The Ward 1 Democratic Committee meets today at 6 p.m. in the Branford Common Room to make its recommendation for Ben Healey’s successor as Ward 1 alderman. As a member of that committee and as a committed resident of this ward and this city, I take the responsibility seriously. I know that this process is a flawed one, and that while there are 900 registered voters in Ward 1 and 3,000 students, only 41 will vote on who will almost definitely be our lone representative in city government. Therefore, it is very important to me that the committee choose the candidate who will do the best job representing this ward and serving New Haven.
Ward 1 does not face many of the problems that much of the rest of the city deals with every day. In conversations I’ve had with several aldermen, they’ve said much of their job is returning constituent phone calls about potholes and cracked sidewalks. Because he receives fewer of these, the Ward 1 alderman has traditionally been one to offer new ideas, initiatives and a fresh approach to city government. This was what Ben Healey did, and this is what our next alderman must do.
The role of the Ward 1 alderman is twofold. To be an effective legislator (after all, that’s what the board is: a legislative body) the alderman must have an intimate understanding of the political process and city government. Second, the alderman must be capable of mobilizing a diverse group of Yale students to help push through important legislation. It is not enough to be a good organizer — you need to be a strategic organizer who turns mobilization into legislation.
When I got to Yale, I was already a pretty seasoned activist. I spent most of my junior year organizing around budget issues in New York City, and all of my senior year organizing city students to oppose the Iraq war. I’ve worked on several political campaigns, including as a staff field organizer for Kerry last semester in Florida. All of this experience has given me a strong sense of what it takes to be effective in politics — both in down-and-dirty grassroots organizing and in working with elected officials to get legislation passed — and which people have it.
I have worked closely with Dan Weeks for two years. No one has taught me more about how to be an effective organizer and how to make change through government than Dan. From the first time I met him, I was blown away by his degree of organization. Anyone who has ever attended a Students for Clean Elections meeting knows this. And anyone who attended the candidates’ forum Monday knows that he has an intricate understanding of the complex issues facing New Haven. One conversation with him and you know that his mind is always looking for the practical solution to a real problem.
Dan has a wide array of possible solutions to draw on when confronting difficult issues — whether it’s coalition-building with community groups; mobilizing Yale students to go door-to-door in New Haven neighborhoods; getting people to sign petitions to state representatives; or sitting down in Alyssa Rosenberg’s not so “smoke-filled” — smoking is illegal in Connecticut government buildings — room to convince the leaders of the Connecticut legislature to push for controversial legislation. Dan has done it all and will continue to do it all as Ward 1 alderman, working on many of the issues that he cares about, rather than just clean elections. These include pushing the city to redevelop the 11 percent of our housing stock that is blighted; meeting the estimated need for 14,000 units of affordable housing; developing renewable energy, particularly through building a wind turbine on the East Shore; and passing a real living wage in New Haven.
Dan should have to apologize for being so committed to clean elections. In fact, that kind of commitment and drive is exactly what we should be looking for in an alderman. Dan created the clean elections movement at Yale from scratch, and he has been the leader in a coalition of aldermen, representatives of the mayor’s office and many community groups, advocating for the issue in New Haven and in Hartford. Furthermore, he is the coalition’s regular representative to the statewide reform coalition, which is actively working to make Connecticut the first state to pass full public financing through the legislative process. New Haven is on the verge of being a pioneer in Connecticut and the country on this issue, and we have Dan to thank for that. If this isn’t initiative, if this isn’t leadership, if this isn’t new ideas, I really don’t know what is. Yes, clean elections is low on the priority list of most Ward 1 residents, and Dan is well aware of this. But the knowledge and experience Dan gained in a three-year campaign that wouldn’t exist without him is how to get things done. This is the type of distinguished commitment and leadership we need in an elected official.
Ultimately choosing an elected official is about trust. I, citizen, place my trust in you, representative, to make decisions for me that I won’t be there to make. I expect you to listen when I have concerns. I expect you to work hard on my behalf and on behalf of the members of my community. Dan will do this and more. He has a broad base in the Yale community that puts him in an ideal position to mobilize many Yale students around important New Haven issues, and he has the political know-how to translate mobilization into real results for the city.
I am proud to support Dan Weeks for Ward 1 alderman. The Yale community would be privileged to be represented by him.
Ted Fertik is a sophomore in Trumbull College. He is political director of Students for Clean Elections and a member of the Ward 1 Democratic Committee.