Surrounded by leaders of campus activist organizations and nearly three dozen student supporters on Tuesday, Rachel Plattus ’09 announced her plans to run for the Ward 1 aldermanic seat, a position currently held by Nick Shalek ’05.
Plattus — the Registrar of Voters for the Yale College Democrats and co-chair of the Roosevelt Institution’s Public Health Center — is the first candidate to enter the race. A New Haven native and public school intern, she said in an interview that she is running because of her “long-standing love” for both Yale and her hometown.
“When I was growing up here, Yale and New Haven were inseparable in my mind,” she said in her speech Tuesday afternoon. “But as I got older and became more invested in the city, I learned that to most people they are completely separate. Even more disturbing was when I realized how much animosity there could be between Yale and New Haven … I am running for Ward 1 Alderwoman to change that.”
Shalek declined to comment on whether he will seek reelection, but he said he was pleased that a candidate has stepped into the ring.
“I’m glad there will be a democratic nomination process in Ward 1 and look forward to a competitive race,” Shalek said.
Plattus’ announcement is unusually early compared to past years, coming 11 months before the next general election. But the recent addition of an April 11 endorsement vote for Ward 1 Democrats has pushed forward the start of campaigning to December or January instead of March or April.
In prior elections, the Ward 1 Democratic Town Committee has endorsed a candidate in a closed-door session, but last week it announced that an additional election will be held to allow more voters to participate in the endorsement process. Historically, with the recent exception of Shalek, who ran as an independent, the recipient of the Democrats’ endorsement has won the November general election as well.
In her speech, Plattus outlined her campaign platform: fostering more dialogue between the New Haven and Yale, finding outlets for Yale students to participate in city commissions and improving the city’s education system.
“The point of electing a student to the Board of Aldermen is not simply to add one student voice to the board,” she said. “The point is for one student to enable many students to add their voices to the community dialogue.”
Though no opponents have emerged, she can likely count on support from many of the leading liberal student organizations on campus and their leaders. At the end of her speech, she unveiled a plan co-sponsored by New Haven Action, the Yale College Democrats and the Roosevelt Institution to provide universal pre-kindergarten education to New Haven children.
Eric Kafka ’08, who was elected president of the Yale College Democrats on Monday night, stood behind Plattus as she spoke. He said his endorsement of Plattus — which was not on behalf of the Yale College Democrats, because the organization has a policy of not endorsing in primaries — was an easy decision.
“I feel Rachel is uniquely qualified,” he said. “She knows a tremendous amount about the city, has tremendous enthusiasm about the city, and she has put an incredible amount of work to a number of political and non-political groups on campus … If my roommate told me he wanted to run, I would support Rachel. If my mother told me she wanted to run, I still would support Rachel.”
Other campus leaders described as “prominent students” in a campus press release — from the executive director of New Haven Action to the co-president of the Roosevelt Institution — also stood behind Plattus, who is in Saybrook College. Brendan Gants ’08, outgoing president of the Yale Democrats, praised Plattus for registering about 400 student voters last semester in her role of Registrar of Voters.
But a health survey for city children, one of Plattus’ more recent projects with the Roosevelt Institution, has had mixed results, some students involved with the project said. Former Public Health Center head Rob Nelb ’08, a staff columnist for the News — who said that though he supported Shalek in 2005, he will back Plattus in 2007 — said her idea has “run into a couple of snags in practice.”
Plattus said the project is “still in its preliminary stages” but thinks that her center has “done some very good work in learning about health education.”
Plattus said she has been considering a run for a long time, but finalized the decision “recently.” Her campaign manager, Noah Kazis ’09, said Plattus approached him around Thanksgiving break.
Rebecca Livengood ’07, who lost to Shalek in 2005, said Tuesday night that she will support Plattus’ candidacy, although she will not be involved in the campaign. She said that given the new rules, December is not too early for Plattus to have announced her run.
“I’ve worked with Rachel, and I’ve always been really impressed by her,” she said. “The concerns that I had about Nick’s vision for the relationship between Yale and New Haven when he ran against me I continue to have.”
Melina Cordero ’09, Plattus’ suitemate, said she was pleasantly surprised by Plattus’ decision to run and said she thinks Plattus would make an informed leader with a “passion that will inspire a lot of students and New Haven natives.”
“I am so happy to hear that she’s interested in running — I will support her 110 percent and have absolute faith in her abilities,” Cordero said. “She’s … dedicated to so many diverse things. And no matter how busy she is, she reads the New Haven Register every day. That I can promise because she has a huge pile of them about four feet high in her bedroom right now.”
Plattus, a graduate of the Hopkins School, also has a younger brother, Sam, at the school. In addition to the her work with the Roosevelt Institution and the Yale Democrats, she sings in the Yale Women’s Slavic Chorus, dances ballet and serves as a Dwight Hall public school intern. Her father, Alan Plattus, is a professor of urban design at the School of Architecture and is working on the Gateway Project — a $230 million redevelopment plan — in downtown New Haven.
Alan Plattus said he does not anticipate this will create a conflict of interest, since most of the major decisions about the project have already been made. He said his daughter’s decision to run came after several dinner-table conversations and careful consideration but that she has “come to it in a very natural way” after a lifetime in New Haven.
Under the new rules, candidates interested in running as Democrats for the Ward 1 aldermanic seat need only to collect 80 signatures, notify the Ward 1 committee co-chairs and file the requisite paperwork with the Connecticut Secretary of State’s Office. In order to allow candidates of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to run, campaign financing for the April election has been limited to donations of no more than $100 per person.
Many students who attended Plattus’ announcement, including some of her closest friends, said they had not heard about her intention to run until Tuesday morning. Kazis said the rest of the campaign staff will be formed in the coming weeks, adding that he hopes for a “difficult campaign” that will stimulate the discussion of political topics on campus.
“I want someone who will push us to improve our ideas, and I want someone whose ideas we will push [to improve],” he said. “If this is easy, it means something is not going right.”