Just days before the Ward 1 Democratic Committee endorses an aldermanic candidate, some members of the committee are questioning the fairness of the endorsement process and say there is even talk of a possible walkout during Sunday’s nominating convention.
Several sources inside the committee confirmed that some members are considering walking out of the endorsement meeting in order to protest a process they see as unfair and undemocratic because of its domination by a few vocal members.
In a boisterous meeting last week, the committee voted not to use run-off elections, but rather to continue voting on the entire pool until one candidate gets a majority. One committee member, who requested anonymity, said she thought that as students make decisions late into the night, the opinions of certain members may carry excessive weight. She named committee organizers Rob Smuts ’01 and Julio Gonzalez ’99, the outgoing Ward 1 alderman, as people who could wield unfair influence because of their knowledge of New Haven and of the endorsement process they helped develop.
Smuts rejected the claim.
“Anybody who was there at the last meeting has irrefutable evidence that we do not have undue influence on what is going on,” Smuts said. “Any influence we have is based on the respect we enjoy.”
Attempts to reach Gonzalez for comment late Thursday night were unsuccessful.
On Sunday, the members of the committee — 48 students, Gonzalez and co-chairmen Frederick Streets and Bruce Blair — will endorse either Ben Healey ’04, Anne Leone ’03, Michael Montano ’03 or Lex Paulson ’01 as the party’s nominee for alderman. The winner will get an automatic place on the ballot in September’s primary election, while other candidates will have to earn a spot by gathering signatures.
Smuts said he was unaware of a potential walkout and would be disappointed by such a move.
“At all points in this process, we’ve tried to be very responsive to people’s concerns, and to have an action like that, without talking about the concerns, is ridiculous,” Smuts said.
Other committee members were quick to question the effectiveness of a walkout.
“The endorsement is important,” Sara Sternberg ’02 said. “A walkout is not something that will benefit New Haven or Yale students.”
Rory Neuner ’03 pointed out that those who walk out lose the chance to support their favored candidate.
Jacob Remes ’02 was more emphatic.
“I think the threatened walkout is wrong-headed. It is irresponsible, and it is counterproductive,” Remes said. “Rightly or wrongly, we on the committee have been given the responsibility to endorse the candidate we believe to be best for the job.”
Although many reacted unfavorably to a possible walkout, some committee members still had criticism for the process. They questioned the process by which the committee was formed, during which Gonzalez and Smuts recommended students involved with community organizations to the co-chairs, Streets and Blair.
Neuner said she thought there should be some sort of application process for students interested in being on the committee.
But Smuts called the process fair and said it is simply the selection of representative students by the co-chairs and by party regulars such as Gonzalez and himself.
“I don’t see a better way,” Smuts said. “Ultimately, what we’re doing here is selecting somebody for the Democratic Party.”
State laws and Democratic Party rules require the party to endorse a candidate for the ballot. Neuner and Abbey Hudson ’03, another committee member, said that while they realize the committee has to work within the law, they would prefer a system which has a primary but no endorsement.
Smuts said he thinks the current system is a good one.
“I think it’s a good thing that there is a mechanism for the parties to do that. I also think it’s a good thing that it can be overrided in a primary,” he said.
Remes said he has championed a democratic process free from the control of individuals or small groups. He agreed with Smuts that the level of debate last week proved the process to be sufficiently fair.
The committee will meet in room 127 of the Law School Sunday at 3 p.m. The question and answer portion of the meeting will be open to the public, although Smuts said there will be limited seating capacity. The deliberations will be private, he said, but some committee members have expressed interest in opening them to the public. The committee can still approve rule changes Sunday.