Persistence and patience finally paid off for Dixwell resident Cordelia Thorpe, who was elected co-chair of the Ward 22 Democratic Town Committee during spring break, bringing an end to years of failed attempts to win elected office in Ward 22.
Thorpe, who lost the campaign two years ago for co-chair, and who was defeated by Alderman Drew King in last November’s Democratic aldermanic primaries, was elected co-chair on March 7 along with current co-chair Sheneane Ragin. Thorpe defeated challenger Mena Cammett ’09 by a margin of just five votes.
Although absentee ballots in the election were initially miscounted, according to the office of the Town Clerk, the corrected count did not change the outcome of the election. Ragin received 126 votes, Thorpe 123 and Cammett 118, Deputy Town Clerk Sally Brown said. Brown said the first count had mistakenly given Thorpe 124 votes.
Thorpe said that as co-chair she hopes to build a committee that is more representative of the ward, which encompasses part of Dixwell, four of Yale’s residential colleges and Swing Space. She said the ward committee currently does a poor job of reaching out to Dixwell residents and engaging them in the political process.
“Most people don’t know what the ward committee is, when it meets, who’s on it, who their alderman is, what day and time you vote,” she said. “It’s a growing ward … so it’s not that it’s bad; it’s just that there’s a lot of new things happening.”
Ward committees are responsible for fostering discussion in a ward about the neighborhood’s needs, said Alyssa Rosenberg ’06, the outgoing Ward 22 Town Committee co-chair. The committee’s power, she said, centers upon its ability to mobilize residents in lobbying for changes to the ward.
The committee, Thorpe said, would likely comprise 60 people, with her and Ragin each picking 30 of the members. She said she hopes the committee will include two individuals from each street in the neighborhood, including two Yale students from each college located in the ward — Timothy Dwight, Silliman, Morse and Ezra Stiles.
“It’s good to be inclusive and talk to everyone,” she said. “Yale and the community together — that’s our proposal.”
But some said Thorpe’s victory could bring to the surface long-simmering tensions in the ward between those who do and do not support King, the current alderman. Thorpe said former Ward 22 Alderwoman Mae Ola Riddick, whom King defeated by 19 votes in 2003, is one of her political mentors.
“There are a lot of people who have different ideas in the ward, and when Drew beat Mae Ola Riddick, that was a big upset of the conventional power in the neighborhood,” said Rosenberg, who chose not to run for re-election because she is graduating in May. “This is the long-running resolution of a political split that’s been around for a while.”
King said he was disappointed that Thorpe still seems hostile toward him since he defeated her in the November election. He said she has not yet tried to speak with him since her victory, and he said he is not optimistic that they will be able to have a productive relationship. And if the ward committee is split, he said, it could hinder the ward’s ability to unite in lobbying for improvements to public safety or youth programs.
“When she ran against me for the aldermanic seat, they talked a lot of trash to me, so I don’t even know where she’s at,” he said. “She never sat down and talked to me; she never even tried to sit down.”
But Thorpe, although she acknowledged she has not spoken with King, denied that she held any animosity toward him and said she looked forward to new beginnings in the ward.
“There’s peace and harmony in Ward 22,” she said. “This is an inclusive spirit, and we’re looking for a new beginning.”
Dixwell resident Ruth Henderson, who has known Thorpe for years but has met Ragin only once, said Thorpe knows many neighborhood residents and could be effective at reaching out to residents who have not traditionally participated in the committee.
“We have a very active block watch, but I don’t know anyone from Dickerman Street who’s on the ward committee,” said Henderson, who lives on Dickerman Street.
Cammett said she will continue volunteering in Ward 22 at the Yale-Dixwell Community Center, where she currently works as an intern, and that she may try to become a member of the committee.