Ward 1 is often called the “Yale ward.” With only a few apartment buildings inhabited by non-students, the name is fitting; there is something different about an alderman representing Yale students than one representing any other segment of our New Haven community. All three candidates running to replace Rachel Plattus ’09 have acknowledged that this seat is a special one. But Mike Jones ’11 and Minh Tran ’09 misunderstand why Ward 1 is so special.
Mike wrote a column in the News before spring break (“Seeking the student seat,” March 5) describing his conception of the Ward 1 alderman as someone who “occupies a unique position as the liaison between Yale students and City Hall” and fills a seat “designed to provide Yale students with a voice in city government.”
Similarly, Minh argues on his Web site that “the Ward 1 seat is unlike any other seat. It is not just a role in city government, but also a unique bridge between two communities that can benefit from each other.”
Both argue that the Ward 1 alderman needs to focus on representing his constituents. Mike highlights issues like drawing new crosswalks across Elm Street while Minh calls himself “The Candidate for Yale.” Thus while both Mike and Minh argue the seat is unique, they hold a deeply flawed view of why it is unique.
The Ward 1 seat isn’t special because it represents students’ needs; it is special because it almost never needs to. The other 29 aldermen must fight for scarce resources and needed services for their constituents: filling potholes, securing permits for new small businesses or rerouting police beats. We don’t need these services on campus; Yale keeps our sidewalks clean and picks up our garbage. Yale has its own police department to keep its students safe.
Ward 28 Alderman Mordechai Sandman told the News last month that because Ward 1 aldermen do not typically have to tackle these everyday difficulties, they can respond to broader city issues (“News analysis: In and out of Ward 1,” Feb. 4). When a Ward 1 alderwoman thinks about the city’s schools, she doesn’t need to balance concern for her neighborhood elementary school with what’s good for the entire city. She can put the city first.
The results are impressive. Former Ward 1 Alderman Josh Civin ’96 introduced New Haven’s living wage ordinance, improving living conditions for city employees. Julio Gonzalez ’99 broke up New Haven’s taxi monopoly, helping drivers and passengers alike. Ben Healey ’04 fought for domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. Rebecca Livengood ’07, though only on the board for a semester, was an essential voice for economic development. Nick Shalek ’06 was widely praised for his work on the budget. And though Plattus’ term is only half complete, her work with Shelter Now on homelessness was critical. (Disclosure: I served as Rachel’s campaign manager when she ran for the position.) Board President Carl Goldfield told the News last month, “It’s always fascinated me that within a short time, even with their youth, these kids are able to pass some really meaningful legislation” (“News analysis: In and out of Ward 1,” Feb. 4).
The efforts of these past Ward 1 aldermen, who have gone unmentioned so far in this campaign, must be remembered. They knew the Board of Aldermen can and must improve the lives of the residents of New Haven.
Katie Harrison ’11 alone of these three candidates understands what the Ward 1 alderman can and should do. She has made the encouragement of more and better development a top priority. This isn’t a Yale issue; it’s a New Haven issue. Similarly, by emphasizing the need to return to community policing, Katie shows that she knows she must push for policies that help the entire city, not just her ward. The News noted Katie’s emphasis on citywide policies after she launched her campaign, writing that “Harrison’s speech made clear that although she realizes Yale students comprise the majority of Ward 1 constituents, her campaign will center on decidedly New Haven-related issues, including sustainable economic development, immigrant rights and public safety” (“Berkeley sophomore to run for Ward 1,” Feb. 19).
Moreover, her proposals show an understanding of just how powerful the Board of Aldermen can be. Rather than talk about lobbying the state or federal government for funding, as both Mike and Minh do, Katie has spoken about how the board can make real progress for New Haven through the basic functions of city government. The Elm City Resident Card is perhaps the most high-profile, innovative example of this, but Katie has also spoken about the vital importance of the board’s role in getting Yale-New Haven Hospital to sign a Community Benefits Agreement integrating job training, affordable housing and environmental planning into its expansion.
I care deeply about the city in which I live. I want to be represented by an alderwoman who understands just what makes her seat special and who is willing to use the full power of city government to bring jobs and public safety to New Haven. If you want an alderwoman who is willing to stand in a long line of bold thinkers and doers, Katie Harrison is the candidate for you.
Noah Kazis is a senior in Branford College who has advised Katie Harrison’s campaign.