Not a single Republican ran for elected office in New Haven in 2011. The Yale College Republicans want to make sure 2013 is different.
In an email to campus Republicans last Thursday, Ben Mallet ’16, who serves as the YCR’s political director, announced plans to field a Republican candidate in November’s ward 1 aldermanic election. Mallet said the YCR is currently in the process of talking to a “pool of interested people” about entering the race, despite what he admitted were their slim chances for victory in a ward that leans heavily Democratic.
“We want to show that Yale is a diverse campus and that it’s not inconceivable for us to elect a Republican,” Mallet said. “It’s been a very long time since a Republican was fielded, and we want to have a role in shaping the debate over what kind of city we want.”
Mallet said a number of students have already signaled interest in running. Though he declined to provide a specific number who have reached out to him, he said the figure was “substantial” and “more than expected.” As they work to recruit a candidate, members of the YCR have begun meeting with the representatives of the Republican Town Committee, the group responsible for organizing local Republican Party politics and for endorsing Republican candidates for city office, according to Nancy Ahern, who is the committee’s treasurer and a former Republican alderman from Westville. Mallet said the YCR will have to decide upon a candidate before the end of the school year, as the committee chooses whom to endorse over the summer.
Mallet said that a Republican will face an uphill battle in ward 1, which is made up almost entirely of Yale students living in eight of the 12 residential colleges and Old Campus, the vast majority of whom are Democrats. Eighty-two percent of the 1,346 votes cast in ward 1 in last November’s presidential election were for President Barack Obama, a figure that helps explain why the position of ward 1 alderman, currently held by Sarah Eidelson ’12, has typically been dominated by Democrats. The last Republican to run in the ward lost to Democrat Josh Civin ’96 LAW ’03 in 1993.
Republicans have had slightly better luck in a few of the other 29 wards making up the Elm City, with Arlene DePino serving in East Shore’s 18th ward up until 2011 when she decided not to seek re-election. In the city as a whole, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 48,887 to 2,627, according to the New Haven Independent. The city has not had a Republican mayor since 1951.
“New Haven is an incredibly lopsided city, and so now it’s been four years since we had our last elected Republican on the Board of Alderman,” Republican Town Committee Chairman Richter Elser ’81 said. “But with the mayor retiring and at least one member of the Board of Aldermen running for mayor, this year presents an interesting dynamic. We’ve made it clear around the city that we’re looking for Republican candidates, but so far not a single person has told me they’re interested in running.”
But with the election nearly seven months away, Eidelson has not yet decided whether she will run for a second term in November, a decision that will likely determine the field of other Democratic candidates. Drew Morrison ’14 and Jon Silverstone ’15, both of whom had expressed interest in running, have now decided against doing so.
Ward 1 co-chair Nia Holston ’14, who leads the ward committee along with fellow co-chair Ben Crosby ’14, said she would confidently endorse Eidelson should she choose to run again. She said she “couldn’t say for sure” about the prospect of other Democratic candidates. Holston added that a Republican candidate would “certainly make the race exciting” but doubted the success of any such campaign.
Former YCR Chairman Elizabeth Henry ’14 criticized Eidelson for not being sufficiently connected to the Yale student body, adding that she hopes the Republican candidate will be someone who would be a current student during his or her full term in office.
Yale College Democrats Communications Director Tyler Blackmon ’16 said the Dems will neither field nor endorse a candidate in the aldermanic election, instead simply working for the candidate endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee.
Amalia Skilton ’13, former Ward 1 co-chair and a volunteer for Eidelson’s 2011 campaign, said a Republican campaign for ward 1 alderman would be a “waste of time,” though she said a more moderate-minded Independent would likely give the Democrats a run for their money. She cited the 2005 aldermanic race as an example, when Independent Nick Shalek ’05 defeated Democrat Rebecca Livengood ’07. Though he was registered as an Independent at the time of his election, Shalek was “basically a Republican,” Skilton said, and had a staunchly conservative record as a member of the Board of Aldermen’s finance committee.
Elser said he is optimistic about the prospects of a Republican alderman in ward 1 — and even more so in less heavily Democratic wards, such as 18 and 25. He said a successful Republican campaign would focus on what he said was the “single most important” issue facing the city: the budget.
Elser criticized Yale aldermen for using the position as a stepping stone for careers in politics instead of taking the needs of the city seriously.
“Ward 1 is really just a Yale petri dish in politics,” he said. “It tends to get people who are attracted to politics without any real serious thought about the implications for those of us who actually live in New Haven. Some aldermen in ward 1 have proposed policies that are great from a student perspective but make no sense when you consider the broader budgetary issues of the city.”
While Mallet acknowledged that the odds are against Republicans in ward 1, Henry said the effort is not a pipe dream.
“We intend to run a real campaign and to let the students represented in ward 1 decide,” she said.
Aldermanic candidates will face off in the general election on Nov. 5.