MASKO: Defining justice for Ward 1

In her campaign column Friday, Sarah Eidelson concluded with the phrase “I want to lead a campaign that is part of a broader movement for justice, and I hope you will join me.” Though she is forthright throughout the article in her resolve to make changes in New Haven, what it is exactly that she means to change remains rather unclear.

What is clear, though, is that those changes seem more focused on representing those outside Ward 1 than those inside it. Her constituents are the students and employees of Yale, and by proxy, the institution of Yale itself — after all, the Ward 1 alderman also represents the University that makes our presence in this ward possible. Yet it seems that her broad claims about injustice and wider movements fall outside of the realm of her constituents.

Eidelson said, “My decision to run for alderwoman has grown out of my most deeply held values: that all people are equally deserving of human dignity and access to the life they want; that we are all responsible for the well-being of one another; and that we must therefore work together to fight injustice.” Her mission seems to exceed the limits of her job description.

In fairness, this is true for all great leaders, so let’s examine that mission a bit more closely. She remarks that “all people are equally deserving of … access to the life they want.” Though this maxim sounds beautiful, it is not anything new for the city of New Haven or, indeed, for our country. How Ms. Eidelson interprets her own phrase is essential. Does she mean to continue to give us all equal access to a bankrupt New Haven, a huge per-capita debt, runaway pensions and a city in which a vibrant culture of legal immigrants who have worked hard to get here are treated like illegal immigrants as long as they have their handy Elm City Resident Card? Or does Eidelson belong to the camp for whom equal access means an actually strong (not just rich) education sector, a tax policy that brings real, non-government jobs to New Haven to give previously hopeless citizens an opportunity, and a welfare policy that incentivizes leaving the system? I find one experience Ms. Eidelson mentions in her biography particularly telling.

Ms. Eidelson cites as formative the time she spent founding and leading a voter program with the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, an activist group centered a short walk down College Street. The center’s aims are fairly well explained in a brief sheet of talking points posted on their website titled “2010-2011 Grassroots Community Agenda for a New Social Contract in New Haven.”

The document may help readers make sense of what Ms. Eidelson means by the promotion of “justice” on which she bases her campaign. The first heading is labeled “Community-based Job Creation.” After reading this heart-warming and sensible-sounding heading, I was on the point of writing an apology letter to Ms. Eidelson for ever doubting her. Imagine my shock at this bullet point below: “Ensure that new and existing jobs in the public and private sectors provide living wages, healthcare, and organizing rights.” Not only is the organization in support of the Living Wage Law for government contractors that has contributed to an over $40 million deficit last year, it actually wants to extend the living wage to private sector employers, giving them further incentive never to set foot in New Haven. Doing this would continue New Haven’s tradition of economic lethargy, high unemployment and overall hopelessness.

Under a following heading, the Center also professes to support balancing “the tax burden placed on working families with the tax breaks and exemptions granted to corporations and large institutions, while pushing for a more progressive state income tax.” In an age of economic hardship, this talking point rings especially hollow. If it became reality, any large business dull enough to come to already business-hostile New Haven to create jobs for unemployed New Haveners would leave immediately. The Center’s new “more progressive income tax” would be left with no wealth to redistribute.

It is, of course, unfair to hold Ms. Eidelson responsible for all these claims from the group she worked for, but voting for her would make me far less uneasy if she were to disavow them. While we do not always work for political organizations with which we completely agree, it is unusual for a clearly activist-minded student to coordinate a voting project for an organization whose mission she opposes.

So these are the questions that I leave Ms. Eidelson to respond to: First, what specifically do you plan to do to represent Yale and its students? Second, what does justice mean to you? And third, do you really support the mission of the Connecticut Center for a New Economy? And if not, what will you do to create real job growth to help bring New Haven out of poverty?

John Masko is a sophomore in Saybrook College.

Comments

  • roflairplane

    Great piece, great points. Glad someone’s delving for specificity in the platitudes.

  • gabineta

    Excellent piece…Substance IS important.

  • Gracchus

    Allow me to pose two questions to you, Mr. Masko (and to any other opponents of a living wage): First, has anyone close to you had to raise a family on less than a living wage? Second, would you be willing to do so?

  • phantomllama

    I agree with much of what you have said. But who should people in Ward 1 actually vote for? Eidelson seems far preferable to Nayak, who seems nothing more than the product of Chicago machine politics.