This fall, the Ward 1 aldermanic race between incumbent Democrat Rebecca Livengood ’07 and independent challenger Nick Shalek ’05 was among the most heated contests in New Haven. At Yale, debate between these two candidates seemed to dominate campus discussion far more than the season’s mayoral campaign, and record voter turnouts reflected a concerted effort to engage ward residents who had not traditionally participated in the local political process.
In particular, Shalek’s well-coordinated registration and busing efforts mobilized a core of voters who may otherwise have abstained. We believe the heightened campus interest Shalek brought to this election was a good thing, but both candidates’ campaigns also adopted a disappointingly negative tone. Now that the votes have been counted, it is imperative that Shalek mend rifts with his opponent’s supporters and work not only to maintain campus interest, but to expand the discussion across a broader range of issues than he discussed during the campaign.
Shalek’s first concern should be ward unity. The past campaign cycle was one of the nastiest in recent ward memory, and the alderman-elect must now reach out to Livengood’s supporters. While he has brought new voices to the ward’s political sphere, Shalek must also be able to work with Livengood’s campaign team, which included some of the ward’s most dedicated — and vocal — constituents.
We believe Shalek’s stated commitment to the economic development of New Haven and his demonstrated understanding of the issues at hand bode well for the ward. His campaign’s dedication to progress on the Yale-New Haven Hospital Cancer Center has already led more ward residents to evaluate the practical realities of the issue. Shalek’s promises to address the city’s poverty and unemployment rates are also admirable goals, and we are heartened both by his desire to expand the city’s economic opportunities and his evident ability to rally support for policies along those lines.
At the same time, many of Shalek’s other plans are vague. His campaign commitments to affordable housing, gay rights, renewable energy and responsible development lacked the force of Livengood’s more developed policy solutions. Perhaps most importantly for Yale students, Shalek’s position will offer him a chance to improve safety in the ward, and he needs to take advantage of it. While his petition for a new police substation marked a decisive stand, it also reflected a lack of knowledge regarding more proven deterrents. Shalek should meet with police and city officials as soon as possible to discuss more practical solutions in greater depth.
While he pushed for quick action on key issues during his campaign, Shalek has not yet endorsed a candidate in the Board of Aldermen’s presidential race. In this case, he must carefully weigh the positions of sitting President Jorge Perez and challenger Carl Goldfield, and his choice should uphold the values that so motivated Ward 1 voters on Tuesday.
If he can close the gaps among his constituents and the gaps in his own knowledge of ward issues, we trust Shalek will be as passionate during his tenure as he has proven to be during the race. But now he should ensure that the level of campus enthusiasm does not end with his campaign.