News analysis: In and out of Ward 1

Like many Yale students who venture into the realm of politics, Ward 1 aldermen have a reputation for being smart, energetic and ambitious.

But there is one thing they do not have: longevity.

As Ward 1 Alderwoman Rachel Plattus ’09 wraps up her two year term on the Board of Aldermen, Mike Jones ’11 is readying his campaign for the same seat. Plattus, who has said she will not run for a second term, said she believes that the Ward 1 seat should be held by a current Yale student. Jones, who has said he plans to run for just one term, agreed.

But in a city where the alderman themselves admit that aldermanic candidates are discouraged from seeking just one term, interviews with local politicos reveal that Ward 1 aldermen are often appreciated for their insight and vigor — if not their ability to enact change in the long-run.

Former Ward 1 alderman, Ben Healey ’04, who vacated his seat during his second term in 2005, said he was skeptical of Jones’ plans.

“Two years could be plenty of time, and I also think it goes a lot quicker than you think,” Healey said. “[Jones] wont know until he gets there.”

Because all New Haven aldermen must live in their ward at the time of their swearing in, aldermen representing Ward 1 — which extends roughly between Church, Wall, Park and Crown Streets — are almost always Yale students. Elis typically do not run for more than two terms — none of the three Ward 1 alderman since Healey left the Board has spent more than two years in the office.

When it comes to representing a neighborhood, Ward 28 Alderman Mordechai Sandman said, an alderman has two responsibilities: his ward and his city. Sandman said an alderman’s first priority should center on managing his neighborhood, and only after that he can begin to focus on citywide issues. Because Ward 1 aldermen do not typically have to tackle everyday difficulties such as cracked sidewalks and trash pick-up schedules, they have time to respond to overarching city issues, Sandman said.

“The Yale alder has a lot to offer — this person doesn’t have to focus on taking care of constituents in the same way that we have to,” Sandman said.

Because Yale students on the Board of Aldermen do not usually have 9-to-5 jobs, Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 said, they can be more effective than other aldermen during a shorter tenure because they have more time to donate to the position. (Morand served two terms as Ward 1 Alderman.)

Still, Ward 2 Alderwoman Gina Calder ’05 EPH ’08, who confirmed Sunday she will likely run for at least two more terms, said she found it difficult to see how any alderman can affect long-standing change in just a single term. Calder did not speak specifically about the Ward 1 seat, but she maintained that an alderman needs the time to see their ideas come to fruition.

“Anytime you commit to being a part of a legislative body, you have to have a longtime vision,” Calder said. “There’s not much you can get accomplished in one, or even two, terms.”

Except for “a few exceptional cases,” Healey said, a freshman alderman spends most of his first term learning the political dynamics of the Board of Aldermen. Only after listening and learning from more experienced aldermen, Healey said, was he able to become comfortable playing an important role on the board.

“It takes time to learn how to play the game and how to move a priority forward,” Healey said. “You learn that you can’t do everything you want to do.”

Plattus agreed, in part. It takes considerable time to build connections with other alderman in order to pass legislation, she said.

“It’s hard,” she said, “because in terms of gaining enough experience on the Board to be able to affect long term change, it can be really hard to do that in a short period of time.””

That said, Plattus maintained that one-term aldermen were not impotent.

“I think that historically it has certainly been true that Ward 1 alders have often gotten a lot accomplished,” she said, “even after only being on the Board for a short time.”

Aldermanic President Carl Goldfield and Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark both said Yale aldermen bring an unparalleled dimension to Board dynamics, regardless of the length of their tenure.

“It’s always fascinated me that within a short time, even with their youth, these kids are able to pass some really meaningful legislation,” Goldfield said. “A number of them have had great people skills — they’re strategic thinkers and they get people to listen to them.”

Generally, it is always better for an alderman to develop their expertise by staying on for an extended period of time, Clark said. But in the case of Ward 1 aldermen, Clark said she would gladly trade experience for the energy and vision that Yalies usually possess.

“We’re very proud of the fact that we always have a student on the Board,” Clark said. “I’d much prefer to have a Yale undergrad, rather than an administrator or the dean of a college.”

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