At 7 p.m. Monday night, one candidate was curled up on her couch eating ice cream, another was already too tired to remain standing and a third was making her final phone call of the night, encouraging a neighbor to vote in today’s election.
Because New Haven is so heavily populated by Democrats, today’s primary — in 10 contested aldermanic elections across the city, but most relevantly for Yalies in Wards 2 and 22 — will all but determine the winners of the general election in November. For each of the candidates, last night was the final push in a normal campaign season in New Haven: never-ending door knocking and sidewalk soapboxing, all in the summer heat of the Elm City.
“I’m not Superman! I’m not Superman!” insisted Ward 2 candidate Frank Douglass, who was juggling campaigning with his job at the Trumbull dining hall. “I want to do things, but I can’t do it all.”
In both University wards, there has been substantive debate on issues ranging from low-income housing and downtown revitalization to American democracy and poverty across the globe. In Ward 2, the Democratic Party’s endorsed nominee, Gina Calder ’03 EPH ’08, is facing Douglass in an election that has drawn the most attention from Yalies so far this semester — in large part due to the surprise success of University employee Douglass, a relative unknown in local ward politics. In Ward 22, incumbent Greg Morehead will face housing developer Lisa Hopkins and Ward 22 Co-Chairwoman Cordelia Thorpe.
In the Dwight neighborhood — where Ward 2 and several hundred off-campus students are located — Calder’s army of supporters has been promoting her vision of improving safety, youth opportunity and economic mobility in her neighborhood. Douglass’ team is casting him as a newcomer to city politics but one who is passionate about workers’ rights and youth opportunities.
Douglass said he was pleasantly surprised by his support at Yale. He received the loudest applause at a candidate forum held at Yale last week.
“I guess being a good person, people feel it,” said Douglass, who has cooked at the dining hall for more than a decade. “People feel it and they feel me, so I’m feeling them and I’m feeling the issues.”
For Calder’s part, campaigning has left her frustrated by what she calls many students’ lack of an “open mind.”
“Especially for all of us as students, a lot of times we get very busy with everything we’re responsible to do on campus,” Calder said Monday night. “Not always do we have opportunities to talk to people in the community and get a sense of what their reality is.”
In a risk that could cost her the candidacy, Calder has taken a nuanced position on the hospital unionization dispute, saying she fully supports workers’ rights while insisting that an overemphasis on the dispute has come at the cost of addressing the real issues in her neighborhood.
But Calder says if she were to take office, her policy stance on the hospital would be virtually identical to that of Douglass. She would insist, for example, that the hospital follow an independent arbitrator’s ruling, regardless of what he or she ordered.
In response to the similarities between their positions on the union issue, Douglass — a longtime leader in Local 35 — said fighting for unions is fundamental for him regardless of policy.
“She has an opinion,” he said. “I have sweat.”
Several blocks up Dixwell Avenue from the Yale Bookstore, Morehead — who said he has been getting an average of four hours of sleep a night — was driving home Monday night, also talking about sweat.
“I just let my actions speak for themselves,” he said, describing a trip he took to Ohio to visit a technology center that could serve as a possible model for a new community center in Dixwell. “I don’t boast, but I’ve been doing a lot and people see that. I didn’t just start doing work three weeks ago when I saw an election was coming up.”
If last April’s special election is any indication, it is likely Morehead will win the Ward 22 race tomorrow by a large margin. But two outspoken ward residents normally at odds with one another found common ground Monday night in disputing Morehead’s claim that “everybody” sees progress in the ward.
The Rev. Drew King said that since he resigned from office last spring on assault charges, progress in his ward has been “negative” and that he hasn’t seen Morehead “make a positive step in doing anything.” Thorpe, a longtime rival of King’s, agreed.
“We are in terrible danger,” said Thorpe, who said she will lose tomorrow but run as a write-in candidate for the general election in November. “The issues here are hopelessness, despair, disenfranchisement, poverty and the need to have inclusive unity.”
The polls will be open today from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Ward 2 voting will take place at the Timothy Dwight School on Edgewood Avenue, and Ward 22 voting will take place at the Wexler/Grant Elementary School on Foote Street. For the first time, electronic voting machines will be used, Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Susie Voigt said, but ballots will be cast using a Scantron-like form so that a paper trail remains as a backup.