After a year of divisiveness among Ward 1 Democrats, we ran for Ward 1 Democratic Committee co-chair with the hope of reforming the aldermanic selection and nomination process.
Currently, a committee of 40 to 50 Democrats selected by the ward co-chairs votes on which aldermanic candidate receives the party’s endorsement in the primary and general election. Since the primary election takes place in September — leaving very little time for a real contest in a ward where residents have been away all summer — often the candidate who wins the endorsement becomes alderman. This process is simply not the democratic process we would all like it to be.
When a small committee has what amounts to the final word on who will become alderman, the committee must be representative of Democrats in the ward. We believe selecting a committee that accurately represents the diversity of opinions and interests of Ward 1 Democrats is difficult, if not impossible. We think the best solution is to turn the task of picking the alderman over to those whom that person will represent: residents of Ward 1.
We also want to address concerns about the openness and fairness of the process. Numerous comments in these pages and elsewhere focus on the lack of awareness about selection of the Democratic committee and the closed nature of the aldermanic endorsement vote. The solution, then, is clear: Hold a caucus in which every registered Ward 1 Democrat has the opportunity to vote.
By opening up the selection process, we hope to encourage aldermanic candidates to reach out, both to the 40 members of the committee and to the hundreds of Democrats in the ward. A caucus vote would move discussion about the merits of the different candidates out from behind closed doors, into the ward as a whole.
We saw the amazing voter turnout last November. We believe an open system will build on this increased participation to further engage students in the democratic process. Having a caucus effectively pushes the primary back to the spring, allowing for healthier competition among candidates who may seek support from all the ward’s registered Democrats.
What will become of the Ward 1 committee after it has handed over its nominating power to the ward? We envision a committee dedicated to two goals. First, we want it to serve as a Democratic voice in the ward, informing the alderman about important issues. Second, we want the ward committee to be a forum for the alderman to talk to constituents about current issues facing the board.
As our predecessors, we want to reach out to all currently registered Ward 1 Democrats, but we also want to make the new committee open and welcoming. When we submit our final list of committee members, we hope to have assembled a group dedicated to working together and engaging Democrats in the issues affecting New Haven. The Ward 1 committee should be a place to bring this diversity of interests together to promote the exchange of ideas and information. We feel strongly that this committee can and should become a powerful force for progressive change.
In coming weeks, we will be presenting these proposed reforms to Ward 1 Democrats, selecting members for the committee, and beginning the process to make these reforms for the 2007 aldermanic endorsement. We have greatly appreciated the input and comments we have received, and want to continue this dialogue.
We know no set of reforms is perfect, and a caucus system and successful committee will require a tremendous amount of coordination, planning and dedication on the part of everyone. We hope all Democrats — whether recently registered or long-time voters, whether already active in New Haven politics or just looking for a way to be involved — will join us in building a vibrant and engaged Democratic community in Ward 1.
Hugh Baran is a freshman in Davenport College. Cynthia Okechukwu is a sophomore in Pierson College. They are the Ward 1 Democratic Committee co-chairs.