On Tuesday, New Haven residents will go to the polls to vote for their favorite aldermanic candidate. Technically Tuesday is just the Democratic primary, but in this one-party town, the primary all but decides the winner — so look up now where your ward’s polling place is.
Since Ward 1 will not be seeing a primary this year — with Rachel Plattus ’09 running unopposed on the Democratic ticket — the News turns its focus to Ward 2, Dwight, home to many off-campus students and host this fall to a race between Gina Calder ’03 EPH ’08 and Trumbull dining hall chef Frank Douglass Jr.
Like many fights in New Haven, spectators have cast this one in the tired old town-gown mold: Calder, young Yalie, versus Douglass, union member and resident of New Haven for 54 years. Lost in that characterization — a characterization that risks making the race a race of characters, not candidates — is an awareness of what the focus of an aldermanic race should be. That is: An alderman is a community leader, and candidates seeking to represent their community in City Hall should build their platforms from an awareness of the problems in their neighborhood. An alderman should be familiar with the grievances and hopes of ward residents and represent those desires for change on the full board.
The race between Calder and Douglass presents two different versions of what it means to represent the Dwight neighborhood. On one hand, Douglass has lived in New Haven most of his life and has worked at Yale, in Trumbull, for the past 13 years. His familiarity and comfort with Dwight residents are obvious to those who work with him. His race focuses — though not exclusively — on the rights of workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital to unionize.
On the other hand, Calder, backed by City Hall, focuses on public safety and community economic development as her top priorities. And though she ran against Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01 in 2005, losing by a very small margin, she is newer to the neighborhood than Douglass.
But Calder’s focus on public safety and economic revitalization would seem to indicate that, though she knows the neighborhood less intimately than Douglass, she is more prepared as an alderman to focus on her neighborhood’s specific needs. Yes, the situation for workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital is untenable, and the hospital acted immorally in working against the union in violation of their mutual neutrality agreement, but the hospital situation has a plethora of advocates, from sitting aldermen to the strong leadership of Yale’s other unions and the executive board of Dwight Hall. Certainly, more voices cannot hurt, but other, less controversial issues, such as neighborhood youth programming, or organizing block watches to help an understaffed police department, or encouraging local small businesses, could benefit more from a strong advocate in City Hall.
Unlike the stable of hospital union supporters, the neighborhood of Dwight has just its one alderman, whose focus must be on building and acting upon that sort of comprehensive awareness of the neighborhood’s particular needs.