Just under nine months before the end of her term as Ward 1 alderman, Sarah Eidelson ’12 presided Wednesday over a meeting of the New Haven Board of Aldermen’s Youth Services Committee.
With Eidelson at the helm, the seven-member committee moved to proceed in the coming year with two definite priorities: jobs and community spaces for the city’s youth. What remains unclear, though, is whether Eidelson will even hold her post as alderman in a year’s time, as she has yet to indicate whether she will seek re-election this November.
As Eidelson moves forward with her youth initiatives, two Yale undergraduates have already expressed interest in running to replace her, but said their decisions may hinge on whether Eidelson seeks re-election. Drew Morrison ’14, former president of New Haven Action, an organization that works on public safety, housing and other local issues, said he would only consider running if Eidelson chooses not to run. Jon Silverstone ’15, the president of Dwight Hall’s New Haven Policy Assistant Program, said he was also “strongly considering” a run and that Eidelson’s presence in the race would factor into his decision.
A third student rumored to be considering an aldermanic candidacy, Ward 1 co-chair Ben Crosby ’14, declined to comment Wednesday.
“The field in November is determined by whether or not [Eidelson] decides to run again or not,” said former President of the Yale College Democrats Zak Newman ’13, who served as campaign manager for Vinay Nayak ’14 in his 2011 campaign against Eidelson.
Though potentially the most decisive factor in the race, Eidelson’s participation remains in question, as she has not yet decided whether to run for a second term. She said that the decision might not come until after the end of the academic year.
“I don’t know yet if I’ll be running again,” Eidelson said. “It’s too early to tell right now.”
TOWN OR GOWN?
Since taking office, Eidelson has championed the board’s youth initiatives. Her work, she said, has been dictated by the agenda the board passed in January 2012, which highlighted jobs, community policing and youth opportunities as the three central mandates for the board.
Gathering data to identify gaps in youth services occupied the bulk of Eidelson’s time last year, she said. As a result of that process, the committee is now poised to allocate nearly $250,000 from a state Youth Violence Prevention Grant to city service providers working on youth job training and readiness and youth leadership and mentoring skills.
Beyond youth unemployment, the committee is also working to transform city spaces into community centers that will provide a safe haven for children otherwise drawn to violence. Along with Ward 28 Alderman Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, Eidelson established the Goffe Street Armory Planning Committee last year to consider plans to turn the deserted armory into a hub for youth programs.
Ward 23 Alderman and Youth Services Committee Vice Chair Tyisha Walker said Eidelson has been an effective leader on youth issues, adding that she thinks Eidelson should run again. On the question of an endorsement, though, Walker equivocated.
“If she’s going to run unopposed, of course I will endorse her. If other people run against her, I would like to give everyone the opportunity and find out what they’re about,” Walker said.
Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04 also commended Eidelson’s work on youth issues, saying she has “taken the bull by the horns.”
Hausladen, however, declined to say whether he would endorse Eidelson if she sought re-election.
But some have articulated a divide between Eidelson’s success on the board and her ability to engage students in her work.
In November 2011, Eidelson won a hotly contested race, winning 58 percent of the 973 votes cast in Ward 1. While 2011 represented the highest Ward 1 turnout in decades, Eidelson claimed that this year’s election has the potential to energize Ward 1 constituents in the same way as that of 2011.
Since then, Eidelson has come up against criticism for failing to remain visible on campus since graduating from Yale last May. In a sentiment echoed by a number of students surveyed in Commons by the News Wednesday, Francesca Coxe ‘15 said that she is unaware of anything Eidelson has done as an alderman since her election.
“It’s sad to see that she was only visible during the election,” Coxe said.
After the record turnout in 2011, many expected a prolonged surge in Yale students’ involvement in the Elm City. The change, however, was never fully realized. Despite Eidelson’s efforts to get students more involved — including taping posters to the door of every freshman suite — few Yale students feel connected to Eidelson and Ward 1.
In a December survey of 418 students conducted by the News, only 20 percent of Old Campus students could name Eidelson as their alderman. Eidelson cited the constant turnover of students as one reason for a lack of student awareness.
Amalia Skilton ’13, former Ward 1 co-chair and an active volunteer for Eidelson’s 2011 campaign, said the current Ward 1 committee, led by co-chairs Crosby and Nia Holston ’14, could have “dedicated more resources knocking on freshman doors and talking to students about the issues” over the past year.
Silverstone and Crosby declined to comment on Eidelson’s time as alderman, while Morrison praised her dedication to city youth issues, adding that he would not have done “anything differently” over the past 13 months.
LOOKING TO NOVEMBER
Despite murmurings about the upcoming aldermanic race among students active in New Haven politics, potential candidates have remained mum about their campaign plans. If this year’s election is anything like those in the past, the campaigns will feature intensive involvement on the part of various campus political groups.
The 2011 election divided politically minded Yalies, with members of the activist group Students Unite Now (SUN) generally supporting former SUN member Eidelson and many Yale College Democrats supporting Nayak, although neither group officially endorsed a candidate. But Newman said this year will be different, as the Dems and SUN have “moved past” such a divide.
The Ward 1 committee has the option of endorsing a candidate for the Democratic primary, which is typically held in early to mid-September. In 2011, however, the committee chose to do neither, instead asking Eidelson and Nayak to run as independents in the November general election.
Holston said the new election structure was received favorably, as it gave incoming freshmen time to learn about the race. Whether a primary will be held this year is uncertain, but she said that the committee would not endorse a candidate if one were held.
Two sources told the News Tuesday and Wednesday that Holston’s co-chair Crosby — who worked extensively on Eidelson’s 2011 campaign — was considering a run. Both Morrison and Silverstone said they do not yet have specific campaign plans, with Morrison explaining that he did not want to undercut Eidelson’s ongoing work on the board.
“I want Sarah to feel like the other people who are considering a run support her,” he said. “I don’t want to seem like I have all these machinations going on, which I don’t.”
Silverstone, like Morrison, said Eidelson’s potential presence in the race would be a “major factor” in his own campaign considerations, though he did not go so far as to say her candidacy would be prohibitive.
Still, Eidelson’s experience on the board and her relationships with other aldermen pose significant roadblocks to potential challengers. In 2011, endorsements by three candidates in neighboring wards, who cited Eidelson’s previous involvement throughout the city, played a role in her victory.
In basing their decisions to run largely on Eidelson’s, Morrison and Silverstone underscored her role as the dominant candidate in the race.
“I think Sarah should run for re-election. I would not challenge her under any situation,” Morrison said. “If she decides not to run, I will think very hard about running. But even then, it’s still up in the air.”