Union-backed candidates swept elections citywide Tuesday for seats on the Democratic Town Committee, paving the way for a union-backed majority to run not just New Haven’s legislature but the machinery of its only real political party.
Candidates backed by Yale’s unions, UNITE HERE Locals 34 and 35, won contested races for ward co-chair in Dwight, Fair Haven Heights, Dixwell, Newhallville, and East Rock. Candidates weren’t running specifically on a union agenda. Many said they were first-time candidates interested in ward-level issues.
Union-backed candidates lost in Beaver Hills’ Ward 29. They won on the machines, but lost on absentee ballots. A recount is scheduled for Friday because the second and third-place candidates were only one vote apart. (As the absentee ballots were counted at 200 Orange St. Tuesday night, a supporter of the union candidates, Alderman Brian Wingate, tried to have the process stopped because of what he said were absentee ballot irregularities. It wasn’t stopped. The moderator of the count, attorney John A. Cirello, refused to allow photography of the process; he later apologized for what he called an honest misreading of the law.)
“This election provides an opportunity for changing the role of the Democratic co-chairs in our community to being more active and able to address critical issues in our neighborhoods,” declared Christopher Arnott, a victorious candidate in Dwight’s Ward 2.
Seven primary elections in all took place across town. Each involved electing two people to the position of Democratic Town Committee (DTC) co-chair. (The city’s other 23 wards did not have contests.)
The new DTC appears poised on March 14 to elect a new labor-backed town chairwoman, Jacqueline James (who’s also a Hill alderwoman). Christopher Randall and Esther Armmand are also seeking the position.
Results from the polls Tuesday (not counting absentee ballots, except in Ward 29, where they made a difference in the outcome):
Ward 9 (East Rock):
Cristina Cruz-Uribe 249*
Lauren Miller 239*
Jane Edelstein 160
Donald Harvey 169
(Not enough absentees were collected to change this outcome.)
Ward 11 (Fair Haven Heights):
Patty DePalma 50
Paul Tricaso 26
Fannie Brooks 221*
Dorothy Harper 217*
Ward 20 (Newhallville):
Latoya Agnew 215*
Barbara Vereen 209*
Ernest Jones 59
Ward 22 (Dixwell):
Jayuan Carter 108*
Josef Goodman 92*
Gina Phillips 70
Cordelia Thorpe 79
Ward 29 (Beaver Hills):
Audrey Tyson 286 (158 on machines, 116 on absentees, 2 on “hand counts”)
Thomas Ficklin 213 (142 on machines, 71 on absentee ballots)
Major Ruth 212 (193 on machines, 19 on absentees)*
Betty Alford 194 (178 on machines, 16 on absentees)*
Ward 2 (Dwight):
Christopher Arnott 130*
Jane Kinity 137*
Anita Morales 15
(Read about the candidates here.)
Ward 26 (Upper Westville):
Arnold Amore, Jr. 93
Ronald Rainey 98
Theresa Jones 37
* denotes the union-backed candidates.
Thinking Locally—Very Locally
While Republicans nationwide dominated headlines with “Super Tuesday” presidential primaries, Democrats in New Haven were working hard on their own elections for a smaller prize, but one they believe can make a difference.
On the surface, ward co-chair is a sleepy job. The co-chairs pick ward committees to meet once or twice a year to endorse candidates for aldermen, mayor, and other political offices. And these co-chair elections don’t usually attract much attention outside longtime party workers.
This year was different. On the heels of a dramatic sweep of the city’s Board of Aldermen by labor-backed insurgents in last fall’s elections, control of the Democratic Party is shifting. Many people new to electoral politics ran for ward co-chair Tuesday either to support that labor agenda or just to get involved in local politics in a new era. (Read about some of those new faces and that new energy here.) Some said they hope ward committees will become vehicles to promote democracy and involve more citizens in civic life; in the past some ward committees were accused of serving to keep a closed circle of people in power instead.
Unlike in last fall’s hard-fought aldermanic elections, Tuesday’s DTC primaries did not generally pit labor forces against City Hall. City Hall and the old Democratic machine largely sat out the races, except for in Beaver Hills’ Ward 29. And that was a personal payback, not a quest for citywide power: DeStefano Administration officials and longtime party workers came out of personal loyalty to the aid of an ally who cared a lot about remaining a ward co-chair, Audrey Tyson.
In one-party New Haven, winning Democratic primaries or endorsements is often tantamount to winning office. The city last elected a Republican mayor in 1951. All 30 members of the Board of Aldermen are Democrats; no Republicans ran even token campaigns against any of them this past fall. As of Monday, the city had 45,555 registered Democrats, 2,456 Republicans, 15,946 unaffiliated voters and 341 “other” voters.
Compared to past DTC primary election days, Tuesday was a big night for democracy, if total number of voters participating in an election is understood to reflect civic vitality. More people than usual turned out to cast ballots in some races.
In Newhallville’s Ward 20, for instance, the winning candidates collected 215 and 209 votes, respectively, at the polls Tuesday. The winners in a 2010 DTC primary there won 126 and 99 total votes.
A member of the Ward 20 poll working crew at Lincoln-Bassett School, Bobby Moore, reported that 10 first-time voters came to the polls for this election. They came throughout the day; they were all young.
Ward 20 Moderator Deveria Peterson said that in each case she, Moore, and all the poll workers offered a spontaneous “Whooo!” of contratulations. Peterson described it as a “celebratory hurrah” to thank and encourage each of the new voters.
And a young person won the election: 19-year-old Latoya Agnew. She got involved in neighborhood organizing after working for one of the victorious labor-backed candidates for alderman last fall, Delphine Clyburn. Agnew organized a young people’s organization Newhallville Dream Team and launched her campaign for party co-chair. (Read about her exploits here, here, and here.)
Agnew said she and Vereen hope to find and designate a ward committee person responsible for each block. Whenever a new person or family moves in, the ward committee’s welcome wagon, as it were, would go out.
This is the second election Agnew voted in—and the first she’s won.