Since redistricting in 2002, Yale students have become an increasingly important constituency in Ward 22, and aldermanic candidate Cordelia Thorpe faces an uphill battle to win them over in a few short weeks.
Thorpe, who is challenging Ward 22 Alderman Drew King to a primary on Sept. 13, is campaigning on a platform of unity and inclusiveness in the neighborhood. Roughly one quarter of the ward’s voters are students, including residents of Swing Space as well as Ezra Stiles, Morse, Silliman and Timothy Dwight colleges, and Thorpe said she thinks they stand to gain valuable guidance from their Dixwell neighbors.
“I’m for everyone,” said Thorpe, a 45-year New Haven resident who said she retired from working at the New Haven Correctional Center and now works at Yale-New Haven Hospital. “Each member of this ward is important to me.”
The central issue of Thorpe’s campaign is an effort to demonstrate that she would be more visible and more attentive to her constituents than King has been during his two years on the board.
At a campaign barbeque at the Elks Lodge in Dixwell yesterday, Thorpe and a handful of supporters cooked up hamburgers and hot dogs for anyone interested in discussing political issues, registering to vote or just consuming free food. One of the attendees, Dixwell resident Harry Coe, said he thinks King has not done enough to support his constituents with problems like housing.
“We need somebody that’s going to work, that’s going to fight for us,” he said.
But as evidence of his work on behalf of Dixwell, King pointed to the $250,000 he secured from Yale to build a park in Dixwell and his efforts to improve public safety by personally engaging with the community’s residents.
In contrast, King said Thorpe has not been involved in the community and is not well known by Dixwell residents.
“I have done a lot of beautiful things in the community,” King said. “I have done a tremendous lot of things that she probably doesn’t know about because she has not done anything for the community at all.”
Thorpe said she would consult with community members on major citywide issues rather than pushing her own agenda.
“As alderperson I’d be focusing totally, 100 percent on all constituents in my ward,” Thorpe said. “It would be my position to work for my constituents.”
In next Tuesday’s primary, Thorpe will likely face a tough challenge against King, who won a “very strong” endorsement from the ward’s Democratic committee, according to Alyssa Rosenberg ’06, the committee’s co-chair.
Rosenberg said she thinks King has already been a strong unifying force in the ward.
“He’s the only candidate that has reached out to the student body and been active in the community at the same time,” she said.
Though Rosenberg said she is “comfortable and confident” that the committee and the endorsement process have been open and fair, Thorpe said the committee did not adequately represent the community, in particular because she felt students were overrepresented relative to Dixwell residents.
“I would say 99 percent of the community members do not know who’s on the ward committee, do not know when they meet,” Thorpe said. “How would you feel if you lived in this community and you didn’t know what was going on?”
The committee decided not to release a vote tally, and Rosenberg would not say how many of the committee’s 30 to 40 members voted in the endorsement. She said half of the committee members are students, and half are residents.
In addition to a grass-roots, door-to-door reach-out effort in Dixwell, Thorpe’s campaign is trying to reach students. Through Sept. 8, Thorpe campaign chairperson Valerie McKinney, a Pierson College dining hall employee, is registering people to vote in the dining hall.