As potential candidates to replace Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 begin to emerge, significant power in determining the ward’s next representative rests in the hands of the 50-member Ward 1 Democratic Committee.
According to Associate Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87, who served as Ward 1 alderman from 1990 to 1993, the candidate who has garnered the committee’s endorsement has won in every election since at least 1981. But Morand said most of those races have been closely contested, including one race in 1987 in which the committee’s nominee won with roughly 55 percent of the vote.
The committee is charged with the task of selecting a candidate for alderman who will be placed on the primary ballot by the New Haven Democratic Town Committee, of which the Ward 1 committee is a subsidiary. Other potential candidates could petition registered Democrats in the ward to get on the ballot for the Democratic primary vote, which would take place in September, Healey said.
Democratic nominees can also be challenged by other parties’ candidates or by independents, as was the case when independent Dan Kruger ’04 unsuccessfully challenged Healey in his last election. Ward 1 has a larger proportion of unaffiliated and non-Democratic voters than the highly Democratic city of New Haven as a whole, Ward 1 Democratic Committee co-chair Amia Srinivasan ’07 said.
Winning the committee’s endorsement brings the benefit of publicity and organizational backing, Morand said.
“Even in an intellectual community such as ours, there are probably voters who will defer to party-line decisions,” Morand said. “They’re probably not so numerous, but it can make some marginal difference.”
The main reason the committee’s backing is important is that a diverse cross section of the campus’ most active Democrats are represented in its decision, Healey said.
“If you can’t convince the people who know the most [about the issues] that you’re the best candidate to serve, then you’ll have a tough time convincing all the rest of the Democrats in the ward,” Healey said.
Yet in the past the process has not always run smoothly. In particular, the 2001 endorsement was plagued by criticism about the openness of the process, the fairness of the voting system and the composition of the committee.
Criticism was leveled at the voting system in which one of the three candidates was eliminated in the first round of voting, leaving two candidates to face off in a final round. Some observers alleged at the time that Healey won because he had fewer political enemies than his two opponents and that the opponents’ backers used strategic voting to try to knock each other out in the first round of voting.
To avoid controversy this year, Srinivasan and her co-chair, Nazneen Mehta ’06, have said they have made it a goal to make the process as open and inclusive as possible. To do so, they sent out an e-mail to every registered Democrat in the ward asking for applications to sit on the committee, and Srinivasan said they made an effort to include representatives from diverse campus organizations, including cultural houses and political groups.
The voting system for this year’s endorsement, which is scheduled to take place March 23, will be instant run-off. Under this system, committee members will rank candidates in order of their preference. In the occasion of a three-person race, the lowest-scoring candidate’s votes will be thrown out and his or her voters’ second choices will be used in the count.
Srinivasan said she thinks the instant run-off system is fair because it makes strategic voting impossible and encourages people to vote for their preferred candidate regardless of whether or not they think he or she has a chance of winning.
At this point, the run-off voting system may not be necessary, since only two candidates, Rebecca Livengood ’07 and Dan Weeks ’06, have come forward to seek the committee’s nomination this year. Other candidates can still come forward to the committee, though Srinivasan said people who wait to enter the race will be “a few steps behind.”
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