In an election season rife with competition, the race for the Ward 22 seat on the New Haven Board of Aldermen is no exception.
Three candidates are running to represent the ward, which comprises the Dixwell neighborhood and a swath of Yale’s campus, including Swing Space and four of the 12 residential colleges: Ezra Stiles, Morse, Silliman and Timothy Dwight. Central to the task of the Ward 22 alderman is articulating a dual message to constituents, half of whom are undergraduates and half of whom are some of the most economically disadvantaged residents in the city.
Incumbent Alderman Jeanette Morrison said she has the vision to unite the ward. One of her principal triumphs in her first term, she said, was provoking Yale students and their neighbors in Dixwell to see their common aims.
“One of my main goals is to continue to bridge the gap between the permanent resident side and the student and faculty side of the ward,” Morrison said. “Progress has definitely been made.”
She cited Yale students’ attendance at a number of Dixwell cleanup days she held last spring as evidence of collaboration among her diverse constituents.
Morrison squares off in today’s Democratic primary against two challengers: Helen Powell and Cordelia Thorpe, both Dixwell residents.
Powell is a retired staffer in the New Haven Registrar of Voters and a longtime Dixwell activist. Thorpe, a former state Department of Corrections employee, has run unsuccessfully in every Ward 22 aldermanic election since 2005.
Morrison grew up in the adjacent neighborhood of Newhallville but has lived in Dixwell for the past 20 years. She was elected in 2011 as part of a slate of union-backed aldermanic candidates who won all but one of 18 races in which Yale’s Unite Here Locals 34 and 35 had either recruited or backed a candidate. Morrison maintains strong ties with that slate of candidates, including Ward 1 Alderman Sarah Eidelson ’12, and also received the endorsement of the Democratic Town Committee, the city’s arm of the Democratic party, over the summer.
Morrison said it is her relationships with other lawmakers on the Board — and with University affiliates — that distinguishes her candidacy.
“With good relationships, you’re able to move an agenda,” she said.
All three contenders emphasize their deep roots in the Dixwell neighborhood and cite reopening the shuttered Dixwell Community “Q” House as among their top priorities.
The Q House shut its doors in 2003 after serving as a hub for youth services and community gatherings at 179 Dixwell Ave. for over 75 years. Local efforts to reopen the community center, ongoing since 2004, have figured prominently in campaign promises but have gained little traction.
Morrison said she was part of a team of aldermen who recently prompted the city to conduct a feasibility study for the building and hire a consultant to consider options for renewed use.
Powell said she remembers attending the Q House as a kid growing up in Dixwell. If elected, she said, she also hopes to help foster neighborhood block watches, job training and more youth activity.
She said she has never interacted with Morrison and could not speak poorly of her because she is unfamiliar with Morrison’s activities on the Board.
Powell said she hopes to involve Yale students more in the surrounding neighborhood by having them “help seniors go grocery shopping or go to the gym with them.”
“The Yale students — I have no problem with them,” she said. “We could get a tutoring program going or they could also help the young people read.”
At a question-and-answer session at Timothy Dwight College shortly after students returned to campus, Ward 22 co-chair Josef Goodman ’14 introduced Morrison as his “friend” and praised her for “reuniting a ward that was very much divided.”
“Who cannot be won over by Jeanette Morrison?” he asked. “There’s the warmth, there’s the charm, there’s the hearty laugh.”
Speaking to the student audience, Morrison said to call her anytime with concerns about the ward and pitched a sense of commonality among students and their neighbors in Dixwell: “We’re all the same. We all have something to give to one another.”
Thorpe connected to students last Friday at a protest on Broadway Avenue condemning Gourmet Heaven, the popular late-night food destination, for allegedly underpaying its workers. Thorpe said her presence at the protest indicates her appreciation for the concerns of her would-be constituents.
“Do you see Jeanette here?” she asked, criticizing her opponent for being absent from the day-to-day lives of Yale students.
Thorpe said she wants to reduce crime in her neighborhood and encourage Yale to contribute more to its home city.
Still, she said she is “not at all confident” in her chances of victory.
There are no Republican candidates in Ward 22, making the winner of the Democratic primary the de facto victor.