A political turf war is simmering in the gang-ridden Dwight neighborhood.
Over the last few weeks, the campaign for the Democratic nomination in the Ward 2 aldermanic race has become a grudge match between Linda Townsend-Maier, the incumbent of one week, and David Watts DIV ’03.
But both claim native status in the neighborhood.
Like Watts, a lifelong resident, Townsend-Maier was born in Dwight, the area just west of Park Street between Chapel and Whalley. Townsend-Maier has lived near Dwight since 1969.
Watts has portrayed the battle as a David-and-Goliath struggle between his home-grown, “one-man” operation and Townsend-Maier’s mayor-engineered incumbency.
“I’m fighting the Democratic machine, and it’s an uphill battle,” Watts said.
Far from being a political operative, Townsend-Maier says, she’s treading on unfamiliar ground. She only previously held elected office as co-chair of Dwight’s Democratic Ward Committee.
In the past week, Watts has said that Townsend-Maier agreed to endorse DeStefano in exchange for her appointment to the Board of Aldermen last month when incumbent Jelani Lawson ’96 resigned to attend law school.
A spokesman for the mayor has denied there was any quid pro quo.
Townsend-Maier denied cutting any deal.
“Even before Jelani Lawson left, everyone knew I supported DeStefano,” she said.
In any case, Townsend-Maier said her seven-day incumbency will have little impact on the outcome of Tuesday’s primary.
“The average person doesn’t even know,” she said. “There hasn’t been much time for people in Dwight to realize I’ve been appointed.”
Despite their political spats, both candidates said their campaigns are rooted in helping the neighborhood.
Townsend-Maier has a long history of neighborhood activism. She’s clocked time with the New Haven Blockwatch Association, the Greater Dwight Development Corp., Neighborhood Housing Services and the Dwight neighborhood management team.
Yale honored her with an Elm and Ivy Award in 1999.
Townsend-Maier talked about Dwight with the stoicism of a seasoned campaigner for the troubled neighborhood.
“I don’t think the issues change that much,” she said. “It’s always schools, safe neighborhoods, reduction of drug-related crime.”
Watts portrays Townsend-Maier as a product of too many meetings with New Haven’s political and activist elite.
“Linda never committed to talking to people,” Watts said.
Watts says he’s most worried about the gunshots he hears as he walks around Dwight at night. He wants to start youth centers to keep Dwight teenagers out of gangs. In the last year a spate of violence has erupted between Dwight and Newhallville gangs. But Watts is hopeful.
“I’ve met with those guys, and they’re willing to sit down, in a neutral atmosphere,” Watts said. “They say it’s about turf, and it’s about respect.”