Susan Voigt, a veteran New Haven political organizer and charter member of Yale labor union Local 34, said Monday that she will run for head of the city’s powerful Democratic party this spring.
The announcement comes just days after current Democratic Town Committee Chairman Nick Balletto said he would not seek reelection.
Balletto’s leadership — and the future of the party as a whole — have been shrouded in uncertainty since Balletto broke with the majority of his fellow committee members during the hotly contested mayoral primary race this fall and endorsed state Sen. Martin Looney over incumbent Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
Many have said Balletto’s endorsement exacerbated an already growing split within the Democratic Party.
Voigt, who works as a business manager at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, said she hopes to unify the party through grass-roots membership drives and community activism.
“I’m excited about the possibility of building a more unified Democratic Party. We’re the biggest Democratic Party unit in the state,” Voigt said. “We have an opportunity [to make a difference] in Hartford, but we need to be unified to do that.”
As of Monday, no one had stepped forward to challenge Voigt in the election, which will take place in mid-March.
Balletto’s decision not to run for reelection did not come as a surprise to many party regulars, given the state of his relationship with DeStefano.
Balletto’s ability to lead the party was thrown into doubt after the town committee voted 35-24 to endorse DeStefano last year. DeStefano went on to beat Looney by a 2-to-1 margin in the Sept. 11 primary.
Balletto said last night his decision not to run again was “basically personal.”
“I just got married, and I have a very active accounting practice,” he said. “I thought it was in the best interest of the party. — It was time to let someone else take over.”
DeStefano said yesterday he thought the change of power would be good for all involved.
“Nick and I have talked informally off and on since the primary,” he said. “I think it was the right decision for Nick, [and] I think it’s the right decision for the party. I know Nick, and I’m sure he will stay involved in local politics.”
DeStefano said Voigt will bring “excitement and enthusiasm” to the party if she is elected.
Balletto said he thought Voigt would fare well in the position.
“I think Susie will be a fine chairwoman,” he said. “She’s come through the ranks, and she’s paid her dues.”
Voigt has held various positions, including steward, in Local 34. One of the two unions recognized by Yale, Local 34 is one of the unions expected to enter comprehensive contract negotiations with the University this January.
“I worked on the organizing drive, and then when the union was formed I got involved,” she said. “Coming from that background makes me want to do that kind of organizing in the city.”
Samantha Jay ’04, a member of the Yale College Democrats, said Voigt’s willingness to meet with a group of students this fall at Yorkside Restaurant illustrates her commitment to making the party more inclusive.
“She is really open to working with young people,” Jay said. “She’s interested in getting everyone who wants to be involved, involved.”
Voigt, who is married to Ward 27 Alderman Philip Voigt, has been co-chair of her Democratic ward committee in Beaver Hills for the last nine years.
The election for Town Committee chairman will take place no more than 30 days after the March 12 electoral primary. On March 12, New Haven’s registered Democrats will elect two ward committee co-chairs in each of the city’s 30 wards, and then Balletto will call a meeting of the Town Committee at which the new chairman will be elected.
The co-chairs of New Haven’s 30 Democratic ward committees help to decide what aldermanic candidates the party should field in the city’s biennial elections.