Courtesy of Maggie Thomas

Maggie Thomas ENV ’15 has gathered enough support to appear on the ballot of the 2021 Yale Corporation election. 

The Corporation — Yale’s highest governing body — typically gains new members after alumni nominate and vet candidates, but hopefuls can also seek another route: collecting signatures of support from alumni to run as a “petition candidate.” This year, that signature threshold was 4,394, a number that Thomas reached three weeks before the Oct. 1 deadline. While a third-party election services company is verifying the tally, Thomas told the News that she is ready to run a robust campaign. 

“In my lifetime, a woman has never qualified for the ballot via petition,” Thomas said in a Sept. 8 press release. “On the heels of the 50th anniversary of co-education at Yale, I hope we can continue to make Yale a more inclusive institution where the voices of women and other underrepresented groups are central to these critical conversations. The fact that over 4,400 alumni have signed to help me reach the ballot shows that the Yale community knows what’s at stake — and they’re willing to use every tool at their disposal to address the problem.” 

Thomas — a former climate policy advisor for the respective presidential campaigns of Senator Elizabeth Warren and Washington Governor Jay Inslee — will focus her platform on fossil fuel divestment, climate action and inclusive governance at Yale, according to her website. Individual donors from Yale alumni are funding her campaign.

Yale Forward, Thomas’s primary campaign organization, works alongside Harvard Forward, a peer group that campaigns for candidates with goals similar to those of Thomas. In August, Harvard Magazine announced that three of the five candidates endorsed by Harvard Forward won seats on their Board of Overseers, which consists of 30 members and has operations that parallel those of the Yale Corporation. 

Harvard Forward co-founder Nathán Goldberg told the News he was excited about Thomas’ candidacy. 

“Yale Forward’s success in placing climate expert Maggie Thomas on the ballot shows undeniable momentum for climate justice among Ivy League alumni, especially following Harvard Forward’s big win in Harvard’s board elections last month,” Goldberg wrote in an email to the News. “If it can happen at Harvard, it can happen at Yale, and we’re confident that we’ll soon see more schools use democracy as a tool to advocate for better governance and climate action.”

Until now, the only woman to land on the ballot for the Yale Corporation was Heidi Hartmann GRD ’74, who ran in 1985 as a petition candidate but lost the general election. Thomas said her status as the second woman to reach this milestone is “pretty meaningful” for a young alumna such as herself.  

Thomas will run against a variety of candidates, including former Knoxville Mayor and former United States Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe ’67, who on Sept. 1 became the first petition candidate in 18 years to make it on the ballot. Both Thomas and Ashe told the News they will continue collecting signatures until the Oct. 1 deadline, gathering support for the May election. 

In the coming weeks, Thomas and her team are planning events with alumni from the Yale Club of Chicago and the Yale Club of Dallas. On Sept. 24, they will host their “Plan to Win” event, during which Thomas will outline her campaign strategy. Thomas said there is a “dead period” of about eight months until elections, so she and her campaign manager Scott Gigante GRD ’23 said they will focus on maintaining alumni engagement. 

Although a petition candidate has not made it onto the Yale Corporation in more than 50 years, Thomas is still certain about her chances. 

“I do think that we can win,” Thomas said. “I think that we are going to run the largest grassroots campaign that Yale has ever seen for this office. And I personally am really excited to see that come to fruition. I do think that Yale alumni are recognizing and are willing to use every tool at their disposal to affect the institution that shaped their lives, and I think they do that out of a real love of a place like Yale, and a desire to see Yale succeed and be the place that they want to see in the world.”

In the 2020 Yale Corporation election, 18,135 alumni voted out of a total pool of about 146,000 eligible voters. 

Valerie Pavlionis | valerie.pavilonis@yale.edu