Even they admit it: When it comes to the issues, it is hard to tell Ward 1 aldermanic candidates Rebecca Livengood ’07 or Dan Weeks ’06 apart. No matter who wins the endorsement of the ward’s Democratic Committee Wednesday — a nod that usually guarantees election — that candidate will promote roughly the same platform of unionization at Yale-New Haven Hospital, affordable housing and increasing Yale’s financial contributions to New Haven. So in determining who deserves endorsement, the committee’s pick cannot come down to what the candidates believe in, but how effective they will be. And while we think both bring valuable experience to the table — and both have shown discomforting weaknesses as well — we believe the more effective alderman would be Dan Weeks.
Without question, Livengood, an active member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee and Community Organized for Responsible Development, has much more experience in working for the causes both candidates have pledged to champion in office. Her emphasis on gay rights, an issue that resonates with many in Ward 1, is laudable, and she has demonstrated her ability to rally student activists on issues like financial aid and the hospital. Yet at the same time, she comes across as a virtual stranger to the workings of City Hall. Despite her clear skill as an organizer, Livengood would face a steep learning curve to accomplish anything on a 30-person board not inclined to give a Yale student much sway.
Weeks has focused his activism on campaign finance reform — a worthy objective, albeit one that is probably low on the list of Yale students’ priorities. But in helping to lead the charge for clean elections on campus and throughout the city, Weeks has shown an impressive ability to both create a grassroots movement for change and navigate city government. So while it is hard to shake the feeling that he is a bit of a newcomer to the issues he is supporting, we think he has demonstrated a greater ability to make real progress in fighting for them on the board.
The shame of it all is that while both Livengood and Weeks could be good aldermen, they have been disappointing candidates. Their platforms include important citywide issues, but we have little sense that they have taken the time to figure out what Ward 1 voters — not just members of the Democratic Committee — think about these subjects. Indeed, neither has brought a single new idea to the table specific to interests of the ward’s constituents. If the Ward 1 alderman is to be a lone student voice in city government, we have little confidence that either candidate has developed the capacity to speak for us.
But that isn’t so much the fault of the candidates as it is a sign of the weakness of the process in which they are participating. The Ward 1 Democratic Committee’s endorsement procedure is wholly legal and technically fair — anyone who wanted to be on the committee could apply, and we trust that the committee is doing what it thinks is best for the ward. But any process that effectively puts an election, year in and year out, in the hands of a few dozen committee members instead of the ward’s voters is going to produce a representative who is, well, less than representative of the ward he or she serves.