By Win Vitkowsky
September 15, 2011
Vinay Nayak spent part of his freshman year at Yale doing policy research for city hall, trying to make the city more "business friendly." Sarah Eidelson is a seasoned activist who successfully fought her university for financial aid reform, and was a key organizer of the "We Are One" labor march that took place in the spring. Neither of them are old enough to legally drink. The two will face each other in a November election for Ward 1 alderperson.
It is one of three aldermanic elections that will occur in November. The rest of the races took place at Tuesday's democratic primary (as of printing time the results have not yet been tallied).
Last Sunday the Advocate caught up with the two candidates separately and asked them about issues that affect townies, particularly those who work in their ward. The two weighed in on town-gown relations, parking, violence, and how much they tip their baristas.
Advocate: In June the leased a parking lot on Broadway to Yale for 97 years in exchange for a $3 million payment up front. Some in the Board of Aldermen say the city was low-balled on the property, while Yale and DeStefano both say it was the best deal possible. What are your thoughts?
Nayak: From my understanding, it makes sense for the city, because they are receiving the same amount in tax revenue as they did in parking revenue. It's important to remember we want to keep parking costs as low as possible because that is what drives economic growth, but I think the lease made sense for the city.
Eidelson: While I understand that balancing the budget in such tough economic times is extremely challenging, I am concerned about the long-term impact of the sale on the city's finances. As alderwoman, I would look to address the long-term challenges that have contributed to the city's budget crisis.
Advocate: Similarly, there has been some controversy over the closure of High Street. 20 years ago the city signed a deal with Yale allowing them to close portions of High and Wall streets to vehicular traffic. In exchange the city got a payment in lieu of taxes and a big chunk of change to bail them out of a budget crisis. The agreement was for 20 years. Yale says it doesn't need to make an additional payment because the agreement was not a lease. Aldermen loyal to DeStefano tend to agree. Others say the city is in another budget crunch and Yale should pay if they want to keep those streets closed to traffic. What side of this controversy do you fall on?
Nayak: From a practical standpoint I think it makes sense for those streets to remain closed, and I think it's the wrong place to have a conversation about how Yale could be contributing more to the city. That said, it might be appropriate for Yale and the city to sit down and craft a lease agreement, because our university-city relations are much better served when we collaborate.
Eidelson: I think the decision of the Board of Alderman to hire an independent counsel to evaluate that agreement was absolutely right. Yale has done a huge amount for New Haven, and also there is room for improvement. Ultimately I think the board has to come to a conclusion based on what the independent counsel suggests.
Advocate: Public safety is an issue that comes up a lot around election season. Have you ever been a victim of street violence or known anybody who has been affected by it? Do you feel safe in New Haven?
Nayak: I personally have never been affected by violence, but I have heard from a couple of friends who have been mugged. It's a problem for New Haven as a whole. When a 17 year old gets shot it makes all of us sit back and think we could have done better.
Eidelson: Do I feel safe in New Haven? Yes and no. I love living in New Haven, it feels like my home, and I certainly don't feel less safe here than I do in any other city. But I also feel aware of how much crime and violence is in the city. I know those concerns are much more grave for people who don't live downtown like I do.
Advocate: What do you think is the best approach to combating violence?
Nayak: I'm a big fan of the New Haven prisoner re-entry project. One of the biggest opportunities we have is addressing the problem of recidivism, allowing people to reintegrate back into society and contribute to their communities. When 15 prisoners are released back into the city each week, I see that as 15 opportunities to prevent crime.
In terms of concrete plans, I would like to expand some of those fair employment opportunities like 'ban the box' which removes questions about criminal history from applications for city jobs. I think given all of the seasonal work that exists in this city there are ways we could maybe institutionalize programs like that in a greater sense, without too much cost to the city.
Eidelson: There are a whole range of solutions. For one, we need stronger community policing, where police officers know the names of people who live in the neighborhood. But long term, we also need to make some policy changes.
When I was working for the voter registration project this was a concern I heard from a lot of people. They feel trapped in the same cycle: the schools don't properly train them to get a good job, there aren't enough jobs out there, they turn to crime, they get incarcerated, when they come out they can't get a job.
Advocate: Many of our readers work in the food service sector, and many also know Yalies have a reputation as bad tippers. How much do you tip a barista?
Nayak: I consistently tip 20 percent. I read Nickel and Dimed in high school and it had a profound effect on me.
Eidelson: Having worked in that industry I know how important tips are to the livelihood of food service workers, so assuming I have cash, I tip a dollar.
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