DEFIESTA: Laboring candidates

For some Yalies, there is no greater political candidate than one in a labor union. That label alone is enough to earn their support, regardless of platform or experience. For others, a politician’s union affiliation is an excuse to write off her candidacy.

This mentality has been exemplified across city elections, from the controversial Ward 7 aldermanic race to the mayoral contest. But Yalies should not be judging candidates for local office by their labels — politicians must be evaluated holistically. While such a point might seem too obvious to warrant emphasis, campus discourse over the past month suggests otherwise.

Over the past two years, a coalition of city legislators backed by unions has accomplished much more than politics as usual. Instead of aldermen acting as 30 clashing players, the union coalition has used its clout to push the Board to act on issues previously stagnant: community policing, youth spaces and new jobs. At the start of their term in January 2012, all 30 aldermen signed a joint legislative agenda, an unprecedented development in the history of city politics.

Delphine Clyburn, a union-backed politician, is one alderwoman who has actively pushed for the joint legislative agenda, advocating for the development of spaces like Dixwell’s Q House and the Goffe Street Armory for use by city youth. But Clyburn is also someone Newhallville residents can turn to when they need something as small as fighting an unfair electricity bill or getting a ride to a doctor’s appointment, as Ward 20 resident Shirley J. Lawrence told me this summer.

“During the winter, she makes sure people are OK — she knocks on doors,” Lawrence added.

This might seem like it takes a lot of effort, and that’s because it does. Clyburn is known as a “ward worker,” spending a few days every week going door to door in Newhallville, checking in on residents and conveying essential information about the neighborhood.

Let’s look at another example of a “ward worker”: Doug Hausladen ’04, also elected two years ago to represent Ward 7. He’s woken up at 5 a.m. to deal with a garbage truck making too much noise on Pleasant Street, met with the Lincoln-Bradley Neighborhood Association to find solutions to neighborhood safety issues and dealt with tweets about noise complaints at 2 a.m. After the heavy snowstorm this year, Kevin Casini, a Ward 7 resident, began introducing Hausladen as “the aldermen who shovels you out.”

Beyond the routines of his ward, Hausladen has also been a leader in street safety. He coordinated the New Haven Safe Streets coalition, chaired the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team and heads Elm City Cycling. He’s also been one of the few legislators who prioritized budgetary matters, suggesting over $20 million in sensible budget cuts over his brief tenure.

Of course, their records have not been perfect. Hausladen’s creation of Take Back New Haven was, at very best, a misguided message, while some of the deliberations between Clyburn and Achievement First were enough to raise eyebrows. But on the whole, few can argue that both alders have served their constituents well.

Here’s the kicker: Clyburn is heavily supported by union forces in the city, while Hausladen is perhaps the closest you can get to “anti-union” in labor-friendly New Haven. With so much of the city’s political rhetoric focusing on labor’s role in the election, we must not forget that union affiliation does not make or break a candidate.

Don’t get me wrong, some truly mediocre candidates have been supported by the unions in the past two elections — from Ward 14’s Gabriel Santiago, who stopped attending Board meetings after six months and resigned earlier this year, to the more recent case of Ella Wood ’15 in Ward 7. But candidates like Clyburn and Hausladen are clear examples that being supported by Locals 34 and 35 is often not the most important factor when considering a candidate.

Instead, candidates for local office — be it for alderman, mayor or even city clerk — should be judged on their merits.

Students often walk into the voting booth primed purely by buzzwords like “pro-labor” and “anti-union.” Yes, there is something to be said for being part of a “team” working to change politics for the better, just as one could argue for the value of an independent voice. But this is just one part of the equation. To vote solely on this affiliation would be foolish.

Nick Defiesta is a senior in Berkeley College and a former city editor for the News. Contact him at nick.defiesta@yale.edu.

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