Fourth aldermanic debate turns heated

Against the furious beating of African war drums — the Konjo African dance troupe was practicing downstairs — Ward 1 aldermanic candidates Katie Harrison ’11, Mike Jones ’11 and Minh Tran ’09 engaged in their last face-to-face battle for the political seat.

The fourth aldermanic debate, held in the upstairs gallery of the Afro-American Cultural House on Tuesday night, was the last public debate between the candidates before the April 17 Ward 1 endorsement vote. In front of an audience of about 40 students, the dialogue revolved around town-gown relations and the candidates’ plans to encourage student involvement in New Haven affairs.

And after three nights of debates, the candidates each knew exactly where they and their opponents stood on every issue.

Tran, Jones and Harrison each put forth specific ideas to increase civic engagement among the undergraduate community: Jones expounded on his proposed legislative aide program; Tran discussed the importance of involvement with local youth; and Harrison explained her position that Yale students should work through existing avenues in order to effect change in the community.

The debate intensified as each candidate attempted to parse the best method of encouraging student involvement in the community; a discussion about student activism devolved into an argument about whether the Ward 1 alderman should be a current student.

Tran declared he would maintain an active relationship with campus groups, while Jones asserted that only a current student with a flexible academic schedule could fulfill that responsibility. Harrison, visibly exasperated, interjected that the conversation was “not that productive.”

“If Minh thinks that he can find the time to engage with students on his 80-hours-a-week Teach for America schedule,” Harrison said, “well, I’m going to leave that to him.” The audience jeered at her comment.

The debate, which was moderated by the Black Student Alliance at Yale’s social coordinator Timeica Bethel ’11, took place before an audience that comprised the usual contingent of campaign team members and campus politicos. It also included many members of the cultural organizations hosting the event.

Bethel said having a specific debate hosted by the cultural associations was a significant step in bringing a larger portion of the Ward 1 constituency to the city’s political table.

“I definitely think it’s important that we have our own debate, and that we ask questions related specifically to minority students,” Bethel said. “There were more minority students at this debate, and I think this debate has been really important for those groups specifically.”

In particular, one question directed at the candidates concerned how they specifically planned to engage Yale’s cultural communities. All three candidates agreed that they would use existing relationships between cultural groups and local nonprofits in order to address problems facing local residents, especially residents of color.

But the last Ward 1 aldermanic debate did not ignore the bread-and-butter issues that have served as the candidates’ primary talking-points since the start of their campaigns. Tran explained his desire to serve as a bridge between Yale and New Haven; Jones repeated his plans to make New Haven streets safer; and Harrison maintained that the root of nearly every problem facing the city is the lack of sustainable economic development.

The co-hosts of the event were BSAY, the Yale College Democrats, Yale’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Asian American Student Association and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

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