Two aldermanic candidates drew fire from unions and firefighters in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries—and emerged victorious in two of the city’s hardest-fought elections.
Those candidates, attorney Mike Stratton and incumbent Downtown Alderman Doug Hausladen both won primary election battles on Tuesday. They were the only two candidates in 10 contested aldermanic races to win while running against candidates backed by Yale’s UNITE HERE Locals 34 and 35 and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the heaviest political force in town.
Both Stratton and Hausladen had drawn the ire of organized labor forces in town. Hausladen did it by creating a slate of aldermanic candidates called Take Back New Haven, organized in opposition to the union-backed majority on the Board of Aldermen. Stratton, a union basher turned union fan turned union skeptic, made an enemy of city firefighters by saying the city needs fewer of them.
Both Hausladen and Stratton also significantly outspent their opponents. Hausladen raised over $10,000 for his campaign; Stratton poured nearly the same amount into his campaign, from his own wallet. They faced an energetic battalion of vote-pulling volunteers from the labor coalition.
In downtown’s Ward 7, Hausladen defeated challenger Ella Wood, a Yale junior, 353 to 251. In Ward 19, which comprises parts of Newhallville and East Rock, Stratton defeated Maureen Gardner, 430 to 264.
Wood and Gardner also both filed papers to run as independent candidates in the general election. Tuesday evening, both candidates said they had not decided if they would stay on the campaign trail into November. They are supporters of Democratic mayoral candidate Toni Harp, who has criticized the idea of candidates running “sore loser” independent campaigns after losing primaries. Meanwhile, Hausladen and Stratton support the mayoral campaign of Justin Elicker, who lost the Democratic primary and is continuing with an independent general-election campaign.
Whoever said New Haven politics are boring? Or simple?
Everywhere else in town, candidates running with the support of Yale’s Locals 34 and 35 defeated their opponents. That was the case for Frank Douglass in Dwight’s Ward 2, Aaron Greenberg in Wooster Square’s Ward 8, Barbara Constantinople in Bella Vista/Fair Haven Heights’ Ward 11, Fair Haven’s Ward 14, Delphine Clyburn and Jeanette Morrison in Newhallville’s Wards 20 and 22, and Darryl Brackeen and Angela Russell Westville’s Wards 26 and 27. Those victories were part of a larger citywide labor-backed vote-pulling effort that enabled Toni Harp to capture 49.77 percent of the vote in a four-way mayoral primary, beating her next -closest opponent by more than a 2-1 margin.
The labor-backed grassroots vote-pulling apparatus that elected a supermajority to New Haven’s legislative body two years ago proved that it is here to stay. It will continue to dominate the Board of Aldermen this next term and shape the city’s political agenda.
And Hausladen and Stratton proved that that organization can also be beaten.
Hausladen, the lead organizer of Take Back New Haven, was the only member of that slate to come up with a win Tuesday. He had organized the Take Back slate as a potential counterbalance to the power of the labor-backed supermajority on the Board of Aldermen. The move riled Hausladen’s colleagues on the board, and had the unions gunning to unseat him.
Despite those obstacles, and having raised $10,000 to spend on the race, Hausladen ended up with 58 percent of the vote Tuesday night.
Earlier in the day, he hadn’t been feeling confident. At 5:55 p.m., Hausladen sent out an S.O.S. email to his base.
“We’re facing an opponent that has 40 people going door to door as we speak, pulling every possible voter to the polls to vote against the movement we’re trying to create,” he wrote. “The only way that we will win tonight is if everyone who supports what we’re trying to do comes out to help right now.”
Wood’s campaign was bolstered by strong labor support, with union volunteers shuttling voters to the polls for her. Scott Marks of the labor-affiliated Connecticut Center For A New Economy and Hugh Baran, former UNITE HERE organizer, were working the polls with her on Tuesday morning. Baran said Wood had a “very diverse team of Ward 7 residents, students and union members” volunteering for her campaign.
Wood had been a surprise last-minute entry to the race. She moved into the ward two days before the deadline to file as a candidate for alderwoman. Critics dogged her in the campaign for allegedly trying to help the unions take control of a ward represented by a labor critic without having roots there or local knowledge or experience. Click here to read one such critique in a Yale Daily News editorial. Wood addressed the critics in a debate last week, saying she is committed to getting to know the neighborhood.
Wood won the endorsements of Dwight Alderman Frank Douglass and East Rock Alderwoman Jessica Holmes. She and Hausladen peppered the ward with literature in the days leading up to the election.
After the results came in Tuesday night, Wood said she wasn’t surprised by the outcome. “If anything, I was amazed by the number of people who turned out,” she said.
Wood said she’s not sure if she’ll run in the general election. She said she would be excited to have two months to campaign, “given what we were able to do in 20 days.”
“I will talk to my supporters to see whether we can accomplish more by spending our time doing other work,” she said.
“I think this shows that a lot of voters want to align themselves with independent voices,” said Hausladen.
As Ward 19 voters arrived to vote at the Celentano School on Canner Street Tuesday, they were greeted by large signs paid for by the New Haven firefighters union, showing a fire engine with Stratton’s face on it next to the words “for sale.” Ward 19 covers parts of East Rock’s Propsect Hill neighborhood as well as parts of Newhallville; the most recent citywide ward redistricting added more East Rockers to the mix.
“Mike Stratton plans to cut your fire engine,” the sign at Celentano read, below a list of emergencies that firefighters respond to: heart attack, fire, car accident.
Firefighters jumped into the Ward 19 race after Stratton said he wants eventually to cut the fire department in half. He said the city is overstaffed with firefighters for its size and the department should be reduced through attrition.
Gardner disagreed, saying the department should remain the same size. She earned the support of the firefighters union. The 48-year-old Yale union steward also had the support of Yale’s unions.
Tuesday found firefighter Frank Ricci (pictured greeting Elicker volunteer Ed Kaplan) on Livingston Street in Ward 19. He said he was pulling votes for Gardner and mayoral candidate Toni Harp.
Ricci showed up again as the polls were closing Tuesday evening at Celentano School. He said firefighters had been pulling votes in Ward 19, Morris Cove and the Hill, as part of “normal election cycle” activism. He said he couldn’t estimate how many firefighters had been working in Ward 19 for Gardner.
Stratton, whose supporters wore new “Vote 3D” T-shirts to remind people which ballot box to mark, said he had about a dozen people working for him, half paid staff. “We’re vastly outnumbered by the suburban people coming in,” he said. Stratton made an alliance with the outgoing alderwoman, Newhallville’s Alfreda Edwards, and her supporters.
Gardner said she had 25 to 30 people working for her campaign, all unpaid. She worked the polls Tuesday evening with Scott Marks, Local 34’s Ken Suzuki (at left in photo) and others.
When the Ward 19 poll moderator read out the vote count just after 8 p.m., Stratton’s T-shirted supporters erupted in hoots and cheers.
Gardner said the election was not as close as she expected. Asked if she would follow through with plans to run in the general, she said, “I don’t know yet.”
Stratton attributed his success in part to the support of incumbent Alderwoman Edwards (at left in photo above). He said he and she would walk the neighborhood, knocking on doors. “We were up against 25 to 30 people a night” campaigning for Gardner, Stratton said.
Asked about the role of firefighters in the race, Stratton said, “I understand why the firefighters were alarmed.”
“Just leave it alone,” Edwards interrupted, advising Stratton not to go near the firefighter issue again.
Stratton said he hopes Gardner chooses not to run in November: “We’re all Democrats. We should abide by the party decision. It would be a waste of a lot of human effort and time to go through this again.”