There were no floor nominations. No seconding of motions or rounding up of votes. Just a table for two at a coffee shop—and the selection of a candidate for public office.
That’s what happened at a “convention” to choose a Democratic candidate to fill an open seat for the Board of Alders from the Hill neighborhood.
It didn’t take place in the Hill. The people holding the convention didn’t tell anyone else about it, including their neighbors and fellow Democrats.
Then a last-minute document appeared in the City Clerk’s office claiming the convention had taken place at a Dunkin’ Donuts downtown at Chapel and York street, when in fact it had taken place at JoJo’s Coffee Roasters & Tea Merchants shop across the corner.
The Independent learned all this by speaking to absolutely everyone who attended the convention last week—all two of them.
The endorsement that emerged from their meeting may have been made in violation of the rules of the Democratic Town Committee, depending on your definition of “convention” and “delegates.”
It passed muster with the chair of the Democratic Town Committee, part of a team that took over the party two years ago promising greater transparency and democracy in local politics.
The two people who convened in Jojo’s were Kenneth Reveiz and JeQueena Foreman, the co-chairs of the Democratic committee for Ward 3. They said they met on Wednesday Jan. 8 in Jojo’s, the coffee shop at the corner of Chapel and Park streets, to discuss whom the ward committee should endorse in the race for the Board of Alders seat recently vacated by Jackie James. Reveiz and Foreman chose ... Foreman for the job.
James (who also chairs the Democratic Town Committee) won reelection to the seat in November. Then she resigned it days before the new term began, to take a City Hall job.
Reveiz and Foreman were the only members of the Ward 3 Democratic committee present at the “convention.” Reveiz said they didn’t have time to gather more committee members, because the endorsement filing deadline was only hours away. The announcement of the filing deadline was delayed due to a miscommunication between the state and city/town clerk’s office. (Click here to read a story about that by the Register’s Mary O’Leary.)
Later on Wednesday, moments before the filing deadline, someone other than Reveiz or Foreman submitted a form to the clerk’s office, which states that a “Democratic Convention” was held Jan. 8 at Dunkin’ Donuts and that “by a majority vote” JeQueena Foreman received the Democratic endorsement in the Ward 3 race.
The endorsement was due by 4 p.m. Wednesday. It was submitted at 3:52 p.m., according to the time stamp on the document. Reveiz said he didn’t know why the form said Dunkin’ Donuts. He and Foreman both said they met at Jojo’s (pictured). Gwen Mills, the party’s treasurer, submitted the form, which was signed by James and party treasurer Rosemary DeMatteo.
James, the chair of the DTC, and former Ward 3 Alder, did not return repeated calls for comment. She released this statement by email: “Pursuant to the Secretary of State notice received via the City Town Clerk’s office January 8th, the Ward 3 co-chairs met to recommend a candidate. The certification of party endorsement was then filed in accordance with state statute and accepted by the City Town Clerk’s office.”
James faced criticism during the mayor’s race when the DTC botched its mayoral and alder endorsements by missing a deadline.
Vinnie Mauro, DTC vice-chair, said the endorsement process went as it should have, given a tight timeframe.
Foreman’s is now the only name that will be on the ballot for Ward 3 alder. Other candidates can still mount write-in campaigns.
According to Article III Section 4 of the official Democratic Town Committee (DTC) rules, “the candidate for Alderman from each Ward shall be endorsed by a convention of delegates in each Ward.”
The rules do not define exactly what constitutes a “convention” or whether two co-chairs meeting without public notice or input from the rest of the ward committee might fit that definition.
Two people does make a convention, according to Reveiz (pictured).
“JeQueena and I met. That’s the language of the rules,” said Reveiz. “It’s not a citywide meeting of the Democratic Town Committee. It’s just the ward co-chairs.”
Asked why the rest of the ward committee wasn’t included, Reveiz said, “I don’t think we really had time to reach out to them.”
Asked how the rest of the ward committee was involved in the endorsement process, Foreman said, “I’m not too sure about that.”
“I think we did our best, based on we had three hours,” Reveiz said. He and Foreman had learned only on Wednesday that the deadline for ward alder endorsement was that same day, he said. The miscommunication between the state and the city clerk’s office delayed the notification of the deadline.
“We just wanted to make sure that we had a strong candidate.”
Reveiz said that in an ideal world, with more time for advance notice, he would have liked to convene the whole committee to choose whom to endorse. “It’s pretty clear that the more people who are involved in the process the better,” he said. “It’s just better for the neighborhood.”
“In some wards, they will take the entire vote to the entire ward committee but legally the only two people who can pick an aldermanic candidate are the two co-chairs,” said Vice-Chair Mauro. “If you had enough time you probably would have a full ward committee meeting.”
Asked about Article III Sect. 4, which requires that a convention be held, Mauro said special elections follow a different process: The ward co-chairs pick the candidate to endorse. “This is generally how it’s always been done.”
The fact that the city clerk’s office accepted the endorsement form is a validation that the process was done correctly, Mauro said.
Reveiz said he hasn’t heard complaints from other ward committee members about how he and Foreman handled the endorsement process.
The endorsement was accompanied by an undated letter recommending Foreman for Ward 3 alder, with her and Reveiz’s signature at the bottom. Foreman said she didn’t write the letter.
“In our capacity as Ward 3 co-chairs for the Democratic Town Committee, we are excited to recommend JeQueena Foreman for the position of Alderwoman of New Haven’s Third Ward,” the letter states.
Foreman (pictured), who’s 41 and grew up in West Haven, said she has lived in Ward 3 for 14 years and is a full-time foster parent.
“I take in sick children here into my home,” she said. “In 17 years, I’ve cared for 42 children.”
She said she approached James about becoming Ward 3 alder when she heard James would be pursuing newly elected Mayor Toni Harp’s vacant Senate seat. (James later decided not to run, but left the Board of Alders anyway, to become the city’s deputy community services chief.)
Foreman said she met with James, Mills, West River Alder Tyisha Walker, and Rev. Scott Marks on Tuesday Jan. 7, to discuss her candidacy. They asked Foreman why she wanted to be an alder, Foreman said.
“I’m looking to make a big impact,” Foreman said. She said she wants to help people get jobs, do more with youth groups, and have more black business owners in the ward. She said she would push for more policing, and for landlords to take care of their properties.
“She’s really great. She’s been super active,” Reveiz said of Foreman. “Lots of people know here and like her. I’ve always been really impressed by her spirit and energy in terms of engaging new voters. She’s done a lot of great work with young women of color in particular.”