Not every university enrolls students who go home for the holidays to a governor’s mansion or the White House. But at Yale, an institution steeped in political tradition, it is no surprise to find students coming from political stock.
Some of these students have their own political ambitions, while others claim to be apolitical. Some have found themselves close to the center of publicity and controversy since childhood, while others have enjoyed relative anonymity. All of them have a unique perspective on the political process and the personal repercussions of a life in politics.
An insider’s view
For Dan Weeks ’06, the political tradition goes back four generations.
“I guess one could say it’s in my blood,” Weeks said.
Weeks’ great-great-grandfather, John Wingate Weeks, served the state of Massachusetts as representative and then senator, and under Harding and Coolidge as secretary of war. Weeks’ great-grandfather was Sinclair Weeks, the secretary of commerce under U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and a major player in the innovation of the Interstate Highway System.
“They both had cabinet positions,” Weeks said. “And I’ve gotten a sense for that legacy without knowing the individuals myself. … My family has this tradition, and I’ve certainly felt an affinity for politics.”
Weeks, who said he has been politically active since high school, acts as coordinator of Yale Students for Clean Elections and made a play for the Democratic nomination for Ward 1 Alderman last spring. He said politics has long been a defining factor in his life, including his decision to major in political science.
“Children of politicians, they have a much more immediate sense of the political world,” Weeks said.
Dodging the limelight
Allison Pataki ’07 has also been privy to an insider’s perspective on political life. Her father, George Pataki ’67, is in his third term as New York’s 53rd governor. Allison Pataki said she has vivid childhood memories of her father’s campaigns. Her father was elected governor when she was in the fourth grade.
“I went to election night — I wasn’t aware of anything at the time, and I didn’t know my dad was the major underdog running against a powerful incumbent [Mario Cuomo],” Pataki said. “Everybody was so happy that night. It was such a vivid memory because I was eight years old. I’m not sure I realized how much of an unexpected victory it had been, what an achievement it was. At school the next day, all my friends congratulated and hugged me.”
Pataki said her parents kept her childhood as normal as possible, considering the inevitable ramifications of a life in the public eye.
“My mom and dad tried to keep our lives consistent both before and after my dad was elected,” she said. “In the beginning, at least, it didn’t really change my life that much.”
But Pataki said there are some drawbacks to being the child of a major politician. She is frustrated when people single her out because of her father, though she said this has not been a major problem at Yale.
“It hasn’t been an issue here because there are so many famous people,” Pataki said. “It’s a bigger issue when you’re a young child, because you don’t want to stand out or look different. In sports, my siblings and I would hate it when our name was on the back of our jerseys and people would know I was Pataki’s daughter. At camp, I never even told people my last name.”
Pataki calls herself conservative, but said she has no plans to enter politics.
“People immediately ask me if I’m going into politics, and I always say emphatically, ‘No, I’m not into it,’ ” she said. “I think I’m less informed than most Yale students in terms of political issues.”
Pataki, an English major, said her passion lies in writing and she would rather work in entertainment or journalism.
As far as the extra attention of having a famous father, Pataki said she “deals with it.”
“I’ve gotten over it now,” she said. “You take the good with the bad. I love my father and I’m proud of him.”
Breaking from tradition
Rob Inglis ’07, son of South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis, has been involved with his father’s campaigns since the second grade.
“I was seven when my dad first got elected,” Inglis said. “I basically lived at that campaign office the summer my dad was running. I remember walking around neighborhoods hanging fliers on people’s doors.”
Bob Inglis has campaigned for the House and Senate on a platform of conservative spending, family values and alternative energy. Last year, Inglis reclaimed his seat in Congress, defeating Brandon Brown with 70 percent of the vote.
While Rob Inglis shares his father’s dedication to public service, he said he began to disagree with his father’s politics during high school.
“I’ve always been an outdoors type, so when a mountain behind my house was being developed by one of my dad’s campaign contributors, I didn’t like that at all,” he said.
When he arrived at Yale, Rob Inglis said he was still conservative. But during the summer after his freshman year, he began working at a high school in New Haven, where he said he began to think about issues of economic justice based on what he had seen.
“I got a fuller sense of the need for something more than laissez faire capitalism, the need for a social safety net,” he said.
In last year’s election, Inglis split his ticket, voting for his father but also for Kerry and the Democratic candidate for Senate.
Though Inglis, an Ethics, Politics and Economics major, said he feels no pressure from his family to go into politics, he said he is passionate about issues of social justice, particularly with regard to the ways in which Christian theology intersects with issues of social ethics.
“I share my dad’s faith, but I don’t share the same interpretations,” he said. “I’m interested in finding alternative interpretations to take into the social sphere.”
A possible future
Jennifer Sarah Bolton ’08 is the daughter of John Bolton ’70 LAW ’74, the recently appointed ambassador to the United Nations whose nomination stirred controversy in the U.S. Senate and in the media. Though her father was involved in the Reagan administration and the first Bush administration, she said publicity was never a problem until the massive media coverage surrounding her father’s candidacy for the U.N. ambassadorship.
“It wasn’t a big deal until last March,” she said. “Luckily, since people here already knew me, I wasn’t treated differently by many people.”
For Bolton, who calls herself conservative, nothing is certain, though she said she considers politics an option. Still, she said she is annoyed when people automatically assume she has political aspirations.
“It’s pointless,” Bolton said. “Anyway, everyone at Yale secretly believes that everyone else at Yale wants to be involved with politics.”