After three years, my mother still blanches every time I call New Haven home. And indeed, like many college students, I think of myself as having two homes, one here and one in Washington, D.C., where I grew up.
But when it comes to the government, New Haven is without doubt my home. Here is where I work, so I pay my taxes here. Here is where I live most of the year, so last year the census counted me here. And here is where I walk the streets, play in the parks, frequent the restaurants, am protected by the police and enjoy the other fruits of municipal and state government.
So it is in New Haven that I vote.
Tomorrow is the primary election for New Haven mayor, and because registered Democrats outnumber other voters nearly 4-to-1 here, it is the Democratic primary that will determine the next mayor.
Like it or not, we are all citizens of New Haven. As such, it is not only our right to vote here, it is our duty and responsibility.
Voting is a secular ritual that strengthens communities. When we all go to the voting booth on the same day, we are bound with our fellow citizens by our action. Voting becomes a common experience, and our governance becomes a shared decision. Coming together to make our choices, even the privacy of the voting booth, forces us to imagine ourselves as members of a larger community.
But voting in tomorrow’s primary has more practical purposes than merely imagining ourselves as part of a broader New Haven community. This mayor election has the potential to completely redirect New Haven government and politics.
During the upcoming mayoral term, New Haven will discover whether the improvement in it economy — and all that comes with it — has been due to the careful stewardship of Mayor John DeStefano or whether it was part of a nationwide boom, a thin veneer that will evaporate should a recession come over the rest of the country.
The next mayor, be it state Sen. Martin Looney or DeStefano, will have to make decisions about New Haven schools, about development plans, about ways to attract employers into the city. He will have to decide the best way to improve the city’s housing stock and address the rising tide of asthma that plagues New Haven’s children. Almost immediately, he will have to decide how to work with the Yale administration — New Haven’s largest employer — and the unions that represent Yale workers — one of New Haven’s largest voting blocks.
Even if, in a fit of myopic selfishness, you decide you only care about your smaller community and that you are a citizen only of Yale, not of New Haven, it is still important to vote for mayor. The state of the University cannot be independent of that of the city; Yale both affects and is affected by the city in which it is located.
The poor quality of public schools in the city is often cited by potential professorial recruits who turn down job offers from Yale. So is the perception there won’t be a job for the professor’s spouse. The policies of the next mayor may indeed determine the success of Yale’s recruitment efforts.
Certainly, in an academic year that promises to be full of controversy over unions at Yale, the mayor will play a large role. In 1996, DeStefano acted as a mediator between the unions and the administration and finally brought the two parties to an agreement. Both candidates have professed support for the Federation of Hospital and University Employees, and both have called on the administration to sign a card-count neutrality agreement. The Federation itself is staying neutral in the race, although 1199, the New England Health Care Employees Union, has endorsed Looney.
Whether or not you support the Yale unions, you will be affected by any labor strife this year. Whoever the mayor is, he will almost certainly play a role in resolving any problems we face.
I am not as brave as Harold Bloom. I will tell you only why to vote, not how. Indeed, were it up to me, I would somehow combine DeStefano and Looney because there are attractive and unattractive features in both of them. But on Tuesday, I will pull the lever for one of them, and I will be glad to play a role in the selection of my city’s government.
New Haven is indeed our home, and it is our duty as a citizens to help govern our home.
Jacob Remes is a senior in Saybrook College.