I rushed out of section in Bass on Wednesday evening, hoping to catch the tail end of the Ward 1 debate in LC 101 — I had always wondered what Sarah Eidelson ’12 looked like in person. By the time I arrived, the room had cleared out, so it’s unlikely I’ll ever get the chance.
I’ve known Ugonna since freshman year. He is a man of principle, conscience and action. Ugonna’s involvement in New Haven is passionate, emotional and honest. When I first heard he was running, I wondered why a kid from the Bronx would want to get into New Haven politics. But what soon became clear to me is that, for Ugonna, this was never about politics. His candidacy is grounded in genuine compassion and his innate need to take a stand for what he believes in. Throughout his time at Yale, he has come to call New Haven his home.
This isn’t a national or state election and many people may be dismissive of its importance. But for the citizens of New Haven, it is, in its own way, just as important. Ugonna has gone about crafting incisive and substantive policy proposals geared toward tackling the issues New Haven residents care about. All the while, he has made sure to actively engage the student body. From holding campus events on education policy and environmental sustainability, to directly approaching student organizations, Ugonna’s focus has firmly been on how to open up doors for Yale students to get involved with the city.
Ugonna’s ties to both New Haven and the student body are strong. He has been volunteering around New Haven, interacting with residents on a personal basis, and is a member of various student groups such as the Black Men’s Union, the Hip-Hop Collective and the Yale Political Union. His motives are unimpeachable and I have been a first-hand witness to the fervor with which he has dived into this election process. The first question on his mind isn’t, “How can I get as many people to vote for me as possible,” it’s “What are the problems facing New Haven residents, and how can we work together with Yale students to solve them?” Like his public events, campaign staff meetings have always been focused on the issues, on policy and on engagement — not on politics or partisanship.
Yet, in some quarters, people have tried to draw a glaringly partisan line through this election. The “need to have a progressive” has been emphasized so often that I have to wonder just what that means. People have suggested that only a progressive can work well with the current Board of Alders, or that only a progressive can properly tackle the issues facing the city. Ugonna’s campaign has blown these excuses out of the water. The composition of his campaign team is as bipartisan as they come, and his approach to solving the problems plaguing the city is inclusive and rooted in an astounding humility that leaves no room for dogmatic thinking.
At least one thing that all the candidates in this race, past or present, can agree on is that the position of Ward 1 alder is one uniquely suited to educating Yale students about the issues facing New Haven and fostering civic participation. I’m a senior, and I’d like to think I’m politically conscious, but how can someone who graduated before I even enrolled, someone who doesn’t attend student events and who is unfamiliar with the student body be the one to show me, and others, the way forward?
In a Facebook comment about the Ward 1 alder race, a New Haven resident claimed that the Ward 1 position should be the province of a Yale student or a very recent graduate. I agree wholeheartedly. Much of the Ward 1 debate centered on the need to get Yale students involved in New Haven affairs, and who is better positioned to do so than an involved and approachable student?
I believe that respect is earned, not freely handed out like Halloween candy. With his commitment, his humility and his thoughtfulness, Ugonna has earned my respect and my vote along with that of many others. Take a chance, talk to him and I bet he’ll earn yours too.
Khalid Attalla is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .