Today, after two months of campaigning, every registered Ward 1 voter has the chance to go to the polls and choose who will serve on the Board of Aldermen for the next two years. The campaign has been a great opportunity to discuss key issues that will soon come before the board, and it has given students a chance to engage in city politics. Since I arrived in New Haven three years ago, my experiences in the community have shaped my understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing our city. I have seen this firsthand as I have worked with student groups and community leaders in seeking responsible development, environmental sustainability, gay rights, homelessness and security.
Over my time at Yale, I have been fortunate to meet with Bruce Alexander, the director of the Yale Office of New Haven and State Affairs, and to work with him to increase Yale’s financial contribution to New Haven. I have been equally fortunate to have gone door-to-door talking to residents in the Hill neighborhood about their priorities for responsible development. I learned about the impact of student voices on the state legislature when I traveled to Hartford to push for state-wide moves toward renewable energy and clean elections. I saw the challenges and the power of coalition-building when, in 2004, I helped to bring clergy together with gay rights activists to take their first public stance on the crucial civil rights issue of our time. Working with the homeless of New Haven to challenge City Hall’s 90-day policy has reinforced my faith in the voices of citizens to impact important policies.
These experiences inspired me to run for alderwoman last spring, and they have informed my work on the board for the past few months. The changes I have seen and the people I have worked with have strengthened the convictions that guide my service on the board. I believe strong partnerships between businesses and their neighbors build strong communities, and that those partnerships depend on political leaders willing to foster involvement on all sides. I believe economic growth must be an urgent priority for this city, and growth should be led by responsible companies with sustainable plans for the long-term benefit of this city. There is no excuse for failing to stand up for the rights of marginalized groups, and protecting those rights requires working with leaders and community members throughout the city.
We must approve a cancer center development plan that ensures high-quality care will be available to sick citizens of the city regardless of economic background. Further, we must ensure that the environmental impact of the center does not undercut its central mission of service. I am working with allies on the board and in the community to bring the hospital’s leadership to the table and secure the creation of a compromise we can all be proud of.
We must address the challenge of crime in our community, both by improving lighting where it is lacking and by expanding the programs available to youth in the city. I am working with colleagues to ensure the funds for such programs find a permanent place in the city’s budget, and that these funds are spent effectively.
We must reform the city’s broken 90-day policy, which arbitrarily ends shelter service to homeless New Haveners after 90 days whether or not they attempt to find jobs or housing. I am working with members of the homeless community and city services to fashion a policy that ties shelter stays to effort, so that the incentive to remain in shelters is connected to the means of moving out of them.
We must close the loophole in the city’s current living wage ordinance. Currently, it fails to hold businesses heavily subsidized by the city to the same standard as businesses with city contracts. In the coming weeks, I will introduce legislation to address this oversight and expand the number of employees protected by this key ordinance.
Having a student representative on the board provides a rare opportunity to engage directly with the policy process. Living in New Haven offers us the chance to take on the problems and possibilities of a dynamic city. In choosing an alder, you have the chance to make a choice about the kind of values and experience you want to see on the board. I hope you’ll give me your vote, and that you’ll join me in the months ahead in working to enact progressive policies that reflect our best values and this city’s tremendous potential.
Rebecca Livengood is a junior in Saybrook College. She is the Ward 1 alderwoman.