MEYERS: Young, dumb and full of ideas

I’m not very invested in the success of New Haven. That’s simply a statement of fact. Here is a more contentious assertion: Unless you’re a member of the micro-minority of undergraduates who are from New Haven, neither are you.

I’m not trying to say we shouldn’t care about our city or make an earnest effort to help it succeed. Yale’s success is tied to New Haven, and most of us will call the place home for at least four years. There should not be a “town-gown” dichotomy, and we are not better than anyone else. In short, Yalies are members of the New Haven community, and we should do our part to make it great.

However, we need to recognize what our part really is. Watching the city grow and succeed does not have the same special meaning to us that it has to someone who was born here. While I care about this city, my sentiment is certainly dwarfed by the passion of someone who calls New Haven his hometown.

Like most Yalies, I have opinions about what the city needs to do to create jobs and improve its fiscal situation, but I honestly don’t know if mine are right. I’ve followed the city’s latest round of union wage negotiations pretty closely, but I have no idea what it’s like to be a city worker whose job depends on those talks or a bystander who’s uncertain whether his home city of 20 years is going bankrupt. I don’t know what the city was like before DeStefano was elected or who is in whose pockets. In fact, I don’t even know if parking tickets are too expensive or if the buses run late!

Election day for the Ward 1 Alderman is today, and it’s during this time that we hear a lot about what the city needs, not from seasoned New Haveners, but from Yalies. Since the Ward 1 alderman doesn’t have to worry about as many routine duties as the other Board members, he or she is free to focus on more long-term and citywide policies. However, just because you’re free to do something doesn’t mean you should.

It might seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways that our alderman could both help and show respect to New Haven is by being less proactive. Whoever wins the fight to become Yale students’ representative to the city should start his or her term by taking a foot off of the progressivism gas pedal and focusing on our ward. This is not because our ward needs more attention but because Yale’s representative doesn’t know as well as the other aldermen what the rest of the city needs.

Sure, New Haven would benefit from a student putting in two cents’ worth of opinion here and there; it’s good to have some fresh ideas on the table. But the Yalie Board member shouldn’t champion anything. To begin a term as the student-alderman with an agenda for anything except your own ward would not only be misguided; it would be an insult to all of the aldermen who have watched New Haven’s successes and failures over the last few decades and who know what it’s like to be fully emotionally invested in the city.

If the Yale alderman comes in with a list of citywide reforms, he or she implicitly tells the rest of New Haven, “I’m better at running the city than you.” I don’t want someone who represents me to send that message to my community.

As Yalies, we should all care about the city and elect an alderman who will do his or her best to help it succeed. But the best way for the Ward 1 alderman to help the city is to take a step back, work on policies that affect Ward 1, talk a bit about what you think should be done to help the city as a whole, and, most importantly, listen to what other aldermen think the city needs. The alderman for Ward 1 will give the greater New Haven community an impression of this generation of Yalies. The way to make a good one is to save long-term policy building for the people who really know New Haven.

Dakota Meyers is a junior in Branford College. Contact him at dakota.meyers@yale.edu.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    You’re right: I don’t think of Ithaca*, Kent, or Middlebury (Ripton, for Bread Loaf) as my home towns. I DO think of New Haven of my hometown because I was born here, raised in Mt. Carmel, and spent ten years living in New Haven during my “Yale” years.

    Dontcha think the presence of the same Mayor for more than a decade leads to inbreeding?
    Dontcha think that the poor choice of Police Chief is revealing?

    Dontcha think New Haven’s got a drug and murder problem as the Interstate crossroad for New England’s drug traffic?

    Yale’s in the way of the real money man———-crime.

    PS
    * I do pay tribute to Ithaca (or the part I knew) in a blog :[The Dillinghams of Fountain Place][1]

    [1]: http://oceansorange.blogspot.com

  • River_Tam

    The Yale Women’s Center should protest the headline of this piece.

