While Yalies were basking in island sun or locked in libraries to work on senior essays this month, much of the area surrounding Yale — Ward 22 in particular — was abuzz with political canvassing by two new contenders for the recently opened Ward 22 aldermanic seat.
Democratic candidates Lisa Hopkins, a community organizer, and Reggie Lytle, a corrections officer and football coach, filed to run over spring break, bringing the total number of candidates to four. They join Gregory Morehead, an entrepreneur and motivational speaker, and Ward 22 co-chair Cordelia Thorpe, a political foe of Rev. Drew King who jumped into the race within minutes of the former alderman’s resignation last month. Thorpe is a longtime contender for the seat who lost to King in 2005, but the other three candidates are relatively new to city-wide politics.
As Ward 1 was expected to attract a wide field of candidates to a race that is now uncontested, Ward 22 has become the ward that Yalies will hear the most about for the remainder of the semester, as Yale students comprise approximately one-third of its population. And although Morehead might have be the early favorite of some students as well as city leaders, including Mayor John DeStefano Jr., the historically low voter turnout in Ward 22 suggests that the outcome of the race will be difficult to predict until after the votes are counted on April 16.
Both of the newly announced candidates say they want to capitalize on the unpredictable nature of the race while working to revitalize and heal their community.
Hopkins, 39, emphasized her refusal to flip-flop on issues when pressured by outside forces and her desire to serve as a conduit between political leaders and “everyday” men and women in Ward 22. Hopkins is the president of her block’s homeowners’ organization and a housing developer who helps lower-class families move into better homes.
“I pride myself on being a great community activist,” said Hopkins, whose campaign slogan is “Home, Family & Community.” “Everyone in this area knows me … I enjoy knowing that I’ve improved someone’s quality of life.”
But she has not been substantially involved before in city politics before. While the other three candidates have met with DeStefano to discuss their run, Hopkins has not, and she does not plan to ask for a meeting. Working the political elites of the city is not her “shtick,” she explained, though she stressed her ability to organize. Serving as alderwoman just “suits” her, she said.
“My platform is concise, well thought out, addresses the needs of everyone in the community and provides a platform for increased participation,” she said, describing herself as a “real businessperson.”
While Hopkins, a single mother, attended high school in Seattle, she has lived most of her life in New Haven.
But Lytle, the other recently announced opponent, did attend high school in New Haven — a fact that he is trying to emphasize. It is at the very top of the detailed campaign canvassing flyer he has been handing out to local residents, and it represents what he says is his love for kids and — he says proudly — politics.
“Politics has been in my blood for many years,” said Lytle, whose father was an alderman. “I decided to finally get involved and give leadership to my community.”
Lytle, who attended Hillhouse High School, said he is still proud of his football team’s going undefeated and ranking first in Connecticut when he was a player. He is a longtime coach and leader for the Pop Smith Little League teams, coaching baseball and football for the past 12 years, and serving as an instrumental force in securing the city’s new $700,000 Pop Warner Football Field.
He is also unique among the candidates for his lengthy, but notably specific, 13-plank platform. It is designed in this manner, he said, so it can be executed. Tenets include specific goals, such as “evening security at Wexler School” and “making a performing arts center,” as well as more general positions such as working toward more job training and “increased police presence and coordination between New Haven and University police officers.”
Of the candidates, Lytle is the closest friend of King in the race. Lytle and King are next-door neighbors. Although he did not comment as to whether he thought King should have resigned, he said he loves him “like a brother” and is above all concerned for his personal well-being.
“Drew is still loved by many in the community,” Lytle said. “I don’t judge people by their first accident.”
King’s resignation followed several arrests this winter in which he was accused of assaulting a woman, who claimed to be his girlfriend, and subsequently violating a protective order.
The question for Ward 22 — including Yalies in Silliman, Morse, Ezra Stiles and Timothy Dwight Colleges who can register to vote there — is how to best judge the sometimes confusing mix of candidates vying for alderman. They all share a common hope to attract more small business development to the area and to reopen the bankrupt Dixwell Community Q House — except Hopkins, who would like to make the Stetson Branch Library the center of the community and table the question of reopening the Q House. They also all want to improve the community’s relationship with Yale and lift up what they say has been a neglected ward.
Yet their respective driving philosophies and experiences are unique, albeit subtly: Thorpe is loud and eager to question the political establishment; Hopkins is particularly interested in serving as a connection between residents and ward leaders; Morehead is entrepreneurial and interested in bringing unique features to the ward, such as motivational sessions for children; and Lytle is a coach who says he above all “believes in hard work, not talking about doing hard work.”
For King, whose resignation sparked the special April 16 election, there are simply too many candidates and too little information on each of them for him to decide who to support at this point in time.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” King said Sunday. “I’m just watching and seeing what goes on.”