On a gray November morning less than a week before Election Day, three warmly dressed students of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Science stood in the foyer of the school’s Sage Hall in front of a bulletin board.
There were about 40 posters, some affixed with tacks and others with tape, which more or less defined the students’ lives as graduate students. There were advertisements for sublets and job offers, and there were the usual notices of the meetings of activist organizations.
And then, hanging in fluorescent green and stock white, there were the odd men out. At about chest height stood two well-articulated campaign brochures for New Haven’s newly revitalized Green Party — five members of which are promising to wrest some of the power out of the hands of the city’s Democratic uber-majority come Election Day.
One of the posters was an open letter from Yale music professor and Ward 9 Alderman John Halle — the man from Newton, Mass., who this summer became the city’s first third-party elected official in at least three-quarters of a century. In defeating both a Democrat and a Republican, Halle surprised almost everyone in this heavily Democratic city of 123,000 people — where the GOP has enough of a headache making inroads as a second party.
The other poster belonged to Bruce Crowder, who, inspired in part by Halle’s upset in July, is running for a spot on the city’s Board of Aldermen in Ward 8. Crowder faces an uphill battle against Democratic incumbent Vincent Mauro Jr.
Crowder’s bid in Ward 8, which includes Wooster Square and part of the East Rock neighborhood, is matched by Green Party campaigns in four other wards this year — 2, 9, 10 and 19. Twenty-seven of the positions on the city’s 30-member legislative body are currently held by Democrats. Republicans hold two seats, in wards 18 and 25.
As out of place as Green Party campaign literature seems on a bulletin board in Sage Hall, the Green Party itself seems even more out of place in the larger context of New Haven politics. But, as the five candidates promised at Green Party headquarters Tuesday night, that may soon change.
This year’s Nov. 6 election may be the first time the Greens establish a solid presence on the Board of Aldermen, but the party itself has been active in New Haven for almost two decades.
As far as any of the candidates could remember Tuesday night, the New Haven Greens have been around since the mid-1980s. In one election year that decade, they said the party even fielded a full slate of aldermanic candidates. A Green Party candidate for mayor in 1985, Rick Wolff, won more than 20 percent of the vote against his Democratic and Republican opponents.
Then, in the early 1990s, the party went on what Halle described as a “brief hiatus.”
While there was disagreement over why the party disappeared, everyone in the room agreed what rekindled the flame: Ralph Nader’s two runs for president.
The five candidates face the same problem in New Haven this year as Nader did when he ran for president in 1996 and 2000 — a need to convince voters that the Green Party is about more than just environmentalism. But while Halle and company successfully advertised their stances on a wide range of city issues Tuesday night, it became apparent that environmentalism is still very much central to the Greens’ mission.
While Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and several incumbent Democrats on the Board of Aldermen supported the sale and eventual re-opening of the English Station power plant in Fair Haven earlier this year, the Green Party has stepped forward to keep it closed.
Now, as Crowder and Halle are quick to point out, their Democratic opponents have suddenly turned closing the plant into a big campaign issue.
Crowder even lives his own life environmentally. He carpools every day to Hartford, where he works for a company that makes renewable-energy fuel cells.
Beyond environmentalism, the candidates agreed on a common vision for New Haven’s schools.
Crowder said he would fight to make the Board of Education “more accountable to the community.” Currently, the mayor appoints the school board, making New Haven the only city in Connecticut where citizens do not elect the board directly.
Like Joel Schiavone ’58, a Republican who is challenging DeStefano for the mayor’s office on Nov. 6, the five candidates said they would reduce the size of local schools and allow teachers more control over their curricula.
The Green Party candidates also criticized the city’s economic development strategies.
Like Schiavone, they attacked the mayor and the Board of Aldermen over both the failed Long Wharf Mall project and plans to turn the Macy’s-Malley’s-Chapel Square Mall plot into more retail outlets.
“In the 1980s the city came up with this strategy of building stuff to attract suburbanites back to the city,” said Calvin Nicholson ’00, who is mounting a bid for the Greens in Ward 19. “The Democrats are the only party that worries about bringing neighbors into their house before cleaning it up.”
While unhappy with the city’s schools and economic development strategies, all five candidates said their reasons for joining the Green Party were more complex.
Allan Brison, a former computer programmer from Boston, is running in East Rock’s Ward 10 because he just can’t deal with the Democrats anymore.
“I’ve long been disenchanted with the two major parties,” said Brison, shaking his head as he scratched his large white beard.
“The Democratic party abandoned African-Americans after the Florida election mess,” Nicholson added.
Nicholson, who grew up in Ward 19 and went to Wilbur Cross High School before enrolling at Yale, works in Science Park as a software engineer.
Joyce Chen ’01, who is facing Democratic incumbent Linda Townsend-Maier in Ward 2, said she turned Green because she could not accomplish anything as a member of New Haven’s majority party.
“I used to be a registered Democrat,” said Chen, who works for the University and is a steward of Local 34, one of the unions that represents Yale employees. “But then I realized I wouldn’t be able to serve the interests of the community.”
The candidates said their biggest obstacle is the Democrat who votes according to party registration.
“It’s hard to fight against the people who just vote the party line,” Crowder said. “People think they’re being progressive by voting Democratic.”
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