Welcoming impassioned pledges of support from U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 officially launched his unorthodox campaign for a spot on the Yale Corporation Friday during a $100-a-head fund-raiser at his New Haven church.
Before a crowd that included top city officials, local labor leaders and several members of New Haven’s Board of Aldermen, DeStefano and DeLauro spokesman Stanley Welch endorsed Lee’s bid for a seat on Yale’s highest policy-making body, praising what they said were his efforts to forge a true town-gown partnership.
DeLauro, who is known for her strong support of organized labor, wrote a letter offering her endorsement after she was approached by leaders of Local 34, the union that represents Yale’s clerical workers, Welch said.
“With 5,000 Yale alumni endorsing your candidacy, you have already secured a strong and vigilant network of support, but there is still much to be done,” DeLauro wrote in the letter, which Welch read before the crowd of about 150 Friday.
DeStefano said he supports any effort that will strengthen ties between the city and the University.
“I’ve never spoken on behalf of a candidate for the Yale Corporation before,” the mayor said in an interview Monday. “David is a concerned member of this community, and his talents make him the man to open the way to participation in more of Yale’s decision making, including the Yale Corporation.”
When informed of the endorsements Monday night, Yale President Richard Levin and University Secretary Linda Lorimer declined to comment on Lee’s candidacy.
Accompanying DeStefano at the event was a bevy of city officials, including Economic Development Administrator Henry Fernandez LAW ’94, Police Chief Melvin H. Wearing, Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo, and the mayor’s executive assistant, Julio Gonzalez ’99.
Gonzalez, who served as Ward 1 alderman while a Yale student, said he hopes Lee’s efforts will lead to continued improvement in town-gown relations.
“Now, more than ever, the city and the University are interdependent and interwoven,” he said. “I think the most poignant thing about Rev. Lee’s candidacy is that he is being supported by Yale alumni — like me — who live and work in New Haven. Yale has become more open to [a true partnership] under the current president, but the University is an open-ended thing and it’s up to us to shape that.”
After DeStefano spoke, the Rev. Boise Kimber, who has described himself as a political “kingmaker,” encouraged members of the audience to open their checkbooks for Lee, singling out several attendees by name and at one point threatening to block the door to the church unless Lee received substantial donations.
Neither Kimber nor Lee could be reached for comment yesterday.
The Yale Corporation is ultimately responsible for overseeing the University’s financial and academic policies. Ten of the trustees select their own successors for up to two six-year terms each, while the other six are elected by the alumni for a single six-year term. Their terms are staggered so that one trustee is elected each year.
Lee secured himself a place on the ballot this fall when he amassed 4,900 alumni signatures, said Jeff Brenzel, the executive director of the Association of Yale Alumni. If successful, Lee will become only the second man in history to win an alumni post on the Corporation after winning a place on the ballot through the petition process.
Lee’s candidacy is also notable in its style: No Corporation hopeful has ever campaigned to the extent that he has over the past few months.
“Historically, there has not been an emphasis on campaigning,” Lorimer said last week in a general interview about the Corporation.
Lorimer said the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee is responsible for creating the slate for the election each year. She said the completed ballot has to have between two and five candidates per year.
The committee is currently working on completing the nomination process, after which, Lorimer said, the names will be forwarded to her office.
“Sometime in February or March, the names are made public, but there is not a specified date,” she said.
Brenzel said the date of the actual election of the alumni fellows, per Yale’s charter, is the day preceding Commencement. This year, the election will fall on May 26.
The guidelines for the nomination and election of alumni fellows do not address any aspects of campaigning — including campaign fund raising.
Lee has received substantial funding from Yale’s labor unions, which are engaged in contract negotiations with the University this year. During contract negotiation years, relations between Yale and its unions have traditionally been acrimonious.
In October, Lee defended his decision to accept money from the unions.
“I am for working people, the laborers, those who stand up for justice on any level,” Lee told the Yale Daily News.
Current Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, one of at least seven aldermen who attended the event Friday, said he did not think Lee’s ties to labor would be an impediment to the Corporation’s mission.
“I think it’s wrong to say David Lee is going to be about workers. He will definitely be the voice of advocacy for the citizens of the city,” Healey said. “But it’s not like what he says will be the final decision. There will be other voices to moderate it.”
Yale historian and professor emeritus Gaddis Smith said that in former years the Corporation was criticized for a lack of diversity. The Corporation, he said, was filled with senators, business leaders, and, in the case of William Howard Taft 1878, a sitting president.
“These were kind of big and important people, in capital letters,” Smith said. “There is still something of that to this day, but there are fewer national household names. Thirty, 40 years ago any well-informed American who read the newspaper would recognize the names of Corporation [fellows].”
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.
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”20062″ ]