I’m not very invested in the success of New Haven. That’s simply a statement of fact. Here is a more contentious assertion: Unless you’re a member of the micro-minority of undergraduates who are from New Haven, neither are you.
I’m not trying to say we shouldn’t care about our city or make an earnest effort to help it succeed. Yale’s success is tied to New Haven, and most of us will call the place home for at least four years. There should not be a “town-gown” dichotomy, and we are not better than anyone else. In short, Yalies are members of the New Haven community, and we should do our part to make it great.
However, we need to recognize what our part really is. Watching the city grow and succeed does not have the same special meaning to us that it has to someone who was born here. While I care about this city, my sentiment is certainly dwarfed by the passion of someone who calls New Haven his hometown.
Like most Yalies, I have opinions about what the city needs to do to create jobs and improve its fiscal situation, but I honestly don’t know if mine are right. I’ve followed the city’s latest round of union wage negotiations pretty closely, but I have no idea what it’s like to be a city worker whose job depends on those talks or a bystander who’s uncertain whether his home city of 20 years is going bankrupt. I don’t know what the city was like before DeStefano was elected or who is in whose pockets. In fact, I don’t even know if parking tickets are too expensive or if the buses run late!
Election day for the Ward 1 Alderman is today, and it’s during this time that we hear a lot about what the city needs, not from seasoned New Haveners, but from Yalies. Since the Ward 1 alderman doesn’t have to worry about as many routine duties as the other Board members, he or she is free to focus on more long-term and citywide policies. However, just because you’re free to do something doesn’t mean you should.
It might seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways that our alderman could both help and show respect to New Haven is by being less proactive. Whoever wins the fight to become Yale students’ representative to the city should start his or her term by taking a foot off of the progressivism gas pedal and focusing on our ward. This is not because our ward needs more attention but because Yale’s representative doesn’t know as well as the other aldermen what the rest of the city needs.
Sure, New Haven would benefit from a student putting in two cents’ worth of opinion here and there; it’s good to have some fresh ideas on the table. But the Yalie Board member shouldn’t champion anything. To begin a term as the student-alderman with an agenda for anything except your own ward would not only be misguided; it would be an insult to all of the aldermen who have watched New Haven’s successes and failures over the last few decades and who know what it’s like to be fully emotionally invested in the city.
If the Yale alderman comes in with a list of citywide reforms, he or she implicitly tells the rest of New Haven, “I’m better at running the city than you.” I don’t want someone who represents me to send that message to my community.
As Yalies, we should all care about the city and elect an alderman who will do his or her best to help it succeed. But the best way for the Ward 1 alderman to help the city is to take a step back, work on policies that affect Ward 1, talk a bit about what you think should be done to help the city as a whole, and, most importantly, listen to what other aldermen think the city needs. The alderman for Ward 1 will give the greater New Haven community an impression of this generation of Yalies. The way to make a good one is to save long-term policy building for the people who really know New Haven.
Dakota Meyers is a junior in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.