I’ve been following Ward 1 politics for a while. I reported on current alder Sarah Eidelson’s first election against Vinay Nayak in 2011, back when the position was still “alderman.” I followed Eidelson again as she defeated Republican Paul Chandler in 2013. And over the past several months, as a recent grad who has decided to live and work in New Haven, I’ve watched as Fish Stark and Ugonna Eze have geared up to unseat Eidelson this fall as she runs for her third term.
Throughout all of this, I’ve spoken with city officials, former alders, student leaders and the average Yalie about what matters most about being a Ward 1 alder. The answer, naturally, changes depending on whom you ask. Still, throughout these conversations, two common threads emerged.
First, the Ward 1 alder exists to connect the Yale and New Haven communities. This has a twofold meaning: representing campus concerns before the Board of Alders, and more importantly, engaging Yalies in the discussions that are happening across New Haven. A good alder will serve to strengthen this connection in both directions.
And second, while most other alders spend much of their time dealing with constituent services — filling potholes, trimming trees — the University’s handling of such matters largely frees the Ward 1 alder to pursue broader policy initiatives. Previous representatives, unhindered by the typical day-to-day work of an alder, have found a focus like Mike Morand’s advocacy for community policing, Ben Healey’s work on the homeless advisory committee and Mike Jones’ successful efforts to expand the city’s living wage law.
For Eidelson, her focus has been on youth issues. Among the accomplishments she cites are the creation of an online map of youth programs and holding the inaugural elections for student representatives on the Board of Education this spring.
The focus is admirable, to be sure. But collectively, her handful of accomplishments hardly sum up to a record that makes Eidelson irreplaceable. Without a stronger rationale for Eidelson staying in office, electing her once again this fall would only deny Yalies a closer connection to the city.
Think about it: Eidelson hasn’t been a student in over three years, and if she is elected again, she will be out of college for almost six by the time her term ends. She never shopped for classes using Yale Bluebook online, never attended a lecture while Peter Salovey was president. The Yale she knew is increasingly far away.
This wouldn’t be a problem if Eidelson were great at engaging with campus, but she’s not. She has barely communicated with most student groups, and rarely sends emails updates to students — the last one I received was in April 2014. Even when I would send my reporters to her office hours, the one time each week she was ostensibly available to students, they told me that she would sometimes fail to show.
As someone who lives and works just blocks from campus, I understand how hard it can be to stay connected to campus as a non-student. But Yale students, and the broader community in which they live, deserve better.
Thankfully, Stark is in the race. It’s not just his status as a current student; he quite literally embodies the Yale-New Haven connection that strengthens both town and gown.
He is plugged into campus: Students in a vast array of organizations, from MEChA head Maria Melchor to Yale NAACP President Brea Baker to two-thirds of the Yale Dems board (all of those endorsing) think Stark is worthy of being Yalies’ representative in the city. He has built relationships with a number of New Haveners, from former mayoral candidate Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 to Fair Haven leader Lee Cruz. And he has walked the walk, spending two summers teaching at Squash Haven and the Calvin Hill Day Care Center.
Most notably, he has earned the trust of the very youth that Eidelson has worked for. Three of the New Haven high school students who ran for the youth seats on the Board of Education — perhaps Eidelson’s most notable accomplishment — are backing Stark, knocking on doors for his campaign. If that doesn’t speak to Stark’s ability to connect with those he serves, I don’t know what will.
More than Eze or Eidelson, Stark has proven that he is willing to put in the energy required to both work on behalf of the residents of this city, and engage Yalies in the effort. He has put in the time listening to the people in his ward, learning from the people who call New Haven home and building the connections that will help him successfully implement his vision.
Stark is best positioned to fulfill the twin pillars of the Ward 1 alder — connecting Yale and New Haven, and advancing progress on the Board. He is the strongest candidate in this race, and he has earned our support.
Nick Defiesta is a 2014 graduate of Berkeley College. He was a columnist for the News and a city editor on the Managing Board of 2014. The views expressed in this column are his own and do not represent those of his employer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org