Regardless of who will be elected Ward 1 alderman — Paul Chandler or Sarah Eidelson — not much is going to change.
This isn’t undue cynicism: The city around us is the methodical, longstanding byproduct of half a century of union-backed candidates furthering union-sanctioned goals for a union-dominated electorate. Over the past few generations, New Haven has certainly had its share of deficits — from budget gaps to employment rates — but Big Labor liberalism has never been one of them. And until the Elm City begins to look more like the Motor City, odds are things are going to stay that way.
This isn’t to say that someone like Chandler — a moderate Democrat on any political spectrum outside of Yale — doesn’t represent a refreshing resistance to this government-by-solidarity mentality. But if elected, he would join union pariah Doug Hausladen in a caucus of roughly two (of 30). Eidelson, on the other hand, has her entire political capital wrapped up in entrenched labor — not the least because most of her actual capital comes courtesy of a full-time Local 34 paycheck.
In the backdrop of New Haven’s union-induced political stasis, we need to realize that if Yale students are going to approach this election thoughtfully, the primary discussion should not be on the nuances of policy differences. A deeper precursor takes precedent: Why do we deserve an alderman in the first place?
When asked this question directly during Monday’s debate, the two candidates had a similar response: Ward 1 exists with Yale students as its majority, so we should have representation. For Eidelson, it was open and shut: “We are New Haven residents, period… Many of us are here for only four years but many of us choose to stick around. And we deserve representation the same way anyone else does.” Granted, the tautology holds there is a set of borders that constitutes an aldermanic district composed of Yale students: but none of this addresses why we should have one.
The position of Ward 1 alderman is exhaustively problematic, equally so for the elected as for the electorate. We are fundamentally unqualified for both.
The initial defect with a guaranteed student position on the local board of government is that it requires a student to think he or she is ready to serve on a local board of government. Only an unflattering combination of intellectual hubris and profound naiveté would bring one to look in the mirror and say: “Hey, my first full-time job should be legislating the lives of others.” At best, this sort of mindset allows for good intentions and clumsy experimentation as our adopted city is turned into a political laboratory. At worst, it breeds the sort of pompous intellectual undercurrent embodied in Ella Wood’s campaign: that the right combination of liberal guilt and Yale political seminars constitutes a sufficient resume for office, ready to be immediately applied to any new community.
What’s more, Eidelson’s stand-alone claim that we “deserve representation” as much as anyone in this city seems overwhelmingly generous (or baldly opportunistic: your call). We ought to be honest to ourselves and realize that the New Haven we know is markedly dissimilar to the one that the vast majority of actual residents experience. We exist here in periodic isolation, spending eight months within our gated castles and bubbled community, and then four back in our real homes. This fails to genuinely provide the immersive experiences needed to truly be part of the political community around us.
The approach of the Yale undergraduate turned temporary legislator is done with all the charm of a McKinsey consultant: You’re welcome, and we’ll be leaving now. While we are innately transitory, whatever legal legacy our alderman chooses to leave behind is not. Ideas have consequences, even if we are never here to see them.
At the end of the day, Yale students should be expected to contribute to New Haven — be it volunteering, working or innovating. But we need to earn a voice in shaping its laws. It is not another entitlement of being at Yale.
Harry Graver is a senior in Davenport College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at email@example.com.