Across the country, people are hurting. Jobs are scarce, government support has been scaled back, and people have fewer and fewer places to turn. They feel that our elected officials and corporate executives are working for the most well-off and not for ordinary families and workers. But New Haven can be different.
New Haven has demonstrated its resilience in past times of need, and I’m confident that today we will come together again to address these issues and create change within our city. We have the tools to strengthen the local economy, provide jobs for residents, and to take on tough issues like crime and equitable protections in the workplace.
If we are to make use of these resources to achieve progress in New Haven and ensure that our government works for everyone, we must act with common purpose. I have no interest in perpetuating unproductive political divisions in our government. Instead, as alderman, I will reach out to all members of the board with the objective of finding meaningful, sensible solutions to the issues that hold us back.
Now, more than ever, we must remind ourselves what it means to be part of this city. As residents and voters, we have the opportunity to help shape the future of New Haven. The city has a strong advocate and partner in Yale. As students we have direct representation through the city’s legislative body, the Board of Aldermen. Our alderman has the potential to introduce, explore, and collaborate to create policy on the local level. We can make a difference.
But where to start?
First, I believe that we can only promote public safety by providing opportunity, especially for those who have been previously incarcerated. When people return from prison, they often have the deck stacked against them. The stigma of a criminal record encourages discrimination from employers.
I plan to explore ways we can strengthen the New Haven Re-entry Initiative, a program enacted by New Haven in 2009 to help reintegrate those with criminal records into society by providing opportunities for housing, food and jobs. By evaluating the program, encouraging what works and eliminating what doesn’t, we can work to stifle the cycle of recidivism.
We can incentivize private employers to “Ban the Box” on job applications that inquire about criminal history, and instead ask applicants during their first interview, so they have the chance to put it in perspective. In New Haven, we have 15 prisoners coming back on the streets every week. It is imperative that we help them assimilate back into society.
Restructuring the police department’s Civilian Review Board is another area where I believe we can work together and produce results for residents. In its current iteration, the review board has little power to act on citizen’s complaints and little ability to take action on when citizens’ rights have been violated. To change this dynamic, I want to make it easier for constituents to file complaints online and ensure that the board is given proper legal power to investigate citizens’ concerns.
I have also talked a lot about the problem of wage theft in New Haven. Currently in New Haven, some restaurant workers (many of them undocumented residents) are paid less than minimum wage. These individuals put in an honest day’s work every day and are left with few resources with which to support themselves and their family. I want to put a stop to this discriminatory practice immediately. To do this, the city can create a certification system for businesses that fulfills their contractual obligations and that ensure the safety of their employees in the workplace. We can also work to ensure that employees are clearly informed of their right to bring a wage theft claim against their employer.
I’ve talked to a lot of students about other exciting ideas I want to see through. The Board of Aldermen should be an open place for all citizens. In that vein, I want to make sure that public meetings are accessible. Traffic in downtown is inefficient and unsafe and my team has released a comprehensive traffic proposal that will work to change that.
You can read more about these plans on my website, VinayforWard1.com.
But this campaign is about more than a series of policy proposals — it is about an opportunity. It is about an opportunity for us as a city, inside and outside of Ward 1, to come together and cast aside old ways of things thinking. It is about an opportunity to take on the harsh realities of our time and show those who are discouraged that we can work to make it better. This is our opportunity to act. Let’s take it.
Vinay Nayak is a sophomore in Davenport College. Contact him at email@example.com.