Last night, Ward 1 Alderman candidates Dan Kruger ’04 and incumbent Ben Healey ’04 debated each other for the first time in what is likely to be a contentious and forcibly symbolic aldermanic race. Over the course of the event, the two spent most of their time sparring about the strike. While neither candidates’ arguments made him seem particularly more qualified than the other, the substance of the debate itself raises questions about the proper role for the Ward 1 Alderman in New Haven.
Healey accused Kruger of aiming to represent an institution with an $11 billion endowment that doesn’t need any added voice in city government. Kruger responded by accusing Healey of being a mouthpiece for the University’s unions and promised, instead, to “listen to my constituents, not tell them what to do.” In his view, the proper role of a Ward 1 alderman is to represent Yale to the city, a vision for the position which stands in contrast to Healey’s efforts to speak for Yale’s workers.
Kruger may not explicitly conflate “Yale,” meaning the Yale administration, with “Yale students,” whose interests are not always in sync with their deans, masters, provosts and presidents. But his failure to adequately distinguish the two is reason to hold under further scrutiny his promise to “represent [students’] interests, not special interests.”
We agree that the Ward 1 alderman should be as independent a decision-maker as possible. We believe further that all elected officials, even those who serve on 30-member boards with no binding power or legal authority, likewise are not doing their jobs completely if they act as mere mouthpieces for the majority opinion in their district. The board’s response to the same-sex civil union resolution Healey revived last year — the subject of a protracted game of one-upsmanship between the two candidates last night — is an example of why carbon-copy representation ignores the moral dimensions that come along with any representative’s job. The resolution was defeated in part because a number of aldermen voted in opposition — in our opinion an ethically unsatisfying decision — based only on their sense that that’s what the majority of people in their district wanted. Representing constituents’ interests, therefore, just like representing students’ interests, is not the whole job.
We hope this race will not degenerate into simple name-calling, with each side claiming the other is a tool of the unions or the University. After contracts settle and union members return to work, there will still be a serious question to consider here — exactly what Yale’s single member of the Board of Alderman should be doing, and exactly whom he should represent. We hope both candidates will consider their responsibility not only to represent Yale — for whatever they take “Yale” to mean — but also their obligation, if elected, to represent New Haven to us — that is, to be in contact with students about what they want for the city and what the city wants from them. At this point, neither candidate has demonstrated he has a complete vision for the position. As the campaign progresses, we hope the debate focuses more on this question and that by voting day on Nov. 4, a candidate will have emerged with an answer that is in the best interest of Yale and the city of New Haven.