Campaigns are about offering competing visions for the office the candidates seek. I think our current aldermanic race is a good example of this, as my two opponents and I seem to have different conceptions of the Ward 1 alderman’s role.
Ward 1 is overwhelmingly populated by Yale undergraduates and was clearly drawn to give Yalies a voice on the Board. This being the case, I believe that this seat is our chance to have Yale student voices heard about the issues that matter to us. Additionally, I believe the Ward 1 alderman occupies a unique position as the liaison between Yale students and City Hall. As such, it is essential that the Ward 1 alderman be constantly in touch with Yale students.
Scheduling weekly dinners with students is one way to try to keep in touch. The only people who would come to those meetings, though, are students who are already aware of the issues that face city government. When the Ward 1 alderman is not a student, it becomes incredibly difficult for that person to have interactions with students who are not engaged in municipal affairs.
It’s the unscheduled meetings with students that make this seat so special. It’s about the random conversations one can have about politics at the long table in Saybrook every night. It’s about the lessons learned from city government that one can share with classmates in seminar and the lessons learned in seminar that one can share with colleagues on the Board. Only a current undergraduate can form personal relationships with campus leaders to effectively work with organizations like the Yale College Democrats and the Roosevelt Institution and to use the position of political leadership to raise money for organizations like Shelter Now, as I did last month.
The issue of experience has been raised. It is important to point out that Katie, Minh and I are each running for what would be our first term on the Board of Aldermen. None of us has any legislative experience. Frankly, that is the only type of experience that is relevant in this campaign. Yale students can bring energy and new ideas to the board, but experience is something we do not have. This race is about finding a leader who can work with students to bring pragmatic, progressive change to New Haven in one two-year term.
This change need not be controversial or sexy. I have proposed some specific changes to make streets in Ward 1 safer. I want to build mid-block crosswalks between Durfee’s and Cross Campus, Cross Campus and Beinecke Plaza, and on York Street between the back of Branford and the front of Davenport and Pierson. I want to widen our sidewalks, thereby narrowing streets, which causes drivers to drive slower. I want to increase “striping” on street corners — physical lines to prevent cars from parking too close to the corner, which reduces visibility for oncoming traffic and pedestrians. If we can make these changes, we can make our streets safer and provide a model that can be replicated across our city.
I plan to help institutionalize the relationship between Yale students and City Hall by building a Yale student Legislative Aide program. Right now, all 30 aldermen are staffed by one small Office of Legislative Services, which employs about 12 people. Many aldermen — who work time-consuming, full-time jobs — do not have the tools they need to manage constituent services, produce quality research and turn their ideas into progressive policies that work for New Haven. I want to help our city government run a little better, and I want to get Yale students involved in the process.
I have also proposed a new Office of Civic Engagement at City Hall. This office would have two goals: to support nonprofits in our community and to promote engagement and transparency in local government. We can use new media to facilitate communication between nonprofits so that they can share best practices and learn from the successes and shortcomings of their peers. This office can also promote volunteerism to people all across our community. We can use this technology to make City Hall more accessible. We can share videos of all the meetings of the various boards and commissions. We can allow ordinary citizens to comment on policy proposals before they ever come to a vote. Most importantly, this initiative can be run by Yale students. Neither of these programs would pose significant challenges to the budget during these tough economic times, and both would enhance the relationship between Yale students and City Hall in a way that is unmatched by any other proposal currently on the table.
Because this seat was designed to provide Yale students with a voice in city government, the person who holds this seat must find a way to keep undergraduates involved every step of the way. This is only possible if the seat is held by a student who recognizes his or her unique role on the Board. My platform suggests that I am that student.
Mike Jones is a sophomore in Saybrook College and a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Ward 1 alderman.