Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me — and all the students in Ward 1.
As Alderman Nick Shalek considers announcing his re-election campaign this week, I worry that Monday’s News profile failed to hold Shalek accountable for his many broken promises from his first campaign.
As shown on www.voteshalek.com/refocus.php, Shalek promised he would:
1. “Create a Ward One website that will publish regular updates of current New Haven issues and … allow constituents to ask questions and leave comments.” No such Web site exists.
2. “Collaborate with the Yale College Council to conduct polls on important New Haven issues.” No such polls have been conducted.
3. “Work extensively with Yale media … to provide fuller coverage of local politics.” Shalek appears in the News archive just a handful of times since the time he took office, much of it not relating to his job.
Maybe Nick should listen to Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., who told comedian Stephen Colbert that he promised his constituents he would “read his campaign literature.”
Politicians break promises all the time, but Shalek’s can’t be explained away by scapegoating legislative logjam or the need for triage in politics. To engage students via a Web site or conduct a YCC poll, he just needed to make an effort. He didn’t.
Shalek made these commitments as part of a plan to “create greater awareness of New Haven politics and increase dialogue amongst Yale students.” It seems that he has abandoned not only the means to this end, but the end itself. Hence the apt description in Monday’s News: He is “enigmatic,” with most students saying they do not even “know who he is.”
Shalek’s absence is so troubling because the point of electing him was not to outsource our stake in city politics or to hire a technocrat for an elected and representative office. Shalek has ignored not only the “small, politically eager minority” of activists on campus whom he repeatedly accused of monopolizing student participation in New Haven, but also all the other students he pledged to bring into the process. Even people who worked on his campaign have little idea of what he is working on now.
Instead of broadening student participation in city politics, Shalek’s benign neglect has left students less involved in the city’s political process than at any point in recent memory. And Monday’s profile informs us that his board colleagues, such as Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen — whom Shalek himself cited as a source of electoral advice last November — have not seen him “building alliances” within the board either.
Shalek has broken his most important campaign promise — to represent his constituents — by not speaking with us. Evidence? The city is actively debating its response to the illegal intimidation of workers by management at Yale-New Haven Hospital. What campus dialogue has Shalek participated in — let alone worked to “create” or “increase” — to help students come to informed conclusions, and to help himself represent their views to the board? What proposal is he advocating, besides the failed National Labor Relations Board process he trumpeted in his last campaign?
What student engagement with the city is occurring on campus isn’t coming from Shalek. In the first stage of her aldermanic campaign, Rachel Plattus ’09 has already held more events on campus for students to discuss their role in the city than Shalek has in his more than a year in office. The lesson of Shalek’s tenure is that we should be wary of trusting the student seat on the Board of Aldermen to someone who is not a student but promises to be a presence on campus nonetheless.
I don’t mean to suggest that Nick hasn’t been working hard at his job — he has, and I respect his efforts on behalf of the city. But I have criticized Nick on this point before and I’m criticizing him again because I think the point is crucial.
If he seeks re-election and makes no pledge to engage students, then he makes a very weak case for himself. And if Shalek seeks re-election claiming once again that he will take steps to remain engaged on campus despite his unusual status, his record the first time around suggests that we should not be foolish enough to take him at his word a second time.
Ted Fertik is a senior in Trumbull College.