Race done right could end Ward 1 apathy

In the past eight years, Ward 1 has developed a pattern it would be better off without. After four years of ably representing the Yale-dominated ward, Ben Healey ’04 announced his resignation months before an election — just like his two predecessors. And just as in 1997 and 2001, a candidate whose only credential was one vote by one committee received the chance to assume a seat on the board and run as an incumbent.

Regardless of whether Rebecca Livengood ’07 is the right choice for the job, the fact that she became the official representative for eight Yale colleges and Old Campus without having appeared on a ballot reflects everything that is wrong about Ward 1 politics. That’s why we are pleased that Ward 1 will have a competitive race this fall, with independent Nick Shalek ’05 challenging Livengood, the Democratic nominee, in November.

But while we are happy the coming months will see a real campaign for the Ward 1 seat, we hope Shalek realizes that his stated motivation for running — to offer Yale students an alternative to Livengood — will not be enough to carry an election. While we wondered in the spring whether Livengood had enough familiarity with City Hall to effectively serve Ward 1 students, she had, in her defense, spent much of her time at Yale as an activist and volunteer beyond Yale’s campus. Shalek’s leadership qualities have been demonstrated in his role as a captain of the hockey team and president of the Yale Entrepreneurial Society. But he still must explain why he now wants to serve as the Yale campus’ only real voice in city government after showing little public interest in New Haven during his undergraduate years. And in a city where Democrats hold virtually all the power, he must offer a better sense of how, as an independent without any pre-existing allies across New Haven, he would be able to get anything done on the Board of Aldermen.

Livengood, on the other hand, enters the campaign as the clear favorite. In an overwhelmingly Democratic ward, she will have the party label accompanying her name in November. Just as importantly, she will run with the support of a base that includes those Yalies who are traditionally most active in Ward 1 politics.

But Livengood must not take the ward for granted. When she ran for the Ward 1 committee’s nomination, we expressed our disappointment that neither she nor her then-opponent, Dan Weeks ’06, appeared to offer any new ideas specific to the concerns of their potential constituents. Since then, Livengood appears to have taken that criticism to heart. Her idea for a community-owned theater to replace recently departed York Square Cinema may be a tough one to implement, but it is the kind of proposal we would like to see more of from her campaign — one that reflects a genuine interest in improving campus life.

For both current candidates, though, the first priority is to engage Ward 1 voters at all. As city politics go, Yale students have an unfortunate tendency to disenfranchise themselves. By showing little interest in what happens across the Green in City Hall, the citizens of Ward 1 offer the best excuse for local government to ignore them. Livengood and Shalek, by participating in a real campaign this fall, could help us take the first step towards breaking that habit.

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