In the depths of the New Haven winter, when her constituents’ yards are buried in the snow, Ella Wood ’15 would be in the city to help them — and not studying abroad or back home in New Mexico — she promised at a Thursday night debate against Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04.
Wood is running to unseat Hausladen for the Ward 7 seat on the New Haven Board of Aldermen, a position that has never been held by a Yale student. Comprising the downtown area as well as portions of Wooster Square, the Medical District and the Hill and Dwight neighborhoods, Ward 7 is home to a combination of permanent residents and Yale graduate and professional school students, in addition to a very small number of undergraduates.
Less than a week before the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, the two candidates squared off Thursday in a debate that drew nearly 60 people to the second-floor loft of The Bourse on Chapel Street, a workspace and coffee lounge. Carl Sharon, a pastor at the Emanuel Lutheran Church on Humphrey Street, moderated the hour-long back-and-forth between the candidates.
When asked if she would be in town to help plow streets in December, when most Yale students go home for break, Wood said she has spent her time in New Haven reaching past Yale’s walls to the city at large.
“The underlying question that is implicit in this question is what my role in the community here is,” Wood said. “It’s clear that I am here as a student at Yale. I think for a long time both New Haven residents and Yale students have viewed Yale students as nothing but that — as people who aren’t invested in the community and should not be. I think that’s something that has undermined the relationship between the college and the city, and that’s something that has to change.”
One audience member, Edward Anderson, was not satisfied with her answer, asking again, “Are you going to be here?”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes.”
She said she is “dedicated to spending the next two years here,” though she pointed out that aldermen are not responsible for plowing the streets.
In pitching his candidacy, Hausladen cited his experience on the Board for the past two years, during which time he developed a reputation as an advocate for “quality of life” issues, government transparency and responsible budgeting.
“I’m running for re-election because I’m proud of the work I’ve done,” Hausladen said, describing in his closing statement his efforts to boost pedestrian safety in the Audubon Arts District, a project that culminated last week in the announcement of plans to revamp the intersection of Whitney Avenue and Audubon Street.
Wood relayed anecdotes from the campaign trail and spoke about her vision for a more inclusive city, one that would incorporate a broader range of voices by “going out into the community and doing the footwork to find people who don’t think of themselves as being engaged.”
Wood is a native of New Mexico who has involved herself in city politics and labor organizing in New Haven under the auspices of Yale’s Unite Here unions, Locals 34 and 35. She spent the summer working for New Haven Rising and Locals 34 and 35 and, in the past week, has received the endorsement of three other union-backed candidates seeking election this fall: Ward 1 Alderman Sarah Eidelson ’12, Ward 22 Alderman Jeanette Morrison and mayoral hopeful and Connecticut State Sen. Toni Harp ARC ’78.
Local 34 President Laurie Kennington ’01 said the unions have not endorsed either candidate in the Ward 7 race, though she said she “personally think[s] very highly of [Wood].”
Wood, previously a resident of Dwight Street in Ward 2, moved to Ward 7 two days before submitting elections paperwork to challenge Hausladen’s reelection bid.
Bitsie Clark, who represented Ward 7 for eight years before her retirement in 2011, said after the debate that she does not think Wood stands a chance. She said she “will of course be voting for Doug,” though she added that she was impressed by Wood’s performance in the debate.
“I have enormous admiration for [Unite Here organizer] Gwen Mills and the entire Unite Here team for training this kid, who clearly knows nothing about what’s really going on, and teaching her to get their vision out there,” Clark said. “She’s clearly very well trained by the union, but she’s had no experience.”
She said representing Ward 7 requires a “depth of knowledge” in dealing with “merchants, club owners, the University and other stakeholders.”
When an 80-year-old man interrupted the debate to ask if either of them knew how many gun deaths occurred in the ward in the past year, Hausladen replied “one,” while Wood pitched her vision for a safer, more interconnected city.
Hausladen detailed the violent crimes that have touched his ward since 2012, including a standoff at the corner of College and Crown Streets that left a Bridgeport man dead.
Wood said Ward 7 is also affected by the crime that persists in other areas of the city and vowed to work collaboratively with other members of the Board to address public safety.
“I’m running to be part of the team that’s addressing these issues,” she said.
Answering a question about homelessness and panhandling, Wood said economic development and downtown commercial success must benefit a wider range of community residents.
“We’ve seen lots of businesses come into prime spots in ways that have furthered economic development but haven’t strengthened the community in ways they should,” Wood said. She added that a broad range of services — including those of faith-based organizations — could be mobilized to support the city’s homeless population.
Hausladen answered the question in parts, first by referring to multiple well-known panhandlers by name and saying their activities threaten business and resident safety. He said the city needs to do a better job of providing “affordable housing and good quality jobs” to address the roots of homelessness.
He said his proudest moment as an alderman was when he advocated for a homeless veteran who had been unfairly kicked out of a homeless shelter.
“I couldn’t stand to have a veteran on the streets,” he said.
Wood said the highest priority issue facing Ward 7 is the livability of its neighborhoods. Economic distress and high property taxes are driving people from New Haven, she said, and widening wealth disparities that divide city residents.
Hausladen said the city’s budget is his main concern and touted a new data visualization service he is helping to bring to city hall that will make transparent the city’s finances.
“None of us — elected or constituents — are going to be able to get our budget under control if we don’t know where our budget’s going,” he said.
Nathaniel Zelinsky ’13, a former staff columnist for the News and a lifelong New Haven resident, said “it’s pretty clear [Wood] has been recruited by the union machine, which dislikes Hausladen because he’s one of the only independent voices on the Board.”
“Ella Wood has confirmed everyone’s worst stereotypes of Yale students: that they come here and after three months they think they know how to solve the problems of the city,” Zelinsky added.
Daniel Stern ’16 said he thinks some of the criticism Wood has faced is unfair. One of Wood’s fellow members on Yale’s mock trial team, he said she is “passionate about her beliefs and is honest in her advocacy.”
The first Yale student to sit on the Board of Aldermen was Edward Zelinsky ’72 LAW ’75, father of Nathaniel.