Mia Cortés Castro, Contributing Photographer

After a day of back-and-forth arguments on the corner of Chatham Street and Row Street, challenger Frank Redente Jr. secured the victory for Ward 15 alder during last Tuesday’s Democratic primary election — but not before calling the police on incumbent Ernie Santiago.

Both candidates were prohibited from coming closer than 75 feet to the polling place for the Sept. 12 primary, as required by Connecticut law. The regulation is in place to prevent them from influencing voters’ decisions, and signs were placed at the 75-foot mark to indicate the boundaries around the polling site.

“We have not breached the 75-foot mark today,” Redente said. “[Santiago’s team] keep doing it over and over again. It’s ridiculous that we’re having to call the police for elected officials.”

Despite multiple warnings from poll moderators, Santiago and two colleagues on the Board of Alders crossed the boundary and personally walked voters into the polls, upsetting Redente, who says he adhered to the boundary all day. After arguing with Santiago, Redente called in help from the New Haven Police Department to ensure what he described as an “equitable voting process.”

Santiago says that he was only reminded of the rules once and afterward did not break them again. 

“They started crying unreasonably,” Santiago said. “We made an agreement that we could walk to the sidewalk, but someone called that we were violating the 75 feet.”

Santiago, who was elected to represent Ward 15 on the Board of Alders 12 years ago, had never run in a contested race. Recently, he has faced backlash for his lack of availability to residents.

Despite the criticism, Santiago remained confident of his electoral chances heading into primary day.  

“This is a democracy,” Santiago said. “People will talk, but if they see what I’ve done, they’ll vote for me.”

Redente, on the other hand, built his platform on being an active member of the Fair Haven community, even though he did not hold elected office. A lifelong Fair Haven resident and New Haven Public Schools employee, Redente says he takes pride in getting to know everyone in the community.

Redente arrived at the polling site around eight hours before the polls closed, securing three of the four corners around the 197 Chatham Street polling site for himself and his campaign team to stand on. His team, which he says was composed entirely of Fair Haveners, brought out chairs, tents and lawn signs, donning red shirts advertising Redente’s campaign.

Santiago, on the other hand, arrived at the site at around 5:30 p.m. — two-and-a-half hours before the polls closed. He was accompanied by members of New Haven Rising — a community organization that has pushed for greater financial contributions from Yale to the city. The group quickly approached Redente’s team and began to claim some of the corners as their own, inciting arguments in the process. 

New Haven Rising declined to comment on these interactions.

“I can understand it can be emotional to have someone challenge you,” said Dave Weinreb, a Fair Haven educator and member of Redente’s team.

Very quickly, the two teams started to encroach on each others’ spaces, attempting to talk to constituents who arrived to vote and arguing over which of them got to talk to the voters and for how long.  

Redente and his team claim to have seen Santiago walk a voter into the polls at one point, in turn prohibiting Redente’s team from approaching the voter. Ward 14 alder Sarah Miller, who represents the rest of Fair Haven and works closely with the Ward 15 alder, says she saw alders Ron Hurt and Frank Douglass walk voters into the poll site as well, violating the boundary.  

Douglass said he only walked his granddaughter – a Ward 15 resident – into the voting site, and Hurt denied crossing the boundary altogether. Since Douglass is not a Ward 15 voter, this is technically not a violation of state law.

Redente says he reminded Santiago of the rules multiple times, as did polling moderator Luz Colville.

Around 6:30 p.m., two NHPD police officers arrived at the polling site, attempting to moderate traffic in the area and control the conflict. One of the officers on the scene claimed to have been called by “the Ward,” though he declined to give more information to the News. “The Ward,” Redente’s team told the News, refers to Colville. Redente says he told Colville several times about Santiago’s alleged rule violations.

In the end, Redente won 64 percent of the ward’s votes, excluding absentee ballots, making him the Democratic nominee for Ward 15 alder for the general election in November. Both candidates ended on good terms, thanked each other for great races and agreed to work together in the future.

Redente secured 203 votes, while 108 voters backed Santiago.

“I’m grateful to be surrounded by such great people who truly care about Fair Haven,” Redente said after the election results were announced. “I’m thankful that they believed in me.”

The general election will take place on Nov. 7.

Mia Cortés Castro covers City Hall and State Politics, and previously covered Cops and Courts. Originally from Dorado, Puerto Rico, she is a sophomore in Branford College studying English.