News analysis: Tran’s visibility faces hurdles

At Thursday’s Ward 1 aldermanic debate, candidate Minh Tran ’09 aired his major grievance against current Ward 1 Alderwoman Rachel Plattus ’09.

“The only thing I would do differently is to be more of a presence on campus, and to be more visible than she was,” Tran said.

Minh Tran ’09 kicks off his campaign Sunday afternoon in Linsly-Chittenden Hall.
Erica Cooper
Minh Tran ’09 kicks off his campaign Sunday afternoon in Linsly-Chittenden Hall.

But Tran’s pledged “presence” is simultaneously a campaign talking point and a source of uncertainty about his candidacy. If elected, Tran will not be a Yale student by the time he is sworn into office. And Tran, who has said he wants to join Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that assigns college graduates to teach at low-income public schools, may not — though he maintains it is likely he will — be assigned to a school in New Haven.

Widely recognized for his enthusiasm for the Ward 1 spot — since announcing his candidacy in a kickoff event Feb. 22, he said he has been “running on pure adrenaline” — Tran has maintained throughout his campaign that he will be the most visible Ward 1 alderman Yale students have ever had.

And though Tran’s interest in teaching demonstrates a major point on his platform, accepting a full-time position in a yet-undetermined Connecticut city throws a logistical hurdle at the senior’s campaign. The Connecticut chapter of Teach for America assigns its teachers to schools in New Haven, Stamford, Bridgeport and Hartford. And though Tran has expressed a strong personal preference to work at an elementary school in New Haven, there is no guarantee that Teach for America will be able to find him an appropriate match in the city.

“Commuting to Bridgeport or farther is not going to be a problem,” Tran said in an interview. “It will just mean a little bit of extra time commuting.”

On Friday, Feb. 20 — two days before he officially announced his aldermanic candidacy — Tran told the News there was a strong likelihood that he would placed in the same school where he currently works as a Dwight Hall public school intern, the Worthington Hooker School. On Sunday, Tran maintained that there is still a good chance he will work at the Hooker School, saying that he, Teach for America and administrators from the school are currently “in negotiations” to have him placed in the school.

But Edna Novak SOM ’08, the executive director of Connecticut’s chapter of Teach for America, said it is highly unlikely that Tran will ultimately work at the Hooker School. She said the school, located on 180 Canner St., is more affluent than other schools in the city and does not meet Teach for America’s criteria for placement.

In reference to his stance on public school education, Tran said he hopes to implement an inner-city social service program modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone Project, which focuses on establishing charter schools and teen employment preparation programs, among other strategies. At a debate last Thursday, Tran said he understands the challenges facing local school children and would specifically work to allocate more funds for New Haven scholarship programs during his tenure as alderman.

Despite Tran’s expressed enthusiasm for New Haven schools and his “strong personal preference” to be placed in the city, Novak said, the final decision regarding Teach for America placement is not up to him. That Tran is running for Ward 1 will not sway the organization’s decision any more than other applicants’ preferences, she added.

Tran will not find out his city assignment until mid-May, a month after the April 17 Ward 1 Democratic endorsement vote.

But even if Tran were to decide to defer his employment at Teach for America for one year, he would still spend 18 months of his first term as alderman working for Teach for America.

Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 told the News last month that Ward 1 aldermen are able to make up for their short tenure on the Board of Aldermen — they usually only stay for one or two terms — by the fact that they do not have 9-to-5 jobs. Although Morand was not speaking specifically about Tran, he asserted that a student aldermen is usually effective because academic schedules are relatively flexible.

Plattus reiterated the point in a February interview with the News: “The hard thing about being in a student ward is that students have often felt — and legitimately felt — that it should be a student representing it.”

Tran, who will surrender his suite in Durfee at the end of May — and as of Sunday night had no concrete plans for housing in Ward 1 — has said he has outlined specific avenues to stay connected with the Yale student body. For example, he said, he will continue dancing with his African dance troupe, Konjo, and will attend Yale athletics events. He said he will also continue to pay for a Yale meal plan so that he can meet with students over dinner to discuss matters facing the ward.

“I love the dining halls,” Tran said. “And I can’t cook.”

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