Alder challenger embraces Republican identity in Democratic district

Courtesy of Andrea DiLieto Zola

Republican alder candidate Andrea DiLieto Zola was running as a Democrat as recently as August. She is now embracing the Republican party label, both on the ballot and online.  

Zola is challenging incumbent alder Ellen Cupo, a Democrat who has represented Wooster Square as the city’s Ward 8 alder since 2019, in the Nov. 7 general election. Residents in Wooster Square have historically voted to elect Democratic alders to represent the neighborhood. In the 2021 mayoral election, 87 percent of voters in the ward backed Democrat Justin Elicker, while 10 percent supported Republican challenger John Carlson. Zola told the News she is grappling with how to sell her support of the Republican party to her liberal constituents.  

“I think it’s a really crucial time to become involved in politics,” Zola said. “And I do not think that we have enough women leading. I especially chose the Republican Party because I see a need for women in the Republican Party.”  

Zola registered for the aldermanic race in April, originally as an unaffiliated candidate. She then failed to petition onto the ballot for the Sept. 11 Democratic primary, only gathering 42 of the required 61 signatures, according to the New Haven Independent

 Zola told the News that she made the decision to register as a Republican candidate because the Registrar of Voters’ office erased her signatures and changed the ward lines. After being approached by Carlson, the Chairman of New Haven’s Republican Town Committee, Zola said she then registered as a Republican candidate in late August.

The Registrar of Voters’ office did not respond to a request for comment. While the ward lines were finalized shortly before the primary, Zola did not provide evidence showing that her signatures had been erased.

In July, after losing the Democratic Town Committee endorsement to Cupo, Zola was endorsed by the Republican Town Committee. In a text message to the New Haven Independent following the RTC endorsement, she said she was “thankful” that the Republican Party had become “more open minded,” and added that she still planned to collect signatures from Democratic supporters.  

Since registering as a Republican in August, Zola has posted photos on X, formerly known as Twitter, and Instagram of Republicans, including Republican congressional candidate George Logan and political consultant Charlie Kolean, who was a bundler for former President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign. She has also reposted messages from former U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Before accepting the Republican endorsement, Zola had reposted messages from Democratic politicians, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

When asked by the News if her recent online posts have indicated shifts in her beliefs, Zola said that she does her best to repost messages from all sides. She said that she agrees with different perspectives from across the political spectrum and that she reposts messages because they reflect the perspectives she aligns with, not because of the specific people posting messages. She also told the News that she reposted a picture of Donald Trump’s mugshot on Aug. 24, for “comedic relief.” 

Cupo, meanwhile, criticized Zola’s decision to accept the Republican party’s endorsement.

“I don’t think that affiliating with the Republican Party is a morally sound choice,” Cupo reflected. “You’re supporting everything they stand for. I am proud of the fact that I have voted Democrat all my life. I know that the Democratic Party is not without critique or issues, but I am proud that it’s the party that stands up for racial justice, women, LGBTQ+ people, and is actively combating climate change.” 

Born and raised in New Haven, Zola grew up in a Democratic family — her great-uncle Biagio DiLieto was mayor of New Haven from 1980 to 1989. She has owned and operated businesses in Wooster Square for fourteen years — first a bridal business and now a cafe. She told the News she has an interest in cybersecurity and said she views it as the future of public safety. From her background in small business-owning, she said that she noticed a need for more women in leadership positions around the city, leading her to enroll in a leadership course at the Yale School of Management.  

Cupo, who was raised in Fair Haven, is an organizer with Local 34, which represents Yale’s technical and clerical workers.  

As for the main priorities of her campaign, Zola mentioned boosting public safety, affordable housing and job creation. However, she said that her main priority is traffic calming in Wooster Square. With the construction of more residential buildings in Wooster Square, Zola said she believes that traffic calming efforts should be ramped up to reflect the number of people living in the area.

“I think it’s time that we look at the individuals and what they stand for,” Anthony Acri, City Clerk candidate and Republican Party of New Haven member, said. “Andrea, her relatives are Democrats. However, we didn’t look at that. We thought, what does she stand for? What kind of change does she want to bring?”  

Zola told the News she believes in gun safety, climate change and letting people make their own choices about their bodies. If elected, she said she would be committed to attending all Board of Alders meetings and making herself always available to the residents in her ward, which she alleged that Cupo has not done in her two terms as alder.  

To this, Cupo responded that, as a working mother, her absences are due to having to deal with problems related to her children. Cupo’s first child was born on the day she was elected for her first term as alder in 2019.   

Zola said that her decision to affiliate with the Republican Party was also related to religious background. She said she believes that the Republican Party best reflects the influence her religion has had on her leadership style. She said that her affiliation with the Republican Party would also allow her to work with officials representing parties across the political spectrum.  

“I think what’s really important is being able to see both sides,” Zola said. “What I want is to see leaders who are set in place who are not going to insult the other party. And we’re going to work together, like we talked about when we sat down and have important discussions and find solutions to problems.” 

When asked whether her general perspectives on political issues have changed since her decision to affiliate with the Republican party, Zola said her leadership style is very direct, which has allowed her to remain centered on her own values. 

She also said that her ability to consider views of all political perspectives has forced her to lead with empathy.  

The municipal election will take place 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.

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