Dec, Newman, Gerlach: Representation and reform for Ward 1

The notion that Yale stands alone, discrete and disconnected from New Haven, is remarkably fallacious and dangerously distracting. Every day, when we walk across Elm Street or trek up Science Hill, we see firsthand the evidence of how Yale grew with this city, expanded as New Haven expanded. When we receive those early morning notifications of crime and gun violence near campus, we are reminded in a very real way that Yale can’t – and shouldn’t – isolate itself from the city beyond its borders. The University and the city are and will always be inextricably linked. As we begin to select our next alderman in Ward 1, it’s important that we get it right if we want our chosen representative to be effective.

Because the Ward 1 alderman is always a Yale student, he or she automatically faces a number of unique difficulties in getting results on the Board. The Ward 1 alderman will always be younger and less experienced than his or her peers on the board. As a historically one-term representative, he or she will inevitably have to fight to be heard among a Board full of multiple term incumbents.

Immediately upon election, a Ward 1 alderman needs to be able to instantly form partnerships with the other members of the board. This requires a résumé that even the most politically precocious Yalies rarely possess. It is difficult to imagine how much harder it will be to establish those working relationships if the elected Ward 1 alderman came in with a mind to dogmatically espouse the views and needs of Yale students alone. We would hazard a guess that anyone who opposes taking action on the behalf of the greater New Haven community would be doomed to irrelevance as a member of the Board.

Fortunately, we have a candidate in the race that satisfies those rather rigorous requirements. Vinay Nayak ’14 is quickly emerging as the Ward 1 candidate who is appropriately cognizant of what is necessary to be a good representative, and offers the preexisting relationships that will make him effective from the start. This is exactly what other candidates have lacked in the past. In our view, this know-how demonstrates the necessary foundation that a Ward 1 candidate needs to have to make up for the disadvantages of essentially coming late to the party.

Through the New Haven Policy Assistant program, he’s already gotten to know much about the Board. With the help of Alderman Marcus Paca, Chair of the Community Development Committee, he has worked towards simplifying the processes by which a business can come to New Haven, a reform that is long overdue. This forward-thinking attitude shows his understanding that economic revitalization in New Haven is the straightest path to economic justice for New Haven’s residents. He is aware of the need for the next alderman to be an aggressive advocate for public safety, and he is especially passionate about exploring ways to continue improving the city’s public education system. Vinay gets it.

We are far from alone in our early support of Nayak’s vision and qualification. Aside from the Alderman Paca’s praise, reported in last Wednesday’s News article, a number of people have voiced their support, including Brian Bills ’11, who worked for Michael Jones’ ’11 campaign for alderman in 2009. Bills says that he looks for “someone who will be effective at advancing his or her agenda and working with the other alders,” and that he sees this potential in Nayak. Even Amalia Skilton ‘13, Co-Chair of the Ward 1 Democratic Committee, adds, “I’m glad that Vinay has taken the initiative to run. He’s one candidate who will bring strong progressive values to this race.”

But for us, Nayak’s campaign is about demonstrating that the Ward 1 Alderman can simultaneously be a community-minded reformer and representative for Yale students. More than that, this duality is the very essence of the job. The fact that he also has the relationships in place to turn his plans into results makes his candidacy that much more appealing.

Rhetoric and lofty goals certainly have a role to play in politics and in New Haven. Without them, policies like the recent New Haven Promise would never have gotten off the ground. But the fact of the matter is that effectively working to achieve these big collective goals with the very specialized constraints and barriers presented by the Ward 1 seat requires prior experience in the arena. Vinay has more than met this requirement already, and is prepared for a conversation on what those goals ought to be.

Thomas Dec and Zak Newman are sophomores in Jonathan Edwards College. John Gerlach is a freshman in Trumbull College.

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