Democrats city-wide are facing off in municipal election primaries today, likely determining the outcomes of November’s aldermanic elections in several of the city’s Democrat-dominated wards.
Two of the contested races are in wards with significant concentrations of Yale students: In Ward 22, which includes four residential colleges and Swing Space, incumbent Alderman Rev. Drew King is being challenged by Cordelia Thorpe, and in Ward 2, which includes the Dwight neighborhood, Gina Calder ’03 is challenging Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01.
In the Ward 22 race, crime and youth issues have been the focus of both King and Thorpe’s campaigns, but the candidates said they have different solutions for the ward’s problems. King, who is backed by Mayor John DeStefano Jr., proposes holding monthly community meetings with businessmen and local leaders to provide educational activities for children and training in entrepreneurship for youths. Thorpe proposes petitioning city police to increase patrols in the neighborhood and setting up mentoring programs that would bring Yale students and local youths together.
The most contentious issue in the campaign has been King’s track record during his two years as alderman. Thorpe alleges that King has been unresponsive to constituents’ requests for help on small issues like fixing traffic signs, and she said he has failed to address the crime and youth issues on his platform during his time on the board.
But King counters that he has been heavily involved in the community, including attending funerals for crime victims. He said he has worked with Yale to incorporate community concerns in the University’s development of a new police station in the ward, including a room in the station equipped with state-of-the-art computers that will be set aside for Yale students to tutor local children. He said he plans to be a strong advocate for community issues by, for example, “going to the extreme” to ensure that city funding is allocated to build new sidewalks on Henry Street.
“Number one, I do care about the people,” King said. “I do care about our community. I do care about the economics of our community. I care about people coming together.”
Rob Smuts ’01, DeStefano’s deputy chief of staff, said it was easy for the mayor to support King based on his performance as an alderman, in particular due to King’s success moderating between community, city and University interests in the various collaborative projects underway in the ward, including the police station and the development of new housing areas.
“It’s absolutely critical that you have strong bridges between community and either the city or the private entities that are doing the work,” Smuts said. “I think that Ward 22 under Drew’s leadership has been exemplary in that respect.”
But according to Thorpe, King has been distant from his constituents, surrounding himself with a small group of Yale students rather than consulting diverse members of his constituency.
“I’m running because of neglect of the community, neglect of the people, neglect of the democratic principles, total neglect,” Thorpe said. “It’s like he thinks he’s a real-life king, and he has his knights around him. What about the rest of us?”
Thorpe said that if she were elected, she would work to “embrace” students in the ward while creating an inclusive environment responsive to all constituents’ needs, placing their wishes above all else. On controversial city-wide issues like Yale-New Haven Hospital’s Cancer Center expansion proposal, she said she would invite all members of the ward to a committee meeting, bring in experts to present both sides of the debate and take a vote among her constituents to determine her position.
The Ward 22 race is not the only hard-fought campaign that will be decided today.
In Ward 3, the location of Yale-New Haven Hospital and the site of its proposed cancer center, incumbent Alderwoman Jacqueline James is being challenged by Melvin Counsel, who secured DeStefano’s support, as well as the endorsement of the ward’s Democratic committee. James is a member of the vocal group Community Organized for Responsible Development, which has been the primary force raising objections to the cancer center project, but Smuts said her position on the cancer center is unrelated to the mayor’s support for Counsel.
“It’s definitely not a factor in the mayor’s decision,” Smuts said. “It’s an example of the mayor sitting and talking with the people who expressed interest in running and really his feeling that they would do a better job, a more aggressive job in representing their neighborhood.”
DeStefano also threw his support against the incumbents in Wards 17 and 13, where Alderman Alphonse Paolillo Jr. and Alderwoman Rosa Santana face off against Patricia Apuzzo and Alexander Rhodeen, respectively. Paolillo won the endorsement of his ward’s Democratic committee, while Santana did not. In Ward 2, DeStefano is backing Calder over the incumbent Chen.