While it is unusual for aldermen outside Ward 1 to weigh in on the district’s selection of a Democratic nominee, the two of us feel compelled to weigh in as longtime aldermen and leaders in the minority community here in New Haven. The desperate times our constituents in the Hill — and communities of color across the city — are facing require strong leaders on the Board who will rise to meet the challenges we face in this moment of economic crisis.
Only one candidate in the Ward 1 race stands out to us as that kind of leader: Katie Harrison ’11.
After reading all the candidates’ platforms and watching the debates online, Harrison has stood out not only for her unique grasp of the depth of the problems we face in the city, but also for her strong commitment to using city government, and the Board in particular, to find our way out of this crisis.
Harrison’s attention to the long-term roots of economic inequality and instability in the city is incredibly important to us. Having served many terms on the Board, we know that the challenges we now face are not entirely new: Long-term and chronic underemployment and a lack of good jobs have devastated our communities. At the same time, the high cost of housing and other basic needs has placed a crushing burden on families who are forced to choose between their basic necessities. The economic crisis has only worsened these problems, and our city is now contemplating cuts in basic and essential services.
We must maintain the services city residents need, but we can’t settle for that if we want the economic situation of the city to improve down the road. Harrison understands that we must make long-term investments for a strong economic foundation for New Haven.
In 2004, the Board committed to make sure all major development projects in New Haven were responsible by encouraging developers to enter into community benefits agreements (CBAs) with organized community groups. Harrison’s promise to ensure that the Board continues to follow through on that commitment is particularly important to us, since we have been leaders on the Board in this area. We are eager for another partner who understands that CBAs can bring great benefits not only to the community, but to developers as well. This is an important and concrete long-term solution we must continue to pursue if we are to address the challenges of providing good jobs, housing and a strong tax base, and we applaud Harrison’s commitment to making this issue a focus of hers while she is on the Board. That commitment from the Ward 1 alderwoman is particularly important given that Yale has been and will continue to be one of the city’s largest developers.
In addition, we fail to see how Mike Jones’s ’11 priorities — an Office of Civic Engagement and a Legislative Aide program open only to Yale students — will be of any real benefit to our constituents. We are extremely concerned, moreover, that Jones has not recognized the central role that economic development must play in the city’s economic recovery. And while Minh Tran ’09 has recognized this fact, his prioritization of small business development over larger projects seems misguided given the current economic climate in the nation and the major projects underway in our city. Ultimately, neither of these candidates seem to grasp that the magnitude of the challenges facing our constituents demands bold and progressive responses from the Board.
Only Harrison has demonstrated a clear understanding of how the Board’s specific functions of responsibility and oversight can be leveraged to the benefit of not just Ward 1 residents, but of the city as a whole.
Moreover, Harrison has reminded us of the common stake that all of us in the city have in ensuring the economic growth and vitality of New Haven — whether we are rich or poor; black, white or Latino; long-time residents or recently arrived students.
She has made clear that a stronger New Haven means a safer city for everyone that is a better place to live, work and study. We are proud to endorse her vision.
Jorge Perez is the Ward 5 alderman, and Jacqueline James is Ward 3 alderwoman. They are the chair and vice-chair of the Black and Hispanic Caucus of the Board of Aldermen.