What does the Board of Aldermen actually do? As the city’s legislative body, the board has three primary tasks: writing and passing legislation, approving the annual budget, and acting as the zoning board. In addition, the board can hold public hearings on issues raised in the community, and aldermen play an important role in lobbying our state representatives in Hartford for resources for the city. But the board and city government are powered by the voice of the community.
For example, last year I participated in an issues-based campaign to improve the quality of food served to New Haven Public School students and the treatment of workers by Aramark, the city-contracted food and custodial company. The campaign built a strong coalition on campus and in New Haven to voice citizens’ concerns to local government. The community and the board teamed up to lobby the Board of Education and bring Aramark’s abuses to light, ultimately leading to their removal from our city schools. This campaign showed the power of the Board of Aldermen as both a decision-making and advocacy body.
Having been in the position of lobbying the board, I have developed an understanding of its functions and a deep appreciation for its ability to directly effect meaningful improvements in the lives of city residents. This is what the fundamental nature of any city government should be at its core: receptive to community needs during the decision-making process.
I feel strongly about improving the process of local decision-making broadly and this is what I will do as alderwoman. The partnership between government and community is especially important when it comes to development and is even more crucial during these difficult economic times. Economic growth is foundational in improving the quality of life in New Haven. Without new development in the city, city government won’t be able to invest in education, infrastructure or any of the other services and programs that make a city into a strong, secure community.
Investing in responsible development is a long-term solution to many of the problems New Haven is facing. President Obama is currently advocating long-term solutions that address the core issues that drove this economic crisis. The front line of this campaign is at the local level. For one, our local government will play a role in determining where federal stimulus money is spent. But just as important, city governments will drive sustainable solutions to problems that can be specifically tackled on a local level.
If the city isn’t strong, Yale can’t be strong. Yale students benefit, along with other New Haven residents, when the city is a safe, exciting and vibrant place to live, and suffer when it isn’t.
As your alderwoman, I would strive to keep you, my constituents, informed about current issues at City Hall. As someone who has spent my time at Yale trying to work with my fellow students to create organized, effective campaigns for change in our University and in our city, I’ve seen that we need to do more than just stay informed. I have experience in getting students actively involved in local government through the Aramark campaign and the Community Voter Project last fall. My work with the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, the Responsible Endowment Project and National Student Partnerships has given me experience in organizing my fellow students around issues.
I have worked “from the outside” on issues affecting our community since I arrived at Yale. I believe I am now ready to tackle problems from the other end, by working on the Board of Aldermen to effect real solutions to New Haven’s problems.
The central issue I hope you’ll think about as you choose your representative in Ward 1 is how we are going to tackle the long-term challenges that we face as a city, so that when the economy picks up New Haven is stronger than ever before. The Board of Aldermen will play a critical role in tackling these challenges.
Katie Harrison is a sophomore in Berkeley College and a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Ward 1 alderman.