News’ View: How voters should weigh ‘visibility’

At the first Ward 1 debate last week, when asked what he would do differently than incumbent Ward 1 Alderwoman Rachel Plattus ’09, Minh Tran ’09 said he would aspire “to be more of a presence on campus, and to be more visible than she was.”

This has been the drumbeat of Tran’s campaign. “Not only will I be in touch with undergraduates, but I aspire to be the most visible alderman Ward 1 has ever seen,” he wrote in an column in the News published March 3.

That is why it seems particularly disconcerting that despite Tran’s weeks of campaigning on the promise of being visible in the community, he may not end up spending his days in New Haven, or even in New Haven County.

Next year Tran will join Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that assigns recent college graduates to teach at low-income public schools. Last weekend, he told the News that Teach for America was “in negotiations” with school officials to place him at Worthington Hooker School, the New Haven elementary school where he works as a Dwight Hall public school intern.

But a Teach for America official said that the school is actually too affluent to meet the organization’s criteria for placement. She added that Tran will have no control over whether he is placed in a school in New Haven or any of the other Connecticut cities in which Teach for America assigns students — Stamford, Bridgeport and Hartford.

Though Tran has never, to our knowledge, said he will be working in New Haven next year, he has given that impression at campaign events and in his official platform. On his Web site, Tran says he is looking forward to living in New Haven after graduation and notes that he will “be a teacher in the public schools next year.” At best, that line is carelessly opaque; at worst, it is intentionally misleading. Similarly, at his campaign kick-off, he used his future employment with Teach for America as evidence of his commitment to New Haven, a connection made false by the very real possibility that he will be placed outside the city.

And Tran’s chance of placement outside New Haven raises another, perhaps larger, issue for voters to consider. He was assailed on Monday by dozens of commenters on the News’ Web site, with questions like this one: “How can he expect to devote himself to students in Bridgeport and effectively represent constituents in New Haven at the same time?”

In an column today, Tran argues that if elected, he will be able to balance his teaching commitment — even if he is working across the state — with his aldermanic duties. He points out that he will hardly be alone among aldermen in working outside New Haven.

But many Yalies have friends who have worked for Teach for America, and students are well aware of the job’s responsibilities and stresses. Tran will not simply be taking a 9-to-5 job; he will be working one of the most notoriously difficult and time-consuming jobs for young Americans anywhere.

Since Tran’s competition in the race will not be the other aldermen who work outside New Haven, but rather fellow students who will be enrolled at Yale next year, his promise of visibility must be compared against his opponents’ commitments, not those of his prospective colleagues’.

With two undergraduates in the race, and given Tran’s numerous pledges of visibility, Ward 1 voters must ask how Tran expects to be more visible than his opponents.


  • Teacher fan

    Minh means well. I really think he does. But he did not think this through. Now is the time to admit that and let the two accessible candidates engage in debate. I wish him the best of luck with his students. I'm sure his smile and charisma will win students over. With that said, Minh could never get my vote.

  • not worried!

    C'mon, people, visibility is about the BREADTH of how many people you can get in touch with, not the DEPTH of eating with the very same people in Saybrook or Berkeley every night. Do we really want an alder like Katie or Mike who is just going to chill with their friends in their own colleges and never make it to the other college dining halls, never have dinners with people from ALL over the ward (like i think Minh will do WEEKLY?). This is typical misunderstanding… way to make a mountain out of a molehill. If someone's committed to visibility, he can make it happen.

  • Urban nerd

    I've gotten to know Minh well this year and he is one of the most earnest and honorable people I've met at Yale. His work in the community and his understanding of the issues that New Haven faces are unparalleled among the other candidates. It seems like the worst things that people have to say about him is that he is too committed to public service! He's got my vote.

  • Anonymous

    clearly you work for his campaign. that was a ridiculous statement. so, we're supposed to reject the two current students based upon your assumption that they will only interact with their own friends in the dining halls that they will be in everyday because the guy who is graduating promises to come back once each week? be serious. if you want to make a serious argument for your candidate, feel free to do so, but at least make it a strong one. you look pitiful and desperate.

  • Jane

    As a person who started following the aldermanic race as a neutral bystander, and isn't a friend of any of the candidates, it seems like the hostility of a lot of Yale students is rather juvenile and irrational.

