Monday’s election in Ward 22 represented a victory, of sorts, for Yale. Over 100 students voted at the election, even though getting to the polls required a short bus ride, and the candidate endorsed by the Yale College Democrats, Greg Morehead, won by a wide margin.
But not everyone applauded Yalies’ civic virtues. Admittedly, most of those bitter about Bulldogs at the Ballot Box supported one of the three losing candidates and were angry that those perceived as carpet-baggers from Yale had cast what may have been the deciding votes in the election, which Morehead won by a 2-to-1 margin. While the News strongly believes that Yale students should vote while here, the Dixwell residents’ argument isn’t entirely specious: Because we’re here for only four years, and because we don’t own homes or send children to public school or need to fight tax hikes or budget increase, we often know less about the city than longer term residents.
Most Yalies who do vote in city elections — generally those for Ward 1 — are, nevertheless, well-informed, having read a newspaper or spoke to a candidates out canvassing dorm rooms. But students did not have much exposure to the candidates in the most recent Ward 22 election. Because the New Haven residents running for office are unable to canvass within residential colleges without student escorts, only Morehead, working with the Yale Dems, could knock on student doors to explain his platform and beg their support. While the other candidates were invited to one poorly attended debate in the Morse common room, they complained of being unable to campaign effectively among Yale students. This lack of equal access undermines the credibility of Yale voters in the ward and gives the impression that Morehead is a “Yale candidate” and somehow therefore less connected to his Dixwell constituents.
Yale teaches the value of engagement with New Haven, and this challenge is a chance for the University to act on its ideals. One of the frequent complaints of the Ward 22 candidates is that they did not know whom in the Yale administration to speak to about access to campus. While the Office of New Haven and State Affairs has an agenda it lobbies for at City Hall and therefore has its own preference as to which candidate wins, why can’t that office, as a goodwill gesture, reach out to registered aldermanic candidates and offer to help them spend a few hours one day sitting outside residential college dining halls, passing out campaign literature? In the long run, making students aware of New Haven’s needs will improve the relationship between town and gown, as students learn to take a more knowledgeable and nuanced view to our four-year home.
Such access would necessarily need to be limited, and should not be expanded to cover every candidate running for every office, but Ward 22 is in a unique place: small enough that its candidates often have limited resources, but close enough to Yale to have immediate meaning for students here.
Yale talks a good game about how it reaches out to New Haven and makes its resources available to students from the neighborhood. Here’s a chance to put that rhetoric into action and open up Yale to those seeking to represent it.