After 20 months in the Ward 1 aldermanic seat, Rachel Plattus ’09 has drawn — and will even admit to — a major criticism of her tenure.
Plattus herself said her visibility to and communication with her primary constituency — those Elis who live in Ward 1 — left something to be desired. But despite her failure to make good on some of her original campaign promises, city officials who worked with Plattus said she has made significant contributions to the city as an alderwoman.
Plattus has been criticized for her lack of presence on campus several times, including during last semester’s campaign for the Ward 1 Democratic endorsement vote. In a debate, when the three candidates for the endorsement vote were asked how they could improve on Plattus’ legacy, Minh Tran ’09 said he wanted “to be more of a presence on campus, and to be more visible than she was.”
Plattus was a member of the Yale Slavic Women’s Chorus and, during her senior year, was a Saybrook College freshman counselor and a member of a senior society, Scroll & Key. But Plattus contended that her schedule never interfered with her responsibilities as an alderwoman. According to records kept by the city’s Office of Legislative Services, Plattus attended 91 percent of Board of Aldermen meetings in 2008 and 67 percent between January and May in 2009.
“There was no question that this was my first priority, and you can always do things better,” Plattus said. “Visibility is an area where I probably could have done better.”
In fact, Plattus no longer lives within the boundaries of her ward. Since moving out of Saybrook last year upon graduation, she moved into the Taft Apartments on College Street — a building just on the wrong side of the street of the Ward 1 boundary. “I hope that people will not perceive that as an enormous problem,” Plattus said when asked about the discrepancy.
In the months leading up to her uncontested election, Plattus had in fact said she planned to establish her own Ward 1 Web site to keep constituents up to date with upcoming events and issues facing the city. That Web site never went online, and it was one of several campaign promises that never came to pass during her tenure in office.
Asked whether he planned to be more visible in the Yale community, Ward 1 aldermanic hopeful Mike Jones ’11 said he plans to maintain open avenues of communication with Yale students via his Web site and his Yale panlist. Jones declined to comment on whether Plattus maintains a high-enough profile on campus.
“To be honest, I think Rachel can be much more reflective of her tenure on board than I can,” he said, though he added that his campaign has prioritized reaching out to freshmen and other groups on campus to keep them engaged.
Aside from failing to launch a Web site, Plattus also touted some city-wide initiatives during her campaign that never came to fruition during her term in office.
On Feb. 6, 2007, Plattus said to a group of about 50 students in the Jonathan Edwards College common room that she had a plan in place to obtain necessary funds and volunteers to create the Elm City Family Center, a shelter for teenage girls and an information center for local families. Plattus said she has worked to alleviate issues affecting young people and families during her time on the Board of Aldermen’s Youth Services Committee, and that she is currently in contact with the city’s director of youth services, Che Dawson, in order to evaluate how city resources can better be provided to New Haven’s youngsters.
But, as Plattus admitted last week, the idea for the Elm City Family Center never left the ground.
“You have these ideas that are often quite grandiose about what it is in your wildest dreams that you’d like to do,” Plattus said. “And then there are things happening [such as the closure of New Haven homeless shelters] that demand immediate attention.”
Ward 10 Alderman Allan Brison, who worked with Plattus on the Complete Streets legislation last fall, said he has also felt that initial expectations must often be scaled back. He said the Elm City Family Center idea, at first glance, struck him as overly ambitious even though he said it would have been a worthwhile initiative.
“I think that reflects my experience as a freshman alderman as well,” said Brison, who was elected to his second term last week. “You’re very apt to have more ‘grandiose’ ideas than the reality is going to allow.”
Instead of working on the family center, Plattus focused on the city’s homeless crisis, as decreased funding from Gov. M. Jodi Rell caused the premature closure of the city’s homeless shelters before the end of the winter months. Plattus worked with the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project and Shelter Now in order to gain the extra funding necessary to keep the shelters open. But since then, Plattus’ connection with YHHAP at Yale has become more informal; current YHHAP co-coordinator Efan Wu ’10 said Plattus has not attended a YHHAP meeting since January.
Since her graduation, Plattus has been working pro-bono with the city on homelessness issues and public school reform; she said she is deciding between finding an education-related job in New Haven or attending graduate school. Ward 15 Alderman Joseph Rodriguez said he is happy to see that many of Plattus’ passions on the board, such as improving public school education in New Haven, have risen in prominence as Mayor John DeStefano Jr. initiates serious discussion about school reform.
Rodriguez said it is unfortunate that Plattus has chosen to end her time on the board as these issues gain more attention.
But Plattus maintained that the end of her term on the Board of Aldermen will not mean the end of her involvement in addressing New Haven challenges.
“There are so many ways to be involved in what’s going on in the city,” she said, “and being on the Board of Aldermen is [just] one of them.”