For the majority of Yale students, tomorrow’s primary elections won’t feature much excitement. In Ward 1, which includes eight Yale colleges and Old Campus, there aren’t any competitive elections on the ballot. Even in Ward 22, which includes Ezra Stiles, Morse, Silliman, Timothy Dwight and Swing Space, a challenge to Alderman Drew King is unlikely to gather much momentum.
But in Ward 2, where many off-campus students live and where the recent shooting of a drama school student took place, Tuesday holds a bit more drama. The race, which features two recent Yale graduates — incumbent Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01 and local health-care consultant Gina Calder ’03 — has become closely watched in the city, and it is one the greater Yale community should be following, too.
First, Ward 2 offers a microcosm of a larger battle being played out across the city between the mayor and his opponents. Chen has long been one of John DeStefano’s most outspoken critics, and the mayor has made little secret of his desire to see her off the board. Though Chen shed her Green Party label to enter the Democratic caucus, where she says she can be more effective, she cites her willingness to act as an independent voice — and to keep the mayor in check — as her main strength. In contrast, while Calder is not in lockstep with DeStefano, she is running with City Hall’s blessing, as well as that of the New Haven Democratic Party.
We agree that it is crucial to have dissenting voices, particularly in a city where 29 out of 30 elected representatives are in the same party. All too often, however, Chen has taken on tasks so quixotic or launched criticisms so strident that she risked her credibility. She also rightly earned the disdain of many in the Yale community for her opposition to a measure two years ago that would have created a domestic partnership registry for same-sex couples. But as disappointed as we were with her vote, it was as much her inability to articulate the reasons behind it that revealed her weaknesses as a leader.
The issue of gay rights — while now largely in the hands of Hartford — illustrates some bigger divides facing Ward 2. Both Chen and Calder have doggedly and shamefully avoided revealing their stances on the issue. That’s an insult to the voters of Ward 2, but it may also illustrate political savvy in a district that includes both socially liberal Yalies on Edgewood and socially conservative working-class citizens on Kensington Street. A Ward 2 alderwoman will need to bridge the gaps between these groups if she is to have any hope of fixing the serious problems the neighborhood faces, including unemployment, blight and crime.
In four years, Chen has not lived up to that job description. Calder, meanwhile, appears to understand the need to choose her battles and think creatively about solving the ward’s problems. Like Chen, she has tried to set firm roots in the community, but she also promises to be a more compelling advocate for the wide-ranging needs of its residents.
Ward 2 desperately needs someone who can unite its diverse voices and effectively fight for its interests in a city with a limited budget. We hope Gina Calder can live up to the task.