Yale’s student Democrats geared up for a tough governor’s race and a new local political landscape at their first meeting Sunday.
Fifteen people, including Ward 1 Alderman Benjamin Healey ’04, gathered at La Casa Cultural to discuss issues ranging from city charter revision to U.S. military involvement in Iraq, as the Ward 1 Democratic committee convened for the school year. The committee –one of 30 in the city — largely controls Democratic politics in Yale-dominated Ward 1.
Much of the discussion at the meeting focused on the decennial city redistricting process, which shifted many local voters and Yale students into new wards.
Ward 1 currently includes eight of Yale’s 12 residential colleges, Old Campus, and Swing Space. Currently, Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges are in Ward 22, and Pierson and Davenport colleges are in Ward 7. Because of the redistricting, Silliman, Timothy Dwight and Swing Space will all move to Ward 22. Ward 1 will acquire Pierson and Davenport as Ward 7 moves to cover downtown New Haven.
Though the redistricting will take place before the election, people will vote in their old wards in November.
The committee also turned its attention to upcoming elections and voter registration efforts in Ward 1.
Shonu Gandhi ’03, the Ward 1 committee co-chairwoman, said voter turnout in the ward has traditionally been very sporadic. Because of the close gubernatorial race this fall between Democratic candidate Bill Curry and Gov. John G. Rowland, Democrats must turn out more voters, she said.
“If [Curry] is going to win, New Haven has to have a huge turnout,” Gandhi said.
Gandhi is a staff columnist for the Yale Daily News.
One of the committee’s efforts to bolster voter turnout is an annual registration drive targeted at freshmen, which is scheduled to begin this year at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Approximately 400 freshmen were registered during last year’s drive, Gandhi said.
The committee discussed outreach prospects for the coming year, including work in New Haven public schools and activism in national and local issues.
“It’s important that there’s an active committee, and we’re trying to build that here,” Healey said.
He said one possibility would be to work with school administrators or student government organizations to help them organize their own nonpartisan voter registration drives.
The committee also considered developing workshops to involve local high school students in politics, such as helping students start local Democratic Party chapters in their high schools.
“It is important for people to learn how to build their own communities,” Healey said.
Larger global issues, such as military involvement in Iraq and campaign finance reform, were also at the forefront of Sunday’s meeting. Some members said they objected to organizing on a grass-roots level around these issues for fear that the committee might lose its legitimacy. Vidhya Prabhakaran ’03 said the Yale College Council had passed a resolution in 1991 regarding the Gulf War, but it was ill-received on campus.
Healey suggested that the committee might want to focus instead on local issues such as charter revision in New Haven. Others in attendance said the committee would play a crucial role in such local debates.
“There is no force outside of the mayor’s office that puts out thoughtful opinions about these issues,” Gandhi said.
The Ward 1 committee will meet again next Sunday at 4 p.m. at La Casa Cultural at 301 Crown Street.