In November 2011, Sarah Eidelson ’12 won the race for Ward 1 alderman against opponent Vinay Nayak ’14 by a 566–407 vote. Both promised better prisoner re-entry programs, friendlier streets for cyclists and pedestrians, community policing and increased representation of Yale students.
After spending over a year as one of 30 legislators on the city’s Board of Aldermen and chair of the board’s Youth Services Committee, representing all Yale College students except those who live in Silliman, Timothy Dwight, Morse, Stiles, Swing Space and some off-campus areas, Eidelson has seen her campaign promises and commitment to stay connected to Yale tested.
During his freshman year, Nayak worked as a policy assistant to the board, researching legislation for aldermen. Eidelson, meanwhile, spent her first three years at Yale working in a childhood care center through Dwight Hall, registering residents of high-crime neighborhoods to vote and managing the aldermanic campaign of Sarah Saiano in Ward 18, who ultimately lost.
Gabe Levine ’14, who worked on Eidelson’s campaign, said he connected with her message and belief that people “should come to Yale not in spite of New Haven, but because of New Haven.”
“I think the general impression in Sarah’s campaign of Vinay was that he was very smart, very well-qualified and very interested in policy, but Sarah was looking to come at the Board of Aldermen from more of a local perspective,” Levine said. “They thought of Vinay as having this general interest in politics and policy, and even though he was sincerely concerned and involved, he didn’t know the city as well as Sarah.”
Aldermen who endorsed Eidelson in the election included Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04 and Ward 22 Alderwoman Jeanette Morrison, whose ward includes Yale students as well.
“In the campaign, a primary argument on her side was that she would have relationships with members of the board that would be coming in, and I think you can definitely see that has been an asset in that she has professional relationships with people on her committee and on the board,” said Nayak campaign manager Zak Newman ’13.
Nayak commended the work that Eidelson has done in office and said that she has tackled many of the issues both campaigns highlighted last year. But at the time of the election, Eidelson was a senior and Nayak was a sophomore, and Nayak’s campaign pointed out that Eidelson would not be a student for both years of her term as alderwoman.
Now, having graduated earlier this year, Eidelson is no longer a Yale student living on campus. And while her ward consists almost entirely of Yale students, Eidelson is responsible for very few policies that directly impact students, which are instead handled by the University.
STAYING IN TOUCH
In a News survey of 418 Yale students, only 20 percent of nearly 100 freshmen on Old Campus could name Eidelson as their alderwoman in a News survey. Upperclassmen fared better, with percentages in the high 60s for the same question for the sophomore, junior and senior classes.
Mike Jones ’11, the Ward 1 alderman before Eidelson, said the results were unsurprising, given that the current freshman class arrived after last year’s campaigns and election.
Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, who served two terms on the board as Ward 1 alderman from 1990 through 1993, compared Eidelson’s experience to his own.
“When I was living on campus, versus living in an apartment in the ward, I think I was much more effective at staying in touch,” Morand said. “Part of relating and getting information tends to be more effective when one is a current student living like a majority of other people in the ward.”
Eidelson holds weekly office hours at Blue State and sends out email newsletters updating students about recent events, in addition to reaching out to freshmen.
Eidelson said she put together a letter and map of New Haven and taped copies on every freshman suite door. Ward 1 Co-Chair Ben Crosby ’14 added that Eidelson has held events for freshmen to meet her and discuss their ideas about New Haven. Eidelson said that 10 freshmen came to the meet-and-greet she had at the beginning of the year.
“I think it’s definitely a lot easier to engage students and to meet them in an election season because people are paying a lot more attention to politics than they usually do. But I also think that the first semester at Yale is pretty overwhelming with orientation that the freshmen go through,” Eidelson said.
As a graphic designer who travels to Brooklyn two days a week to work, Eidelson also needs to find a balance between her work and her time as alderwoman, she said. Serving on the board is a volunteer position, but could theoretically take up as much time as a full-time job.
‘ANOTHER, EQUAL ALDERMAN’
Ward 1 aldermen do not have to provide basic city services such as public schools or trash removal for their constituents, Morand said, giving them flexibility to focus on an issue relating to New Haven at large they find particularly important. Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 said the Ward 1 aldermen could spend less time on services already provided by Yale and more on specific issues.
In the News survey, 66 percent said they thought it very or somewhat unimportant for their alderman to communicate with them regularly, and student comments showed that many believe Eidelson should focus on issues that affect New Haven at large rather than primarily caring for Yale students’ needs. While Elicker said Jones made LGBTQ and gender issues a central part of his term, Eidelson has focused hers on youth services.
As the chair of the Youth Services Committee, Eidelson leads the board’s work on youth issues.
“I think it speaks to her ability to really build relationships with her fellow aldermen and work as part of a team that she has a committee chairship,” Crosby said. “[A committee chairship] is not something that happens with every Ward 1 alderman.”
The comprehensive agenda Eidelson helped push through the board includes rehabilitating the Goffe Street Armory and turning it into a youth or community center and reopening the Q House, a Dixwell community center shut down almost a decade ago due to budget cuts. With $250,000 allocated to the youth committee to implement its agenda, the committee will split the money among youth job training, mentorship and mediation, and grants for organizations with creative ideas for youth.
Rachel Heerema, executive director of the Citywide Youth Coalition, said that Eidelson has created a “welcoming environment” during all public hearings and has engaged community leaders, the Board of Education and other stakeholders before making decisions. Morrison, whose ward includes the Q House, said that Eidelson has done a “wonderful” job involving Yale students and getting many of them to show up at an October public hearing about the Q House.
“Sarah’s always ready to get in and get her hands dirty. She really knows what she’s talking about, and has good relationships with the people on board,” Ward 28 Alderwoman Claudette Robinson-Thorpe said. “We’re working on the armory right now, and she’s been great just by being there.”
Eidelson said she does not want to “reinvent the wheel” when existing services and spaces provide valuable information and opportunities for youth. But change has been slow, and she said that people sometimes expect to see more results without realizing that governmental change “takes time” and is a “careful process.”
According to Elicker, the person representing Ward 1 often faces the extra barrier of age: Usually a college-aged student or recent graduate, Ward 1’s representative has consistently been the youngest member of the Board of Aldermen. But he said this hasn’t posed a problem for Eidelson so far.
“The Ward 1 alderman is usually so young, and so they’re trying to overcome this perception that they’re just a kid,” Elicker said. “But I think Sarah’s been very successful at doing that at the board level, and when I think of Sarah, I don’t think of someone different or younger than me: I think of her as another, equal alderman.”