As Yalies prepare to choose between a Democrat and Republican for Ward 1 Alderman for the first time in 20 years, one fact is clear: Yale Republicans, at least those hoping to be elected, have little in common with the national party.
It seems that every campaign statement from Republican Candidate Paul Chandler ’14 includes some declaration that he is not a tea party Republican — and that he is definitely not Ted Cruz. They’re understating the case, though; Chandler’s views appear considerably to the left of even mainstream Republicans.
His platform takes for granted the premise that government can play a constructive role. It’s largely focused on expanding the scope of the New Haven government in areas such as education, transportation and promoting small businesses. His calls for increased Spanish-language and early education, new bus routes and a revitalized New Haven Green constitute a vision of government somewhere between that of a solid democrat and a progressive independent. The one arguably conservative pillar of his campaign — getting a handle on the city’s pension obligations — merely puts Chandler in line with the Democratic Party’s pro-business contingent.
Given that our Republican candidate espouses a largely non-Republican platform, Chandler may indeed best represent the views of many liberal but somewhat corporatist Yale students. One aspect of his campaign that likely appeals to Yale students is his focus on issues directly affecting Ward 1. He has pushed for better street lighting around campus, a crosswalk between Phelps Gate and the Green and more public transportation between Union Station and Yale.
This focus contrasts favorably with the approach of incumbent Sarah Eidelson ’12, whose work on New Haven youth services, while laudable, seems to have crowded out attention that could have been paid to Ward 1 itself. This difference in emphasis between the two candidates is strengthened by Chandler’s status as a current Yale senior. Eidelson, were she to win, would end her second term representing students with whom she had never been on campus.
Altogether, both Chandler’s larger New Haven agenda and his program for Ward 1 representation constitute a strong case for his candidacy. Still, before choosing a candidate, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the real significance of Yale’s alderperson.
Is our alderperson the primary vehicle for advancing our interests in New Haven? Obviously not — the relationship between Woodbridge and City Hall is far more central. Yale employs more New Haven residents than any other institution; it owns and has redeveloped immense swaths of New Haven property, and the administration closely cooperates with the city on a variety of issues, from crime to economic development. As a result, Yale undergraduates seeking change are likely to be better served by mobilizing their administration than their alderperson.
Given that reality, the significance of the Ward 1 alderperson is, in many ways, symbolic. And what would the symbolism be if the Board of Aldermen’s sole Republican vote came from a Yale student?
Such a question may be unfair to Chandler. I, for one, am largely sympathetic to his agenda and the idea that a representative should be primarily focused on his constituency. I’m also not sure if it’s healthy for a city to lack a single voice of partisan dissent in its legislature.
But — let’s face it — the next Board’s agenda will be set by either Mayor Justin Elicker or Toni Harp, and not by Eidelson or Chandler. Beyond influencing that agenda at the margins, our alderperson will primarily be important for providing the most immediate expression of how Yale relates to its host city.
New Haven might be well served by some of Chandler’s ideas on education or transportation. It may also need to face tradeoffs in the retirement benefits it has promised its workers. But a message of benefit cuts — however necessary — will not be best served coming from the representative of mostly privileged students, living in a city that struggles with poverty. It will not be best served coming from a party, which — rightly or wrongly — is often identified with its defense of incumbent privilege.
So before voting next Tuesday, Yale students should take a moment to think not just about which candidate with whom they most agree, or which seems the most focused on their interests. They should also think about the message we want to send to New Haven. It’s that message, far more than one alderperson’s votes, that will determine our place in this city.
Harry Larson is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. His columns run on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.