In the Ward 1 aldermanic race, it’s a battle of the nice guys. Next Tuesday, the old cliche will prove to be half-right.
Both Ben Healey ’04, the incumbent, and Dan Kruger ’04, the challenger, are terrific individuals. They are smart, passionate and widely respected on campus. I hold them in high esteem and have close friends working for both campaigns. But what matters in this race is not personal charm. It’s a debate about whether our alderman represents our interests or those of outside groups.
Dan has premised his campaign on the issue of constituent contact, or lack thereof. When the city redistricted Silliman and Timothy Dwight, Ben did not consult members of either college. When his admirable Domestic Partnership legislation came before the Board of Alderman, Ben did little to inform his constituents (a strong bastion of support for civil rights legislation) of the hearing. Supporters of the bill were embarrassingly outnumbered by opponents and the measure later failed by one vote as aldermen who had previously supported it caved due to public pressure.
Dan’s campaign has forced Ben to recognize the need to communicate more with the student body. If the turnout for the Yale Political Union debate two weeks ago was any indication, Ben’s potential for outreach is impressive. The audience was filled with vociferous Healey supporters sporting green, “Vote Ben” t-shirts. Ben is clearly capable of communicating with students when his job is on the line. It would be nice if he put that same effort into dealing with issues in the aldermanic chambers.
The defining issue in this campaign, however, is Yale-New Haven relations. Representing a large portion of the student body, the Ward 1 alderman’s views are most relevant whenever the board discusses a matter concerning the University. What distinguishes this office is that it is the only voice Yale students have before city government. It would make sense, then, for us to elect someone with whom we agree on those issues pertinent to the Yale-New Haven relationship. Though the strike by locals 34 and 35 ended last month, Ben’s attitude on labor and town-gown relations is indicative of how he will lead on these crucial issues in the future.
What is clear to anyone watching this race, and by the incumbent’s own admission, is that when it comes to these concerns, Ben does not in the least represent his constituents, but rather a small core of far-left campus activists. Ben is wildly popular among the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, a union front group founded last summer that took part in September’s disruptive strike. Apologists for Ben’s position on the labor problem, like the members of the Yale Daily News editorial board, disregard the significance of Ben’s actions as alderman in order to reconcile their support for a candidate who disagrees with the majority of the student body on the most fundamental issues in this campaign.
Ben’s supporters have fired back by alleging Dan to be a lackey for the Yale administration. Last week I saw a poster advertising a Master’s Tea at which Dan would be speaking defaced with the words, “Students support Healey, Masters support Kruger.” Aside from the obvious fallacy of this statement, (there are many students who do not support Ben), the pithy slogan failed to mention Ben’s greatest backers: not students, but the leaders of locals 34 and 35. Speaking to the Yale Daily News in early September, Local 35 President Bob Proto effused, “We will help Ben in any way Ben needs.” To his credit, Ben is up front about the support he is receiving from the unions and “Bobby,” as he affectionately refers to him, in particular. I imagine most Yale students would rather their alderman not so closely associate himself with a man who thought it a wise idea to shut down freshman convocation and disrupt our classes for three straight weeks.
While the particular disputes of the past may seem anachronistic and tired to some, they shed a great deal of light on how the aldermanic candidates will lead in the future. Last week, Calhoun Master William Sledge, the medical director of the Yale New Haven psychiatric hospital, took Ben to task for introducing a resolution last year that stripped the arrest powers of constables at the hospital (“Ward 1 needs consensus-builder”, 10/22). Persuaded by the same union mentality that has led labor activists in this town to compare Yale to a slave plantation, Ben branded the constables a “goon squad.” Coming to Ben’s defense last Wednesday (“Healey defends free speech, not ‘special interests’ at hospital,” 10/23), Alek Felstiner wants us to believe that he, a senior in college, is somehow more knowledgeable on this topic than a doctor who works at the hospital every day. What Ben did makes about as much sense as the New York City council removing the arrest powers of its entire police force because of the improper actions of two of its officers. Rather than reprimand the individual constables, whose guilt in this episode is still highly questionable, Ben took a leadership role in the perpetual witch hunt that New Haven “community activists” have launched against Yale.
When I asked a manager at the medical school what he thought of Ben’s resolution, he said, “that kid’s done damage that you can’t possibly imagine.” Why? “Go visit the emergency room on a Saturday night, and tell me you don’t want people there with arrest powers.” Aside from the fact that the hospital is no longer as safe as it once was and that the city has had to divert police officers there to make up for the lame duck constables, this whole episode is indicative of Ben’s attitude towards Yale, an attitude at odds with the great majority of Yale students. Ben, no doubt egged on by “Bobby” and the rest, sacrificed the University’s reputation and the safety of patients on the altar of cheap union politics. Yale students and the editors of this paper should have no reason to think he will do any differently in the future.
“On the union issue,” Ben told me, “I’m in a different place than most of my constituents.” Ward 1 voters ought to take his words to heart when entering the voting booth next Tuesday.
James Kirchick is a sophomore in Pierson College. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.