Ben Healey ’04 admits that when he first began to represent Ward 1 on the Board of Aldermen, he knew very little about how city government operated.
“I didn’t know anything,” Healey said in an interview earlier this week. “I was in over my head.”
But despite his lack of political experience, Healey was determined to make his presence felt. Only months after he was appointed to complete the term of retiring Alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99, Healey sought a position on the powerful Finance Committee — and got it. He ran for an aldermanic position on the influential City Plan Commission — and won, in a 15-14 vote against a veteran alderwoman.
Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield said while Healey was “young-looking,” he was quickly able to make his colleagues forget he was only a 19-year-old sophomore.
“If you’re smart and you’re making sense and you are showing the ability to make coalitions and get things done, they don’t think about how old you are,” Goldfield said.
As Healey, an ethics, politics and economics major from Washington, D.C., prepares to run for reelection against challenger Dan Kruger ’04, he is running on the record he has built over the past two and a half years. According to Healey, that record includes creating a powerful voice on issues like domestic partnerships, downtown economic development and environmental protection.
But Healey said he is most proud of his ability to help create a broad consensus toward positive change on New Haven’s legislative council.
“There’s a changed tone on the Board of Aldermen about the work we can do there,” Healey said. “It’s not my accomplishment, but it’s what a group of us have done to make the Board of Aldermen a progressive, serious-minded working body.”
According to Kruger, however, Healey’s record is less impressive, marked by poor communication and close ties with the University’s unions.
“At day one, it is possible to do better outreach than Ben has done in the last two and a half years,” Kruger said.
Yet Healey said his support for the unions during the strike was not driven by special interests, but by a belief that improving the quality of life for Yale’s workers is tied to an improved quality of life for Yale students.
“It doesn’t make sense to me to say that New Haven is going to get better because Yale makes Broadway slightly nicer,” Healey said. “It’s not enough. You have to talk about the dominant role Yale plays in the New Haven economy.”
Ward 26 Alderwoman Lindy Gold, who has clashed with Yale unions in the past, said Healey’s affiliation with the labor movement at Yale has affected his performance on the Board of Aldermen.
“I do believe that his inextricable relationship and employment with the unions is contrary to objectivity,” said Gold.
Kruger has also criticized Healey for antagonizing the University by supporting a resolution earlier this year that called on Yale to pay the city more of the revenues lost due to property tax exemption.
But New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said the Yale administration does not expect Healey or any other elected officials to always agree on substantive issues. He said Healey has challenged the University without creating “real alienation” between city government and Woodbridge Hall.
“Rick Levin is a big boy. He doesn’t expect us all to agree,” DeStefano said. “[But] I think Ben has been able to walk that line.”
Healey said he has taken some of Kruger’s criticism to heart. He said if he is reelected, he will likely follow Kruger’s lead and send monthly e-mails to his constituents. Healey also said he made a “terrible misjudgment” when he failed to mobilize supporters for a bill that would have granted domestic partnership rights for same-sex couples — a measure that failed by one vote.
If reelected, Healey said he intends to bring the domestic partnership bill up for a vote again at the beginning of next year. In addition, he said he hopes to take the lead on issues like the living wage, “clean elections” legislation, and affordable housing, while continuing to engage Yale directly.
“I think people recognize that there should be an honest discussion about how the city and the University work together, and I think that’s important,” Healey said.