It was at an anti-death penalty vigil at New Haven’s City Hall last year that Anne Leone ’03, then a freshman from a small dairy farming town in upstate New York, began to learn about the city of New Haven.

“It drew me into New Haven,” Leone said. “I lived in a tiny homogenous farm town. I didn’t know a lot about other issues or places.”

Barely a year later, Leone hopes to find herself back at City Hall to work on similar issues — this time from within. A literature major in Timothy Dwight College, Leone declared her candidacy this month for Ward 1’s aldermanic seat, which will be vacant in the fall when Julio Gonzalez ’99 finishes his term.

Leone is one of four candidates for the Ward 1 position and hopes to win an endorsement from the Democratic Ward Committee at the end of the month, which would guarantee her a position on the September Democratic primary ballot.

After her first experience at City Hall, Leone became a leader of the Student Labor Action Movement, People Against Injustice and the U.S. Grant Fellowship program, which runs classes year round in public schools. From her experiences in grassroots community work, Leone said she hopes to move into a legislative role, bringing her experiences from a small town to help govern a big city.

“I’ve always wanted to be useful,” Leone said. “SLAM, U.S. Grant and PAI are all about learning — I didn’t know much about prisons or city kids. They’re very grassroots. Sometimes you need the other side to make the final changes.”

Running on a pro-union platform emphasizing prison reforms and the establishment of an all-civilian police review board with subpoena power, Leone said part of her motivation is the same one she had for going to the vigil at City Hall her freshman year.

“I’m the sort of person who gets 50,000 e-mails about things going on, and I want to go to all of them,” Leone said. “So now that I’m running for alderman, this is a great incentive — I need to go to all these things. I keep wanting to learn.”

Wearing knee-high faux snakeskin boots, a green sweater and hoop earrings for a Sunday afternoon meeting before speeding away on a bike to a Mixed Company rehearsal, Leone said she still feels the difference between New Haven and her 4,000-resident dairy farming town.

“It’s really exciting to be in New Haven,” Leone said. “I still get overstimulated.”

Leone’s experience in both New Haven and her native Hamilton, N.Y., which is also home to Colgate University, gives Leone a unique perspective on town-gown relations, some say.

“Anne has experience having grown up in a college town that gives her an interesting perspective to bring to table,” said Anika Singh ’01, who has met with Leone about local issues. “She spent her first summer after freshman year in New Haven, which is not something many freshmen do. It’s only three months, but spending summer in New Haven is so extraordinarily different than when students are here in the school year. She’s not only candidate that did, but it does ground her perspective as well.”

Shayna Strom ’02, who helped select the members of the Democratic Ward Committee, which will endorse a candidate, said she appreciated Leone’s commitment to learning about the city.

“Anne has impressed me with her maturity and willingness to learn about city issues,” Strom said. “When she first considered running for alderman, she seemed to make it pretty clear she knew there were some things she was more naive about than others, and she tried hard to get every opportunity to learn.”

Leone said she has attended several Board of Aldermen meetings since many people suggested she run for the position. She was surprised at the amount aldermen can get done, she said, though she recognizes the importance of thinking small.

“I understand that the Board of Aldermen is not going to change the world, but you can make changes that are small but effective by listening to the community and the Yale community,” Leone said.

Whether she wins the endorsement or not, Leone said she has still already fulfilled part of her goal in running.

“Going to Board of Aldermen meetings, I felt this excitement of people in politics doing wonderful things,” Leone said. “No matter what happens, I learned a lot, and I’m still learning about New Haven and Yale problems.”

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