Newly elected alderman Nick Shalek ’05, who ran for election as an independent candidate, said he is considering joining the Board of Aldermen’s Democratic caucus, although he is withholding judgment on candidates in January’s race for the board’s presidency.
Shalek proved his political acumen with last week’s win over incumbent Alderwoman Rebecca Livengood ’07, but he said he remains aware of challenges he still faces in establishing his credibility as an alderman and learning to navigate the larger board’s internal politics.
“I suspect that I will join the Democratic caucus, but I don’t think it’s something that has to happen this week,” Shalek said. “People know I’m a Democrat, but having an independent voice isn’t just a campaign slogan.”
Once on the board, Shalek said, he will continue to advocate for policies that foster economic development in the city and will also address issues of public safety and the need to improve New Haven public education. He also said that while he believes Yale’s interest aligns with the city’s “90 to 95 percent of the time,” he will not hesitate to challenge the Yale administration or the administration of Yale-New Haven Hospital if he thinks their judgment is erroneous.
“The interesting thing about the Ward 1 alderman is they have the bully pulpit to speak to the administration about Yale,” he said. “I still think there’s more the administration can do to improve the education system that’s struggling in the backyard of the greatest university in the world.”
And although he supported Yale-New Haven’s bid to build a cancer center, he said he thinks the hospital’s administration needs to improve its treatment of groups trying to unionize hospital workers.
“The hospital has been cited by the NLRB on the unionization question for intimidation,” he said. “There are certainly things to work out.”
Shalek said he is planning to spend the next few weeks getting to know his future colleagues, most of whom he did not know before the election. He said he had sought election advice from Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01, but had very little access to other aldermen and city officials because he was an independent challenging a Democratic candidate supported by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. He said he will not decide whether to support the bid for board president from Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez, the current president, or from his challenger, Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield, until he has the opportunity to spend more time with both men.
“I don’t know either of them personally,” Shalek said. “I think it’s important to be incredibly informed about the people you support.”
Perez said he met Shalek once before the election and is planning to meet with him again in the next few weeks.
Shalek’s intentions of remaining undecided about what alliances he will form is crucial, former Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said. Healey said it took him a “long time” to form relationships on the board, but that the strength of the alliances he eventually formed allowed him to move forward on his agenda.
“At the beginning of my term, I found it important to learn as much I could about the way the Board of Aldermen works,” said Healey, who had been attending meetings for eight to nine months before his term began. “I kept my mouth shut if I didn’t know what I was talking about … I had to prove myself by showing that I was willing to learn from people who knew more.”
Healey said that as a beginning alderman he made some errors and cast some votes that he later regretted.
“Every alderman when they start is to some extent more vulnerable to people turning their heads around because they don’t have the experience,” Healey said.
Livengood was criticized by Shalek’s camp for committing her support to Goldfield early in her tenure.
“Rebecca did not have to make up her mind that soon,” said Chen, who supports Perez. “When you’re in the field of politics, you’re always under pressure, and there’s the question of whether or not you’re going to let people dictate what you decide … The board tends to split up into different groups, and just because you tend to trust people in a certain group and have good reason to trust them doesn’t mean you should always vote with them.”
Livengood will remain Ward 1 alderwoman until January, when Shalek will begin his term.