Rothstein and Lawlor: Harrison has best vision

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

As co-coordinator and student coordinator of Community-Based Learning (CBL) and Urban Studies at Yale, and as students committed to demonstrating the academic significance of student involvement in the city and providing opportunities for it to occur, we would like to comment on the Ward 1 aldermanic candidates’ recent discussion of civic engagement. We question Mike Jones’ ’11 approach to the topic and Minh Tran’s ’09 focus on his own contact with voters. We strongly endorse Katie Harrison’s vision for engaging students and community members on the issues because we believe her experience, understanding and vision for the alderwoman’s role — and for civic engagement in the city — uniquely qualify her to serve on the Board of Aldermen.Through our work on CBL and Urban Studies, we’ve had the chance to witness the breadth of opportunities available for students to engage with and learn from the city. Some of these programs and groups are public service-oriented, while others focus on achieving social justice and political change. Our work in both has taught us the unique value of each. Ultimately, however, we believe it is the role of the Ward 1 alderwoman to organize students to become politically active and join with community members to address citywide concerns.

Thus, we take issue with Mike’s proposals for an Office of Civic Engagement and a Legislative Aide program for Yale students at City Hall, and with Minh’s conception of hearing only from students because they present a narrow vision of what civic engagement should look like. Mike’s programs offer public service and educational opportunities, but no vision for engaging a wider swath of students and community members in the big issues facing the Board and the city. He appears to be focusing his campaign on a “civic engagement” platform. The candidates should be considering engagement as a means of bringing about their visions for change in the city, not solely a method for improving the function of or publicizing information about the work of City Hall. In their platforms, Mike and Minh divorce engagement from issues like economic development and education.

Katie’s vision for the position, on the other hand, is about more than the few students who would work as legislative aides. It’s about more than having meals with students. She instead sees the seat as an opportunity to engage the entire campus on citywide issues.

The candidates’ views on civic engagement seem reflective of their experiences in New Haven so far. While Mike and Minh’s involvement as a tutor or volunteer in the New Haven Public Schools might demonstrate their commitment to public service, Katie’s service and political activism experience inform her vision for civic engagement in the city. Through her work with the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, UNITE-HERE Local 217 and the Community Voter Project, Katie has used her time at Yale to build issue-based coalitions to advocate for a better New Haven. Her experiences advocating at the Board of Aldermen on city issues is central to her desire to serve as an alderwoman. She has demonstrated an understanding of the politics of advancing social justice work, a connection to community groups already working in the city and a grounded belief that the community can and should have a meaningful impact on decisions that affect them.

We believe in the potential for meaningful civic engagement to contribute to political change, and we have worked on campaigns with Katie that have demonstrated that. For example, a coalition of concerned citizens (including Katie) successfully influenced the decision to terminate Aramark’s (a company that was serving unhealthy food and exploiting its workers) contract. Community advocacy campaigns often lead to decision-makers in City Hall. The Board of Aldermen plays a crucial role in engaging the community on political issues, a role candidates for alderman should embrace. Katie alone of the candidates recognizes this aspect of the position, as her platform for responsible economic development demonstrates. We support Katie for alderwoman because she proposes a vision for civic engagement that is focused on the issues and a part of the Board’s decision-making processes.

Ariela Rothstein is a junior in Trumbull College. Abby Lawlor is a sophomore in Berkeley College.


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  • Anonymous

    This column omits the little detail that Lawlor and Rothstein both work for Katie's campaign. They're not exactly unbiased observers. They should have been more honest with the YDN and its readers.

  • Irrelevant

    You all aren't commenting as the coordinator and student coordinator of CBL. You all are both working on the campaign!

    Abby's the policy director and Ariela's at least advising! Ariela hosted Katie's fundraiser!

    I'm surprised that the YDN didn't catch this…

  • Shameful

    Is the Harrison campaign so desperate for attention that it's asking its staffers to endorse it under the auspices of their other extracurriculars? With no interviews?

  • .

    plus, it doesn't say that Lawlor is Katie's suitemate….

    bias anyone?

  • @ #2

    True, but it's not like they're getting paid or anything. They're volunteering for Katie for the same reason they wrote this article: because they believe in her.

  • Abby Lawlor

    A clarification @#2:

    You're absolutely right that we're publicly working on Katie's campaign--I am her policy director and Ariela has been advising the campaign. It was never our intent to mislead the YDN or its readers, and for that honest miscommunication I sincerely apologize.

    But it wasn't an accident that both of us are working for Katie: the reasons we're working so hard for her campaign really are the ones we stated in the column. We came to this race out of the experiences we talked about in our column, and they continue to inform our belief that Katie is the candidate who can do the best work as alder on the board and on campus.

    I apologize once again for the omission, which was purely accidental.

  • Anonymous

    Seems like the fact that they're working on the campaign only makes them more credible. They're acting on what they believe.

    Plus, it's not like anyone on these staffs are getting paid!

    The comment boards only get crazier every day.

  • eh, who cares

    Guys, not to nit pick, but this is election is weird as it straddles school and city life. There is going to be overlap. I could really careless if people who are working on the campaigns write op-eds about their candidates. This isn't the only thing people do with their lives. They probably work on people's campaigns as they met the candidates through the orginizations that they are both involved in.

    I think more people from the campaigns should write directly. They probably have the most compelling and convincing arguments as to why their candidates are qualified.

  • Anonymous

    I think that the issue is that this was written in a way that implied that the authors were objectively writing this column as if it were a personal endorsement made based off of their experiences in their organizations, and the reality is that it isn't.

  • concerned alum

    My problem with this is that they're writing as if they're representing "urban studies" or "CBL" at Yale. They're not, and they have no right to act as though their organizations are endorsing a candidate.

  • anonymous

    This article seems to argue for Katie's skills as a "coalition builder" and her desire to engage not just a handful but "swaths" of Yalies. I think this is an admirable but ill-defined and perhaps overly ambitious goal. While I agree that an ideal alderman would work closely with nonprofit organizations and would encourage greater student involvement in New Haven, I don't see those two functions as necessarily overlapping (I think this op ed tends to confound the two), and I don't see the latter as the primary responsibility of the office. Shouldn't that be the job of on-campus organizations and Dwight Hall? Jones' proposition may not appear to have such as broad a scope, but it makes sense as a concrete way to gives Yalies access to city hall in a way that only a student alderman can. I feel Katie is a serious candidate who has a vision for improving New Haven through community involvement, but I'd really like to hear more specifics on how she plans to execute that vision once in office.