Ella Wood’s ’15 candidacy for Ward 7 alderman reflects a vital Yale tradition: student involvement in New Haven politics. That involvement, however, is perhaps the only commendable element of this rather strange story.
Whether she intended to or not, Wood has nominated herself as an ambassador from Yale to the greater New Haven community. And as of now, she epitomizes the very things we hope to change about our town-gown relationship.
The Ezra Stiles junior announced her candidacy last month, just days after breaking her lease in Ward 2 and moving to the ward she now hopes to represent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her campaign has focused on the importance of conversations, rather than the intricacies and issues of her new home — no doubt a symptom of her unfamiliarity with the ward. Through discourse with residents of Ward 7, she says she hopes to learn more about the problems affecting the community, as well as engage New Haven residents previously detached from the political process.
Wood is clearly sincere in her desire to serve the people of Ward 7, but it is arrogance to believe that good intentions and a last-minute move make Wood a qualified candidate.
And while Wood’s efforts are admirable — indeed, more Yalies should prioritize conversations with New Haven residents from across the city — they pale in comparison to the tested experience of Doug Hausladen ’04, whose tenure as alderman has earned him strong support from his constituents and a reputation as an effective leader. What we are witnessing, then, is a candidate looking for conversations pitted against a candidate who has already had many.
Wood’s candidacy exacerbates the preexisting perception that Yale students believe they are inherently able, by virtue of their education, to solve the most pressing issues in New Haven, regardless of their location or relation to the University. It reinforces a stereotype of entitlement that keeps us isolated behind the walls of campus.
We must question the culture that drives these attitudes, and ask ourselves how Yalies can continue to engage New Haven in a way that is respectful of the people who called this city home well before we arrived on campus. We can ill afford the perception that we, as Yale students, believe New Haven to be our playground for political office. We must look to the models of engagement offered by leaders like Hausladen, whose Yale degree is the foundation, not the license, for his career in politics.
Wood’s campaign, by virtue of its hasty creation, suggests a larger, entrenched political machinery at work in New Haven seeking to challenge one of the few independent voices on the board. A more constructive campaign could have seen her running for alderman in Ward 2, where she previously lived, or in Ward 22, where her own residential college is located.
Wood’s candidacy reflects on all of us. This is neither the representation that we, nor Ward 7, deserve.