in Trumbull’s dining hall.
Bassel Habbab ’14, a Douglass volunteer, said that Douglass’ long-time relationship with Yale is an advantage.
“Frank is uniquely situated to represent Ward 2 because he has relationships with Yale and its students,” Habbab said. “At the same time, like the majority of Ward 2 residents, he also works full-time to earn a living in New Haven.”
Habbab estimated that 10 to 12 Elis are currently volunteering in some form on Douglass’ campaign. While the number of Yalie’s on Smith’s volunteer staff is not as high, Smith said he had one Yale student — whose name he chose not to reveal due to privacy concerns — working as his campaign manager.
Smith sees Douglass’ affiliation with the University in a very different light, suggesting that “to work for Yale and be in a union there” as an alderman might be “kind of a conflict of interest.” Douglass’ backing of the one-time $3 million sale of High and Wall Streets to Yale was, to Smith, an example of the incumbent alderman’s ties to powerful interests. The challenger also pointed out that 64 percent of New Haven residents had opposed the sale, and that the city could have extracted more money from its largest employer and taxpayer.
“Those streets are worth a lot more than $3 million, I’m sure,” Smith said. “I believe that that agreement should have been renegotiated. The city is already in dire straits in relation to money.”
Last week, Douglass said that the deal was good for the city.
“[Yale] paid a few million dollars and they’re going to continue to pay us for it,” he said, although the terms of the deal do not require any additional payments by the University. “It’s not like they’re going to sell it to McDonald’s or something. People should concentrate on the streets that are occupied by drug dealers, not the streets occupied by Yale University.”
Yale is not the only local organization that Smith hopes to use as a foil toward a victory. Douglass’ status as a union-backed alderman, in particular his connection to Yale’s employee unions Locals 34 and 35, has also become a poignant part of Smith’s campaign rhetoric.
The slate of four candidates to which Smith belongs, known as “Take Back New Haven,” seeks to neutralize the powerful political force these two employee unions have become in City Hall. But Smith emphasized that he was not anti-union, having been a union member himself in a previous job.
“For me, it’s about not having a supermajority of 20 aldermen make all of the decisions for the community,” Smith said.
Habbab disagreed that this was an appropriate paradigm for picking New Haven’s future leaders.
“Someone who criticizes others for belonging to a union — that says more about the critic than the criticized,” he said. “There is nothing wrong [with belonging to a union].”
Regardless of its result, the election may be remembered for its record student involvement and participation. According to Douglass volunteer Nick Levine ’14, 95 students have joined the Ward 2 voting rolls this election cycle — which he said might result in the highest number of Yale students registered in the ward “in recent memory.”
Levine also dismissed the prospect of anti-Yale sentiment in Ward 2 heavily influencing the election’s outcome.
“The only real anti-Yale sentiment I heard about from people in Ward 2 was from Greg Smith, to be honest,” he said.
Ward 2 residents can vote at Troup Magnet School at 259 Edgewood Ave. Polls close at 8 p.m.