On his Ward 1 blog, alderman Mike Jones ’11 posts recaps of city meetings he attends, and on his Twitter account he tweets about everything from aldermanic affairs to frustrations with school, such as “Me and this TA are about to fight!”
When asked about his goals for his two-year term as Ward 1 alderman, Jones said he prioritizes keeping Yalies aware of what he is doing and reaching out to them — but that is not his only objective.
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Jones’ to-do list for his next two years as alderman, which includes expanding affordable housing and extending New Haven’s public financing program to aldermanic campaigns, would be a lot for anyone to tackle. Jones’ predecessor, Rachel Plattus ’09, also outlined programs at the start of her tenure and never accomplished many of them.
Jones does not have the same obligations as other aldermen from other wards. His constituents do not depend on him to fix their problems with city services, and as a result he can tackle broader, city-wide issues — which is what he wants to do. But at the same time, he is not defining his success by the achievement of concrete objectives but by the process through which he engages with the community. As a result, he may or may not accomplish all he is setting out to do. But he also is not too worried about it.
A BROADER PLATFORM
Even if Jones accomplishes all that he wants to, few of his plans will directly affect the majority of those who live in his ward, namely Yale students. One issue that does have an impact on Yalies is traffic safety: Jones has supported installing red-light cameras throughout the city and has said one of his goals is adding crosswalks where many Yalies jaywalk, such as Elm Street between Durfee’s and the Noah Porter Gate.
“There isn’t a ton that students in Ward 1 need out of the city’s government,” Jones said.
Because Yale students do not rely as much on direct city services as most other city residents do, a Ward 1 alderman does not get calls from constituents asking him to fix streetlights or do other day-to-day tasks, Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield said.
So Jones’ effort become a “tremendous resource” for the rest of the board’s members, who have to deal with the smaller constituent requests, Ward 9 Alderman Roland Lemar said.
As for whether he will succeed, Jones said he does not think his term will be declared successful or unsuccessful based on whether he accomplishes individual projects.
“I think I’ll be successful at the end of the day if I’ve worked as hard as I can, if I’ve been transparent, if I’ve engaged as much as I can with students on campus and people in the city,” Jones said.
But Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said it can be easy in New Haven politics for an alderman to take on more than he can handle.
Shah said when he came on the board there were a number of issues he wanted to tackle, but after a while he realized that, because of the structure of city government, it takes a lot of work to get even one item passed. He added that his experience on the board has taught him that it is better to be “slow and methodical” when tackling issues than to take on a lot of things and not complete any.
STUDENTS AS RESOURCES
One of the first proposals Jones will present to the Board of Aldermen is legislation crafted by Fierce Advocates, a student LBGTQ activist group, that aims to expand the city’s anti-discrimination laws to protect people who do not conform to traditional conceptions of gender..
Fierce Advocates wanted a “legislative advocate” on the Board of Aldermen — that advocate is Jones, said Sam Schoenburg ’11, Fierce Advocates’ project co-chair.
Jones said supporting Fierce Advocates’ legislation was a “no-brainer” for him. “It’s a very natural progression for a very progressive city,” Jones said.
Fierce Advocates’ members are still working on researching and writing the legislation, said Amalia Skilton ’13, Fierce Advocates’ coordinator, adding that a vote could come as early as May but probably will not be until the fall.
Jones said that though he is not writing the legislation himself, he has met with Fierce Advocates numerous times to discuss it.
“No one writes the technical language of what they submit [to the Board of Aldermen],” he said.
To help him research other proposals, Jones has enlisted the aid of individual students and student organizations.
Jones is working with the Center on Economic Policy at Yale’s chapter of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, a student-run think tank that is researching affordable housing programs and trusts across the country for him. Jones said he is interested in using the center’s research to formulate legislation that could require developers to include affordable housing in new developments and could set up a trust that would fund affordable housing developments.
“[Jones] is using the excitement, enthusiasm and talent of Yale students to really make a difference for people who most need city government’s help,” said Daniel Hornung ’12, one of the leaders of the Center on Economic Policy.
Still Jones’ work on affordable housing remains “all very conceptual,” he said, as do his plans for expanding public campaign financing.
Andrew Feldman ’11, research director on Jones’ campaign, is researching public financing programs in cities such as New York and Los Angeles to help Jones figure out what sort of program might work in New Haven, Feldman said.
Public financing for New Haven’s mayoral elections is provided by the New Haven Democracy Fund — a city-run organization that provides public financing for candidates who qualify and agree to abide by its rules, which include capping donations from individuals and party committees. Jones said he is interested in possibly expanding the Democracy Fund to provide funding to aldermanic candidates.
Democracy Fund Administrator Robert Wechsler said the Democracy Fund board discussed extending the program to aldermanic campaigns over a year ago and decided to forgo the idea because the program was too young to take on something new and some people felt that the races were too inexpensive.
“It would be an enormous amount of work because there are a lot of aldermen,” Wechsler said.
Jones said those issues will be dealt with as the discussion goes forward, but in the research phase he wants to see if the city can afford to pay for an expansion of the program.
Jones said he has not ruled out running for another term if he has a project that is continuing, but he said he would need a “compelling reason” to remain in the seat.
For now, he is keeping an eye on his projects and “experimenting with Twitter.”