Dark-horse candidates are to be expected. But dark-horse elections? In New Haven, apparently, yes.
Though students went into the year expecting to focus on a Ward 1 aldermanic campaign, that election was called off because there was only one candidate. Meanwhile, a campaign for the Ward 22 seat snuck up and won the limelight. But this campaign between Gregory Morehead and Cordelia Thorpe for the seat being vacated by the current alderman, the Rev. Drew King, is more than just another city campaign for students to work on. The campaign is a valuable tool for increasing student awareness of the challenges of Ward 22 and the Dixwell neighborhood, particularly as there is no Ward 1 fight for students to focus on. Ward 22, made up of four residential colleges and the Dixwell neighborhood, is increasingly important as the frontier of most of Yale’s proposed growth: the already-built Yale-Dixwell Community Center, a new University Health Services, and, potentially, two new colleges.
Although Yale has realized in the past decade how closely its success is linked to New Haven’s, the interests of a private university and a working-class neighborhood do not always align. Certainly, Yale’s expansion can create jobs and spark investment in public safety and infrastructure. But there are potential downsides that must be considered: New Haven risks becoming more of a one-company town, and Yale’s moving into a neighborhood, even with residents’ goodwill, will unavoidably change the place’s character. Even if there were no downsides, we would still need to determine how the University could maximize the positive impact of its investments. These are all open questions that Yale will need to answer before finalizing its plans.
Not that we need an excuse to talk about the evolving Yale-Dixwell relationship, but sometimes it takes something new and exciting to galvanize interest around even the most important issues. The Ward 22 election can be that attention-grabbing event.
An election is a chance for politically inclined students, those already involved in groups like New Haven Action and others, to ramp up debate on the future of the Yale-Dixwell relationship. Why not host a candidate debate in a Ward 22 college, or invite the candidates to a discussion about expansion’s town-gown ramifications?
In a column on this page two weeks ago, Yale College Council Vice President Steve Engler suggested the creation of a third standing committee, the Committee on Community Engagement, to participate in the expansion discussion. It might be preemptive to create such a committee before Yale decides whether to build the colleges; a formal committee on community engagement could more meaningfully add to discussions about retail development on the site, or the design of public walkways around the area.
But consideration of the town-gown relationship will become increasingly relevant, and, at this early stage, how better to kick-off the debate than by taking advantage of the attention being paid to the election? This is a fabulous window of opportunity for getting the attention of Yale students and the future leaders of the Dixwell community.