After many weeks of grueling campaigning, both of the candidates for New Haven’s Ward 1 aldermanic race still give me serious reservations as to their understanding of New Haven’s economic struggles.
The dispute remains and will remain undecided over whether New Haven’s Ward 1 alderman exists only to be a voice of Yale students in city government and whether it is necessary or even desirable for a candidate to have a vision for the city as a whole. Both candidates, Vinay Nayak ’14 and Sarah Eidelson ’12, though, have taken the initiative on this matter and decided to create platforms that reach far beyond the confines of Yale. They do this — either out of genuine concern for Yale students or out of a drive toward wider-reaching political evangelism — with the idea that an impoverished, depressed or dangerous New Haven has serious repercussions on Yale student life.
Both candidates have agreed that foremost among the city’s concerns is long-term economic stagnation and unemployment. As the campaign has progressed, it has seemed more and more that neither of the two candidates understands this city’s economic troubles and their causes.
It is true that an effort to revitalize this city economically should begin in City Hall, because the stranglehold exerted by that body on the city’s business is a main reason for the problem in the first place. A couple of each candidate’s policy stances, though, make clear that they either fail to understand the problem or, more distressingly, don’t particularly care.
First, disturbing in both Eidelson’s and Nayak’s campaigns, is a tacit acceptance of New Haven’s huge problem with illegal immigration. In a post on his website about the recent labor compensation disputes involving several New Haven restaurants employing primarily illegal immigrants, Nayak berates the involved businesses for not paying a proper minimum wage. Meanwhile, he never goes after the business owners for what they should be berated for: hiring illegal help.
Of course, there are far more people to be blamed than just the business owners. What about the city government of New Haven — those who have made New Haven one of the most attractive cities in the United States to be an illegal immigrant, even while the city’s job-creation economy has taken a nosedive?
It would be a sign of good sense and allegiance to the taxpaying citizens of New Haven for Nayak and Eidelson to help alleviate the city’s unemployment problem by cracking down on illegally held jobs to create fairly compensating employment for New Haven’s taxpaying citizens. (Hint: maybe stopping handing out free ID cards would help.)
Second, the craziest platform position of this campaign: Sarah Eidelson’s compulsion to extend living-wage ordinances beyond city government jobs. New Haven suffers from unemployment and underemployment well above the national average, much of it long-term. Eidelson almost seems to imply that the poverty of New Haven is due to some kind of institutional exploitation of the working class by underpaying employers, a problem requiring correction by a living-wage ordinance.
The problem is just the opposite! There are no employers! New Haven does not have a vibrant, dynamic jobs market that offers social mobility and a decent quality of life, and this is no accident — city government is set up so that it remains this way. Through the years, our government has proved so invested in preserving its own pre-eminence that it has forgotten about the real needs of its citizens. People need to be gainfully employed, something government abets best by self-restraint. In light of their policy positions counterproductive to job creation, one is left very unconvinced that either candidate is truly committed to economic recovery in New Haven. Instead, they seem resigned to a continued state of mediocrity for the city.
I write because I’ve grown to care for this little city we live in, and I want to see it succeed. I doubt the candidates will take ideas like mine seriously. It is very hard for liberals to see economic hardship without needing to put it within a framework of classist oppression and exploitation, the core belief behind each of the three policy positions I just addressed.
It is hardest of all when, as in the case of New Haven, the real bogeymen are liberals in government themselves. Today’s New Haven has been built on the ideas of hundreds of Vinay Nayaks and Sarah Eidelsons, just as enthusiastic, just as well-intentioned. It is time for New Haven and its politicians, both young and old, to take a hard look in the mirror.
John Masko is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Contact him at email@example.com.