Although uncontested aldermanic candidate Rachel Plattus ’09 is not yet talking specifics, the unique nature of the Ward 1 seat for which she is running will likely determine her priorities once she is installed in January.
While Ward 1 may often be called the “Yale Ward,” it is — perhaps ironically — the district most focused on city-wide issues rather than street-level grievances. As Ward 1’s representative on the Board of Aldermen, Plattus will therefore have a unique opportunity to promote issues that do not cater directly to residents in her ward, her future colleagues on the board said.
Plattus said she knows she is lucky in this respect: the University already takes care of Yale students’ quality of life.
“There aren’t many calls saying ‘My sidewalk is cracked,’” she said in an interview.
With 30 wards and roughly 125,000 city residents, each alderman serves the interests of about 4,000 people.
As a result, each representative is responsible for responding to quality-of-life issues — from trash to speeding to unruly hedges — as well as the larger city-wide issues that take up the majority of hearings and committee meetings.
“Because [the Ward 1 alderman] is representing a constituency that may only spend four years in New Haven, when they come back to visit, they want to see New Haven as a whole doing better than before,” Ward 13 Alderman Alex Rhodeen said.
Now, after a summer of waiting to see whether she would have an opponent, Plattus said the unexpected downtime has given her the chance to reach out to the mayor and her future colleagues on the board, as well as to have more personal conversations with on campus groups.
Ben Shaffer ’09, who has worked with Plattus as a representative of the Yale College Democrats — she serves as the registrar of voters for the group — said the most effective use of her time is exchanging ideas so she can “hit the ground running” next year.
Plattus said the dominant themes of her conversations with other aldermen and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. have been public safety and education.
Both issues, she said, have a major impact on lives of Yale students, during their daily routines around campus and as they involve themselves in the city at large through Dwight Hall and other campus organizations.
“When I spoke with the mayor, we talked about preparing high school students to apply for college and enter the workplace,” Plattus said. “We talked about how he sees the relationship between the University and New Haven … Yale students are working in the city all the time, so it’s a great opportunity.”
Ward 10 Alderman Ed Mattison said the most effective aldermen came to the board open-minded and ready to learn about New Haven politics, past and present.
“There is a lot to learn, but they’re smart, Yalies, and they can figure it out,” Mattison said. “I don’t know the new alderwoman, but Yale aldermen — they’ve done their homework. Not their Yale homework, but their board homework.”
Ward 25 Alderwoman Ina Silverman ’80, whose father was also an alderman, said she has seen many Ward 1 aldermen over the years — and as many different styles. Some past alderman have focused on local issues and others on macro-policy from health insurance to labor policy, Silverman said. She said she expects Plattus — who, like herself, was born and raised in New Haven — to have a grasp of city concerns.
Though Plattus said she had “less airtime” because she was running unopposed, she said there are substantial benefits to not having to campaign.
Two years ago, supporters of Rebecca Livengood ’07 and Nick Shalek ’05 manned phone banks, posted fliers, recruited supporters through their extracurricular activities and walked up and down Old Campus.
This year, instead of going door-to-door asking for people’s votes, Plattus said she has had longer, more personal conversations.
She said she has spoken with members of groups including New Haven Action, the Black Student Alliance at Yale, the Undergraduate Organizing Committee and the Roosevelt Institution, in which she played an active role in past years.
Kristian Henderson ’09, a co-moderator of BSAY with whom Plattus worked over the summer in New Haven, said Plattus must tackle the concerns of non-Yale community members. Henderson said non-Yale affiliates sometimes resent Yale students making decisions that affect the city more than the students themselves.
“The decisions Rachel is going to make — it’s more tricky than considering just her own constituency,” she said. “She has to be mindful of the community.”
Plattus’ constituents have more time than usual for their voices to be heard: since the election in two weeks is a foregone conclusion, the real decision making does not start until her inauguration in two months.