I came back from summer hoping to have a lazy senior year. But in August, I got an e-mail from Nick Shalek, who said he was running for alderman. We sat down and went through the problems facing New Haven and possible solutions. I challenged him and pressed him for details and numbers. Slowly but surely, I was convinced not only of Nick’s thorough understanding of New Haven issues, but also that he was the better candidate to be our Ward 1 alderman.
Before Nov. 8, I hope everyone seriously studies the issues at stake in this election. With partisan rhetoric flying around campus, the issues are getting shoved aside. For my part, I didn’t start working for the Shalek campaign and give up my laidback semester so I could take part in mindless squabbles and negative campaigning. This election is the one chance we have, as Yale students, to choose someone who represents our politics and our hopes for the city.
First, let’s get the reckless attacks made against the Shalek campaign out of the way. Nick’s been accused of not being a Democrat. This is odd since Nick registered as a Democrat at age 18 and is still a registered Democrat. I was proud to be vice president of the Yale College Democrats last semester, and I personally vouch for Nick’s Democratic credentials. To suggest he doesn’t share the progressive goals of most Yale students is a blatant lie.
The opposing campaign has also alleged violations of campaign finance laws. In reality, these “violations” amounted to a few filing or paperwork errors on the part of our campaign treasurer. The campaign is doing nothing illegal, it isn’t challenging the very essence of our democracy (as one Livengood supporter so radically said to me one day), and the clerical errors have already been fixed with the state.
Voters won’t be making their decision based on attack rhetoric and lies. This is about a real choice between two very different means of doing politics. Nick graduated in 2005 as an economics major, having worked with the student-athlete Community Outreach Committee and having been president of the Yale Entrepreneurial Society. During his tenure at Y.E.S., Nick helped create over 100 new jobs in New Haven.
We should respect Rebecca Livengood’s work with student organizations, but her support for the Undergraduate Organizing Committee and GESO reveal an unfortunate belief in activism over compromise and practicality. The tactics of these groups are overwhelmingly confrontational. An alderman needs to have demonstrated a cooperative relationship with Yale and city businesses. This is about putting aside the picket signs and sitting down to talk reasonably about disputes.
Anyone who has interned or worked for the government knows that public policy is built on pragmatism and reasoned negotiations. With regard to the Yale-New Haven Hospital Cancer Center, it was once reasonable to ask the hospital to be more environmentally friendly and to invest more in affordable housing. The hospital agreed to these reasonable requests, yet opposition continues, costing the city $1.5 million every month the center is delayed.
The community benefits agreement offered by the hospital actually makes the cancer center one of the most progressive development projects in New Haven history. But some activists are so determined to demonize the project that they claim it will displace New Haven families from their homes — a blatant fallacy, as the project will be built entirely on hospital-owned land.
The demands of the most extreme politicos on campus are no longer reasonable; they are irresponsible. Linking cancer center development to the demands of a national union is not only politicizing an issue that should be beyond politics, but it is bad public policy.
Last month, the Livengood campaign once again showed a distinct misunderstanding of reality when it offered the idea of turning the York Square Cinema space into a cooperative theater. Not only is this entirely unfeasible from an economic perspective, but no business plan or marketing research was done. The idea was skin deep, and the subsequent publicity by the Livengood campaign distressed the owners of the space, as their livelihoods depend on the income brought by the space.
Nick’s understanding of economics is not theoretical, and it isn’t skin deep; he has tremendous experience working with and attracting new businesses to New Haven. Nearly 5,000 people are unemployed in New Haven, and 28 percent of the city’s population lives in poverty. Economic development is not just an issue, it is the issue. No other problem so dramatically impacts the lives of New Haven citizens. The cancer center alone will create 1,200 permanent new jobs in the area, paying an average of $42,100 a year.
We can choose an alderman more representative of mainstream progressive values than GESO or the UOC. Nick can help revitalize New Haven’s struggling economic base, and he will convince Yale students that we have a stake in New Haven politics. This city is our home, and at the end of our four years we can leave it better off. After I graduate this year, I won’t regret not having a lazy senior year; I’ll be proud that I helped elect an independent-minded and experienced Ward 1 alderman.
Brett Edkins is a senior in Pierson College. He is Nick Shalek’s campaign manager.