If Ella Wood ’15 decides to run in the general election, one thing is clear: she will most likely lose.
Her challenge to Doug Hausladen ’04 in the recent primary may have scared the incumbent’s supporters at first, but they needn’t have been worried. Even equipped with tremendous establishment support — the backing of New Haven’s unions and endorsements from high-profile incumbents, including Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12 who donated her apartment to serve as Wood’s temporary headquarters — Wood could not scrap together a win.
Wood’s candidacy was flawed from the outset. Despite her best intentions, none of her efforts successfully fought the prevailing narrative — fair or not — that she was a stereotypical Yale do-gooder, descending from the ivory tower to dangle her feet in politics. As we saw, this image cost her the primary by almost 18 percentage points. If she stays, it will cost her the general election, too, maybe by an even larger margin.
It certainly does not make much strategic sense for her to continue campaigning. But despite this reality, it would be a principled and ethical choice for her to stay in the race.
We often forget that elections are more than the counting of votes. Elections are not only about the polling booth or the Day itself. Instead, they are a process of engagement that starts the moment a candidate decides to run. Conversations and discussions are equally integral parts of our democracy — and Wood’s candidacy in the general election would extend this process. While Hausladen won a hard fought victory in the primary, he should not be allowed to end his efforts there. Wood can, and should, force him to continue our public discourse.
If Hausladen continues his campaign unopposed, he would no longer need to remain in conversation with constituents. In such a small community like Ward 7, interactions between residents and representatives can have a tangible impact on the aldermen’s thinking and eventual policy pursuits. New Haven’s election season — the period between the summer and November — is a tool that institutionalizes these conversations, giving voters direct access to Hausladen himself. Wood, a remarkable debater, can put additional pressure on Hausladen to justify his platform, including his controversial proposal to install red light cameras. While over half of New Haven’s aldermen are running unopposed, Wood currently possesses the ability to make Ward 7 an exception.
On Election Day, Wood’s candidacy will also allow independents, a small segment of Ward 7, to voice their views. Even though Wood is not a Republican, the ability to choose an alternative can become a referendum on Hausladen. If a substantial number of general election voters vote for Wood, constituents will have sent Hausladen a message and perhaps even inspire a new crop of candidates the next time around. If, on the other hand, voters overwhelmingly approve of Hausladen, then he will be given further legitimacy to govern.
It is true that Wood’s candidacy has been divisive, and according to many, harmful to relations between New Haven and Yale. Her choice to break her Ward 2 lease and move to Ward 7 is certainly not a model that we, nor many Ward 7 residents, want more Yalies to follow. But the choice that now confronts Wood is not whether she should have run.
Here, six weeks after she announced her run, town-gown relations have already been damaged. The biggest harm, whatever it was, has been done. If Wood were to drop out, constituents would not feel any better about the intrusion of a Yalie into their political sphere. If Wood were to continue, some constituents may be puzzled by her refusal to drop out, but should be even more offended if she chooses to abandon the ward she claimed she would remain committed to for years.
The effect of Wood’s continued campaign will ripple outward. Both Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 and Toni Harp’s ARC ’78 mayoral campaigns will have to address the Ward 7 race. The unions will have to question whether they truly wish to stand behind Wood again. Wood will have the chance to repair the burnt bridges with residents of Timothy Dwight’s Rosenfeld Hall annex.
Every election, we are given an opportunity to reflect on our society: where we’ve been, where we’re going, and who can take us there. If Wood stays, the residents of Ward 7 will be given that chance to reflect. If she drops out of the race, these residents will be deprived of any direct instrument to express themselves.
The vast majority of us believe this is a worthy cause. Does Wood?
Geng Ngarmboonanant is a junior in Silliman College. His column runs on Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.