When Ward 1 voters head to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 4, to choose between the two candidates for the Board of Aldermen, we will be voting on a question that has implications far beyond the two-year term that the winner of the election will earn. Almost every conceivable organization and public figure in New Haven has weighed in on the broader issues at stake in this debate, but this election is the first time that students will issue a binding statement on what they want they want the relationship between their University and their city to look like.
Since contract negotiations between Yale and locals 34 and 35 began, the debate over this crucial question has been dominated by the University administration and the unions. It’s true that getting the economic relationship between Yale and New Haven right is of vital importance for both the city and the university. But to reduce the relationship between Yale and New Haven to economics is to ignore the role of more than 11,000 students and more than 3,000 faculty who live and work in the city.
Ward 1 is zoned specifically to provide Yale students with a voice on the Board of Aldermen. Whoever sits in the first ward chair at City Hall is a powerful symbol of, and a powerful message from, the Yale community. No other seat on the board is tied to an organization that has as much influence on New Haven’s future; because of Yale’s power over the ward, no other alderman is subject to the same scrutiny. As a result, the Ward 1 Alderman must choose between two potential guiding philosophies for his term. Either he can turn his attention inward and focus on supporting the current policies and practices of Yale in its role as the ward’s dominant institution, or he can turn outward and challenge his constituents and his university to do better and to engage more deeply and constructively in New Haven.
This choice is especially stark in the current Ward 1 race: Dan Kruger, an Independent challenger, advocates the former approach; for the past two years, Democratic Alderman Ben Healey has successfully practiced the latter.
If the Ward 1 Alderman’s vision is limited, as Kruger’s generally is — focusing on the services that students need and the University does not provide — then an inward-looking approach is perfectly serviceable. Students need not be deeply engaged in the city to testify in support of better taxi companies and jet service at Tweed Airport. But if the Ward 1 Alderman primarily focuses on advancing the interests of the most powerful institution and privileged neighborhood in New Haven, he is likely to alienate himself from the aldermen who represent more disadvantaged wards and constituents who feel disempowered by Yale’s dominance. If this is the case, both the ward and the city will miss important opportunities for dialogue and growth, and both will suffer as a result.
In contrast, a Ward 1 Alderman who seeks to emphasize and restore the vital connections between Yale and New Haven can pursue a much broader vision for change that will benefit students and long-term city residents alike. By demonstrating a willingness to criticize the powerful University administration where he believes it to be wrong, Healey has won a well-deserved reputation for independence and integrity. The risks Healey has taken in differing with the officials of an institution that has considerably more power over his constituents than locals 34 and 35 has made it possible for him to criticize the city for its failure to move forward on issues like gay rights and living wages. This attempt to seek out a new, and more balanced, relationship between Yale and New Haven should pay significant dividends in Healey’s second term.
Both of these visions of New Haven and Yale call for greater civic participation by students. Healey’s continued occupancy of the Ward 1 chair guarantees that students who want to effect change in New Haven beyond the narrow confines of the University will have a voice on the Board of Aldermen that is heard and respected by the community at large. It’s a combination that promises great things for Yale and for New Haven. The voters of Ward 1 should continue Healey’s efforts to end a long-standing and unfortunate division, and embrace the possibility of a genuine partnership between this University and the city.
Alyssa Rosenberg is a sophomore in Silliman College.