News’ View: A contested election in Ward 1 is best for the city

When Mike Jones ’11 declared his candidacy for Ward 1 alderman on Jan. 22, he concluded his remarks by urging the few dozen people in attendance in the Davenport College common room to get involved in local politics. He promised he would reach out to Yale students over the course of his campaign this winter.

Then he grinned. “Even if no one wants to run against me,” he added.

The registration deadline to seek the Democratic endorsement in Ward 1 is nine days from today. With that in mind, we have a request for any Yale undergraduate who lives in the ward: Consider running for alderman.

Two years ago, when Rachel Plattus ’09 ran unopposed for the position, she expressed disappointment at the lack of competition. “The advantage of having a campaign with more than one candidate is always that you get to generate a lot of energy about issues that are important to people,” she said.

The opposite will be the case if no one opposes Jones in this election.

The indication of inevitability surrounding Jones is disconcerting, and not because we are reluctant to support him. The Saybrook College sophomore has a compelling personal story, he seems genuinely eager to serve as alderman, and he could very well find himself endorsed in this space later this year.

But the problem is this: We don’t hold municipal elections just for the sake of going through the motions. When our democracy is at its best, elections spark debate and discourse, a genuine conversation about the future — in this case, about the future of the Elm City and Yale’s role in it.

In this campaign, the “conversation” has been one-sided at best, nonexistent at worst — like when Paul Bass ’82, the editor of the New Haven Independent, asked Jones last month for his opinion of the DeStefano administration.

“I think they’re doing a great job,” Jones said. “I have difficulty identifying many shortfalls.”

DeStefano, of course, has coasted to reelection in virtually every contest over the past two decades, and we believe the city is worse off for it. Not because DeStefano is a bad mayor — he is not — but because competitive elections force candidates to do more than just show up. The perpetually uncontested DeStefano is said to have called his last serious electoral challenge “the best thing that ever happened to him,” for it forced him to sharpen his viewpoints and plans, as Ward 7 Alderwoman Bitsie Clark recently put it.

New Haven surely benefited as a result.

That’s why we are glad former state Rep. Bill Dyson is considering running against DeStefano this year, and it is why we hope we see a genuine debate and exchange of ideas in the Ward 1 race, too.

Shortly after Election Day in November, we wrote in this space that we feared that the hundreds of students who poured themselves into the Obama campaign would recede into the background once President Obama took office. In the current apathy regarding the Ward 1 seat, we see those fears materialized.

So we return to our request for a contested race in Ward 1. Such an election will push the candidates — and this community — to work harder and think more creatively to address the numerous issues facing New Haven.

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