Yale students are often chided for their lack of concern for New Haven. Some folks argue that even those who make community service the focus of their time on campus are not truly invested in the city and its residents beyond their four years in college. I planned on publicly challenging that logic by running for a second term on the Board of Aldermen, but I have recently decided not to seek reelection this fall.
My decision has nothing to do with my love for New Haven. This city has a way of endearing itself to even its fiercest critics, as long as they are willing to give the city a chance. I came to New Haven from Winston-Salem, N.C., a Southern post-industrial city working to develop a new economy and navigating a relationship with its own large university. The challenges that New Haven faces are not unique among American cities, but I am confident that it will continue its upward trajectory because so many people care so deeply about its future. I am thankful for all of the New Haveners who have shown me the impact that committed citizens can have on a community.
I’m happy to have worked together with so many different community members and students. We have prevented cuts to homeless shelters, established a Policy Assistant program that allows more students to work with the Board of Aldermen and helped to create a Traffic Safety Subcommittee here on campus. Before the end of my term, I hope that our work also results in an increased living wage, and an explicit protection on the basis of gender identity or expression in our City’s non-discrimination ordinances. Regardless of the results, I’m happy that we’ve started some of these conversations across our community.
There are a number of reasons why I’m not running again. I’m still looking for a job in town and should dedicate my energy in the coming weeks to finding one that fulfills me — not building a campaign. I do plan to continue my service in some other capacity. And I hope that the person whom voters choose to hold this seat in January maintains the tradition of offering a strong, progressive voice on the Board.
That tradition is well documented. Michael Morand used his time on the Board to promote community policing; Josh Civin worked with former Alderman Philip Voigt to establish a living wage; Julio Gonzalez fought for major reforms through charter revision; Ben Healey urged the city to perform civil unions; Rachel Plattus helped push the city to create the New Haven Promise.
I hope that the next alderman from our ward will not be deterred by the cynicism that always seems to surround politics — here and elsewhere. Most students have no experience in the battles of yesteryear. Ignoring the old deadlocks and focusing on the issues that matter has allowed many students like those above to help build large coalitions that can better address this city’s challenges.
This is an exciting time to be involved with local politics. The full impact of the nation’s recession is now changing debates in state houses and city halls across the country — including the one right across the Green. There are those who seek to exploit the fiscal crisis to impose rigid ideological agendas. There are still others who refuse to acknowledge that hard times demand shared sacrifices and new ideas.
I hope that the campaign that follows over the next few months is not simply another manifestation of this national debate. I hope that the candidates care about the community they seek to serve and the people who call it their home. New Haven and Yale deserve nothing less.
Michael Jones is a senior in Saybrook College and the Ward 1 Alderman.