Yale is going about politics all wrong. I’ve had enough of prepackaged candidates and future politicians using New Haven as their next stepping stone. I want a candidate who knows the student body, who cares about the things we care about and who isn’t following some 10-year plan to a senate or gubernatorial seat.
Before I begin, let me make one point clear: I have no problem with Fortney Hillman Stark III ’17, the sophomore who declared on Tuesday that he will run for the Ward 1 alder seat, on a personal level. I think he’s very nice, and that his involvement in various New Haven organizations is to be commended. I have two major concerns with his announcement this week to run for the Yale-dominated district which is currently occupied by Sarah Eidelson ’12: Firstly, it’s disturbingly early to start talking about next November’s alder race and, secondly, I’m surprised that Democrats would rally behind such a prepackaged politician.
Over the course of the past few days, I have been bombarded with questions. Will the Yale College Republicans be running a candidate this year? What do we think of Stark? If no Republican enters the field, will the YCR endorse Stark over Eidelson? I don’t have a problem with the questions; I have a problem with the fact that they have begun eight months before Election Day. This is not a U.S. presidential election. There is no reason that a 19-year-old college student needs to declare his candidacy for an alder seat so early. In fact, I think an early declaration is indicative of a problematic candidate. What possible motivation is there for a local political candidate to announce his race eight months early? Stark’s recent announcement is, without a doubt, a Machiavellian move. Surely, we have all noticed that Yale Democrats are not happy with Eidelson. She is a non-presence on campus and rarely attends her weekly office hour. (Not a typo. She literally sets aside one hour for her constituents a week, and then usually doesn’t show up.) By declaring early, Stark intends to garner political support and thereby squeeze his opponent out of the field. This may explain why four members of the 2015 Yale College Democratic Executive Board have already endorsed Stark’s candidacy. By comparison, Paul Chandler ’14 didn’t announce his candidacy for Ward 1 alder until the end of April 2013.
Secondly, it’s fascinating to me that the Yale College Democrats would passively accept Stark as their standard-bearer. My question is: Why Fish? To put it simply, Stark is a bit of a strange choice. The son of a 20-term U.S. Congressman, Stark arrived on this campus only one short year ago. He’s white, he’s male, he identifies as straight. So why have liberal Yalies rallied around him? Why have they chosen a symbol who is the epitome of the status quo? If we want to have a national discussion about political dynasties in America, we should be willing to have it on the local level as well.
For those of us who have been on campus long enough, Stark’s campaign is reminiscent of the 2011 campaign of Vinay Nayak ’14 and the 2013 campaign of Ella Wood ’15. Like Stark, these two candidates were self-proclaimed “outsiders” who tried to convince us that they understood New Haven. Nayak received criticism for running as a hyper-politicized underclassman with little New Haven involvement, while Wood was forced to fend off attacks after breaking her lease, moving into a non-Yale ward and announcing her candidacy for Ward 7 alder. Similarly to Nayak’s, Stark’s family is politically influential. Similarly to Wood, Stark hopes to market himself as a “man of the people” while decidedly not being one.
In light of these criticisms, this past Monday’s News’ View (“Run, Fish, run,” March 2) was improper. The News should not have waded into the race at such an early stage. Will the News pen an editorial explicitly urging any other candidate to run by name? If the News’ editorial board wished to make known their disapproval of incumbent Eidelson, they should have simply come out and said it. Instead, they published an ode to Fortney. One student characterized the News’ editorial in a text to me as, “We do not endorse his would-be candidacy … but let’s tell you all about how fantastic he is and all the things he has done in New Haven.” (Personally, I’m looking forward to reading the next News’ View: “Warren 2016. We love you, Liz!”) I hope the editorial board will give all candidates — Republican, Democrat or Independent — a fair shake moving forward.
Yale, take my cautionary advice. Get to know your options. Wait to see whether any qualified candidates enter the race. There are surely a plethora of potential contenders with a more accurate understanding of New Haven residents’ experiences, or with closer ties to the Yale community at large. Remember, it’s only March.
In the end, I guess I can’t be entirely upset that Yale students may be voting Fortney Hillman Stark III into office next November. If we like hyper ambitious, pre-packaged, structurally advantaged political candidates, maybe that means Jeb Bush has a chance on our campus after all.
Amalia Halikias is a senior in Silliman College and communications director of the Yale College Republicans. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.