Co-chair races yield mixed results

A pair of challengers won one of Tuesday’s two contested Democratic Ward co-chair races, while the pair of incumbents dominated the other.

In Ward 26, Amy Marx LAW ’00 and Sharon Jones defeated incumbents Ronald Rainey and Bridget Gardner. In Ward 28, Jess Corbett and Don Walker fended off a challenge from Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, the ward’s alder,  and Clyton Thompson Jr. The four victorious candidates will join pairs from the city’s other wards, none of which saw contested elections.

Even though candidates chose to run in pairs, voters had the option of choosing any two they preferred. The two co-chairs from any ward are always composed of the two who get the most votes.

Both races involved challenges to a political old guard. In Ward 26, the upstart candidates were successful. Among the winning team of Marx and former Ward 27 Co-Chair Sharon Jones, Marx had never held elected office and Jones only started living in the ward two years ago. They defeated incumbent Ward 26 Co-Chair Ron Rainey and political newcomer Bridget Gardner, drawing 152 and 146 votes respectively against Rainey and Gardner’s 55 and 38 votes. 197 out of approximately 1,800 registered voters in the ward voted.

Ward co-chairs often also serve as delegates to state and federal party conventions; they are also charged with increasing Democratic turnout for all elections.

“We’re ready to make leadership happen now,” she said. “It’s been a long two years.”

Marx said their tenure as Ward 26’s co-chairs will go beyond what is traditionally the Committee’s one and only concern — local politics. Marx said she will introduce initiatives related to engaging people in community service and neighborhood protection and work to increase transparency on the Committee’s functions. Marx said that, when it comes to the 50 people chosen by the Ward co-chairs to be committee members, transparency in the selection process is generally far from the norm.

“Historically, insiders pick friends to be on the committee,” she said. “Our first goal is to open up an awareness of the system.”

Gardner, who learned of her loss shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m., said she and Rainey wish Marx and Jones well, though she cautioned that she and other ward residents will pay close attention to their performance.

The committee’s composition is significant because a candidate cannot be nominated or endorsed to run for alder or Mayor without committee support.

In Ward 28, challenger Claudette Robinson-Thorpe and incumbent Jess Corbett embraced after the election results were announced in the foyer of Hillhouse High School: 203 votes for Don Walker and 184 for Corbett compared to 105 for Robinson-Thorpe and 68 for Clyton Thompson Jr, a barber who was running for office for the first time.

Though the incumbents emerged unscathed from their race, Corbett said the experience of campaigning will alter his work on the Town Committee. He plans to enhance outreach to ward residents and increase voter turnout among Democrats.

“I’ve knocked on a lot of doors, but I don’t think I’ve done the best job of bringing other people forward,” Corbett said. “This term, I want to really figure out how to bring more people forward to do more politically and in the voting process.”

Robinson-Thorpe said she wanted to prevent the election from turning into “an appointment,” which she believes is what occurs when candidates run unopposed, as Corbett and Walker did in 2010 and 2012. She added that she had hoped to challenge union influence in the city government — Corbett is a Yale lab technician and union employee — and that she was “satisfied” with the outcome and plans to maintain a strong working relationship with Corbett and Walker as the ward’s alder.

Ward 28 election moderator Katrina D. Jones said the turnout — 280 voters in a ward of over 1,700 registered Democrats — was strong for a little-publicized election on a bitterly cold March day.

Supporters of all four candidates stood on the sidewalk outside Hillhouse from 6 a.m. until the polls closed at 8 p.m.

Thompson said his candidacy was not based on criticism of the incumbents, but on the belief that he and Robinson-Thorpe could bring change to the Town Committee and do more to increase voter turnout in the ward.

In Ward 26, Denzel Graves said he voted for the losing team of Rainey and Gardner because he thought them best suited to take on issues immediately relevant to the ward, like resolving bad traffic patterns. Ward 26 Alder Daryl Brackeen, Jr. said he supported Jones and Marx partly due to the fact that, during the 2013 Mayoral Election, Marx had supported Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, while Jones had supported Toni Harp.

“There was an opportunity to unite the ward,” he said. “The mayoral campaign was particularly divisive in town and it caused unfortunate tensions.”

In Ward 28, Latrice Santiago said she voted for Thompson and Robinson-Thorpe because she admires Robinson-Thorpe’s work in the community and had not had any interactions with Corbett or Walker.

Scotticesa Marks said her support for Corbett and Walker was based on what they had accomplished during their previous terms. Marks criticized the challengers’ decision to run as opportunistic and said she disliked the idea of an alder also sitting on the Town Committee.

“It was for them to have personal gain and so they can think that they’re in charge,” Marks said.

However, the Yale unions LOCAL 34 and 35, known for their towering presence in New Haven politics, played a role. In Ward 28, the candidacy of Jess Corbett, who is a UNITE HERE member, had huge symbolic value. In Ward 26, no candidate carried significant union support.

Jones said that “if [the unions] were there,” she “hadn’t seen them.”

Brackeen said that all of the candidates in Ward 26 were ideologically similar enough in their values that there was no need for the unions to pick sides.

“We’re all Democrats,” he said. “We all support the unions.”

Co-chairs in the wards heavily populated by Yale students watched the races closely, though they did not face election battles themselves. Ward 1 co-chair Jacob Wasserman ’16 said he found the level of political engagement in the Ward 26 and 28 races encouraging. He added that the winning candidates should reach out to their opponents, as well as their entire constituency.

He cited Mayor Harp’s example of appointing a diverse group of voices–including a few who opposed her during the mayoral race–to her administration as a way of making sure “everyone has a voice.”

“I see a place for everybody at the table,” he said.

In wards 22 and 14, where only one co-chair filed papers in time to run, the Democratic Town Committee Chair will appoint a second co-chair.

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