In announcing their candidacy for the Ward 1 Democratic Town Committee co-chairmanship last week, Hugh Baran ’09 and Cynthia Okechukwu ’08 focused their rhetoric on the fundamental machinery of the committee’s aldermanic nomination process. While the approximately 40-member committee has historically selected the Ward 1 Democratic candidate for alderman itself, Baran and Okechukwu have campaigned — to the extent that they have had to campaign while running unopposed — primarily on their proposal to replace the insular selection process with a caucus open to all registered ward Democrats.
This proposed reform would go a long way toward answering the most serious charge typically leveled at the ward’s Democratic nomination process — that it is not democratic enough. Ward DTC insiders and outsiders alike, including former Alderwoman Rebecca Livengood ’07 and current Alderman Nick Shalek ’05, have declared their support for the caucus system. We too support this initiative, which seems a reasonable compromise with Yale in mind, but we believe this process should not be limited to Ward 1.
Baran and Okechukwu’s plan has been explicitly designed as an alternative to the Democratic primary held in September, which has a campaign season that burns hottest while most students are still unpacking or shopping for classes. With most ward residents otherwise occupied, the committee’s pick usually faces little resistance in the primary, and a more directly democratic nomination process during the prior semester should be sufficient to address at least some concerns of procedural inequity.
Just as importantly, a reform of this nature would facilitate greater student involvement in the ward’s aldermanic campaigns. While dozens of students are already active in this process, most still seem to possess relatively similar views, and we have not seen a resurgence of the broader voter demographics that swept Shalek into office as an Independent last November, the first successful challenger of the committee’s choice in more than a decade. Shalek has proven that a wider sphere of political interest lurks just below the ward’s surface — simply waiting, in some cases, for a ride to the polls — and the committee should seek access to that broader range of opinions. With the offer of a more direct hand in the process, students from all tables in the Democratic tent should assess what they think would be best for the ward.
That said, we understand that chairwoman Susie Voigt and the full New Haven DTC must consider what is best for the other 29 wards, as well. Obviously, the individual ward DTC nomination bylaws must remain uniform. But we believe that the letter of the bylaws can be sufficiently broadened to encompass either system, depending on popular sentiment within the wards themselves. While the importance of a common protocol should not be overlooked, we believe that guidelines sufficiently open to interpretation should allow Democrats in Ward 1 — and Ward 22, for that matter — to have a say in their aldermanic nomination process, regardless of where they spend their summer.