At the first Ward 1 debate last week, when asked what he would do differently than incumbent Ward 1 Alderwoman Rachel Plattus ’09, Minh Tran ’09 said he would aspire “to be more of a presence on campus, and to be more visible than she was.”
This has been the drumbeat of Tran’s campaign. “Not only will I be in touch with undergraduates, but I aspire to be the most visible alderman Ward 1 has ever seen,” he wrote in an column in the News published March 3.
That is why it seems particularly disconcerting that despite Tran’s weeks of campaigning on the promise of being visible in the community, he may not end up spending his days in New Haven, or even in New Haven County.
Next year Tran will join Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that assigns recent college graduates to teach at low-income public schools. Last weekend, he told the News that Teach for America was “in negotiations” with school officials to place him at Worthington Hooker School, the New Haven elementary school where he works as a Dwight Hall public school intern.
But a Teach for America official said that the school is actually too affluent to meet the organization’s criteria for placement. She added that Tran will have no control over whether he is placed in a school in New Haven or any of the other Connecticut cities in which Teach for America assigns students — Stamford, Bridgeport and Hartford.
Though Tran has never, to our knowledge, said he will be working in New Haven next year, he has given that impression at campaign events and in his official platform. On his Web site, Tran says he is looking forward to living in New Haven after graduation and notes that he will “be a teacher in the public schools next year.” At best, that line is carelessly opaque; at worst, it is intentionally misleading. Similarly, at his campaign kick-off, he used his future employment with Teach for America as evidence of his commitment to New Haven, a connection made false by the very real possibility that he will be placed outside the city.
And Tran’s chance of placement outside New Haven raises another, perhaps larger, issue for voters to consider. He was assailed on Monday by dozens of commenters on the News’ Web site, with questions like this one: “How can he expect to devote himself to students in Bridgeport and effectively represent constituents in New Haven at the same time?”
In an column today, Tran argues that if elected, he will be able to balance his teaching commitment — even if he is working across the state — with his aldermanic duties. He points out that he will hardly be alone among aldermen in working outside New Haven.
But many Yalies have friends who have worked for Teach for America, and students are well aware of the job’s responsibilities and stresses. Tran will not simply be taking a 9-to-5 job; he will be working one of the most notoriously difficult and time-consuming jobs for young Americans anywhere.
Since Tran’s competition in the race will not be the other aldermen who work outside New Haven, but rather fellow students who will be enrolled at Yale next year, his promise of visibility must be compared against his opponents’ commitments, not those of his prospective colleagues’.
With two undergraduates in the race, and given Tran’s numerous pledges of visibility, Ward 1 voters must ask how Tran expects to be more visible than his opponents.