The campaign for Ward 1 alderman is now in full swing.
A week after Sarah Eidelson ’12 kicked off her bid for the office with a meet-and-greet, Vinay Nayak ’14 spoke to dozens of supporters outside Lanman-Wright Hall on Old Campus Sunday afternoon. About 35 students donning “Vote Vinay” T-shirts registered voters as pop tunes belted from a loudspeaker and Nayak mingled with the crowd. In his first formal campaign speech since April, Nayak sounded a theme of town-gown unity found in equal measure in Eidelson’s rhetoric. But Nayak insisted his detailed policy proposals and his experience working for an aldermanic committee last year lend his ambitions for the city greater credibility.
As an example of a problem that can realistically be solved, Nayak cited the chaotic scenes that unfold each weekday as students jaywalk hurriedly across Elm Street to get to and from their classes. Traffic-calming measures such as building an elevated crosswalk and reducing speed limits would make student pedestrians safer and reduce the frustrations of city drivers, he said.
“We think [drivers] are crazy and they think we’re crazy, but really it’s not their fault or our fault,” Nayak said. “We can use city government to make safer streets for the entire community.”
It was his desire to bring about change at the local level that Nayak said motivated his aldermanic bid. In high school he had worked on anti-genocide efforts and on the 2008 campaign of President Barack Obama, but he never got the satisfaction of seeing tangible improvements in his own community, he said.
Nayak’s opponent in the race, Sarah Eidelson ’12, did not come up by name Sunday. But Jack Schlossberg’s ’15 remarks introducing Nayak did reveal a point of contention between the two.
Schlossberg noted that while Eidelson, a senior, would graduate just months after assuming the Ward 1 seat in January if elected, Nayak would be an undergraduate for his entire two-year term. After the event, Nayak said that difference speaks in his favor, because as a student he would be able to keep a better pulse on campus concerns.
But Eidelson, who has spent two summers in New Haven, said in an interview Sunday night that having had three years to talk to students about the issues facing them, she has a better understanding of how to be an advocate for them on the board. As alderwoman, she would hold biweekly open meetings on campus to discuss what students in the ward, which houses Old Campus and eight residential colleges, are concerned about.
As a student and an alderman, Eidelson added, Nayak would have to balance his legislative work with his academics — a burden she would not have.
Nayak’s rhetoric created a sweeping vision Sunday, but the platform on his campaign website sticks to modest goals. Besides improving transit infrastructure — also a theme of current Ward 1 Alderman Michael Jones’s ’11 2009 campaign — Nayak’s policy ambitions center on perceived inefficiencies in City Hall. A former aide to the Board of Aldermen’s community development committee, Nayak wants to cut the bureaucracy hampering economic growth in New Haven and more effectively integrate former prisoners into the city’s social fabric.
“These are reasonable solutions to real problems,” Diana Enriquez ’13, a campaign staff member, told the crowd before Nayak spoke. “That’s unlike so many campaigns I’ve seen, where I’m left thinking, ‘OK, but what are you going to do about it?’”
In order for Yale students to achieve positive change in the city, though, Nayak said there needs to be a culture on campus that rejects the “false divides” between the University and its hometown. The primary hurdle to that culture, he said, is a sense of danger beyond campus.
In April, a 17-year-old in Dixwell, Vishawn Lewis, was murdered in broad daylight, Nayak said. Yalies do not consider their capacity to make the city safer because they are told from the moment they arrive on campus to fear the neighborhoods nearby.
“We’re told by our parents, deans and masters: ‘Don’t go into New Haven, it’s a dangerous place,’” Nayak said. “The fact is, though, that we are New Haven.”
John Gerlach ’14, another campaign staff member who was first to address the crowd at the event Sunday, said when he arrived at Yale last fall he felt deeply conflicted about his identity as both a citizen of New Haven and of his home city of Seattle. But after a year at school, he is committed to making New Haven his home — an aspiration he said is reflected in Nayak’s candidacy.
Eidelson, who held a kickoff event on Cross Campus last weekend, said the focus of her campaign from now on would be on individual conversations as she and her supporters canvass undergraduate residences.
Zak Newman ’13, Nayak’s campaign manager and the Dems’ campus and community coordinator, said the campaign registered 20 people to vote in Ward 1 Sunday.
Nayak and Eidelson will face off in the general election Nov. 8.