The race for Ward 1 alderman has begun with one-sided sound and fury. Fresh-faced sophomore Vinay Nayak ’14 is running a campaign of staggering slickness, leveraging personality, networking and money into one of the most visible Yale aldermanic efforts to date. For her part, senior Sarah Eidelson ’12 is not winning the publicity war.
But while the two candidates have entered the race in different ways, their platforms are virtually indistinguishable. Both have fallen to painfully familiar or borrowed positions: “uniting” Yale and New Haven through “transparency,” cutting red tape, falling in line with unions. Nayak’s crosswalk proposal seems ripped from the pages of the Michael Jones ’11 campaign in 2009. But Nayak announced his candidacy after a mere eight months in New Haven. Though his sit-downs with campus leaders are friendly, it’s unclear how they would help New Haven.
Eidelson has more experience, including two summers of activism in New Haven and work on a Ward 18 aldermanic campaign. But she supports a group of aldermen’s cynical attempt to renegotiate the 20-year agreement that keeps portions of High and Wall streets closed to traffic. We do not doubt both candidates’ genuine desire to work beyond Yale’s gates. But New Haven is a real city with real problems. It doesn’t need or want well-meaning boilerplate from college students.
Having a Yale student serve as alderman can work. But it’s time to clarify the debate over whether that alderman should represent Yale or New Haven. How much more representation, if any, does Yale really need? From extra police patrols and closed streets to property tax exemptions and downtown construction control, Yale’s needs and interests are already well tended. Aldermanic policies rarely, if ever, affect the day-to-day lives of Yale students. We are lucky to be mostly insulated from the dysfunction, policing and poverty that rightly occupy much of the board’s attention.
Of course, an excited and experienced candidate can bring fresh ideas to the board of aldermen. But if the Yale race falls to a cliché-filled popularity contest, our student body will have condescended to city politics — not meaningfully participated in them. The best aldermen don’t think of their role as yet another Yale leadership position: the Yale College Council on a larger scale. Instead, they focus on the improvement of New Haven writ large. In this light, Nayak’s confounding proposal to reduce speed of cars downtown in order to, ostensibly, keep Yale pedestrians safer seems misguided: it certainly won’t “reduce frustrations for city drivers” as he claims.
Jones’ living wage advocacy and the work of Nick Shalek ’05, who laid the foundations for New Haven Promise, are powerful examples. Though Eidelson will graduate at the end of this year, if elected, she plans to remain in New Haven. We hope that this demonstrated commitment to the city will soon translate into newer, more clearly formulated policies.
The Ward 1 alderman can and should be so much more than a line on an ambitious Yalie’s resume. It’s not a debate or a race for class council. It’s fundamentally different than any other extracurricular activity. If a privileged Yalie is to claim a city leadership position, he or she needs to do more than print posters and register friends. Otherwise, the race will leave a bitter, patronizing taste.
Correction: September 30, 2011
The editorial “News’ View: Alderman Up” implied that candidate Vinay Nayak has proposed to reduce “downtown speedlimits.” He actually proposes to reduce the speed of cars downtown through other means.