With the election just two weeks away, the Ward 1 aldermanic candidates faced off Monday in the only debate of the campaign season.
Vinay Nayak ’14 and Sarah Eidelson ’12, who are running to replace current Ward 1 Alderman Michael Jones ’11, participated in a debate Monday night sponsored by the Yale Political Union, Yale College Democrats and the News. The candidates, who have been criticized for failing to distinguish themselves on policy issues, worked throughout the debate to carve out differences in their platforms.
“I was thrilled with the turnout at the debate — it was far higher than the debates I attended in 2009, which indicates that a lot of students really care about the issues we’re discussing,” Eidelson wrote in an email after the debate.
Both Eidelson and Nayak introduced themselves with stories of their arrival in New Haven and how their different experiences have affected their candidacies. Nayak focused on his time as a policy assistant for the Board of Aldermen’s community development committee, whereas Eidelson described her experience in community organizing.
One theme throughout the debate concerned Eidelson’s status as a senior, which means she would serve the majority of her two-year term as a non-undergraduate if elected. While she has faced criticism that this would weaken her ability to keep a pulse on the concerns of the student population, she argued that her lack of academic commitments will enable her to devote more of her time to her work on the Board of Aldermen.
“I’ll never have to miss an aldermanic meeting because of a midterm,” Eidelson said, adding that she will stay in her current home on High Street throughout her term, helping her to stay connected to the campus after she graduates this spring.
Zak Newman ’13, Nayak’s campaign manager, disputed this point after the debate. He said Nayak, who would be a Yale student for his entire term on the Board of Aldermen, would be the “real student representative” on the board.
“Vinay is going to be the person that is sitting in your classroom, eating in your dining hall,” Newman said. “Sarah will have to go out of her way to maintain that connection.”
But Eidelson, focusing on her experiences in the Elm City, said she believes that the two additional years she has spent in the city gives her an advantage over Nayak.
“I considered running after my freshman year but I decided then that I didn’t have the experience to do the best job,” Eidelson said.
During the debate, Eidelson argued that Nayak’s policies “tinker around the edge of the problem” instead of trying to fix fundamental issues, adding that he does not focus on broader, long-term solutions. But Nayak questioned Eidelson’s characterization, adding that some of what was discussed in the debate pointed to the need for more immediate solutions than Eidelson has proposed.
The two candidates also noted their differences in regards to crime and job creation, with Eidelson and Nayak approaching each issue from slightly different angles. But the candidates, both registered Democrats who are running as independents in the Nov. 8 general election, generally agreed on several points, including a criticism of Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s handling of the city budget crisis earlier this year, the importance of strengthening Yale-New Haven relations, the need for more community involvement in aldermanic meetings and the necessity of a student representative on the Board.
Three students interviewed after the debate who are unaffiliated with either campaign all said that while the debate focused on the disagreements between the two candidates, they failed to see a substantial difference between the two policies. But Danny Howe ’14, a Nayak supporter, disagreed.
“It was great to see the candidates discuss their view about what they hope to do in New Haven in an open forum, which should happen more often,” Howe said. “The direct communication allowed students to get a better grasp of the differences in each candidate’s approach to legislation.”
The debate, moderated by Esther Zuckerman ’12, started with opening statements from each candidate, followed by eight pre-selected questions from on-campus organizations and eight questions chosen from the audience. Zuckerman is a former City Hall reporter and former online editor for the News.
Between the rounds of pre-selected and audience questions was a round of New Haven trivia, where the candidates were asked basic questions about the Elm City. Each candidate answered most questions correctly, with Eidelson answering a question on New Haven’s population more accurately than Nayak and Nayak correctly naming more of New Haven’s high schools.
The debate became more personal when the candidates were asked by a student what, if elected, they would do to fight for LGBTQ rights. Eidelson spoke about her experience as a queer person, having started a Gay-Straight Alliance at her conservative high school and testifying at the Board of Aldermen in support of Jones’s legislation banning discrimination against transgender people. Nayak, meanwhile, spoke about some of his policy initiatives to support LGBTQ rights.
An estimated 250 students attended the debate.