Since 2009, I have spent thousands of hours organizing students on campus, doing community service in the city, and advocating for policy before New Haven’s administrative agencies and Board of Aldermen. These experiences — as a case manager and tax preparer for low-income people, as a leader and advocate in the LGBTQ community, as director of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, and as a Democratic activist — have made me appreciate how serious the challenges facing Yale and New Haven are.
Our city is in economic distress and political gridlock. Elected officials have made poor policy decisions, cutting the staff and budget for essential city services before looking to end waste elsewhere. They have tried gimmicks (monetizing the parking meters) and brute force (privatizing the school custodians) in a series of failed attempts to put New Haven’s financial house in order. Their choices have meant that my clients — the people I help get jobs, public benefits, tax refunds and shelter — live with less dignity and have less access to basic services than they did two or three years ago, even as the city spends more money on executive staff and their special projects.
In the face of these conditions, the Board of Aldermen needs leadership that will stand for strong city services and against financial decisions that disproportionately hurt poor and working-class residents. It needs Sarah Eidelson.
Sarah has set her policy interests and priorities based on thousands of conversations with ordinary people in neighborhoods across the city. She has a deep understanding of New Haven’s economic problems, through the Community Voter Project, she has talked to many, many people who are experiencing long-term unemployment, working only for poverty wages and experiencing abuses at work.
Her commitment to bringing development to New Haven and ensuring that it produces good jobs grow from these conversations and personal relationships, as well as from her convictions. When she votes on approving development and zoning proposals on the Board, her vote will most reflect what economically marginalized people across the city have told her they need.
And because of her experiences as a community organizer, Sarah also understands that jobs are only half of a progressive economic policy. Many people in our city cannot work because of disabilities, parenting, age, housing instability or other issues. Their economic fate rests largely in the hands of government, and, for the last two years, they have been first to feel the pain when the city has experienced budget crunches. When state aid to the city has decreased, officials have cut entire social service facilities and programs. When layoffs have come, administrators have fired city nurses and social workers before touching executive staff.
For the next two years, Sarah will fight to end this series of destructive and shortsighted policy decisions. She will use every means at her disposal to advocate against these cuts, both on the board and elsewhere. Because of her experience working with and talking to people who rely on social services, she will ensure that changes and reforms to the system reflect what clients want — not what city administrators and policymakers have decided is politically convenient, or what think tanks with no connection to poor and working-class people’s own concerns have recommended.
Sarah will also push the Board of Aldermen to take a progressive stand on social as well as economic issues. At the board’s public hearing last month on expanding New Haven’s nondiscrimination laws to include gender identity and expression as a protected class, Sarah testified alongside eight transgender and allied leaders about the importance of legal protections for all parts of the LGBTQ community. Her advocacy this year and in the past shows that she is committed to advancing the interests of LGBTQ people and other minorities, even in politically unfriendly environments. If she becomes alderwoman, she will continue to lead on these issues by moving legislation and policy to address discrimination — as Ward 1 aldermen, from Mike Morand to Mike Jones, have done for almost 30 years.
The Board of Aldermen should listen to policy experts, academics and students when it makes law and policy. At the same time, its priorities and policies should always come from and respect the wishes of the people who they will most affect. Sarah Eidelson’s experience and personal relationships mean that she understands how to assess the priorities of New Haven’s poor and working-class people. She is the candidate who will work for those priorities.
Amalia Skilton is a junior in Calhoun College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.