As former high school classmates in New Haven, Nathaniel Zelinsky ’13 and I share a passion for broader participation in the democratic politics of this city. That’s why I was so disappointed to read his column on Friday on the Ward 1 aldermanic race (Zelinsky, “Ward 1 For Yalies”). Through the use of half-truths and ad hominem attacks, he misrepresents those students who have attempted to make a contribution to the political life of this city.
Zelinsky is correct that only a small proportion of students vote in aldermanic races, but his claim that these voters represent a “radical fringe group” is completely unfounded. For evidence, he offers, “these (mostly) Democratic students label themselves as ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal.’” These words may describe Ward 1 voters, but they’re also a good description of Yalies on the whole. In 2008, 81 percent of students supported Obama in a YDN poll, compared to 53 percent of the country.
In order to make moderate reforms fit his “fringe” narrative, Zelinsky distorts the issues raised by the candidates. For example: the “ban the box” legislation that Nayak proposes would not “prevent employers from knowing if prospective employees are dangerous felons.”
In fact, employers are allowed to ask about prior crimes in interviews under this legislation. “Banning the box” simply prevents employers from asking generally about criminal conviction in prescreening application so that applicants can put the conviction in context when asked in a later in-person interview. The potential employer gains more knowledge of the applicant’s past transgressions, instead of reading drug possession and felony assault as the same “Yes” answer to “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”
Zelinsky also cites candidate Sarah Eidelson’s ’12 questioning of Yale’s lease of a portion of High Street from the city as evidence of “pander[ing] to far left voters.” In an interview with the New Haven Advocate, Eidelson approved of the aldermen requesting independent counsel to look over the terms of the previous lease to see if any further Yale payments are appropriate. This is normal legal wrangling between a city and a wealthy nonprofit; if endorsing independent counsel review of prior legal agreements around zoning compensation is “far-left pandering,” our bar for that term is lower than Fox News’.
Furthermore, Zelinsky claims that the candidates, in advocating better policies for the city, “ignore the concerns of the campus.” Let us leave aside the fact that both candidates have addressed Yale-specific concerns in every public forum, particularly issues of street safety.
As the outgoing editorial board of the YDN noted in its News’ View (“Alderman Up”), “From extra police patrols and closed streets to property tax exemptions and downtown construction control, Yale’s needs and interests are already well tended.” Any good alderman must be concerned for both ward and city; Zelinsky’s suggestion that “no platform can be the best platform” seems obviously silly in light of this dual responsibility.
Zelinsky says Yalies need someone with character on the Board of Aldermen, and I agree. In my experience working with Eidelson as part of the FOCUS on New Haven service orientation and elsewhere, I know she cares genuinely for both her fellow students and the city that she has worked in for years. Vinay Nayak has shown similar enthusiasm for tackling the problems facing the city, though his time here has been shorter.
Neither of these candidates deserves to have his or her character or commitment to the student body and this city impugned, particularly not by scaremongering about a “radical fringe.”
Let’s simply tell the truth: Yale aldermanic races are a pretty open process with pretty low participation, and greater engagement will improve the quality of candidates and dialogue overall. Though I disagree with his reasoning, the proposal Zelinsky forwards is the right one: registering every student in Ward 1 willing to get involved with the process. I’d be happy to canvass with him.
Christopher Pagliarella is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.