Ward 1 role questioned at debate

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Photo by Henry Ehrenberg.

A Democrat or a Republican, a recent Yale graduate or a current senior, a well-trained incumbent or an eager and fresh face in politics.

Those are the choices before voters in Ward 1 — and the differences on display at a public debate on Monday between the two candidates squaring off in one week to represent the ward on the New Haven Board of Aldermen.

In a 90-minute dialogue sponsored by the News, Democratic incumbent Sarah Eidelson ’12 and Republican challenger Paul Chandler ’14 described the most pressing issues before the city and sparred over which candidate would best serve its interests in Ward 1. Before an audience of nearly 200 in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, the candidates concurred on the priority of public safety, jobs, education and youth issues but diverged over the proper role of the Ward 1 representative on the 30-member city council currently made up entirely of Democrats.

Determined to portray Eidelson as out of touch with the undergraduate student body, Chandler committed to serving only one term on the Board, saying he would not seek re-election once he has graduated. Eidelson, who is running for her second term, said legislative experience trumps a candidate’s status as a student.

“It takes more than casual interactions in a classroom to make students feel comfortable and motivated to be connected to the rest of the city and to get engaged in the legislative process,” Eidelson said.

Chandler contrasted his outreach efforts during the past two months of the campaign — holding suite meet-and-greets, weekly lunches and conversations with campus groups — to what he described as Eidelson’s absence from campus. He said the first question students ask him in conversation is: “Where is Sarah?”

“If I had to pick, I’d say getting students involved [is more important than a legislative agenda] just because 30 Yale students could do more than I could do as one student,” he said.

Eidelson parried criticisms of absenteeism by pointing to her engagement with students over the process of charter reform — proposed revisions to the city’s governing document that will be put to referendum on Election Day — and her weekly office hours in Blue State.

In answer to a question about his party affiliation, Chandler distanced himself from GOP ideology at the national level, but said being the sole Republican on the Board would force dialogue and also provide him with weekly meetings with the mayor, which he said is a privilege of the body’s minority leader. He would also gain access to committees of his choice, he said.

As chair of the Board’s youth services committee, Eidelson has trumpeted her work enhancing opportunities for the city’s youth as the crowning achievement of her first term. Aside from critiquing her alleged lack of focus on the city’s budget, Chandler did not challenge Eidelson’s legislative achievements but questioned her independence from a union-backed “supermajority” on the Board, referring to the slate of aldermanic candidates who won election in 2011 with the backing of Yale’s Unite Here unions, Locals 34 and 35.

Eidelson said the way she votes on the Board is unaffected by her employment with Local 34 as a graphic designer.

Chandler rehashed the line of attack toward the end of the debate when Matt Breuer ’14 asked Chandler to describe the nature of his disagreement with the union locals.

“I am not against unions,” Chandler said. “What I am against is … Locals 34 and 35 using their collective ability to get people into office.”

The candidates also diverged on the relative importance of short-term livability improvements within the ward. Chandler promised immediate upgrades to quality of life for Yale students in the form of better bike lanes and easier access to the New Haven Green, while Eidelson said her vision is more long-term, dependent on a process of coalition building with other members of the Board.

As one means of redressing the city’s dire financial straits, Eidelson said the University should give larger voluntary contributions to the city, particularly in light of the large number of nonprofit and therefore tax-exempt University properties. Chandler disagreed, saying the city should develop independent sources of revenue by luring business into New Haven.

Ten students interviewed following the debate were equally divided over a winner.

Ameze Belo-Osagie ’16 said Chandler’s performance overcame her own Democratic leanings.

“I thought the Republican candidate actually provided a really strong challenge to Eidelson in a way that might even induce me to vote for him,” she said.

In contrast, Adrian Lo ’15 said he thought Eidelson had a “much more solid grasp about what the job means.”

Eidelson and Chandler face off at the polls on Nov. 5.

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