Two Connecticut Yalies and former New Haven high school students are campaigning to become Ward 1’s co-chairs on the New Haven Democratic Town Committee, also known as the DTC, in an upcoming March election.
Donasia Gray ’22 and Michael Martinez ’21 are running together as one slate for the two seats representing Ward 1 at the DTC. As co-chairs, they will be responsible for nominating and endorsing candidates for elected office in New Haven, forming a ward committee and working closely with Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin ’22. The two need 85 signatures from Democratic Party members in Ward 1 by Jan. 29 to qualify for the March ballot.
“I’m very interested in this position as someone who was born and raised in New Haven, and when I came to Yale I knew that there would have to be a lot done pertaining to Yale-New Haven relations,” Gray said in an interview with the News. “I realized how true that was from the second we were in [Yale’s first-year] welcome address [when] they talked about New Haven to a bunch of people [who may have been in New Haven for the first time] … I realized just the way that Yale was talking about the city just didn’t align with my perspective of it and how a lot of other people see it.”
New Haven’s Democratic Town Committee is composed of two co-chairs from each of the Elm City’s 30 wards. The DTC holds New Haven’s Democratic Party convention to endorse candidates for city and statewide offices in addition to a variety of organized events, such as the “party breakfast” held in November. The DTC received criticism last summer when it endorsed then-Mayor Toni Harp in her reelection bid, despite her opponent, current Mayor Justin Elicker, winning more informal vote counts on a ward-by-ward basis.
The co-chairs themselves have the power to endorse candidates for Alder in their own ward as well as candidates for state office whose legislative districts overlap with their own. The co-chairs also help with Democratic voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote efforts. They also work at the polls on election days, according to Sabin.
Like Alders, co-chairs serve two-year terms. Sabin himself is one of the outgoing co-chairs, although he only became a co-chair in October 2018 after previous co-chair Michelle Peng ’19 stepped down. His partner, Julia Salseda ’19, has since moved out of Ward 1 and has no plans to run for reelection, Sabin said.
“I’m very excited about Donasia and Michael, who have strong ties to [the] New Haven community,” Sabin told the News. “They’re going to bring some new energy and strong democratic values to the DTC.”
Gray grew up in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood, close to Yale’s Science Park, and attended Elm City College Prep School through sixth grade before switching to the Hopkins School in Westville, where she was a classmate of Sabin’s. She volunteers as a Community Health Educator and works as a mentor to a senior at Amistad High School with the Urban Improvement Corps’ mentoring program.
Martinez grew up in Bridgeport but attended high school at Amistad. Both he and Gray are a part of Yale’s Education Studies multidisciplinary academic program, which aims to “improve education through research, policy and practice,” according to the program website.
“We will use this position to try to balance the most of the people in the ward of Yale with the people who are just regular New Haveners living in this ward and try to relay that to Eli while also taking in other co-chairs say,” Martinez told the News.
The two are focused on breaking down barriers between Yale and the Elm City. On Tuesday night, Sabin introduced them at the monthly meeting of the Downtown Wooster Square Community Management Team, where the candidates heard from other residents of Ward 1 and Downtown neighborhoods. Martinez noted that he and Gray would focus on building the necessary infrastructure to obtain information from community members to share with Sabin. Both are excited to serve on the DTC and learn from other co-chairs from across the Elm City.
The petition deadline is Jan. 29, so the team must gather 85 signatures from Ward 1 Democratic Party members to secure a spot on the ballot. If no other candidate pairs submit a petition, then Gray and Martinez will win the positions outright with no need for a March election. Sabin and the candidates alike said they doubt that the election will be contested.
Gray and Martinez will be holding tabling sessions to ask for petition signatures on Friday, Jan. 24 at lunch in Trumbull and Berkeley dining halls, as well as during dinnertime in Saybrook College. They will also be tabling at dinner in Hopper College on Jan. 25 and on Old Campus in the afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 26.
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