The choice to re-elect Sarah Eidelson ’12 as Ward 1 alder two years ago was an easy one. She faced an unprepared Republican challenger, Paul Chandler ’14, whose election would have damaged the image Yale presents to the rest of the city. At the time, it was possible to attribute Eidelson’s shortcomings to her freshman status; we hoped she would listen to criticism and change course.
But she hasn’t. Choosing Eidelson over her Democratic challenger, Fish Stark ’17, in Wednesday’s primary would legitimate her disregard for crucial responsibilities of elected office and risk transforming the role from a link between the University and the city into just one of 30 seats on the Board of Alders, easily interchangeable with any other ward. For this reason, we endorse Stark for Ward 1 alder.
There are three objectives a successful Ward 1 alder must fulfill. They are substantive, symbolic and educative, and the three are intertwined.
The first, of course, is to work for the betterment of the city on the level of policy. As Yale students, we don’t need our alder to help shovel snow on Cross Campus or make sure the police come when we call, among the constituent services alders in other wards perform. In Ward 1, the University handles these matters, freeing our alder to help advance the Board’s broader agenda, whether that means focusing on jobs or policing. The Ward 1 alder is one voice among 30, on a slow-moving, deliberative body, but a voice nonetheless.
The second is to strengthen the vexed civic relationship between Yale and New Haven. Every election cycle, candidates are asked whose side they would take if the interests of the University and the city were in conflict. The examples are usually contrived, but they speak to a larger truth: The Ward 1 alder is one of the most visible links between our mutually dependent communities. With humility or with condescension, our alder helps dictate how our neighbors see us.
The third is to facilitate thoughtful student engagement with the city, modeled on the alder’s own service. We rank this responsibility third in recognition of the widespread apathy that pervades our campus. Most students don’t care about New Haven. Of those who do, many can’t be bothered to make a sustained commitment.
Still, there are some students who come to Yale interested in public service and inspired by the opportunity to know their city at a deeper level than the Shops at Yale allow. The Ward 1 alder must play a role in helping these people find a sensible way to engage.
We have seen students mobilize to condemn wage theft at Gourmet Heaven. We have seen students join city residents in demonstrations in solidarity with Ferguson and other communities plagued by a toxic mix of police violence and racial animus. And, now that an election is upon us, there are students from both campaigns knocking doors on Old Campus and in the colleges.
So it’s worth asking: Is apathy and disregard inevitable, or is it only inevitable under an alder who can’t be bothered to be a resource for those students who do want to find a cause in New Haven?
It’s this question that makes us believe Stark is the better choice. Eidelson can be proud of the relationships she has built on the Board, but she isn’t irreplaceable. She counts the Youth Violence Prevention Grant among her achievements, even writing that she “led the creation” of the grant, which is highly disingenuous. The grant is part of a state program that allots funding to several Connecticut cities. Eidelson did not “create” it. She deserves credit for overseeing the election of two high school students to the Board of Education, but three of the six candidates — three who were unsuccessful — have endorsed Stark. None have endorsed Eidelson. Finally, she launched the New Haven Youth Map, which centralizes information about youth programming.
As an incumbent, she has the advantage of experience, but if that were the sole basis of the decision, why ever replace her? Other people can build experience, but they have to be given a chance.
Our evaluation of Eidelson’s tenure is unrelated to her employment at Unite Here Local 34, the union of clerical and technical workers at Yale. There are good reasons why Unite Here, which didn’t formally endorse in the race, would want to maintain the seat — part of a majority coalition focusing on jobs, community policing and youth issues. But they should have found another candidate to run in her place. They should have found someone with a genuine interest in connecting with students, perhaps even involving them in labor’s agenda in the city. Stark, meanwhile, has the support of a small block of alders opposing that coalition, which could make it difficult for him to build relationships on the Board. But he has said he would try to work with the unions if he’s elected, and we hope they would do the same.
Our endorsement, then, is not without ambivalence. No issue has divided our editorial board so sharply. We think it’s honorable that Eidelson has chosen to stay in New Haven long past graduation. But each passing year has also weakened her ability to connect with her constituents — mainly students on Old Campus and in eight of the residential colleges. Stark would need to learn quickly that the Board is less about developing flashy policy ideas and more about listening and being part of a team, but we think he has demonstrated the capacity to make this adjustment. The support of progressives like Darryl Brackeen Jr. in Ward 26 and Gary Winfield, a state senator, is encouraging. As is his effort to craft ambitious policy ideas, pertaining mainly to education and justice issues, even if they seem somewhat implausible for a two-year term on a body hardly known for the speed with which it rolls out new legislation.
Of the student groups working in New Haven, from the Yale College Democrats to MEChA, more of its leaders support Stark than Eidelson, a testament to his deep ties on campus — and a sign he would be able to correct many of Eidelson’s errors. Eidelson can say she has had “thousands of conversations” with students, or that she holds weekly office hours; the fact is she is nowhere to be found 48 weeks of the year, all but the handful leading up to Election Day.
We must insist that this is not good enough. Not only is it lazy; it’s deeply undemocratic. We want better, even if that is someone who faces a steep learning curve.
We therefore place our trust in Stark.