Benjamin Shaffer ’09 is staring into the eyes of a prospective voter for Mayor John DeStefano Jr. While conversing with most New Haven residents about the mayor’s platform in his re-election campaign, Shaffer usually discusses DeStefano’s initiatives such as reforming education, stabilizing tax rates and filling in the potholes in city streets. But on this particular day weeks ago, a local man is interested in talking about one primary concern: his cat problems — apparently his felines have been neglecting their litter boxes and are peeing everywhere.
As the deputy campaign manager for DeStefano’s ninth mayoral campaign, Shaffer must field a wide variety of voters’ concerns.
Shaffer, a former president of the Yale College Democrats, has worked on the mayor’s campaign since March, as well as on the campaigns for a number of local politicians, including Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead. And although DeStefano is currently running as the only Democratic candidate in what Shaffer called “a one-party town,” Shaffer said he has been busy working toward a goal just as important as re-election: communicating with residents about continued innovation in city policies.
“Any campaign is really an opportunity to reconnect with people,” Shaffer said. “That’s how voters keep a hold on their mayor, their government, and that’s how the mayor knows what people are truly concerned about.”
An international studies and ethics, politics and economics double major from Berkeley College, Shaffer said he has been active in local politics since his arrival at Yale from his hometown of Nashville, Tenn. Shaffer said his current position involves “a little of everything”: managing finance, sending weekly informative campaign e-mails, attending campaign events, and communicating with voters directly and by phone.
Although several city officials have lamented that no challengers ultimately decided to oppose DeStefano in November, Shaffer noted that because the mayor continues to be progressive, there is no need for change in the office. Policies such as education reform — including a $1.5 billion initiative to reduce class size and rebuild the city’s public schools — stand as evidence of DeStefano’s commitment to enact change, he said.
“Mayor DeStefano’s accomplishments, his plans for the future are what’s really important,” Shaffer said. “It’s what motivates me; it’s what interests me to being on the campaign.”
Ward 1 Alderwoman Rachel Plattus ’09 said she recommended Shaffer for the campaign manager position after they had worked together on a number of political projects through the Yale Dems since their freshman year.
“He’s a very capable political activist and was, I think, naturally suited for that kind of job,” Plattus said of Shaffer. “He’s very good at working with large groups of people.”
Current Dems President Sarah Turbow ’10, who worked with Shaffer on a number of Dems initiatives while he was a student, also said the aldermanic campaigns Shaffer helped spearhead in preparation for the Sept. 15 Democratic primaries have been important because the outcomes of the races determine the balance of power on the board, potentially affecting DeStefano’s ability to push through programs later on.
“The mayor needs a Board of Aldermen that is not going to roll over on every single issue but when it comes to what’s really important listen with an open mind and not be obstructive,” Shaffer said.
Although he said he has enjoyed his work, Shaffer will return to Atlanta for two years after the campaign to work at the Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting firm where he worked this summer. He said the campaign has provided a worthwhile introduction to urban affairs and politics.
“New Haven has a lot to offer if you seek it out,” Shaffer said. “New Haven is a small city, but it’s an active city, and there’s a lot going on.”