Yale students do not need an alder.
For all the specious platitudes to the contrary, the honest truth is that the vast majority of Yalies have nothing whatsoever to do with the city of New Haven. With few exceptions, we aren’t from here, and we certainly aren’t staying. We live in this city eight months a year, and when we are here, we enjoy the privileges of an extraterritorial colonial power. We walk on streets that are literally owned by the University, we are protected by our own private police force and as the lamentable state of sexual assault litigation makes clear, we are even tried (and typically acquitted) by our own nebulous judicial system. What then gives us the right to help legislate on behalf of the 120,000 people who actually live here?
Armed with the self-confidence of a fast-talking management consultant and the self-righteousness that infects so many who adopt the label “activist,” candidates for Ward 1 alder find in New Haven the perfect opportunity to launch their political futures and experiment with their policy prescriptions of choice.For all the hours they spend sharing glossy logos on Facebook and canvassing door to door, most Yalies will not have to live with the consequences of their electoral choices. Real New Haven residents will be forced to deal with the action taken by this city’s government; we students, gone in four short years, safely inhabit the world of altruistic intentions, never experiencing the costs of our adventure in other people’s lives. What’s worse, they disguise their rank opportunism in the language of democratic representation and civic engagement.
Yale students are not in need of having their interests represented — the University, with an endowment over 70 times this city’s annual budget — does a perfectly good job taking care of them. And the suggestion that democracy demands student representation on the Board of Alders is downright shameful.
Democracy, as it was defined by the ancient Greeks, is a regime in which the people rule and are ruled in turn. Yale students clearly have an appetite for ruling other people, but they seem to have a much harder time grasping what it means to be ruled. For all the hours they spend sharing glossy logos on Facebook and canvassing door to door, most Yalies will not have to live with the consequences of their electoral choices. Real New Haven residents will be forced to deal with the action taken by this city’s government; we students, gone in four short years, safely inhabit the world of altruistic intentions, never experiencing the costs of our adventure in other people’s lives.
It is of course wonderful that so many Yale students do sincerely dedicate themselves to making New Haven a better place. Our peers who devote so much of their lives volunteering and serving this city deserve our utmost respect. But there is a world of difference between volunteering in the community and working as a paid politician with an actual vote in city government.
Of course, some Ward 1 candidates are worse than others. I was disappointed when Paul Chandler ’14 lost to Sarah Eidelson ’12 last year, and I certainly hope someone at least slightly to the right of Bernie Sanders jumps into this year’s race. With the dire economic challenges it faces, New Haven could use an alder who does not reflexively bow to the unions that are driving this city to bankruptcy (and who just so happen to be our current alder’s full-time employers). It would also be nice to have an alder who hadn’t been planning his campaign from the minute he learned the office existed during Camp Yale.
But the problem is not simply the two rather pathetic candidates we have been presented with thus far. The kind of candidate who is drawn to run for Ward 1 alder is in all likelihood someone who values self-promotion over real service. With a student body so disconnected and dissimilar from the city, it is easy to see why we are cursed with representatives who are slavishly beholden to corrupt, ideologically driven outside interests or who wish to use the office to kick-start their incipient political careers.
What then is to be done? Desirable though it may be, it would probably be rather constitutionally difficult to legally disenfranchise Yalies from city politics. New Haven therefore should redistrict. The city should carve up our campus into as many existing wards as possible, eliminating the guaranteed Yale position. Without the get-out-the-vote appeal of a Yale student or recent alumnus running, and with the increased complexity brought by assigning students to distant polling places, I am fairly optimistic in the city’s ability to successfully suppress the Yale vote.
As Yale students, we have all been granted golden tickets into the echelons of the American elite. Lamentable as the prospect might be, it is all but certain that our ambitious peers will go on to positions of enormous power and influence. But please, just this once, let’s leave local government to the locals.
Dimitrios Halikias is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Editor’s note: April 23
Several words in two paragraphs of this column have been modified after it was brought to the News’ attention that two phrases in the original version resembled language in a prior column on this topic.