Katie Harrison ’11 of Berkeley College announced Wednesday that she will run for the Ward 1 seat on the Board of Aldermen.
Before about 40 enthusiastic students and friends gathered in the Berkeley common room, Harrison, a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee and the Yale Responsible Endowment Project, said she will seek a spot on the ballot for the April 17 Ward 1 Democratic Endorsement Vote. Currently, only one other person, Mike Jones ’11 of Saybrook College, has announced he will run.
“I want to work on some of the systemic issues facing the city,” Harrison said. “If we don’t look at some of the fundamental problems and underlying issues, we’ll end up facing the same small problems again and again.”
Harrison’s speech made clear that although she realizes Yale students comprise the majority of Ward 1 constituents, her campaign will center on decidedly New Haven-related issues, including sustainable economic development, immigrant rights and public safety.
“The focus of Katie’s campaign is going to be on community involvement in city government and getting the city government to be proactive in getting things done, as opposed to waiting for state aid,” said Anna Robinson-Sweet ’11, Harrison’s spokeswoman. “The Elm City ID is a success story of the city government standing up for itself.”
Harrison said she will work with the Board of Aldermen to develop a process by which the board can negotiate community benefits agreements with all the major developments in the city to ensure that they provide employment opportunities for local residents. Harrison will also work to expand the Elm City Resident Card program, a project that is currently “threatened” by the fact that only 7,000 New Haven residents currently have a card, she said.
In her speech, Harrison described the Elm City ID as essential as to New Haven: “It’s about who we consider part of our community,” she said.
Harrison compared the city’s immigrants to its college students. Both groups are often seen as outsiders, she said, but both actually contribute to the community. Harrison also stressed that the New Haven Police Department should return to the community-policing strategy that was its main focus throughout the ’90s.
“Community policing has eroded,” she said. “We need a reexamination of policing in New Haven. When we don’t feel safe, there are no strong foundations for the city.”
Having volunteered in the past for Dwight Hall, Harrison said, she grew angry when her community service and other endeavors had, in her mind, an insufficient effect on the recurring community problems. “I realized this is not enough,” she said. “Unless we address the deeper issues, we’re not going to get anywhere.”
Harrison decided that she would run for the Ward 1 aldermanic seat three weeks ago, she said. Since that time, she has been meeting with community activists and working to create a policy platform.
Robinson-Sweet maintained that Harrison’s campaign is not a reaction to Jones’ candidacy; Harrison simply wants to make sure that her ideas are heard, Robinson-Sweet said. “I think Katie’s going to try to run a positive race,” Robinson-Sweet said. “It’s not about Mike and his faults, as much as it’s about Katie having her own ideas that she wants to put forward.”
Jones, who announced his candidacy Jan. 14, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday his campaign team was always prepared for a challenger. He said he spoke with Harrison over the phone Tuesday night about her planned candidacy announcement.
“By all accounts, she’s a wonderful person,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting started with the campaign tomorrow.”
Regarding Harrison’s campaign platform, Jones said although he believes Harrison’s goals are commendable, he does not feel they should be the first priority for the Ward 1 alderman. The Elm City Resident Card program now falls under the jurisdiction of the office of Mayor John DeStefano Jr. because all the legislative work for the card has already been completed, he said.
Although Jones wrote in a blog post in July 2007 that he opposed the ID card, he said he has since come to appreciate the merits of the program.
Jones said he questioned whether Harrison’s plans to encourage community benefits agreements were relevant to Ward 1. But he maintained that the two months until the endorsement vote will give Ward 1 residents plenty of time to decide on the better ideas.
“I think this campaign will give us both extraordinary opportunity to explain our goals before either of us takes a seat on the board,” Jones said.
Jones did not attend Harrison’s campaign kickoff event Wednesday night because, in his words, “this is her night.” Besides, he said, he had to go to gospel choir rehearsal.
Many students present at the announcement event spoke highly of Harrison’s character and experience. Sofia Ortiz ’11, who had worked with Harrison in the UOC, said Harrison is “dedicated” and has demonstrated exemplary leadership initiative.
Current Ward 1 Alderwoman Rachel Plattus ’09, who is not seeking reelection, ran unopposed two years ago. In a interview at Harrison’s kickoff Wednesday, she called the contested race great news. “It is exciting to have real conversation in this campaign,” she said.
The registration deadline to seek the Ward 1 Democratic endorsement is Feb. 27.
Colin Ross and Carmen Lu contributed reporting.