Lex Paulson ’02 and Michael Montano ’03, once top contenders for the Ward 1 aldermanic seat, announced Sunday they will not challenge endorsed candidate Ben Healey ’04 in September’s Democratic primary election. While other candidates can still enter the race, Healey is likely to run unopposed.

The Democratic ward committee, composed primarily of Yale students, chose Healey over Paulson and Montano in a seven-hour nominating convention Feb. 25. The days leading up to and following the convention were often filled with acrimony, with committee members and others alleging unfairness in the process and personally criticizing the candidates.

Paulson and Montano said the divisiveness of the endorsement process was a major factor in their decisions to drop out.

Paulson said he hopes his cooperation with Healey will set a tone of unity for the party, adding that Democrats need to stop working against each other and focus their energy on party building.

“Ward 1 is a small ward where everyone knows each other,” Montano added. “The argument that it’s better to work together than fight is a compelling one.”

While he acknowledged that Paulson and Montano’s decisions benefited his own candidacy, Healey said he believes their choice was right for the party.

“We are ideologically similar candidates, and a primary would offer voters a personality choice, not an issue choice,” Healey said.

Throughout the process, several members of the committee emphasized that they did not wish the endorsement to be a coronation. But now, some of those same people are hailing Paulson and Montano’s decision as positive — even if it means that means Healey, the endorsed candidate, will now likely run unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Abbey Hudson ’03 said she thought a primary would have been good for democracy, but that Paulson and Montano always had the option to run and only chose not to when Healey showed he would work with them.

Jacob Remes ’02, a Healey supporter, added that he and others had been concerned that the process would be a coronation in which outgoing alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99 would handpick his successor.

But Healey’s emergence as a victor — with Gonzalez voting for Montano in the first round of voting — proved that the process was democratic, Remes said.

Gonzalez has always maintained that the endorsement process was fair. Saying the committee’s choice does not carry an excessive amount of weight, he characterized the endorsement as a way for residents of Ward 1 to discuss the qualities they desired in a candidate.

New candidates can still earn a spot on September’s ballot by gathering signatures from registered Ward 1 Democrats this summer. But both Paulson and Montano said they did not expect other candidates to enter the race, and Gonzalez said that scenario seems unlikely.

“It’s really hard for someone to come out and seek the Democratic party nomination without having gone through the nomination process,” Gonzalez said.

But committee member Candace McKinley ’03 said that while she does not know of any interested candidates, she would not be surprised if a challenger emerged.

And two months ago, observers would have been surprised by the current state of affairs.

At that time, Paulson, Montano and Irene Liu ’02 were the only ones officially seeking the endorsement. Healey and Anne Leone ’03 later joined them, but many close to the process said they had less experience in New Haven than the original three candidates.

Liu dropped out in early February, and Leone withdrew on the day of the convention, leaving the ward committee with three choices.

During the convention, Healey often admitted that he did not know answers to questions. Supporters of the defeated candidates were critical of what they called Healey’s lack of knowledge.

But Sunday, Paulson and Montano echoed the sentiments of Healey supporters.

“I am convinced that Ben knows what he’s doing and that he is willing to learn,” Paulson said.

Montano said as he talked with Healey over the past month, he came to appreciate his earnestness.

Healey said he is confident he will learn enough to be an effective alderman.

“What I have done since the endorsement, what I am doing now and what I am doing this summer involves an intense process of gaining a real understanding of the issues confronting this city and of the people who I need to work with to move forward on those issues,” Healey said.