For this year’s Ward 1 aldermanic candidates, it’s not just what you know — it’s who you know.
During the first Ward 1 aldermanic debate, Mike Jones ’11 mentioned that he had eaten lunch with Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts ’01 the same day. Katie Harrison ’11 referred to a meeting she had with Community Services Administrator Kica Matos. And Minh Tran ’09 alluded to a conversation with Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander ’65.
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While city officials, including Mayor John DeStefano Jr., and Yale political groups have endorsed Ward 1 candidates in the past, they traditionally do not do so until after April’s Democratic primary. So, in lieu of official endorsements at this early point in the campaign, candidates are using informal conversations with city leaders to demonstrate both their knowledge and their connections to key political figures.
Following each candidate’s announcement of his or her plan to run for the Ward 1 aldermanic seat, a tide of phone calls reached a laundry list of local political leaders and members of the Board of Aldermen. At the top of the list was Aldermanic President Carl Goldfield; he has already met with Jones and Tran and will have coffee with Harrison on Thursday. This trend, Goldfield said, is a marked difference from previous Ward 1 campaigns.
“In the past, as the winning candidate became clear, I would be the one to reach out to them,” Goldfield said. “Now, this is one of the more competitive races in recent history, and they’ve all reached out to me.”
Campaign representatives for all three candidates agreed that talking to a large number of city officials is an important component of their candidate’s campaign, though they maintained that these conversations were not just for bragging rights. Jones’ campaign manager, Matthew Ellison ’10, said meetings with local leaders were solely to become more knowledgeable about the city. Harrison’s campaign manager, Anna Robinson-Sweet ’11, and Tran’s co-campaign manager, Scott Nelson ’10, said the conversations were meant to build future relationships.
Smuts said his conversation with Jones on the day of the first aldermanic debate mostly consisted of the sophomore asking questions about the city. Smuts said he has also conversed briefly with Harrison after a Board of Aldermen meeting.
The decision to contact a large number of local leaders in a short period of time is a smart strategy on the part of any aldermanic candidate, Smuts said. He explained that talking to sitting city officials is often the easiest way for candidates to prove their working knowledge of the ins and outs of the city — especially when the candidate has only lived in the city for a relatively short period of time, as is the case for all three candidates.
Smuts added that contacting current city leaders also helps build a foundation for working relationships that will develop if the candidate is elected.
And as the three Ward 1 candidates do their best to curry favor with notable figures in the city, many city officials have taken an interest in the race. Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead officially endorsed Jones for the Ward 1 Democratic Endorsement Vote last week — he chose Jones based on his “fresh perspective,” he said — though he is the only alderman yet to make an endorsement.
In attendance at the first Ward 1 Aldermanic Debate was Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Suzie Voigt and Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s campaign manager, Keya Jayaram. Paul Bass ’82, editor of the New Haven Independent, moderated the second debate, while Morehead, City Hall Legislative Liaison Adam Joseph and DeStefano’s Chief of Staff Sean Matteson, looked on from the audience.
Still, most city officials have chosen so far to stay mum on their pick for the race, many have admitted they have been following the campaign.
Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark said she does not expect any other aldermen to make official endorsements, at least until after the Endorsement Vote.
“Nobody wants to mettle in this situation in Ward 1, because we don’t know the politics in the place,” Clark said, referring to the Yale population.
While almost all aldermen are withholding their official seal of approval, the most important endorsement — DeStefano’s – will not come until later in the race. Jayaram said DeStefano is “interested and excited” about the ongoing race.
In the 2005 election, Independent Nick Shalek ’05 beat Democrat Rebecca Livengood ’07 by 57 votes, even though Livengood had received endorsements from both the Ward 1 Democratic Committee and the Yale College Democrats, as well as the public support of City Hall. In the current election, the Yale College Democrats will not make an endorsement for one of the three candidates because the group has a steadfast rule against endorsing in Democratic primaries.
Because current Ward 1 Alderwoman Rachel Plattus ’09 was the only candidate to run for the seat in 2007, she automatically garnered the endorsement from the city’s Democratic Party — as well as from DeStefano himself. Smuts said DeStefano usually endorses the pick of each ward’s Democratic Committee, but he unfailingly endorses the winner of the September Democratic primary.
Smuts said the earliest point at which the mayor would endorse a candidate would be after the Ward 1 Democratic Committee makes its official endorsement. At the latest, Smuts said, DeStefano would wait until after the Democratic primary Sept. 15.