Residents of Ward 1, which includes most of Yale’s campus, will soon have a new representative on the city’s Board of Aldermen, as Rebecca Livengood ’07 steps in to fill out the remaining two months of the term of Ben Healey ’04, who resigned in early August.
Livengood, who won the Ward 1 Democratic Committee’s endorsement in March, will be sworn in on Aug. 31. Taking Healey’s position as Ward 1 alderman will enable Livengood to run as an incumbent in November’s aldermanic election, where she is being challenged by independent candidate Nick Shalek ’05.
Having spent the summer in New Haven working with the homeless, Livengood said she has met with city leaders over the past several months to develop working relationships with members of the board and deepen her knowledge of the major issues facing the city. In particular, she said she is excited about two major upcoming votes facing the board: on approval for Yale-New Haven Hospital’s cancer center expansion project and the election of an aldermanic president.
“I think the experience that I’ve gained over the summer and the experience that I’ll have as an incumbent will help in talking about the issues and in the campaign,” she said.
Livengood will face Shalek, a newcomer to the race and former captain of the Yale hockey team who now works for the Yale Investments Office. Shalek said he is not concerned that Livengood will have an advantage as an incumbent because he thinks her time on the board before the election will be too short to develop valuable expertise.
“I think obviously if Yale students pay attention and know the story, then the incumbency won’t be a big deal,” he said.
Shalek said he is running in order to give students a choice in the election, suggesting that Livengood was “handpicked” for the position by Healey and Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
The Ward 1 Democratic Committee endorsement process, in which Livengood defeated Dan Weeks ’06, was controversial, with some Weeks supporters alleging that the committee was not comprised of a representative cross-section of Ward 1 Democrats. After the endorsement, Healey announced he would back Livengood, and Weeks withdrew from the race two weeks later after considering a primary run.
But Livengood said the facts that Weeks had close ties to the mayor’s office and that Healey avoided involvement in the committee endorsement process demonstrate that she was elected, not picked, for the endorsement.
“I think it’s hard to say that I was a handpicked candidate,” she said.
Ward 27 Alderman Phil Voigt, who has worked closely with a succession of Ward 1 aldermen, said it is too soon to predict the impact Livengood will have on the Board.
“It’s going to take a little while to get her feet wet, but I’m sure she’ll do a great job,” Voigt said.
Healey, a Democrat, submitted a letter of resignation to Mayor John DeStefano Jr. Aug. 8, and within a week he had moved to Boston to start work at the Massachusetts Ballot Access Project, an election reform group.
“I thought it would be important to see if I could translate the work in New Haven to another environment,” Healey said. “I wanted to try and use my political skills to try and build something from scratch, take on a new challenge.”
Healey had served as alderman since 2001, when former Alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99 stepped down. Healey was then elected to two consecutive two-year terms and took several leadership roles on the board, including serving as chairman of the Aldermanic Legislation Committee.
During his tenure as alderman, Healey fought for gay rights, narrowly failing to pass a domestic partnership ordinance in 2003, and helped approve New Haven’s downtown development project, which will move Gateway Community College and the Long Wharf Theatre to the downtown area.
Healey said his experience on the board will provide a strong foundation for his new work.
“If I learned anything in New Haven, it’s that what matters is the relationships you build,” he said. “I’m trying to build those relationships here and forge a strong progressive electoral coalition.”
But a future return to the Elm City is not out of the question for Healey.
“I might be back,” he said. “I do like that town.”