Ward 1 is between a rock and a hard place. Sarah Eidelson ’12 and Fish Stark ’17, the current choice of candidates, represent two sides of the same Democratic, highly political machine.
Eidelson’s time in office might best be characterized by her absenteeism. Where is she around campus? The district is about 12 square blocks. If you’ve ever tried to avoid someone, you know how small Yale actually is. Yet how often have we seen Eidelson in our district? It is a running joke that Eidelson’s lack of a presence on this campus is because she actually lives in New York. This joke, regardless of its truth value, reflects a fundamental problem: She isn’t actually visible. One factor in this lack of visibility is simple: She’s not a student. This ward is comprised almost exclusively of Yale undergraduates.
Re-electing her is unwise because, very simply, she is not one of us. We don’t see her in our classes. She doesn’t walk through Cross Campus five times a day to get to her extracurriculars. You won’t find her casually in a dining hall. (Sometimes, you won’t even find her at her own office hours.)
Fundamentally, the role of our alder is to be a representative. At this level of local politics, this is a meaningful distinction. Representatives ought to be intensely local, easily accessible and focused mainly on being the voice of the people they represent. Politicians, on the other hand, are professionals — they have a duty to cultivate a higher level of understanding of the problems their community faces. Politicians deal in problems that are not easily understood by their constituents. Ward 1 needs a representative, not a politician.
It is nearly impossible for Eidelson to be a representative. She’s three years out of Yale. If elected, she will be a full generation removed from her time as a Yalie. Instead, she represents intensely distinct interests. Her job at Local 34, the union of clerical and technical workers at Yale, means that she is divided between representing the students of Ward 1 and her employer. This past fall, amid concerns over the consolidation of a food preparation facility, the News wrote that some dining hall workers believed there would be a strike in the next 12 to 18 months. How can we believe that she will act in the best interests of the students if such a problem arises when her employer is the union? She doesn’t rely on the dining halls, and she doesn’t face the exorbitant price of meal plans at Yale. This is a clear case in which she would fail to represent Ward 1.
I’m not the only one who thinks she’s unfit for the job. Last year, Paul Chandler ’14 ran a historic campaign in an effort to unseat her. For the first time in over 20 years, Republicans ran a Ward 1 candidate. Although Chandler did not win, in a race with registered Democrats outnumbering registered Republicans eight-and-a half to one, he was able to receive over one-third of the vote. The fact that so many Yalies were willing to cross partisan lines and vote for a Republican signals just how upset people are with local Democrats in general and Eidelson in particular.
To be clear, Stark is not much better. He is cut from the same cloth of career Democrats who seem interested merely in taking advantage of Ward 1 for their own gain. The son of recently unseated Democratic Congressman Pete Stark, the younger Stark seems to be following in the footsteps of Eidelson. He wants to be a politician and assume a leadership role in New Haven. The problem is, New Haven doesn’t need Stark like Stark needs New Haven. The role of the Ward 1 alder is simple: be accessible, represent the voice of the students and show up to the meetings that are held about twice a month. Stark has grand designs that will look great on his resume two years from now, but that’s not what this position ought to be about.
Yalies are transient. We live here for a bit and then graduate and leave. We usually don’t build our families here. We usually don’t build businesses here. And it would be unreasonable to expect us to. Ultimately, the candidates should be concerned with staying out of the way of the local community while ensuring that the interests of Yale students are respected.
There is still room in the race for someone to fill the gap. We need a candidate who recognizes his or her limited role in New Haven politics. The Ward 1 alder is not meant to lead New Haven; the alder is meant to represent students.
Sam Sussman is a junior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .