Ben Healey ’04 crossed his hiking boots over his faded black jeans and folded his arms across his gray T-shirt as he prepared to discuss his campaign for Ward 1 alderman.
Healey, a Washington, D.C., native, announced his candidacy Feb. 8 to replace current Ward 1 Alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99.
For the Eric Clapton fan who juggles Directed Studies, student social services groups and Branford intramural ping-pong, the Ward 1 aldermanic position appeals to Healey because of the opportunity it offers him to effect reform through cooperative means.
“I want to commit my energies to the place where I’m most able to work for change,” Healey said. “Change will come through the groups such as students, unions, the people of New Haven and the government of New Haven working together.”
Healey’s platform focuses on three issues: labor, empowerment zones and zoning regulations.
Jacob Remes ’02, former coordinator of Social Justice Network, said that with 25 percent of New Haven’s jobs based at Yale, the upcoming labor talks with the hospital, Graduate Employees and Students Organization and locals 34 and 35 would involve the Ward 1 alderman significantly.
“The well-being of New Haven is dependent upon the strength of its working people,” Healey said.
In light of this, Healey has proposed that the city add a stipulation that any new building permit must include a neutrality agreement toward future labor organizing within the site.
Healey said he also sees room for improvement among the six federal empowerment zones created in New Haven in 1998.
Healey suggested that Empower New Haven, the non-profit group that oversees the empowerment zones, should be held accountable for the use of its money, namely $5 million awarded annually over 10 years.
“That money should be used on a broader focus toward creating sustained neighborhood improvements, as opposed to casework,” Healey said.
Some people questioned the appropriateness of stressing the empowerment zones, which the city will review in September — before the Ward 1 election.
“Nobody at this point is as knowledgeable about labor as Ben,” Remes said. “But I don’t think that Ben is as intimately familiar with stuff like the empowerment zones.”
New Haven’s current zoning regulation overhaul also interests Healey.
“Already, it’s hard enough for social services to operate within the city,” Healey said. “Under the proposed new zoning, the fair share provision might make it even harder.”
Healey said there needs to be greater education about zoning, including among elected officials. Sara Aviel ’02, a student familiar with local politics, agreed.
“The aldermanic candidates are in a tough position with respect to zoning,” Aviel said. “They can either advocate broad changes to connect with the Yale students or specific, narrow and achievable goals that are harder for undergraduates to understand and therefore may need explaining. It sounds like Ben is on the right track.”
Healey said his opponents have marginalized issues in the campaign.
“To the candidates, it seems that it would be best now to focus their campaigns toward the ward committee and not to the students just yet,” added Nadia Sussman ’03, who knows Healey through Student Labor Action Coalition and Students Against Sweatshops.
Several people involved with the ward committee said if Healey were not a freshman, he would get the endorsement of the Democratic Ward Committee, which will select a candidate to appear on the ballot.
“As a freshman, he is clearly less familiar with many of the nitty-gritty ways of New Haven politics,” Remes said. “But it’s very much a thing that you learn on the job.”
Other people said a younger alderman might have a harder time asserting himself.
“It’s hard being alder because you have a lot of people pulling on you, and when you’re younger, it’s tougher to deal with,” said Abby Levine ’02, who attended Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in Washington with Healey.
But other people said his freshman status may benefit his candidacy.
“The fact that he’s a freshman should be an asset to his campaign,” said Benita Singh ’04, a neighbor in Vanderbilt. “He’s going to be here as a Yale student through his entire term, so he will be representing the interests of his fellow students.”
Students closely involved with the selection process said the candidates’ ages and personalities should not become the focus of the political race.