Tomorrow on Election Day, going to the polls in New Haven might seem anticlimactic. Connecticut will, barring an electoral miracle, go to John Kerry and John Edwards, Sen. Chris Dodd will be re-elected easily, and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro is facing a nominal challenge from Richter Elser, whom she easily dispatched in 2002. But for students registered to vote at their off-campus addresses in Ward 2, Election Day offers the opportunity to make a real difference in a state election of critical importance: the race between incumbent State Rep. Toni Walker, a Democrat, and her challenger, Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01, a Green.
In past elections, the New Haven Greens have successfully pushed the Democratic Party to the left on issues like the environment and campaign finance. New Haven Advocate Associate Editor Paul Bass credited the party with “having revolutionized New Haven’s political agenda” going into the 2003 city elections. But in the context of this strategy, it is ludicrous to choose Rep. Walker as a target. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. made sense; he is now a considerably more liberal Democrat than he was at the beginning of his time in office. But Representative Walker is one of the most talented, committed and progressive members of New Haven’s delegation in Hartford. She is a champion of economic justice and has had the courage to challenge some of Yale’s more disappointing community policies. She is a strong advocate of both gay rights and a woman’s right to choose. There is simply no good reason for the Green Party to be challenging her — if the issues are what truly matter to the Greens in this election.
But despite Rep. Walker’s stances, someone is spending a lot of money to try to throw her out of office. Alderwoman Chen’s campaign literature is glossier, more professional and significantly more expensive than the photocopied sheets she distributed last fall in her aldermanic re-election campaign. The large posters bearing her image that have appeared in the Dwight-Edgewood neighborhood make the blue-and-red lettered signs she used in 2003 look homemade by comparison. Clearly, she is not financing this campaign by herself. So someone else must be investing heavily in keeping this vanity race alive.
It seems odd, though, that the Greens would choose Alderwoman Chen as the standard-bearer to carry their progressive banner to Hartford. It is hard to deny that she is committed to her constituents. But as a member of a party whose 10 key principles include a commitment to “consciously confront — barriers such as racism and class oppression, sexism and heterosexism, ageism and disability, which act to deny fair treatment and equal justice under the law,” Alderwoman Chen has made some curious decisions. The choice that has received the most attention was her vote against the Domestic Partnership Amendment in 2003, a ballot accompanied by a number of negative comments about the gay and lesbian community.
It is deeply troubling that Alderwoman Chen abandoned her own party’s principles of social justice; it is even more problematic that the party continues to support her in the face of this hypocrisy.
On the state level, moreover, her stance against equal rights could do some real damage. While Alderwoman Chen’s vote against the Domestic Partnership Amendment doomed a limited measure, it is difficult to legislate discrimination on a local level. Every year, however, the General Assembly debates efforts to erase the rights and protections Connecticut’s gay and lesbian couples already have, and to prevent them from ever achieving legal equality. Rep. Walker has consistently and strongly opposed these efforts; replacing her would be a real loss in the fight for equality. Sadly, it seems that this is a price the New Haven Green Party is willing to pay to elect a state representative. For a party truly invested in equality, sending another discriminatory vote to Hartford would be an unacceptable cost.
More in line with Green Party principles is Alderwoman Chen’s dedication to community organizing and economic progressivism. But she still does not have Representative Walker’s record or experience, and in recognition of that, every major union in Connecticut has endorsed Representative Walker. Yale’s unions, who were Alderwoman Chen’s most important allies in her 2003 re-election campaign, have also sided firmly with Rep. Walker, recognizing a vision that extends beyond both the city of New Haven and economic issues.
It’s unfortunate that Alderwoman Chen’s campaign, which has mostly launched shallow, vague allegations at Rep. Walker, has taken up time and energy that could have been better spent elsewhere this election season. Luckily, the choice should be clear for Yale students when they head to the Ward 2 polls on Tuesday: Toni Walker’s experience, commitment to economic and sexual equality, and dedication to her district make her the only viable candidate in this race.
Alyssa Rosenberg is a junior in Silliman College. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.