‘What do you want to change in New Haven?”
It’s a question I’ve asked hundreds of times over the last three years — to residents of the Dixwell, Dwight and Newhallville neighborhoods as a leader of the Community Voter Project, to students in Wards 2 and 22 as a volunteer for incoming Alderman Frank Douglass and Alderwoman Jeanette Morrison, and to Ward 1 residents in my campaign to become your next alderwoman.
Talking to students and other residents, I have heard a lot of different answers about the change people want to see. But these answers reflect a common vision of the kind of city we want to live in: one in which opportunity, security and stability are available to all, regardless of who they are or what neighborhood they live in.
We can make this vision a reality. On the Board of Aldermen, I will collaborate with aldermen from surrounding neighborhoods to ensure that New Haven’s streets are free from violence and safe for all forms of transportation. We can decrease the violence on our streets through real community policing, with more officers walking beats and bicycling instead of patrolling neighborhoods in cars. Through community policing, officers build relationships with residents based on trust rather than fear.
As your alderwoman, I will also make our streets safe for all forms of transportation by advocating for a fair and impartial street repair process, cutting politics out of decisions that should prioritize the safety of all residents. Those changes, plus an expanded network of bike lanes, will ensure that students feel safer traveling throughout the city.
I will also work to make all of New Haven’s neighborhoods vibrant places to live and explore. The Board can use its authority over zoning changes and tax abatement to encourage partnerships with private developers to promote living wage jobs and training opportunities for New Haven residents and to ensure community input in economic development. By more effectively enforcing existing laws, we can fight back against discrimination in employment and housing that hold many neighborhoods back.
Making New Haven a safer and more vibrant place is a huge task, but it is necessary. During my years in New Haven, I have encountered people in our ward and across the city who believe it isn’t possible for government to succeed in such an undertaking. I believe that we can prove them wrong.
City government in New Haven has the potential to be quite democratic. The Board of Aldermen is unusually large, with 30 representatives for 130,000 residents. In addition, private citizens carry out many important functions of government — including setting police priorities and approving zoning appeals — on the city’s boards and commissions.
Unfortunately, the ability of these bodies to act on community input is often compromised. As it currently stands, the Board of Aldermen lacks the ability to hold city departments accountable and independent legal counsel to advise aldermen.
The city’s volunteer boards and commissions are appointed by the mayor and are too small to truly represent New Haven’s diverse neighborhoods. Often they do not have the professional staff support or training to fulfill all their duties.
In the coming term, New Haven has the chance to start doing things differently, and it’s an opportunity we can’t ignore. On Sept. 13, New Haven had the most competitive local primary elections in recent memory, and a dozen new leaders were elected to the Board of Aldermen. Before the close of 2012, a new Board will take up the decennial process of charter review and can make fundamental changes to the structure of government in New Haven.
As your alderwoman, I will work to build a more democratically accountable city government. Through charter reform, I will push for a Board of Education formed with voter input, greater community oversight of city functions including public safety and affordable housing and more effective boards and commissions.
A more democratic government is important, but it’s also just the beginning. There is a growing movement for better government and change in our city, and I am stepping up because I have the skills, experience and relationships to help lead it. I am committed to joining with other members of the Board of Aldermen and with residents in our ward and across the city to begin building the New Haven we all want to live in.
Sarah Eidelson is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at email@example.com.