Ward 1 Alderwoman Rebecca Livengood ’07 and challenger Nick Shalek ’05 faced off Saturday afternoon in a debate held by the Yale College Democrats in Linsley-Chittenden Hall.
About 50 people attended the debate, the first of two between the candidates, in which they competed for the formal endorsement of the Yale College Democrats in the upcoming election Nov. 8. The Democrats will vote Monday night on whether they will endorse and which candidate they will support should they choose to do so.
Livengood, the Democratic nominee, will enter the race as the incumbent since she was appointed to the Ward 1 alderman position by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. in late August after former Alderman Ben Healey ’04 resigned from the board in order to pursue a job opportunity in Boston. But Shalek said her incumbency does not represent a real advantage in experience.
“Most students understand that Rebecca is an incumbent only in name,” he said. “I’ve been to every aldermanic meeting that Rebecca has since she was appointed, and we’ve said about the same amount there.”
Shalek, a New Haven resident and employee at the Yale Investments Office, is registered as a Democrat but said he is running as an independent due to the infeasibility of mounting a successful campaign between the beginning of the school year and the Democratic primaries in September.
After two-minute opening statements, the candidates were asked to respond to 10 questions about local issues including the Yale Cancer Center, the living wage ordinance and personal security in the wake of recent robberies.
When asked about the planned cancer center, which has become a central campaign issue and is a point of contention between Yale and community leaders, the candidates both said they are in support of the project, with different qualifications.
“The economic and health benefits of this project are so great that I can’t see why anyone would delay it,” Shalek said. “I am very pro-union, but the cancer center … should absolutely go forward.”
Livengood said while she too is in favor of the project, environmental concerns and workers’ needs should be taken into careful account before the project proceeds.
Throughout the debate, both candidates stressed the importance of getting more students interested and involved in New Haven issues.
“[Yale students] have been reticent to participate in city government, and as [alderwoman], I would like to change that,” said Livengood. “[The board] controls a lot of issues that have an impact on student lives.”
In addition, both Shalek and Livengood criticized what they said were Healey’s shortcomings in involving Yalies in city issues and making information surrounding the issues accessible.
During the debate, Shalek questioned Livengood’s relationship with the mayor and her motivation for supporting prospective Board of Alderman president Carl Goldfield — whom he mistakenly referred to as Carl Goldberg — accusing her of advancing her political career instead of representing her constituents.
Livengood said she is proud of the relationships she has formed in City Hall, on the Board of Aldermen and within the Democratic Party in New Haven, and denounced the accusation as unfounded.
“I think it’s very irresponsible to make allegations of underhanded deals without having anything to back them up,” she said.
Both candidates expressed their firm commitment to serving out their full term should they be elected, a significant concern in the wake of Healey’s resignation.
In closing, Shalek encouraged the Democrats to vote in favor of no endorsement at all, especially following the controversy surrounding the endorsement of Livengood over Daniel Weeks ’06 by the Ward 1 Democratic Committee last spring. He said an endorsement would hinder rather than help the democratic process.
“If they endorse … they will be forced to attack a fellow Democrat who shares many of their same values, simplifying important issues with slander rather than encouraging true engagement and allowing Yale students to decide for themselves,” he said.
Livengood said she does not agree with Shalek that the Yale College Democrats should not to endorse a candidate.
“They are able to mobilize lots of students,” she said. “It’s a really good opportunity to get students involved, whomever they endorse.”
Alissa Stollwerk ’06 and Daniel Munz ’06, president and vice president of the Yale College Democrats respectively, mediated the hour-long event. Both said they were pleased with the outcome of the debate.
“I think Rebecca and Nick both did a great job of laying out their issues,” Stollwerk said. “The students in this room will walk away with a clearer understanding of New Haven issues.”
Livengood and Shalek will participate in a second debate organized by the Yale Political Union on Thursday night.