Like the residents of other American cities, New Haven voters go to the polls on Election Day.
But for the Elm City, the Tuesday after the first Monday in November is rarely as important as the primaries that precede it. The third-largest city in Connecticut and the 172nd-largest in the United States, New Haven is a living, breathing one-party town.
With the mayor’s office and most of the city’s other elected offices controlled by Democrats, Republicans have little say in the day-to-day affairs of the city. This fall, the two parties will battle for control of New Haven City Hall — located just off the New Haven Green at 165 Church St. — but the Democratic candidate will probably not face much opposition in the voting booth this November.
In fact, no Republican has held the city’s highest executive office since 1952.
Incumbent Democratic Mayor John DeStefano Jr., first elected in 1993, is seeking a fifth two-year term this fall against rival Democrat State Senator Martin Looney.
And although Joel Schiavone ’58, a longtime New Haven real estate developer, has entered the fray for New Haven’s Republicans, the true contest will more than likely be this September’s Democratic primary.
As of last October, 66 percent of New Haven’s 54,844 registered voters were Democrats, while only 18 percent had affiliated themselves with the Republican party.
City residents will also vote in several other important elections this fall, including contests for seats on New Haven’s Board of Aldermen, the 30-member city council.
Even though the mayor and his staff make most of the important day-to-day decisions about city services and economic development, the Board of Aldermen legislates city ordinances and often debates hot-button topics.
Democrats represent all but two of the city’s 30 wards and control most policy decisions at the board’s Monday night meetings.
Nancy Ahern, one of the board’s two Republicans, said April 16 she sees hope for her party in this year’s election.
“I would like to see the Republican Party become a viable choice in New Haven and considered so by the electorate,” she said. “We need to spread our message so people understand they have a choice and that Republicans have something to offer.”
The Republicans may have a chance to pick up a few more seats this fall because several aldermen have announced that they will not seek re-election.
Ward 9 Alderman Gerald Garcia ’94 SOM ’01, Ward 1 Alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99 and Ward 2 Alderman Jelani Lawson ’96 — known collectively as the “Yale Three” — and two other aldermen have said they will not run again this fall.
Gonzalez is currently serving as DeStefano’s campaign manager.
Three of New Haven’s wards — 1, 7 and 22 — include parts of Yale’s campus, and students have traditionally played large roles in politics in those districts.
A Yale student has traditionally served as alderman of Ward 1, which includes Yale’s Old Campus and eight of its residential colleges. After winning the Ward 1 Democratic Committee’s endorsement in February, Ben Healey ’04 will likely run unopposed for the office this year.
“I’m incredibly excited that next year, as Ward 1 alderman, I will have the opportunity to be the conduit from students to city government and vice-versa,” Healey said.
Student involvement in the city’s political affairs sometimes draws criticism from Elm City residents, however.
Town-gown political tensions reached new heights in 1999 following a scandal surrounding the candidacy of Asit Gosar ’00, a Pierson College student who ran against incumbent Ward 7 Alderwoman Esther Armmand and defeated her by just 29 votes in the Democratic primary.
Just days after the election, the Yale Daily News discovered that 33 Pierson and Davenport students who lived on Old Campus — located in Ward 1 — had illegally cast votes in the Ward 7 election in favor of Gosar. Gosar eventually withdrew from the race after several freshmen said he registered them to vote in the ward despite their lack of residency.
With scandals, accusations, contentious elections and dissension in the ranks of the Democratic machine, one can at least say with certainty that New Haven politics is never dull.