A Republican's Battle for Ward 1Leave a Comment
It’s 8:00 a.m., the morning after Amalia Halikias ’15 turned 21, and she is standing in the Davenport dining hall, deciding whether she feels like eating eggs.
Instead of sleeping in and avoiding any classes that day — the way most Yalies might spend the morning after turning 21 — Halikias is bright-eyed as she works her way through the servery. As the press secretary for Paul Chandler’s ’14 campaign to represent Ward 1 on the Board of Aldermen, Halikias needs to be alert at the campaign’s hour-long senior staff meeting, one of two it holds every week. (It was either this time or 11 p.m. — “scheduling with Yalies,” she explains with a laugh.)
As the rest of the campaign’s senior staff, 10 in all, slowly filters into the meeting room, Halikias bounds around the table placing a copy of the day’s Yale Daily News in front of each person. Campaign manager Ben Mallet ’15, taking his seat at the table, reminds the rest of the room to wish her ‘Happy Birthday.’
“I talked to my mom yesterday, typical Asian mom … she told me to be careful now because I won’t get or receive any leniency,” Halikias says to laughs from the group.
Each staff member, directed by Mallet, reports on the status of their individual campaign tasks. The campaign is in full swing: letters are being posted in residential colleges, fundraising is underway, the website is up and policy meetings between the campaign and student groups are planned for the near future.
A detailed calendar lays out each day’s tasks in bright colors, and a surprisingly awake campaign staff gives updates to and receives suggestions from Mallet as others in the room chime in on occasion. The efficiency of the meeting suggests this is far from the campaign’s first, moving far faster than this tired Yalie’s mind can process.
Right now, however, members of the campaign aren’t sure about the new logo.
“What do people think about the tree?” someone asks. The tree is fine, the group decides.
And then, ahead of schedule, the meeting is finished at 8:55 a.m. Each member of the senior staff has a task for the days ahead in their attempt to accomplish what hasn’t happened in over two decades, having long been thought impossible: elect a Republican to represent Yale as a part of New Haven’s circle of lawmakers.
INCEPTION OF A CANDIDACY
Chandler’s candidacy started as an initiative of the Yale College Republicans, which has long had a small presence on the campus of left-leaning Yale. According to YCR President Austin Schaefer ’15, members of the organization initially weren’t sure what their aim was in fielding a candidate in Yale’s Ward 1, which has only elected Democrats for years.
At first, he explains, most members thought the organization could simply contribute to the ongoing debate about the Elm City’s future — a “real shame,” Mallet says, that there hadn’t been a proper political challenge — by running a token candidate. The group started to reach out to students they thought might make a good choice, including Chandler.
At first, Chandler says, he rejected the idea outright. A senior on the track team, Chandler worried about finding a job for next year and knew that being a conservative is “no small deal” on campus.
But then his girlfriend urged him to reconsider, given that Chandler sounded more worried about the campaign than the job itself. On their first date, she reminded him, Chandler had taken her to the top of East Rock and pointed out all the different parts of the city — she encouraged him, “if you want it, go for it.”
Chandler was one of six who applied, and one of four interviewed by the YCR. According to Schaefer, Chandler’s candidacy was convincing.
“We met Paul and thought “wow, this is someone who could really have a shot at this,” he says.
Mallet echoes this sentiment, explaining that the purpose of running a Republican candidate had changed from its inception.
“We had a choice — we could have chosen a known conservative, and it would’ve been a token conservative campaign,” he says. “But we said no, we’re going to run a serious campaign here.”
In front of Mallet at each campaign meeting is his iPad — featuring the Paul Chandler for Ward 1 logo, tree and all — his Blackberry, the smartphone of choice for veteran campaign operatives, and his watch. Having spent two years before coming to Yale working on English political campaigns, including that of London Mayor Boris Johnson, Mallet is no stranger to the day-to-day efforts of political operations. His incredible experience, Halikias says, has inspired the rest of the staff.
Ward 1 will be difficult for a Republican to win, no matter how dedicated the campaign. Mallet relishes the challenge.
MORE THAN JUST A STATEMENT
It’s 10:46 p.m. on a Monday and nobody’s really sure about lapel stickers. Campaign administrative director Tyler Carlisle ’15 wants to know: are they worth spending a chunk of campaign funds? Are they effective? Would people actually use them?
Former YCR president Elizabeth Henry ’14 isn’t so sure.
“I’m not gonna put a Paul Chandler lapel sticker on my laptop,” Henry tells the rest of the senior staff, holed up in a Linsey-Chittenden Hall classroom.
