I spent the first few weeks of the semester wrestling with an important question: Who would I support in the Ward 1 aldermanic race? After conversations with several staffers and friends from both campaigns, I remained conflicted, still unsure which candidate to support. At the time, I felt no impetus to get involved with either campaign, and I quietly resolved to make my decision at the ballot box.
However, when I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Vinay Nayak ’14, I decided to support him quietly. Vinay’s passion for New Haven and his excitement were not only evident but contagious. As we talked about issues I had been working on through social justice organizations on and off campus, I immediately recommitted myself to dealing with the issue of re-entry and the problems within the criminal justice system with the same fire I saw in Nayak. Through his campaign, he has aptly conveyed that we must provide opportunities for New Haven residents if we wish for a safer, more vibrant community. The problem of reintegrating people with criminal convictions back into society is not an isolated problem. It is an issue inextricably connected to other challenges facing the city. The collateral consequences of a criminal record are too detrimental to the life of not only the person with the record, but also to his or her family, friends and community. This is a problem that the Board of Aldermen must tackle head-on, and I fully support Nayak’s efforts to do so on the board.
I left our initial conversation with a clear understanding of not only Vinay’s commitment to New Haven and the issues affecting this city, but also his proposed solutions. I’m convinced that the policy-oriented approach Nayak has taken is the approach New Haven needs. Early on in the race, Nayak brought to the table concrete proposals on a wide range of issues, outlining his ideas on how to improve downtown infrastructure, protect New Haven workers from wage theft and expand Ban the Box ordinances in the city.
Nayak’s policy proposals are specific. They go beyond vague bullet points and detail projects that are essential to the city and can be tackled effectively by the Board of Aldermen.
However, it is not the fact that Nayak’s proposed policies are specific that makes him the right candidate for alderman, but it is the simple notion that Ward 1 residents, from many different walks of life, can unite behind the ideas that this campaign is championing. Though Nayak is a strong leader, he cannot accomplish anything alone. His ability to identify and work with campus and community leaders while maintaining his strong voice will prove him successful in making real, substantive change in New Haven.
Even though I knew I supported Nayak, I still did not feel a strong urge to become involved with his campaign. However, after last week’s postdebate discussion hosted by the YDN, I decided to support Nayak publicly. In the postdebate discussion, he showed a fire and a resolve that motivated me to action. I knew he would be able to strongly hold his convictions but at the same time would be a force for change and unity on the Board of Aldermen.
I was truly impressed with Nayak’s readiness to bring his ideas to the floor on his very first day of office — I saw both his level of preparedness and the sense of urgency he felt about these issues. Ward 1 residents deserve an alderman who recognizes that the challenges of the city are urgent and should be handled as such.
I’m encouraged by the experiences Nayak has had in New Haven. His policy research work with the Board of Aldermen has given him the crucial skill of building relationships on both a personal and political level. I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet Nayak and gain a better sense of who he is. I now know he will be a dedicated, genuine and passionate advocate for not only the issues I care deeply about, but for all New Haven residents.
Joshua Penny is a Junior in Davenport and is the President of the Black Student Alliance at Yale.