Incumbent Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 and his challenger, Daniel Kruger ’04, squared off Tuesday night in a debate that centered largely on the candidates’ divergent views on Yale’s ongoing strike and the role the University should play in New Haven.
The debate, held by the Yale College Democrats at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, included attacks by both candidates on their opponents’ campaigns and proposals. But the biggest flashpoint during the debate was the ongoing labor dispute at Yale, as Kruger criticized Healey for putting the unions before his constituents during his tenure on the board.
Kruger, who is running as an independent, said Healey had spent too much of his energy advocating his own views on the labor dispute and not enough listening to Yale students, who make up the large majority of voters in Ward 1. In his opening statement, he listed a series of actions he said Healey had taken without consulting students on their positions.
“I’m going to listen to my constituents, not tell them what to do,” Kruger said before a crowd of about 80 students. “I’m going to represent their interests, not special interests.”
Healey, who is the official Democratic nominee, responded to Kruger’s criticism by saying his record — including his support for domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, clean elections and efforts to fight homelessness — demonstrated his commitment to New Haven and his constituents. Healey said he did not think an alderman representing Yale students needed to agree with the University on all issues.
“I don’t think an $11 billion institution in the middle of the city needs me advocating for it,” Healey said.
While the two candidates agreed on many issues, like the domestic partnership initiative and the need for better schools and transportation in the city, they frequently clashed on how an alderman representing Ward 1 could best represent Yale students. While both supported expanding service at Tweed-New Haven Airport, Healey said the city should not have to subsidize the airport during difficult fiscal times.
The two candidates also tried to outdo each other on the issue of domestic partnerships, which both support. If re-elected, Healey promised passage of a bill — which lost by one vote when he sponsored it earlier this year — by next February, while Kruger said Healey had failed to effectively mobilize student support for gay rights during his tenure.
But the debate, which was moderated by University Chaplain the Rev. Frederick J. Streets, returned frequently to the issue of Yale and its relationship to its workers and New Haven. After Kruger criticized Healey for associating with a Weblogger who had referred to Yale Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander in derogatory terms, Healey read an e-mail Kruger campaign manager Lenore Estrada ’05 had sent several classmates.
“The incumbent guy is a tool of the unions, he gets a ton of money from them, and he consistently votes against Yale on everything,” the e-mail said. “He thinks that the workers should get whatever they want, and he is a HUGE supporter of the strike.”
Kruger, who said he had not been involved in the drafting of Estrada’s e-mail, said he did not think “it was responsible to put those words forward.” But while Kruger said he supported some of the grievances of locals 34 and 35, he said repeatedly that the strike had been harmful to both Yale students and workers.
“The unions have been utterly disruptive, and they have targeted students,” said Kruger, who blamed the strike on union leaders who were not looking out for the interests of their rank-and-file members.
Healey, who said he hoped the strike would end soon, denied Kruger’s charges that union members were being “duped” by their leadership.
“I’m not going to criticize working people who think they need to stand together,” Healey said. “I think they’re doing what they need to do.”
David Gershkoff ’06, an undecided voter, said he left the debate impressed by both candidates’ ideas. He said he hoped a competitive election might increase civic participation among Yale students, who have not turned out to the polls in large numbers in recent elections.
“I think the electorate is always better served when there is more than one candidate running because they have a choice,” Gershkoff said.