Promising to put more power into the hands of students, two Yale juniors said yesterday they will seek to lead the committee that sets the political agenda for Democratic politics in Yale-dominated Ward 1.
Michelle Mayorga ’03 and Shonu Gandhi ’03 will run unopposed this spring for the Democratic Ward Committee’s two top positions, succeeding Bruce Blair and University Chaplain Jerry Streets, two adult residents of Ward 1 who have served together as co-chairmen of the committee for the last four years.
The 30 ward committees are the grass-roots arm of New Haven’s Democratic Party. The 60 co-chairs, who are elected to two-year terms, effectively control aldermanic politics in their wards by selecting and endorsing candidates, a process that usually guarantees election for those chosen.
Based on the petitions she has received thus far, Democratic Registrar of Voters Sharon Ferrucci said many of the 30 wards will host uncontested races for co-chair on March 5. But candidates have until Jan. 30 to submit petitions, and under certain circumstances they may even collect signatures until the day of the election.
Mayorga, the former president of the Yale College Democrats, said she will work with Gandhi and Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 to give students a greater voice in New Haven politics.
“It’s a really good opportunity for the three of us to work together,” said Mayorga, who will hold a seat on the city’s Affirmative Action Commission this year. “The three of us together know what’s going on in local politics. Because we’re students, we’re more accessible to students. It’s easier to get a feel for how they want to be represented.”
Mayorga, who is from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., coordinated Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s on-campus reelection campaign. She said she would stay in New Haven after graduation to serve her term.
Gandhi said she hopes her relative youth will lead to changes in the Democratic Town Committee, the body that oversees the party in New Haven.
“I think it’s really important that the committee is energetic and excited about making the party progressive, and interested in facing most of the issues here,” she said. “It’s another important linkage that can exist between New Haven and Yale. We don’t have enough links like that.”
Gandhi, who is from Los Angeles, also worked for DeStefano this summer, managing his absentee-voter campaign.
Streets said he took the position on four years ago because not enough students expressed interest.
“I’m one of the few non-student residents of our ward,” he said. “I agreed a few years ago to provide continuity for the ward’s residents because many of them graduate before they have a chance to get involved.”
Streets said he will step down now that students have decided to run for the posts, but vowed to remain a part of politics in the ward.
“The ward seems to be strong, and Democratic students seem to be more organized and involved,” he said. “I’ll be happy to be an adviser or supporter in any way I can. I’m more encouraged about promoting political activism on the part of our students than I am about being co-chair.”
Healey said he was looking forward to working with both candidates.
“I respect both of them very much,” he said. “I’m very hopeful that with two students who are proven leaders, we will have an energetic ward committee that will influence policy, do voter registration, and push the Democratic Party toward progressive goals.”
Healey said Streets and Blair “worked admirably” for the ward’s residents during their terms.