With Election Day fast approaching, Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen’s recent decision to contest incumbent state Rep. Toni Walker has come as a surprise to many people.
Chen ’01, a Green who upset Democratic Alderwoman Linda Townsend-Maier in the 2001 election, is hoping for a repeat performance. Walker, a Democrat who represents the 23,000 people of the 93rd assembly district — an area that stretches from West Rock to the Long Island Sound — has held the position since 2001.
Chen’s candidacy has ruffled a few feathers, in particular proponents of the domestic partnership initiative to recognize same-sex couples, against which she cast a dissenting vote. In addition, she has lost the support of union leadership, despite their support for her in the 2003 aldermanic election.
Bob Proto, the president of Local 35, said Walker has been a strong supporter of labor throughout her tenure as state representative. He said labor would support her in the election.
“We’re going to work hard and going to be her allies and make sure she gets sent back to Hartford,” said Proto, adding that he is “disappointed” at Chen’s decision to run against Walker.
Chen said labor’s decision to support Walker was not surprising, given the nature of union politics.
“Labor tends to support the incumbent,” said Walker. “That’s the safe way for labor to go. I think if I win this race they’ll rally behind me, because I have rallied behind them.”
Walker said the union support she enjoys is due to her experience as a politician and her personal ties with New Haven.
“I have a proven record,” Walker said. “I’ve been a strong advocate and can build coalitions with legislators. I’ve been in New Haven for more that 40 years and I love my community.”
In contrast, Chen said she entered the race in order to bring a fresh outlook to the legislature.
“I decided to run primarily because I felt that Toni Walker, while she might have done some good things on the legislature, was too tied to the political machine of New Haven,” said Chen.
Chen said when Walker was elected in 2001, it was in a special election — due to the death of the representative at the time — in which few voters cast their ballot.
Both candidates said the key to winning the election lies in getting out the vote. According to Chen, about 4,000 people are expected to vote in the election. However, that fact is not stopping either candidate from canvassing additional voters.
Six Yale students joined Walker in going door-to-door to register voters Saturday and encourage those already registered to vote. Cynthia Okechukwu ’08, one of the students who joined Walker, said she wants to see voters turn out for the election.
“Regardless of political affiliation, I think it’s really important for people to be registered,” said Okechukwu.