Candidates backed by Yale’s UNITE HERE unions swept to victory in Democratic Party primaries Tuesday for seats on the Board of Alders.
Voters went to the polls in eight of the city’s 30 wards.
Based on the returns from voting machines, UNITE HERE-backed candidates won seven of the races. The eighth, in West Hills/West Rock’s Ward 30, had no labor-backed or opposed candidate.
UNITE HERE’s victories included two races in which the union-backed candidate topped an incumbent: Beaver Hills’ Ward 28, where Jill Marks topped Claudette Robinson-Thorpe (pending any absentee ballot counts); and Bishop Woods/Quinnipiac Meadows’ Ward 12, where former Alder Gerald Antunes crushed incumbent Richard Spears with 81 percent of the vote.
UNITE HERE-backed incumbent Santiago Berrios-Bones held onto his seat under a challenge from Thomas Burwell in Fair Haven’s Ward 14, as did incumbents Sarah Eidelson (who didn’t formally seek a UNITE HERE endorsement but who works for the union) against Fortney “Fish” Stark in Yale’s Ward 1; Sal DeCola in Morris Cove’s Ward 18, against police officer Robert Proto; Delphine Clyburn in Newhallville’s Ward 20 against Teresa Hines; and Barbara Constantinople against Robert Lee in Fair Haven Heights’ Ward 11.
UNITE HERE Local 34 President Laurie Kennington called the victories an affirmation of the candidates’ issues agenda.
“We all see the need for access to good jobs,” she said. “Even candidates running against each other agree on that. After all this door-knocking, it’s a good time to come together and sit down with employers to figure this out.”
Most of the losing candidates Tuesday night have filed papers to run again as independents in the general election on Nov. 3. Spears said upon leaving the polls Tuesday night that the question of ward leadership will be decided then. Republicans are fielding four alder candidates in the general election.
“The community has now spoken as to wanting representation,” Antunes said after the polls closed. “That’s all I told them that we need to get back to—representing the people of this ward.”
“We got the substation. We have the police working 24/7. We got the unions and the jobs. My agenda is to keep going,” Constaninople said after the vote results were read in the Heights.
Losing Candidates Blame Union “Machine”
Fair Haven’s Burwell blamed “the machine” for his loss: “That’s what happens when you go against the machine.”
In Newhallville, too, Hines said she wasn’t “totally shocked” about losing—“because the political machine was working for her and unfortunately that’s how people win.”
The campaign of her opponent, victor Clyburn, portrayed her opponent as the one being backed by forces outside the ward bent on silencing neighborhood voices—namely a top City Hall aide. (Read about that in this article.)
“I’m so grateful that again the people believed in me to be a voice for them. Poor, poor to the city, who tried to bring division, but we showed them tonight. We are still together. And we are still one,” Clyburn declared.
The closest race was in Beaver Hills’ Ward 28.
“They spent $30,000 to get this seat. She wouldn’t have won without the union backing her,” Robinson-Thorpe declared after learning of her loss. “It’s a sad day for the city because they will have a board that is doing what the union wants, not the people. It is what it is. I congratulate her and wish her the best.” She said she is considering a run as an independent candidate in the November general election, but is undecided at this time.
The victor, Marks, sang a gospel song called “You Need to Know God’s Plan for Your Life” with her daughter Scotticessa Marks, before thanking her supporters. “We’re going to take this city and move it forward,” she said. “There has been a change in New Haven tonight.”
In the Heights, the two candidates refrained from taking shots. “No hard feelings,” Lee said. “I have to go pick up my son.”
“No hard feelings either,” Constantinople replied.
First-time candidate Proto said that even though he lost the primary, democracy in Morris Cove won: “Win or lose, when you have opposition, the ward wins. Because opposition breeds motivation.” He said he hasn’t decided yet whether to run as an independent in November.
Mega Vs. Music
Some of the most spirited activity in the polls took place outside James Hillhouse High School, where Ward
38 28 voted. Both candidates had supporters working hard to bring voters to the polls. Robinson-Thorpe had the backing of members of the community management team, whose meetings she attends regularly. Marks had the backing of neighborhood members of the ward committee, which endorsed her.
When the Robinson-Thorpe megaphone was becoming too dominant a sound on the strip of sidewalk in front of the high school, an industrious Marks supporter pulled up a car and cranked up the music with hits from Michael Jackson and briefly, “Eye of the Tiger,” drowning out the the Robinson-Thorpe megaphone.
As the time began to wind down, the chants in support of both candidates got louder and at one point, the two sides had a “chant off.”
“Let’s go Jill Marks!” chanted Marks supporters. “Vote for Robinson-Thorpe!” chanted Robinson-Thorpe supporters.
In the end, it was the cheers of Marks supporters who split the air inside the polling place when the vote totals were read.
Allan Appel, Paul Bass, Thomas Breen, Sharon Benzoni, Juliana Hanle, Lucy Gellman, Markeshia Ricks, Norma Rodriguez, David Sepulveda, Brian Slattery, Caroline Smith, Aliyya Swaby, and Kassie Urban-Mead contributed reporting.
Previous coverage of the Sept. 16 Democratic alder primaries:
• Candidates Split On Airport Runway
• Former 34/35-Backed Alder Swings Back
• A Yale Alder? Or An Alder From Yale?
• Primary Issue: Showing Up
• Lee Throws Down An Anti-Union Gauntlet
• Hines To Ward 20: Your Voice Matters
• Marks Promises New Leadership
• Local 34 Endorses 6 For Alder
• Berrios-Bones: Stay The Course
• Burwell Confronts Language Barrier
• Robinson-Thorpe Ready For Primary Fight
• 8 Primaries On Tap
• Newhallville Gets A Primary
• Clyburn: “A Voice At The Table”