Like many Yale Daily News readers, I have followed the Ward 1 aldermanic race closely over the past few months. I have had the opportunity to sit down and meet both candidates, and I have come away impressed with each. Sarah Eidelson and Vinay Nayak are thoughtful and committed, smart and engaged and dedicated to service for all the right reasons. I commend them both for the race they have run so far, and just as much I applaud the Ward 1 Democratic Committee for facilitating a process that has produced so much interest and excitement across campus.
Many voters who think highly of both candidates might be having trouble deciding between the two. As a former Ward 1 alderman — I served from 2001 to 2005 — let me lay out my criteria for what makes a good first ward alderman and articulate where I come down in this race.
One of the chief challenges facing any alderman is whether to prioritize neighborhood service or citywide focus. Most aldermen have to do a ton of the former, and the best manage to combine local service with thoughtful policy proposals for New Haven as a whole.
But no matter how much time they deal with citywide policy, 29 out of 30 aldermen know that the bread and butter of their job involves getting neighborhood sidewalks redone, clearing the snow, cutting the trees and otherwise ensuring a fair allocation of city resources to their ward. This is altogether right and proper.
In any other ward, therefore, it might be fair to question an alderman’s division of labor between neighborhood service and citywide policy focus. But in Ward 1, this is a false dichotomy. Yale’s resources and its downtown location ensure that Ward 1 receives its fair share of core city services. As a result, Ward 1 aldermen do best for our constituents when we deliver on citywide goals that make New Haven a better place for everyone to live, work and play.
I am not suggesting that Ward 1 aldermen do not have a constituent service mandate. There are still potholes to pave, traffic patterns to improve, businesses to assist with permitting issues and serious public safety issues to address — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But relative to other wards, the neighborhood concerns are less overwhelming, which gives the Ward 1 representative a chance to focus on bigger picture issues.
Over the past 20 years, Ward 1 aldermen have helped lead the fight in New Haven for gay rights (Michael Morand in the early ’90s and then me a decade later), living wages for working people (Joshua Civin in 1996-1997 and currently Michael Jones), campaign finance reform (Julio Gonzalez in the late ’90s), educational access (Nick Shalek in 2007-2008) and many other critical issues — from environmental sustainability to affordable housing to civilian oversight of the New Haven Police Department. It is a strong legacy, and all of those fights have not only benefited the rest of New Haven; rather, the city’s progress on each issue has helped make New Haven a more accessible, responsive, welcoming and livable city for Ward 1 residents, as well.
Still, the question remains: How does a new Ward 1 alderman, usually someone young, usually from out of town, accomplish these larger goals? The answer lies in building relationships, developing a coalition on the Board of Aldermen similarly committed to a different vision for the city and keeping that coalition together — often despite intense pressures working to break it apart — to enact that vision.
The magic number on the Board of Aldermen is 16, and all Ward 1 aldermen learn the lesson quickly: You can articulate every compelling policy idea you want, but unless you have built trust with your colleagues and developed a team of people who share your goals, those proposals will wither on the vine.
It is for this reason more than any other that I believe Sarah Eidelson is the best choice for Ward 1 alderwoman. Since coming to New Haven, Sarah has demonstrated her dedication to understanding the needs of the city’s diverse neighborhoods, which is the first step to building relationships with their aldermen. Even more, she has gone to work in those neighborhoods, helping to engage citizens in a discussion about what their aspirations for New Haven really are and how they hope to achieve them. She has campaigned for a number of the incoming freshman aldermen, earning their trust and developing a shared platform to make New Haven an even stronger city.
Over the past few years, Sarah has developed the toolbox of ambitious policy proposals and deep relationships that she needs to be an effective Ward 1 alderwoman. I endorse her candidacy, and I suggest to Ward 1 voters that you lend her your support. In so doing, you will be electing someone who I believe will deliver the effective, progressive policy leadership that is the legacy of the best Ward 1 aldermen of the past.
Ben Healey is a 2004 graduate of Branford College and a student in the School of Management and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He served as Ward 1 alderman from 2001 to 2005.