“I would,” pipes up one voice.
“I would too!” chimes in another.
“I’ll think about it,” Chandler interjects.
The campaign, says senior staff, has drawn its participants together. It’s also served as a rallying point, many campaign staff note, not just for conservatives on campus, but for moderates and even some liberals as well.
This broader umbrella includes Brendan Harrington ’14, who describes himself as “more a not-Democrat” than a Republican. Harrington explains that he supports Chandler because he’s been unimpressed with current Ward 1 Alderman Sarah Eidelson ’12, not having seen her on campus since her last election.
“I don’t really think that Eidelson is actually representing Ward 1 — she has her own idea for the city and I think that’s admirable, but she does not fulfill her role as a student of Ward 1,” Harrington says. “I don’t hear any of her positions on any of the issues … I don’t think anyone knows what she’s going to do until she campaigns.”
Harrington argues that Chandler fulfills this role much better, by virtue of his being a current student (“Sarah won’t know anybody on campus by the time she finishes her second term if she wins re-election,” Chandler says.). As a relatively moderate Republican, he explains, Chandler is actually aligned with a majority of Yale students in terms of his politics.
Schaefer argues that running as a Republican is an important way to differentiate himself from Eidelson. Besides, he adds, a candidate’s personal beliefs on social issues hardly matter in a race for city council, where debate on traditional issues like gay marriage and gun control are eschewed for municipal problems of gun violence and budget deficit — hardly partisan matters.
“[Chandler’s] not the Republican who is shutting down the government,” Schaefer emphasizes. “He’s not Ted Cruz.”
Why, then, is Chandler running as a Republican and not, perhaps, as an Independent? Chandler offers two reasons: in order to establish higher name recognition, and because it’s “more honest to who [he] is.”
This argument, Halikias says, has resonated with many of her moderate and liberal friends. While conservatives are naturally drawn to Chandler’s candidacy, she explains, she’s noticed the biggest change among friends who are liberal on a national level but don’t know enough about local politics to hold an opinion.
“They realize halfway through the conversation that they agree with Paul,” she says.
There’s another reason, Mallet explains, for Chandler to campaign as a Republican. As the current Board is made up entirely of Democrats, and with the other Republican aldermanic candidates across the city looking like long shots, Chandler would likely be afforded the privileges of being the only aldermen of the minority party.
That means Chandler could decide to which aldermanic committees he is appointed, could force public debate on Board issues that are currently determined in private caucus meetings and would be guaranteed weekly meetings with the mayor (“he’d be like the Senate Minority Leader, but the only one,” Mallet says). All of this, Mallet explains, would accomplish the campaign’s primary goal: give Yale students a stronger voice in New Haven.
STILL MILES TO GO
It’s 7:07 p.m. on a Wednesday, the night of the Chandler campaign’s first casual suite chat.
The event is designed to bring students out to meet Paul in a relaxed setting, to learn about his vision for the city in common rooms over cookies and, in this setting, cases upon cases of Monster energy drink.
Couches line the Berkeley suite, and on them sit four members of the campaign: Chandler, Mallet, Andrea Barragan ’16 and Tanner Allread ’16. Three other students share the couch space, talking with Chandler as they wait for more students to arrive.
“So what exactly does an alderman do?” one Berkeley senior, whose suite is hosting the chat, asks Chandler.
A few minutes later, another Berkeley senior interjects: “I can’t vote, I’m just here to support Paul.” Few, if any, votes will be won tonight.
Members of the Chandler campaign acknowledge that despite the arguments they hold in favor of their candidate, they’re fighting an uphill battle to elect a Republican at Yale.
The campaign’s goal, Mallet says, is to register students who haven’t been registered in Ward 1 before, including moderates and conservatives who have failed to register in the Elm City for previous elections. The math, he says, seems bad for Chandler: Democrats outnumber Republicans by a nearly 14-to-1 margin. But Independent and unaffiliated voters combined outnumber Democrats in Ward 1, giving the campaign a better chance than might seem otherwise.
Even then, however, the Dems have a much stronger organizing presence on campus than the relatively meager Yale College Republicans.
“They have the advantage of numbers,” Halikias explains, “of being able to pack a room with supporters.”
It is now 7:17 p.m., and the common room chat is nearly a third over. Even twenty minutes in, nobody else has arrived, and the campaign staff attempts to find more listeners to join them on the couch.
But in light of this, Mallet remains hopeful.
“It’ll be steep,” he says, “but we can do it.”