Wards in New Brunswick will not mean better representation
A great deal of Rutgers students affectionately call New Brunswick "home," at least for eight months out of the year. While the city certainly isn't without its quirks — we like it that way — it has been a model for growth and development dating back long before any of us were students. The city of New Brunswick and the University have together enjoyed over two decades of vast revitalization and enhancement, and that's no coincidence.
To put this in perspective, students can now walk safely from Cook to College Avenue and back without thinking twice. Remsen Avenue and French Street no longer carry their sordid reputations. People can go downtown to enjoy anything from a couple slices to renowned fine dining, from locally brewed beer to upscale lounges, and, believe it or not, driving in and out of New Brunswick is not only simple but also quite smooth thanks to the recent completion of the Route 18 construction.
We take these things for granted, no doubt. Most of us hardly consider the history of our city, but then again, why should we? The vast majority of us will go through school here and relocate within a year or two of graduation.
Here's why it's important: While we are here, we are residents of this city, and decision-making in New Brunswick directly affects us even if it goes unnoticed.
So, when a group called Empower Our Neighborhoods began canvassing around the city, it caught my attention. It was led by young people, mostly students, who wanted to change the form of city council. No matter what, students deserve the right to speak out and let their voices be heard, and EON did just that. Unfortunately, EON's plan is full of flaws.
New Brunswick has enjoyed its recent period of success under the five member at-large system of council. This means that all five council members are elected by all of the voters in the city. You can vote for anyone that runs for council, regardless of your class, creed, ideology or location. The at-large system is designed to ensure that the most pressing interests of the voters are represented on council.
Earlier in EON's campaign they advocated an expansion of the council to nine members, either elected at-large or through a ward system. When they were pressed to pick only one of these options, they chose to promote the ward system.
Now, the same people that proposed an expansion of the at-large council are vehemently opposing that same kind of change. This begs the question: Is this EON group really concerned with how council works or are they simply trying to seize a seat on council for one of their own?
Let's just assume it's the former and that EON simply wants what is right for the city and its residents. Still, for New Brunswick and students especially, the six-ward system represents the wrong kind of change; it's the kind of change that will divide the city and hinder our progress.
In EON's six-ward system, you vote for four out of nine council members: your ward representative and three at-large candidates. That means that, even if all three at-large council members support your ward — which is a dicey assumption — you are still in the minority in council. In an at-large system, you can vote for every candidate.
Think about it: Students aren't a traditionally integrated part of the city. They're renters, they're transient, they're young and they're mostly confined to one area, known as Ward 6. Why would other wards vote in the interests of the students if it means less funding for their neighborhoods and the rest of the city? Their interests don't lie with the majority of the student population — simple as that.
Students have benefited from an at-large council system that forces members to consider Rutgers and its students in the context of the city as a whole. Rockoff Hall, Bloustein, Cook Campus additions, renovation projects on College Avenue, rent control — all of these plans flourished under the at-large system and would probably flounder under a ward system.
After reading some of the misguided rhetoric and dubious promises made by EON about the six-ward system, students may be especially confused about what this all means. In the end, it's about representation, and it's about being considered in the decision making in this city. The at-large system allows for that, and the ward system will only damage our influence.
Don't lose your voice, and don't move New Brunswick backwards.
Kyle Kirkpatrick is a 2009 Rutgers graduate and an active member of Unite New Brunswick.