The Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 — local pastor, activist and Yale Corporation hopeful — has all but secured a spot on the next Corporation ballot, Association of Yale Alumni Executive Director Jeffrey Brenzel said.
Most of Lee’s petitions have been verified by AYA, and Brenzel said he feels certain Lee will have the necessary 3,252 verified votes to be officially added to the ballot for this spring’s election of new Yale Corporation trustees.
“I think the community of Yale would be tremendously enhanced [if I were on the Corporation],” Lee said. “I am concerned as a citizen of New Haven and as a Yale alumnus.”
The Yale Corporation is the University’s highest policy-making body, and when Lee is officially added to the ballot he will become only the second alumnus ever to enter the election pool by launching a petition campaign.
“We are in the process of verifying the petitions against the Yale alumni database and expect to have that wrapped up shortly,” Brenzel said. “I feel sure that he will have enough petitions to obtain a place on the ballot.”
Brenzel said the Tercentennial delayed the tabulation process.
Lee said he submitted 4,870 signatures by the Oct. 1 deadline. He originally requested an extension to Nov. 1 because of last month’s terrorist attacks, but the University did not grant his request.
Still, he said the response to his campaign encouraged him.
“The fact that nearly 5,000 signatures came back in less than four week in the middle of the Sept. 11 tragedy says something,” Lee said.
Lee, who grew up in nearby Ansonia, Conn., and has served as pastor at the Varick Memorial AME Zion Church on Dixwell Avenue since 1997, promotes what he calls his “grass roots movement” as his effort to be the Corporation’s New Haven voice.
“I’ve been in the trenches,” Lee said, referring to his work as a New Haven pastor.
Lee estimated that he has raised $35,000 to fund his campaign — $30,000 of which was donated by the Federation of Hospital and University Employees, a coalition of Yale and New Haven labor groups, and has been the focus of some scrutiny — but Lee defended his decision to accept the union funds.
“I am for working people, the laborers, those who stand up for justice on any level,” Lee said.
Ted Wittenstein ’04, a Yale College Council representative and vocal Lee advocate, said he thought the union money, much of which was used for mailing expenses, added to Lee’s appeal.
“I think it is [a] testament to the fact that we can diversify the Corporation — that he doesn’t have the money to send out a mailing,” Wittenstein said.
Ellis Jones ’76 received one of Lee’s mailings. He wrote Lee a letter in response asking him to explain the vision described in Lee’s literature.
“[Lee] said that he had some New Haven Register articles or reprints on the Web site that would answer my questions,” said Jones. “I read them, but I didn’t really get direct answers to my questions.”
But Jones said he still will vote for Lee.
The Corporation is responsible for planning the University’s financial and academic future. A group of members of the Corporation directly selects 10 of the body’s 16 trustees, and the alumni body elects the remaining six members, who serve six-year terms.
In1969, William Horowitz ’29 successfully petitioned the University and became the first Corporation member ever to become a trustee by the petition process. He also was the first Jewish member of the Corporation.