Yale is a place infused with a tradition of political engagement. Over the last 18 months, this tradition has both continued and changed.
During the 2008 elections, broad coalitions of students worked together to elect a long list of Democratic candidates. Last spring, Yalies again proved the depth of their political convictions, this time on a local level as Ward 1 — home to eight residential colleges —conducted its first pre-primary aldermanic endorsement vote.
The change to an endorsement vote followed calls for a fairer and more transparent process for choosing the Democratic candidate for Ward 1 alderman, a role usually filled by a Yale undergraduate. Until 2006, a body of about 40 people known as the Ward 1 Democratic Town Committee met privately every other April to endorse a candidate. Since mid-September’s Democratic primary — often New Haven’s only competitive election — occurs soon after classes begin, this candidate could be almost certain of victory both in September and in the November general election.
The new pre-primary endorsement vote gave registered Democrats in Ward 1 a chance to express their preference for alderman. The competitive race drew much of the student body into a discussion of New Haven’s future, and the diverse perspectives of the candidates challenged them to consider the complex issues facing the city. In other words, the pre-primary process challenged students to consider themselves as living in — not merely passing through — New Haven. Whatever changes are made to the aldermanic election system for 2011, it is essential that the process continue to engage voters in this way.
It is also essential that the Ward Committee and its co-chairs continue to be aware of the challenges and opportunities present in the ward at all times during the election cycle. Since students can be reluctant to register to vote in New Haven, and because there is turnover of approximately 25 percent in the ward each year, serving voters — encouraging voter registration, participation and education — must remain a constant and pressing concern for the Ward Committee. Yet, we also have the unique opportunities to make change happen, as Ward 1 has many voters who care deeply about the problems and concerns facing our city, and who are seriously committed to public service.
As co-chairs of the Ward Committee, we will confront the challenges that come with being the Yale Ward. Increasing voter registration and turnout will be our top priority, and we’re already making plans to work with campus political groups and other organizations to get Yale students registered in Connecticut and to the polls in New Haven. We will also work to ensure that Yale voters understand the issues facing our city, like changes to city schools and initiatives for safer streets.
Just as important, as co-chairs, we will strive to keep our voters informed and engaged by inviting representatives from across the political spectrum to discuss local issues, and by encouraging students to be active participants in the life of our ward and city. In particular, we are committed to building a Ward Committee that includes members of all progressive campus organizations — including those which are not explicitly political — in order to create a body that can truly represent the diversity of Yale Democratic voters.
We are ready to represent Ward 1 on the Democratic Town Committee. Both of us have the skills and background to organize next year’s election, increase voter registration and turnout and engage the community in discussion of local issues. Rachel is an active member of the Dwight Hall community, has worked on environmental issues both on and off campus, and was part of the Connecticut Center for a New Economy’s Civic Leadership Institute, where she met with local leaders and activists to discuss citywide community engagement in shaping New Haven’s economic future. Amalia is an active member of the Yale College Democrats and has experience as an organizer on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trangender issues and with the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty.
These experiences have left both of us prepared for and committed to engaging with a broad and diverse group of people from across the Yale political community. We hope to form and gather input from a range of people which truly represents the ward. As such, we look forward to discussing any questions or concerns you have about the organization or representation of our ward and hope that you will consider becoming more deeply involved in our city by sitting on the ward committee.
Rachel Payne is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Amalia Skilton is a freshman in Calhoun College. They are candidates for Ward 1 Democratic Town Committee co-chairmen.