The eighth session of the City of New Haven’s Democracy School held its first meeting Thursday in the Aldermanic Chambers of City Hall.
Democracy School, a program founded by Kate McAdams ’01 in 2004 when she was a mayoral assistant, provides New Haven citizens with an inside look at city operations. Through six weekly class sessions, Democracy School’s 25 participants will have the chance to meet a wide range of city officials, attend local government meetings, and gain insight into the inner workings of their local government. The curriculum aims to engage participants in local politics and promote activism.
“We introduce participants to all the different aspects of city government from the various departments and agencies to political parties,” said Rebecca Bombero, the city’s legislative director and the current program coordinator.
All New Haven residents over 18 are eligible to apply for Democracy School; a limited number of applicants are selected each session. The program is designed for community members who demonstrate interest in becoming community leaders, said Bombero. She added that participants usually range from a variety of backgrounds, and that management teams and non-profit organizations are usually well represented.
Past participants have included members of the Yale community, including Andria Matthews ’04, currently a member of New Haven’s Cultural Affairs Commission. However, this year’s class does not include any Yalies.
Bombero said that she did know why Yale students did not apply this year, although there have been a number of Yalies who have matriculated into the school.
City Clerk Ron Smith said that the Democracy School is a program which has produced concrete results. Many of New Haven’s alderpersons, ward chairs and management team members are Democracy School graduates. Past participants include former Ward 25 Alderwoman Ina Silverman, Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, Ward 24 Alderman Marcus Paca and Ward 28 Alderwomen Claudette-Robinson Thorpe. City spokesman Adam Joseph added that State Rep. Gary Holder Winfield (D-New Haven) was a member of the original Democracy School class in 2004.
“A lot of people leave Democracy School and are able to get on commissions and on boards,” Smith said.
Paca said that part of the program’s success may be due to the fact that participants are chosen based on their history of community activism. Participants in the program, he added, were largely already active within local politics before joining the school.
“Before Democracy School, I had somewhat of a vision of what I wanted to do in my community,” he said. “However, Democracy School gave me the opportunity to build the proper relationships with city departments that have allowed me to get things done and be the best alderman I can be.”
The topic of Thursday’s session was an “Overview of City Government.” Thursday night’s agenda featured presentations from Mayor John DeStefano, Jr., Ron Smith, Ward 9 Alderman Matt Smith ’98 and political party representatives from the New Haven Democrats as well as the New Haven Green Party.
“If you just go to Democracy School and you do nothing else, it’s a waste of time for everyone,” said DeStefano, in his speech to the new participants on Thursday. “We have an obligation to invest in one another.”
Paca will be returning as a speaker for next week’s session at the Tweed New Haven Regional Airport on Thursday.