At Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s State of the City address Monday night, Mike Jones ’11 was in the front row of the pews, flanked by his campaign manager, Matt Ellison ’10, and former Yale College Democrats President Ben Shaffer ’09. Sitting in the front row of the pews, Jones greeted the few aldermen he knew and shook hands with a few he did not; mostly, though, he just listened.
Four weeks have passed since Jones first announced his candidacy for the Ward 1 alderman seat.
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Since then, Jones has outlined a broad platform of issues he would like to tackle as alderman, though he has consciously avoided outlining a path toward achieving many of those goals. By all accounts, Jones has the leadership skills to push a platform — whatever it may be — but those skills may be rendered useless, local politicians said, if the Saybrook College sophomore steps onto the Board without specifically tailored initiatives.
In an interview with the News, Jones said the needs of the student body will inform and direct his campaign platform — the issues that are most important to Yalies may become the issues most important to him, he explained. Jones admitted that his political views about the Elm City are not static; upon becoming more familiar with the city and its problems, Jones said, he will have a better idea of the policies he needs to further.
In July 2007, Jones wrote a post on his blog, “Sporadic Slants,” criticizing the Elm City Resident ID Card, which provides identification to undocumented immigrants, among other benefits. Jones said the program circumvented state and federal laws and avoided solving the problem of illegal immigration.
“I just don’t understand how you can support a policy like New Haven’s, where the city is, in essence, granting legalization within their municipality without any attempt to deter future illegal immigration,” he wrote. “Folks, this is ILLEGAL.”
Jones continued: “What New Haven is doing is stupid.”
Jones now characterizes his initial response to the ID Card as “visceral,” saying that he believes the city was rightfully taking action while the federal government was “dragging its feet” on immigration reform.
But Jones has caught flak from local politicos for having nothing critical to say about DeStefano’s administration. In a recent interview with the New Haven Independent, when he was asked his opinion of the DeStefano administration, Jones said: “I think they’re doing a great job. I have difficulty identifying many shortfalls.”
Jones expressed regret Tuesday that community members misinterpreted the quote. Still, he maintained that he cannot find fault with an administration with which he has never worked.
“I’m not coming into this position with any intent to criticize people with the sole intent of criticizing people,” Jones said. “I’m not going to be critical of any of these people until I have a reason to be, and right now I don’t have a reason to be.”
‘A GENUINE DESIRE’
Jones has always been ambitious, his friends at Yale said. It was amid the loud music of a freshman dorm party that Jones outlined his future plan to run for president of the United States, Sarah Mich ’11 said.
“When he announced he was running for alderman, it did not seem at all like a surprise,” Mich said. “But I think it really stems from a genuine desire to effect social change through the political process.”
Jones denied he has considered running for president.
“There aren’t any plans to run for the White House anytime soon,” Jones said with a laugh. “But my mom would like that.”
Still, Jones’ experience as student government president of his high school, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, may aid his efforts to mobilize the Yale community.
Former NCSSM student government secretary Katherine Demby said the biggest problem that Jones faced as an incoming student president was tackling the belief among students that the high school’s student government was ineffective and unable to effect change. Demby said Jones combated that notion by calling for the high school to become incorporated into the University of North Carolina Association of Student Governments, an organization of college councils that work together to find solutions to common problems.
At first, Demby said, the association of college councils was reluctant to recognize NCSSM as an equal member of the organization, even though NCSSM was an academy overseen by the University of North Carolina. But Jones eventually convinced members of the organization to treat the NCSSM student government representatives as equal members.
“Michael, he has a way of talking to people an communicating with people to have them see his way,” former NCSSM student government Treasurer Mike Pham said. “He knows how to get people to work for the bigger picture.”
‘THE SMART THING TO DO’
Since announcing his candidacy, Jones has described a three-part platform: establishing a teen pregnancy prevention program, alleviating homelessness and getting Yale students more involved in the city’s political processes.
One of his specific goals — to establish a citywide sex-education program — was impeded by Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s state budget recommendations, which were released last week. Rell has proposed cutting all funding to teen pregnancy prevention initiatives.
Jones maintained that he would explore “creative” solutions to the funding problem, though he admitted that he was not certain yet of what shape those solutions would take. He suggested that a sex education program could be incorporated into the existing public school curriculum, or that teachers could volunteer time in order to teach the students.
And when it came to his plans to increase the average Eli’s involvement with city politics and activism, he said he hoped to shift the role of alderman into that of a “liaison” between the city and the University. He said he plans to do this by hiring Yale students as legislative aides to the Board of Aldermen.
Another solution, Jones explained, would be to allow Yale students to intern at City Hall. (A similar program already exists.)
Jones said he has spoken with DeStefano and Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Susie Voigt in the month since he announced his candidacy, along with several other members of the Board of Aldermen, including Aldermanic President Carl Goldfield, Ward 14 Alderwoman Erin Sturgis-Pascale, Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark and Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead.
Three aldermen interviewed said it is often best when a freshman alderman focuses on a few key initiatives, rather than attempting to tackle all of the problems of the city simultaneously.
“As a new alderperson, you could become overwhelmed,” Goldfield said. “As far as other issues and initiatives you might want to take on, some people will end up doing nothing. But some people will pick one issue they want to focus on, and that’s the smart thing to do.”
When presented with this criticism of broad agendas, Jones responded by saying that he was starting his campaign with a “realistic” platform, and any other initiatives he pursues will be in response to needs expressed to him by the Yale community.
“If it has to be narrow to be pragmatic, then so be it,” Jones said. “We have to have specific things on the table to get it done. We have to assess what things are reasonable and what things are unreasonable.”
As it stands, Jones is running unopposed for the Ward 1 aldermanic seat. The registration deadline to seek the Ward 1 Democratic endorsement is Feb. 27.