  • yale_senior

    Dakota, do you think then that no one should vote in a city in which they didn’t grow up? I am all for listening and respecting the ideas of other alderman, but it does not mean that there is not a legitimate interest in making sure the city also serves Yale students in its appropriate capacity. I should also remind you that for many of your peers, and especially seniors, their residency in New Haven might be longer than any other city they have lived in in their lives, depending on their parent’s work and other factors. In fact, I would say the fact that New Haven has such a large temporary population is all the more reason why Ward 1 alderman need to stay active – so that the interests of New Haven’s citizens who are not planning on living in New Haven for a long time are represented.

  • dakotajmeyers

    @yale_senior (sorry, for some reason my browser isn’t letting me just “reply”).

    My point is not that the Ward 1 alderman shouldn’t do anything or that none of us should vote. I’m just saying that the Yalie alderman should scale-back on his or her citywide and long-term policy platform. Even if a Yale undergraduate has lived in New Haven for longer than any other city, he or she is still probably no older than 22. Therefore, it would be both appropriate and respectful for the Ward 1 alderman to step back and let older, more experienced aldermen who plan to live in the city for the next several years handle the long-term and citywide reforms. I meant my article to be more of a warning of the potential disrespect (and potentially poor policy decisions) that an overly ambitious student-alderman can have.

    Additionally, I think that your point that short-term New Haveners deserve representation is valid; however, I think that this population has no business in crafting sweeping reforms or long-term policies (you said yourself that they are just temporary residents). I’m not challenging the idea that Yale students should have a representative. I just think that this representative should be careful not to overreach his or her bounds in advocating policy reforms.

    For more information about how the Ward 1 alderman usually seeks to make long-term policy changes, see Nick DeFiesta’s well-written summary article about the election: http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/nov/04/race-ward-1/

  • River_Tam

    > If the Yale alderman comes in with a list of citywide reforms, he or she implicitly tells the rest of New Haven, “I’m better at running the city than you.” I don’t want someone who represents me to send that message to my community.

    At least Mr. Meyers is right about this – I don’t want my alderman lying either.

  • dakotajmeyers

    @River_Tam

    Exactly. Not only is the opposite true (ie long-time New Haveners are much more qualified to make policy choices for the city than are Yale students); I think that a student-alderman who has an overly ambitious agenda could actually broaden the emotional gap between Yale students and the larger New Haven community.

  • River_Tam

    Mr. Meyers has vaulted to the top of my “favorite YDN writers” in just one piece. Brilliant.

  • glibmonster

    I think the logical conclusion of Mr. Meyer’s piece is not that we should vote for an alderman who is the lesser of two evils. Rather, why have an alderman at all?

    Almost no Yale students have a long-term interest in New Haven; if anything, only Yale as an institution has a long-term interest (and a very long-term one at that) in the city of New Haven. Why not have President Levin appoint someone? He’d probably be older than 22, which means he’d have at least a modicum of experience dealing with adults, and (hopefully) some real public policy experience. How’s that for better representation?

  • penny_lane

    Right on, Dakota. This is why I did not join my friends in line for an Elm City ID card back when that was a thing, or vote in any CT election, local or otherwise.

    Instead I worked for New Haven by tutoring in schools and interpreting in the free clinic. I stick to what I know I’m right about, such as conversational Spanish and basic algebra.

  • River_Tam

    > How’s that for better representation?

    Well, it’s not democratic, for one. Even temporary residents have the right to vote in elections.

  • piersonpiersoncollege

    Right on. The privilege here is astounding.

  • ldffly

    Excellent piece.

  • slatest

    I appreciate the humility of this, though I’m not as sure about the details of how the alderman should function.

    But I’m really interested in this whole set of ideas kind of along the lines of “we don’t deserve representation because we are privileged and/or temporary.” I don’t usually engage that much with that, because we have representation so let’s not spend too much time in philosophy land about it. But it’s also true that redistricting is coming up, and the resulting makeup of the wards could end up looking very different.

  • ohno

    Thank you for this, Mr. Meyers. As a liberal student on campus, I frequently interact with other progressive students who can’t possibly understand why I wouldn’t want to support the pretension of thrusting myself into New Haven politics like I know what’s best for the city. Everyone should read this, especially the workers from both aldermanic campaigns who tsk-ed at me when I said I was still voting in my hometown.