    Visibility is as visibility does. Ward 1 has had student alders in the past that weren't visible at all (i.e. I have no idea what Plattus did). Judging by these candidates' involvement in Ward 1, Tran is the one who has proven his ability to be visibile by not only being involved in but earning awards in so many different organizations and city efforts.

    Some words of wisdom: the biggest predictor of future behavior is someone's past behavior….so I wouldn't necessarily believe the tall promises of the other two, especially Jones, who haven't proven as extensive of a committment to the city as Tran.

  • BR'12

    I don't want an alderman at ALL who's primary means to get in touch with yale students will be to eat in dining halls. Come on. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. The weekly dinner this is kind of a ridiculous idea. You meet people in class, at clubs, in your colleges etc. That is why a Yale student is suited for the job of Ward 1 alder, where the vast vast majority of constituents are Yale students.

    It is not so simple as being committed to visibility -- he would be a peripheral alder through no fault of his own, but that he won't be a yale student and that he probably wont be working in New Haven.

  • come on

    How is Minh going to have dinner with people from ALL over the Ward? Who will come to those dinners? Only people who are already involved in city politics.

    And to say that Katie and Mike are just going to chill with their friends in their own colleges is ridiculous. I know at least in Mike's case that he has been having meal after meal with student leaders of all sorts of organizations and will continue to do so as alderman. This involvement is much more extensive than one meal a week.

    I don't have anything against MInh personally, but NO ONE doing TFA, especially in another city, would have the time and the connections with students to be a good Ward 1 alderman.

  • staffer

    I'm frankly appalled that the News would criticize Minh's candidacy. I work for Minh's campaign, and there's a reason I've decided to sacrifice time and energy without any compensation: I sincerely believe him to be the one candidate with the most genuine motivations. Policy issues aside (and they do seem to have been put to the side), he has consistently impressed me as having the best interests of his community at heart.

    The editorial board seems to be concerned with Minh's ability to work a job alongside the alderman position. But every Yale student learns to juggle a wide range of activities, and Minh has done a truly exceptional job of it. Yes, TFA is heavily time-consuming--but it isn't life-consuming. If Minh is placed in New Haven, the job will only deepen his understanding of and commitment to the community. If he isn't placed here, a daily commute will not cripple his ability to execute the aldermanic position superbly.

    As a friend of Minh, I have learned that the integrity of his character is superb, perhaps unmatched. He is also among the most careful, deliberate thinkers I've known at Yale or anywhere. He would not be running--nor would his friends and staff support him--if we believed he would have any difficulty handling both jobs.

    As for the issue of visibility, I will say that there are few Yalies who have experienced the breadth and diversity of the student body more than Minh. Look it up--he's been involved with organizations both within and outside of Yale which represent a huge range of interest and perspective. He's intimately familiar with the various social and academic spheres at Yale. His status as a senior with his credentials will in fact be an advantage to his visibility, not a handicap--no sophomore has the holistic perspective on Yale and New Haven life that Minh has developed.

    As you think about casting your vote, weigh these issues carefully. I have no grievance with the other candidates. But I do know that Minh's motivation, ability, intelligence, and passion are unmatched. He will do what's necessary to be a most excellent Ward 1 alder.

  • Anonymous

    @staffer: Calm down. Saying you're "appalled that the News would criticize Minh's candidacy" makes you sound like you're part of a cult rather than a campaign. Criticism by newspaper editorial boards of political candidates is part of our process, and it's rarely appalling.

    Besides, the criticism is legitimate. I'm sure that Minh and his friends do think Minh could handle the responsibilities, otherwise he wouldn't be running, yadda yadda yadda. But the voters are also entitled to have their own opinions on that question. I have several friends doing TFA right now, and if you don't think that job consumes your life, you don't know what you're talking about. Also, Minh's "status as a senior" is only for the next few months - by the time the next Ward One alderman takes office he will have a new status called alumnus. Not spending most of his life on campus will make him less visible compared to the other two candidates who, as students, still will. It's pretty simple.

    I'm sure Minh thinks he can handle this job while doing TFA in another city, and still serve both his students and his constituents well. He's wrong. If he won't face that reality, then the voters of Ward One have to.