Although both Ward 1 aldermanic candidates acknowledge that their platforms are similar, Rebecca Livengood ’07 says her leadership role in activism across campus sets her apart from rival Dan Weeks ’06.
During her time at Yale, Livengood has worked on an array of issues including the environment, financial aid, Yale-New Haven relations and homelessness. She said her record of activism distinguishes her from Weeks, who has focused more on political lobbying than public organizing. A number of members of the Ward 1 Democratic Committee, which will meet to endorse a candidate March 23, have said Livengood is farther left and more activist than Weeks.
Livengood, who comes from South Orange, NJ, said she is committed to a number of progressive causes, including backing unionization at Yale-New Haven Hospital, providing affordable housing, increasing Yale’s voluntary contribution to New Haven, and making a commitment to gay rights. She said though she and Weeks have similar positions on these and other issues, she thinks they may have different priorities and would bring different experiences to the position.
In particular, Livengood pointed out that gay rights, one of her key priorities, was not mentioned on Weeks’ campaign platform. Livengood has not formally issued a written platform, but she said she hopes New Haven can take the lead on smoothly implementing potential state legislation legalizing same-sex civil unions.
Livengood has been described as more activist than Weeks in large part because of her involvement in the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, a liberal campus political organization which has pushed for financial aid reform and recognition of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, among other causes.
Weeks, who has focused on working with students and city leaders to lobby for campaign finance reform, said he thinks he and Livengood bring “somewhat different approaches” to making public policy. He said his approach is more based on making small changes while working within the system.
Amaris Singer ’07, who is working on Weeks’ campaign, said she thinks Livengood’s activist history is less applicable to the aldermanic position than Weeks’ record of working directly with city politicians.
“I just see Rebecca as being so outrageously liberal beyond what most people in the ward are that I don’t think she really has a grasp of the type of pragmatism that’s important when you’re in elected politics,” Singer said.
Livengood said though she is proud of what the UOC has accomplished using demonstrations, she is also comfortable with formal political processes. For example, she lobbied with the Climate Campaign to pass Connecticut Senate Bill 595, “An Act Concerning Climate Change,” which seeks to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“In my experience so far as a student, I’ve [found that] on some issues public pressure is effective,” she said. “But the tactic is appropriate to the fight.”
Livengood’s political experience at Yale has not been limited to the UOC. She has worked with the Fairshare Coalition to urge Yale to increase its contribution to the city to compensate for loss of revenue due to the University’s tax-exempt status. She has worked with the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project and this summer will co-run Harmony Place, a community center that builds relationships between Yalies and homeless people.
Off campus, she has also worked with the Community Organized for Responsible Development, a pro-union group that has been involved in the debate surrounding the proposed cancer center at Yale-New Haven Hospital and is currently working to secure a community benefits package for the planned expansion. Livengood’s work with CORD has included canvassing in the hospital’s neighborhood.
“I feel really lucky to have worked with lots of regular folks in New Haven,” she said.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said he thinks it’s important for the Ward 1 alderman to be able to work with both regular constituents and activist groups, including the UOC.
“The people who are going to demand representation are going to be the people who really want to see changes in the city,” Healey said. “It is important for the alderman to respond to people outside that. But a smart politician will deal with the people who are demanding things.”
Ward 1 Democratic Committee member Nick Seaver ’07, who said he is waiting to hear Livengood and Weeks speak at the endorsement meeting before making a decision, said he is impressed with Livengood’s experience.
“She’s got a lot of organizing history and sort of has leadership roles and is really active in a lot of groups on campus, which is great,” Seaver said.
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