HORNUNG: A progressive, vital Nayak

When I look at this Ward 1 aldermanic race, I see two competent candidates with impressive experiences in New Haven. In my view, the role of a Ward 1 alderman is simple: independently to advocate for policies that will improve the lives of New Haven families and to engage Yale students in that process. There is only one candidate in this race who has shown an ability to do both: Vinay Nayak ’14.

Nayak has talked a great deal about his experiences on the Board of Aldermen as a Policy Assistant. As the founder of that program, I can’t overstate what he brought to the table and how much he gained from the experience. Nayak worked diligently for the Community Development Committee, where he interacted regularly with aldermen, gained an understanding of the policy making process and saw the impact city government can have on the people of New Haven.

We designed the program in part because New Haven city government is complicated and we wanted to help Yale students understand it. Nayak has spent a year working in the body he hopes to formally join. In short, he is ready to be a productive member of the Board on day one of his term.

In addition to real experience on the Board, Nayak also will bring an independent voice. Sarah Eidelson ’12 has done great things in New Haven, and I’ve had overwhelmingly positive experiences working with her on voter registration and canvassing in the Dwight neighborhood. However, as seniors, she and I have participated in an era of New Haven politics characterized by disputes between City Hall and unions, and Eidelson has consistently sided with the unions.

As a progressive, I fully support unions and the important role they play in protecting the interests of workers who deserve fair wages and respect from their city. But as many new faces begin terms on the Board, Yale students should strive for a New Haven free of hostilities between City Hall and unions. Our city should focus on a common sense agenda that is good for New Haven families and brings progressives together. To achieve that vision, we must have an alderman who is independent-minded — a representative who is not tied to either side of this unproductive schism.

I fear Eidelson doesn’t fit that mold. She was the Field Director for Sarah Saiano, a Ward 18 union-backed candidate for alderman, and she has been endorsed by two aldermen who are also union-backed. Her campaign has used these experiences to describe Eidelson as a “coalition builder,” but there is nothing unifying about those affiliations. In fact, they will make it harder for her independently to represent the unified progressive vision of her Yale student constituents.

In addition to experience and independence, Nayak’s policy proposals demonstrate a mature understanding of the role of the Ward 1 alderman. As President of the Roosevelt Institute, Yale’s student-run think tank that partners with local policy makers and nonprofit organizations, I have worked on both effective and ineffective policy initiatives in New Haven. I have learned that student policy work has the biggest impact when it focuses on specific problems and meaningful solutions, not large platitudes and generalities.

Some have attacked Nayak’s proposals as small minded and tinkering. I couldn’t disagree more. His platform addresses real problems and provides ways for a Ward 1 alderman to realistically contribute. For example, his proposals on infrastructure and prison re-entry are bold but realistic. Nayak and Eidelson both have a vision for the future of New Haven, but only Nayak has the ideas and experiences to make that vision a reality.

A final factor that must be considered in this race is the unique role the Ward 1 alderman can play in engaging Yale students in the city. Being a student next year will enable Nayak to connect with his constituents in a manner with which Eidelson will struggle. Eidelson, who will graduate this year, has pledged to continue living in New Haven. I applaud her commitment to New Haven, but I question whether her proposed bi-weekly dinners will attract enough Yale students to maintain a real connection with her constituents.

It’s not just formal meetings that connect us to our fellow students; it’s the informal run-ins. For a Ward 1 alderman, it’s talking to Yalies on the way to class, seeing them at parties and stopping to chat in the dining halls. Vinay will be able to have these conversations, and Sarah will not. While she will never miss a Board of Aldermen meeting for a midterm, it’s disingenuous to claim she’ll have the necessary connections with her constituents.

I have been involved with New Haven politics and policy for four years. Over the course of that experience, I’ve developed a love for New Haven and an appreciation for all I’ve learned from the city. I support Vinay Nayak because his experience and independence will allow him to contribute to New Haven and because, as a Yale student, he can help his fellow Yalies do the same.

Daniel Hornung is a senior in JE and is President of the Roosevelt Institute and Founder of the Policy Assistant Program.


  • JohnnyE

    Heads up. You botched the end of Daniel’s article.

  • bcrosby

    I am deeply concerned about Daniel’s – and more importantly, Vinay’s – pretty crucial misreading of the make-up of the incoming Board of Aldermen. To hear Daniel tell it, the Board suffers from deeply unproductive gridlock due to incessant conflict between partisans of City Hall and “the unions.” If this reading of New Haven politics was ever accurate, it certainly isn’t now, for it entirely ignores the “new faces” (which, to be fair, Daniel does hastily mention) elected to the Board in the primaries this past September. Many of the members of the Board who were least effective and most responsible for the Board’s reputation for partisan grandstanding and gridlock, members who consistently put their own political ambitions or affiliations over the common good – Greg Morehead, defeated in Ward 22 and holder of the worst committee attendance record on the Board comes to mind immediately – are gone. They’ve been replaced by a group of incredibly exciting, progressive new alderpeople, grassroots leaders with strong bases of power in their respective communities. What we need in a Ward 1 alderperson is not someone who will remain “independent” and aloof from these newcomers, viewing him or herself primarily as a deal-broker or mediator, but rather someone willing to partner with them to work to implement progressive policies, regardless of ties to labor. It’s worth noting, incidentally, that while Sarah was indeed endorsed by Frank Douglass (Ward 2) and Jeanette Morrison (Ward 22), who are proud union members, she was also endorsed by Doug Hausladen in Ward 4, who has no union ties whatsoever. Ironically, given Daniel’s accusation that Sarah will contribute to unhelpful gridlock on the board, it’s Vinay, not Sarah, with an out-of-date and unproductive vision of the Board of Aldermen and the place of our alderperson on it.

  • johnsteinbeck

    Huh, I wonder what Hornung thinks about “No Labels,” which also purports to overcome “partisan gridlock” with “commonsense policies.” David Brooks is a big fan. Which is why I am not.

    It says something that anyone who saw the candidate debate (in which Sarah clearly showed herself to be the more grounded, knowledgeable candidate…if a bit confrontational)…would still be convinced by Vinay and his “policy” focus, and Hornung’s op-ed. Something about Yale students and their love of coming up with elaborate and impressive ideas. Or about what it means to be a “progressive,” with “smart” solutions to things, without bothering to listen to the “poor” people, or questioning their own biases.

    Sure, no one wants partisan gridlock, but when you have a city run by a corrupt machine (I’m sure someone — a progressive — can write up a policy report on that)…in which people are not very welcome to participate…and construction contractors and developers fund the campaigns of mayors who ditch their own “Democracy Fund[s]”…and wealthy corporations *do* steamroll — aggressively — their visions for “growth”…and education and policing (not to mention firefighting) are run by cronies…then…the solutions…may not be all that complicated, but instead boil down to vision, commitment, and political will.