The Ward 1 aldermanic seat has been characterized in many ways. Activists and progressives advancing their own agenda have called it the conscience of the city. Cynical city leaders pushing their own biases have called it a place for untested students to launch their political careers. A more reasoned voice, looking at the history of the ward and the city’s charter, has called it a representative in the city of the residents of eight Yale residential colleges and the Old Campus.
We support the latter, not merely for its simplicity but because it captures the true and frequently overlooked purpose of the job: to serve as a conduit for the 4,500 residents of the ward into city government and to insure the best possible city services and resources for them. As former New Haven Mayor Biagio DiLieto wrote in 1988, every alderman “seeks to demonstrate both leadership and service in expressing the dreams and aspirations of his or her constituents.”
You have to search hard for that message in the platforms of the candidates seeking their party’s endorsement Sunday. So far, three common ideological themes have emerged from the statements of the four Democratic candidates who hope to replace Alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99: progressive policies on homelessness, wages for city workers and civilian review of police conduct; neutrality from employers toward unions throughout the city and at Yale; and innovation in public education.
These are laudable goals. But a core set of practical principles and responsibilities governing the work of all 30 members of the New Haven Board of Alderman has received scant attention from Lex Paulson ’02, Michael Montano ’03, Anne Leone ’03 and Ben Healey ’04 as they head into the Ward 1 committee’s nominating convention in two days.
The Job: The role of Ward 1 alderman is to represent all students in city government, not merely a narrow constituency of progressive activists and social justice advocates. Facilitating relationships between vocal student groups and city administrators should remain an important part of the alderman’s job. But seeking out and aiding individuals and new student constituencies should be the next Ward 1 alderman’s first goal. It is a disquieting sign that none of the candidates has indicated this as a major objective in their platform.
The Board: The next Ward 1 alderman will have to contend with the reality that city-wide issues on which many are now campaigning frequently take a back seat to ward-specific concerns of aldermen representing residents with small-scale quality of life needs, from sidewalk repairs to tree trimming.
The Issues: The issues that matter to Ward 1 are both Yale-specific and city-wide, from attaching living wage provisions to city contracts, to aiding workers and to updating the city’s zoning code to protect downtown and neighborhoods from blight and unwanted commercial intrusion. Here in Ward 1, assuring adequate commercial and student parking, a healthy commercial mix, as well as safe and clean streets, will continue to be important.
The next Ward 1 alderman, whether a Democrat or not, will have to strike a balance on the questions of constituency, issues and platform that have so far been missing in the race.