News’ View: Mike Jones ’11 for the Democratic nomination for Ward 1 alderman

On Feb. 18, nine days before the Ward 1 Democratic Endorsement Vote candidate filing deadline, the News published an editorial headlined, “A contested election in Ward 1 is best for the city.” At the time, Mike Jones ’11 was the only candidate in the race, and we wanted to make sure that as the election approached, Ward 1 voters got to see a vibrant debate about the future of New Haven and the responsibilities of their alderman. Thankfully the call was answered, and that debate materialized.

As we near the end of this exciting two-month campaign, the News confidently endorses the candidate who once ran unopposed, challenged as he was by two fine opponents to articulate his positions and develop his plans for action as alderman. We encourage Democratic Ward 1 voters to choose Jones when they go to vote on Friday.

Over two months, and most recently in interviews with each of the candidates, we have seen three very different conceptions of the Ward 1 alderman’s role, and three different visions for New Haven. We have seen three smart, energetic candidates present themselves to voters, and so our endorsement of Jones comes with great respect and gratitude for Katie Harrison ’11 and Minh Tran ’09, both of whom, we believe, would serve capably on the Board of Aldermen if elected.

Nonetheless, it is Jones who appears most ready to take on the responsibilities of the job, most able to serve his constituents and his city effectively and most likely to accomplish some of what he now promises, even though we hope he reaches higher should he take office.

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At the beginning of the campaign, Jones did not lay out a substantive platform, and he remained surprisingly reticent on important issues. A News article, “Ward 1 candidate short on specifics” (Feb. 11), pointed out that Jones had not explained how he hoped to achieve any of his stated objectives.

The next week, Harrison joined the campaign. From the beginning, her campaign has stressed the need for “collaborative, sustainable development,” as she promises on her Web site and which she defined in her interview as environmentally friendly projects with job training. Her campaign has benefited from the work of members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, the worker-friendly activist group of which Harrison herself is an active member.

On development and other issues, Harrison’s platform has focused on citywide problems, and she has advanced the argument that the Ward 1 alderwoman should think as much about the city as about her ward. And Harrison has claimed repeatedly that the interests of Yale students and other New Haven residents are aligned.

“Yale students benefit, along with other New Haven residents, when the city is a safe, exciting and vibrant place to live, and suffer when it isn’t,” she wrote in a March 27 column for the News.

Since Tran entered the race at the end of February, he has sought to distinguish himself from his opponents on both policy and personal experience. He has pointed to his time living and working in New Haven — he has spent four academic years and parts of three summers in New Haven, and he has worked in seven local schools — as sources of knowledge about the city into which his opponents, both sophomores, have not been able to tap.

He has run on a platform of encouraging small businesses and entrepreneurship, improving public education and making New Haven streets safer. But, as much as anything else, he has run on a platform of experience and understanding.

In the months since his opponents entered the race, Jones has developed his proposals, making them not more grand, but more specific. His ideas for safer streets now involve crosswalks at specific locations, he plans to increase student political involvement through an aldermanic internship program, and his plan to combat homelessness involves work with and for specific student and local organizations.

They are not bold plans, but they are mostly realistic. And he has shown the astuteness to stop campaigning on issues, like health education, upon which an alderman can have little impact.

As positively as we have received each candidate’s platform, we are nonetheless skeptical that any will be as effective as he or she promises in making his or her proposals reality.

The education reform each has praised is well beyond the reach of the Board of Aldermen, let alone a freshman representative. (The Board of Education is a distinctly separate body and is famously controlled by the mayor.) The economic development plans that Harrison and Tran have made central to their campaigns involve forces far larger than the Board of Aldermen can control, and plans too large for one member to develop and shepherd through legislation. Jones’ proposals for widening sidewalks and creating new crosswalks will face too many legislative and practical obstacles to possibly be completed in a single term.

Yet the candidates — notably Harrison and Jones — displayed deep enough understanding of the position they hope to fill that we trust, even if their platforms go somewhat unrealized, they will work productively for Ward 1 and New Haven, and that they will represent their constituents passionately and effectively.

And Jones stands above the others because of his potential to mobilize legislators and citizens, build coalitions and work on projects for which he can make a clear difference in his time on the board.

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Harrison and Tran each expressed, during the campaign and in their interviews, the belief that they have much more in common philosophically with each other than with Jones. So it is perhaps surprising that our choice was ultimately between Harrison and Jones.

Between ideological cousins Harrison and Tran, we saw in Harrison more promise, more thoughtfulness and deeper understanding of the relevant political levers the Ward 1 alderman can (and cannot) manipulate. Tran, a new entrant to the political sphere, does not have Harrison’s organizing experience, and Harrison conveys better understanding of the most effective mechanisms for urban economic development.

We must also note our deep reservation about endorsing someone who will, as he explained it to us, be at work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., potentially outside New Haven. Tran’s promise to be “the most visible alderman Ward 1 has ever seen,” as he wrote in his March 3 column, would likely be made false given the demands of his impending position with Teach for America. Above all else, it is clear his job will prevent him from being nearly as visible as Harrison or Jones would be if they gave the job a genuine effort next year, when both will still be students.

Harrison deserves the votes of those who think the Ward 1 alderwoman should focus on the development of the type she has proposed. And she deserves the votes of those who think it is most important that the Ward 1 alderwoman stand up to Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and work with the Board of Aldermen’s opposition faction (whose leader, Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez, endorsed her on this page last week). But the fact that she will likely join the board’s minority opposition is one reason we have chosen to endorse Jones.

Given the current mayor and Board of Aldermen, we fear Harrison may be rendered ineffective on the board. The aldermen with whom she would work most closely and most often will likely fight a lot of losing battles over the next two years.

As a freshman in that group, Harrison could easily be given the freeze by the mayor and find herself allowed to contribute nothing. And as an active member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, she will find her work often opposed by both City Hall and Woodbridge Hall — an uncomfortable position from which to accomplish much. Her proposals will be uphill battles and, as strongly as voters may support them, should be seen as such.

Jones, meanwhile, would enter office without enemies at City Hall. More important, he would enter with deep connections and extensive experience communicating politically at Yale, in New Haven and nationally.

Jones has been politically active since arriving at Yale. He has served on the board of the Yale College Democrats, and he has campaigned for local and national political candidates. He has built relationships with student leaders across activities and would find easy partners in them, as well as in local leaders.

Though his opponents joked about his warm smile, Jones’ inviting demeanor would be a real asset in the Ward 1 alderman. We trust Jones to be a visible alderman and to effect results for his constituents and for the city.

We hope he looks beyond crosswalks and internships, and we trust he will. But most of all, we trust he will do what he can. His dedication and preparation lead us to believe he would be the most effective alderman of the three candidates in the race.

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