NEWS’ VIEW: Alderman up

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.

Comments

  • slatest

    This is a weirdly hostile op-ed. I think it’s clear that both candidates are talking quite a bit about New Haven. Sounds like you don’t think there should be a Ward 1 alderman. I might agree with you but that’s neither here nor there.

  • River_Tam

    > 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.

    This, a million times.

  • RachelPayne

    Buck up, YDN! Sarah Eidelson is an outstanding candidate whose years of activism in Ward 1 demonstrate her commitment to the campus community and the city as a whole. Her work for financial aid reform and endowment transparency at Yale and her leadership in the Community Voter Project show that the alderman doesn’t have to decide whether to “represent Yale or New Haven,” but can work with the university, local government, and city residents (Yalies included!) to build a more democratic, politically engaged city and institutions that more equitably meet the needs of those they serve.

    • River_Tam

      Ugh. I hate her already. “Years of activism” do not a politician make.

      • bcrosby

        Okay, River, so what does? I can’t imagine a better qualification for local political office than years spent familiarizing oneself with – and acting in – local political processes…that is to say, being an activist.

        • River_Tam

          I’d say the best qualification for local political office is some familiarity with the realities of local politics, ie: interning or working for a politician. Even watching The Wire is more likely to give someone a familiarity with politics than “years of activism”. Organizing meaningless marches and haranguing one’s opponents with empty demands do not prepare you for negotiating and give-and-take politics.

          Quite frankly, this is what President Obama is learning in the White House. In his experience as an activist, local politician, and Senator, he was never intimately involved in hard-nosed negotiation and actually hammering out deals. The result is that the party that nominated him and put him the White House squandered their chance to actually advance their agenda, because they picked a squish who doesn’t have the political skills of Clinton, Reagan, or even George W Bush.

    • morse_14

      No offense, but this is just a string of campaign-slogan words that have individual meanings, but, when strung together like this, mean nothing at all.

  • desch

    I was surprised by this op-ed. Mostly because it doesn’t do justice to either of the candidates, who are putting in their time to learn as much as they can about the city and have on multiple occasions reached out to people both within the student body and within New Haven to ask questions. I think this does demonstrate a larger commitment to learning about the city and demonstrating that they dont pretend to know everything. Nayak has spent a good deal of time talking about the infrastructure project, which is much more than a “crosswalk proposal,” including bike lanes, bike boxes, raised intersections, and signal re-coordination, because it is an important topic of discussion within the city that still hasn’t been addressed in terms of serious implementation. The rest of his proposals, which the author did not mention, include concrete policy on wage theft in New Haven, ban the box, making government more accessible by live streaming Board of Alderman meetings, making it easier to file complaints to the Civilian Review board, and instituting a transitional employment program for ex offenders, all of which are are not “ripped from the pages of Michael Jones’s” proposals. Let’s hope that other members of the YDN have done more research on the candidates.

  • ag658

    This is poor journalism. Not only is this piece inaccurate, it also misinterprets a direct quote from one of the candidates.

    For one, Ms. Eidelson makes her campaign anything but a popularity contest; her perspective and policy come directly from years of work and investment at Yale and in New Haven community organizations. She’s already garnered support from current and incoming aldermen and has had hundreds of conversations with New Haven residents from underrepresented districts during her time in New Haven, most notably through the Community Voter Project. There may be policies that derive from a superficial perception of New Haven, but those are not Ms. Eidelson’s, whose ideas originate from in-depth work both on and off Yale’s campus.

    • River_Tam

      Full Disclosure: ag658 is probably a personal friend of Ms. Eidelson.