ZELINSKY: Ward 1 for Yalies

Ostensibly, Yalies will go to the polls in a month to elect a Ward 1 alderman. In reality, low registration and low voter turnout means that a radical fringe group will decide who represents students on the Board of Aldermen.

Most of us choose to vote in our hometowns instead of New Haven for a variety of personal reasons. Some of us care about more contested state races in places like California or Florida. Others succumb to inertia, never going through the paperwork to change our voter registration status. Many Yale students are just apathetic toward New Haven politics, not understanding why we need an alderman.

A few self-selecting students do choose to become New Haven voters. By all accounts, these (mostly) Democratic students label themselves as “progressive” and “liberal.” Over time, they have warped the role of the Ward 1 alderman to fit their particular ideology. Consequently, captured by an unrepresentative few, our aldermanic seat no longer pursues the interests of all those who live on the campus.

Many of those on the political fringe at Yale care deeply about New Haven. I do not doubt their sincerity. However, I question whether the status quo — in which they alone choose our local government representative — is good for the vast majority of Yale students. The solution is for all of us who live in Ward 1 to register to vote in New Haven and hold our alderman to account. We can do so up to a week before the election.

Yalies have real political needs. Those needs go unaddressed when our political system rewards fringe candidates. For instance, instead of advocating for brutalized and jailed students on the morning following last fall’s Elevate raid, Alderman Mike Jones ’11 drank a beer at a tailgate. He belatedly engaged in pro forma protest and acquiesced to a whitewashed police report. His main concern: preserving his personal relationship with City Hall in order to pass his leftist wage-hike legislation. As a result, his Yale constituents suffered when they needed him most.

One of the two aldermanic candidates, Sarah Eidelson ‘12, talks about fixing New Haven. Like Jones, she promotes a platform of citywide issues that panders to Yale’s far-left voters but is unappealing to even moderately liberal students, including reexamining the University-City contract that closes parts of Cross Campus to cars.

Eidelson’s main qualification for political office: working on the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, the extreme of the fringe and a political group in bed with the most virulently anti-Yale unions. Among other notable achievements in the past decade, those labor organizations blocked the building of the new (life-saving) Smilow Cancer Center in order to extract concessions from the University. UOC’s Eidelson is a viable candidate only because of our ward’s skewed and limited electorate, which encourages contenders to tack far left to gain electoral support.

Vinay Nayak ’14, the other candidate, offers slightly less radical policy proposals. Even he, however, feels the need to ignore the concerns of the campus and instead talk about ideological issues to gain the support of the minority who decide the aldermanic election. Case in point: his plan to prevent employers from knowing if prospective employees are dangerous felons.

The simple reality is that good aldermen (indeed, good elected officials) sometimes do nothing — no platform can be the best platform. Yalies do not need sweeping, left-wing legislation or flashy proposals for municipal government. They need someone with character who will be their champion at City Hall in times of trouble like the Elevate fiasco. And they won’t get that pragmatic alderman until the electorate expands to reflect their wishes.

Both Nayak and Eidelson talk extensively about the many students they have registered to vote. They will claim that I am wrong, that this year’s electorate will be different and more representative of the Yale student body. We have heard this story before. Every past Ward 1 election featured similar candidate-driven registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. Those same elections saw an unrepresentative few show up to the polls. Jones won in 2009 in a race in which only 474 ballots were cast. In 2003, that number was 541.

Why do these past campaigns to get students interested consistently fail? At its core, the problem may be a catch-22. With the slate so radically leftist, moderates see little incentive to join in the political process. Unfortunately, without an electorate characteristic of the student body, it may never be viable for a more centrist candidate to run.

Unless the student body registers to vote en masse, a paltry fraction of the 5000 or so undergraduates will choose the next alderman to represent campus. Two years with Mike Jones has taught us how bad that result will be.

Nathaniel Zelinsky is a junior in Davenport College. Contact him at nathaniel.zelinsky@yale.edu.


  • bcrosby

    …and once again Mr. Zelinsky rolls out his rather paltry, circumscribed vision of the role of the Ward 1 alderperson. Now, I actually agree with Mr. Zelinsky that the actions of the Ward 1 alderperson need to spring from the needs of her/his constituency – i.e. us. But here’s where we differ: Mr. Zelinsky apparently believes that the interests of Yalies and the rest of New Haven are opposed or at least unrelated such that our representative on the Board needs “do nothing” except defend Yalies in times of crisis. However, the interests of Yalies and the rest of New Haven AREN’T that different – we all want to live in a New Haven that is safe, where there are opportunities, etc. – and the problems we face are often systemic problems with citywide solutions. Take, for example, the Elevate raid: Mr. Zelinsky rightly (if perhaps a little bit vitriolically) criticized Mike Jones for a rather lethargic response to NHPD actions. Right, but this police abuse of power (as Mr. Zelinsky doubtless knows) isn’t a one-time problem but a more long-term one, and one which constituents and their alderpeople from all across New Haven – from Yale to the Hill – have an interest in seeing solved. What I would have liked to see come out of Elevate was Mike working with other alderpeople to make sure the NHPD as a whole was more democratic, accountable, and transparent. Yale, despite Mr. Zelinsky’s rhetoric, simply is not an island.

  • slatest

    Nate writes this piece over and over again. This edition I find particularly boring. “Register to vote, because…both the candidates are terrible, aaarrrg, they are so terrible.” I agree more people should vote (in New Haven and in general) in municipal elections but that’s not generally my pitch.

    Also, Nate: why do you hate Mike so much? I actually don’t get it. He’s a totally reasonable, smart, and committed guy. Sure, he doesn’t have your politics, but does that always draw out such seething ad hominem rage? I just don’t understand.

  • EastRockIndependent

    Mr. Zelinsky has completely omitted the 2005 election from his analysis. I was on campus for that race, and it clearly engaged many people, not just “the fringe” – with 804 people turning out to vote.


    Also, I have not to date heard Eidelson come out in favor of reopening the Wall St/High St agreement.

    Zelinsky seems to have his facts wrong on many fronts.

  • desch

    Question: if you have so many problems with this system, why dont you run yourself? Try to convince our campus that they should vote for you because you represent their interests best. I am interested to see if your proposed platform of “nothing” would get more Yalies interested/involved. I dont really see it working…

    • grumpyalum

      That’s why he doesn’t run. He’s a mostly privilege white dude who gets off on talking about New Haven just because he went to a mostly rich, white private school at Hopkins. He’d get owned on his platform because it’s so silly and it mostly all devolves to “Screw New Haven! I’m privileged and AWESOME”

  • basho

    Nothing can be said about this column that hasn’t already been said about Libya – bombed out, boring, and led by a clown. B-/C+.

  • River_Tam

    Yale elects the leaders it deserves.

  • streever

    Mr. Zelinsky:
    I don’t believe “fringe group” has the meaning you are looking for.

    Perhaps “majority” would be more fitting? I can’t find that many people in New Haven who are neither liberal nor progressive.