Shortly after Rachel Plattus ’09 announced her candidacy to represent Ward 1 on the Board of Aldermen, she held a meeting in Jonathan Edwards College for those interested in discussing ideas to improve the city’s public schools. At the event, which was attended by more than 50 students, Plattus said she hoped New Haven could offer pre-kindergarten schooling to all its children and said she would work to create an Elm City Family Center, a kind of shelter for adolescent girls and a resource for families in need.
These were both good ideas that would have made New Haven a better city for all its residents. At the same time, though, we — and probably Plattus as well — always knew it would be nearly impossible for a single person to get that much accomplished. As Plattus has rightly pointed out, it is very difficult to be an alderman in this city and effect real change. The Board is large and its members receive little support. The issues facing New Haven are tremendously complicated and difficult to address in just one two-year term, especially when the economy is as bad as it has been during Plattus’s years on the Board.
But Plattus could have tried harder. She could have at least launched a Web site — which she promised to do within her first month in office — so her constituents could stay informed about the city and so she could share more of her ideas. Plattus, who grew up in New Haven and knows it as well or better than any other Yale student or graduate, had a special obligation to raise awareness of the issues about which she cares most.
Instead, Plattus was unable even to raise awareness of herself and her job. If you ask Yale students in Ward 1 today who represents them on the Board of Aldermen, you will be lucky if they know what the Board is, let alone who Plattus is. This is not entirely her fault — the News reported last month that only three in 10 Yalies know who Mayor John DeStefano Jr. is — but it is disappointing even still. We wish Plattus had given us a reason to remember her.
While other Yale aldermen have pushed bold agendas — the living wage ordinance was introduced by Josh Civin ’96, and Nick Shalek ’05 led the charge for the city’s divestment from Sudan — Plattus has largely stayed quiet in her two years of service.
The top priority for Ward 1’s delegate to the city should be to engage his or her constituents with New Haven and its issues. Yalies do not have traditional reasons to interact with the Board; we let the University worry about sidewalk cracks and potholes and broken streetlights. But with leadership from our representative on the Board, we can take ownership of issues facing the whole city. Plattus, after all, had big ideas that students were ready to rally behind. Even if she had failed, her efforts alone would have made us think about what we, as Yale students, can contribute to this city.
Like Plattus, Mike Jones ’11 won his seat in an unopposed November election. We hope he will, nevertheless, remain active in his two years on the Board and show all of us how we can improve New Haven together.