The special race for Ward 22 alderman kicked off in an unusually divisive way Thursday, when the Democratic Party endorsed a relatively unknown candidate to replace recently-resigned Alderman Drew King.
In the cafeteria of the Conte/West Hills magnet school, Town Democratic Committee chair Susie Voigt presided over a special meeting of the Ward 22 Democratic Committee to determine whom the party would endorse for alderman King’s seat. But one of the candidates — Ward 22 co-chair Cordelia Thorpe — protested the nature of the endorsement vote, telling Voigt that she had bad “sportsmanship” and was disenfranchising voters by meddling in Ward 22 affairs.
Voigt cast the tiebreaking vote for entrepreneur Greg Morehead after the Ward 22 Democratic Committee co-chairs — one of whom is Thorpe — split between the two candidates.
Morehead promised in a speech to bring change to the community and better serve the needs of its youth. His address was well-received, earning warm applause from all in attendance — except Thorpe and her table of about half a dozen supporters, who came holding Thorpe campaign signs and remained silent throughout the meeting.
Earlier in the meeting, a heated exchange took place between Voigt and several Democratic Town Committee members. After calling the meeting to order, Voigt asked if there were any nominees for alderman. The awkward silence that ensued was broken by a nomination for Morehead, who runs an anti-spyware software company that services Connecticut. Morehead has already won the support of Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and some members of the Board of Aldermen.
Then a Ward 22 resident nominated Thorpe, but the nomination was rejected because the resident was not a member of the Town Committee. Nominations can only be made by town committee members.
Voigt explained the rules, but the Thorpe supporter persisted until a member of the committee endorsed Thorpe, prompting the candidate herself to speak out against Voigt.
“I don’t think that’s good sportsmanship and good political spirit,” Thorpe said.
Voigt reiterated that party rules call for her to cast a tie-breaking vote when the Ward 22 co-chairs disagree, but then an unexpected dissenter — Ward Vice Chairwoman Norma Rodriguez-Reyes — questioned her tactics. She repeatedly asked what role, if any, the vice chairmen had if they had no roll in deliberating or deciding on party endorsements. But Voigt ended the discussion after several minutes, simply declaring that Morehead would be the party’s nominee. A cry of “Amen” could be heard as Thorpe shook her head and looked down.
After the meeting, which barely met the quorum of 22 members, Morehead said he felt he would make the best candidate for Ward 22, adding that the question of disenfranchisement was not one to dwell on, since the rules dictated what transpired. But one attendee said she felt that her ward had been disempowered.
“This is not democracy in action,” said Angela Watley, a member of the Ward 22 Democratic Committee, after the meeting. “I think it should have been up to the ward. Nobody ever even met this guy. This is the first time I’ve ever seen him.”
But town committee member Gaylord Bourne, who is the wife of Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield, said she was satisfied with the meeting. Although some committee members said the meeting served little purpose because the body was not asked to vote on anything significant, she said the fact that people showed up nonetheless was an encouraging sign of interest in the ward and city affairs. She added that “the rules are the rules,” and so she did not feel that anyone had been disenfranchised.
Thorpe said although she felt disenfranchised, she thinks she will nevertheless win a seat on the Board. The endorsement carries significant weight, but it by no means decides the outcome of the April 16 election. But she said she will have trouble reaching Yale students, who make up about one-third of the ward, because residential college masters have decided that she is a trespasser on campus. She said that because of her appearance, background and neighborhood of origin, she will never be allowed to interact with students without getting in trouble or being kicked off campus.
But Ezra Stiles Master Stuart Schwartz said he was unaware of any request by Thorpe to reach students in his college. He said that if a political organization approached any of the residential college masters with an interest in holding a Master’s Tea for any Ward 22 candidate, it would surely be considered.
“I was unaware that she ever attempted to bring her message to the students of this college, and she never formally requested an opportunity to leave a leaflet here,” he said. “We don’t generally open the inside of the college for political campaigning — that’s not what it’s for — but we do have the Master’s Teas that can be used.”
Thorpe said Morehead is a “puppet” of Democratic leaders in the city, such as DeStefano and Voigt. King was also a puppet, she said, who had been dispensed with once he became a liability.
But Morehead denied her accusation Thursday, saying that he ran for personal reasons, not under pressure from city leaders, and he is “not looking at what she has to say or what anyone else has to say” and is just “moving forward.”
DeStefano said he was impressed by his meeting with Morehead.
“I met with Greg about a month ago anticipating either in November or before then [that] Drew wouldn’t be running,” DeStefano said Wednesday. “I think Greg is invested in that neighborhood, I think he has great ideas, I think he’d do a great job, and I’ll do anything I can to support him.”
As Morehead left the cafeteria, he approached Thorpe to wish her luck. Thorpe said “everything’s going according to plan,” and they traded joking comments with one another about whether they had met before. Thorpe told the News earlier in the week that she had only seen him once in passing at a ward meeting, but Morehead protested that they had other contact in the past.
Thursday’s meeting featured just one vote by committee members, on a resolution to support efforts to remove guns from the streets of the city, particularly Ward 22. In addition, several candidates for mayor attended Thursday’s event to meet and greet city political activists.