If states are the laboratories of democracy, then cities and towns are where change is truly born. In New Haven, students at Yale have for decades envisioned a city that is progressively just, and they have worked in various ways to help realize and refine that end. In the last few years alone, students have advanced a living wage for city workers, equal rights for couples of the same sex and environmental stewardship, to name a few. Student alders in City Hall have often led these varied campaigns. Those who have done so with greatest effect have moved from a three-fold foundation: experience, idealism and practical skill.
One week from today, students in Ward 1 will have the opportunity to exercise our basic democratic responsibility by casting a vote for alderman, our representative in City Hall. I urge you, first and foremost, to take this important opportunity to call New Haven home and engage the politics of this city; actions speak louder than words. And I hope you will join me in supporting our Democratic alderwoman — and my former opponent — Rebecca Livengood.
Last spring, I had the opportunity to compete with Rebecca for the Democratic Committee endorsement in Ward 1. As many observed, the process left much to be desired: full representation of Democrats in Ward 1 could not be achieved on a committee of 42, and voting was not open to all. For these longstanding limitations in the nominating procedure, the process was rightly criticized in these pages.
But in two important respects, the Ward 1 endorsement was a break from traditions of the past. First, Rebecca and I shared a common commitment to the substantive issues of the campaign, and where one candidate introduced new concerns, the other was willing to listen. Second and more importantly, both Rebecca and I committed publicly to a series of reforms which will ensure that future endorsements meet the highest standard of democracy through an open vote. It is a worthy, if overdue, innovation, and the willingness with which it was pursued by my former opponent speaks well of her commitment to reform.
Turning to the election at hand, I believe from my meetings with both Nick Shalek and Rebecca that there are meaningful differences between the two. Although I respect very much Nick’s concern for the city and his experience as past president of YES, I believe for the following reasons that Rebecca is the better choice for Ward 1.
First, Rebecca has demonstrated, more than any other student I know, a real concern for this city. Her record of service since day one — from homelessness to gay rights, from responsible development to environmental reform — is something I do not see in her opponent. To care about this city, as I do not doubt Nick does, is a beginning; to demonstrate that caring through daily service and advocacy is something quite different. It is something I expect in my alder. And from my own work with Mayor DeStefano and the board these past three years, I have watched Rebecca earn credibility in both the neighborhoods and City Hall.
Second, Rebecca’s issues are the issues to which I, and I believe most mainstream Democrats on this campus, am committed, and she knows how to make them work: taking on crime with better lighting and a real investment in activities for New Haven’s youth; implementing a meaningful living wage for employees of contractors receiving public funds; approving the Yale Cancer Center under a responsible development plan; and fighting for gay rights, renewable energy and affordable housing. Rebecca has worked on many of these issues for years, and she has learned and demonstrated the art of pragmatic political change.
Finally, although I have a great deal of respect for Nick, I believe we should expect more in the conduct of this campaign. To deride Rebecca as a leftist reactionary, disconnected from campus life and incapable of pursuing more practical political means, is simply inaccurate. I would not support her if it were true. Rather, it is a fact that Rebecca made difficult decisions to break with the New Haven unions — many of their leaders her friends — over crucial issues on the Board of Aldermen. It is a fact that she has reached out to and garnered support from many of the cultural houses, student organizations and nearly every progressive group at Yale. And it is a fact that Rebecca’s commitment to the Yale Cancer Center is real. Her position is that which the mayor and nearly every other alderman shares: that a private corporation, well-intentioned though it may be, should not rewrite city zoning on its own, but rather meet responsible development expectations and abide by public regulations.
Rebecca has shown since day one that she cares deeply about this city and its people. She has demonstrated the experience, idealism and practical skill that are essential to effective representation in City Hall. I have great faith in the contributions she will make in the coming term, and I urge your wholehearted support for her on Nov. 8. Casting a vote is the least that we can do for our city.
Daniel Weeks is a senior in Berkeley College.