On Election Day, the atmosphere in the War Room was electric. The staff of the Paul Chandler campaign had been energized for weeks. Six of us had stayed on campus with Paul over fall break, spending 10 hours a day canvassing, conducting policy analysis and debate prep. When the opportunity came to face off against our opponent directly at the debate, Paul did not disappoint. Endorsements from Democrats and Independents in the city came rolling in that week and it seemed that at every staff meeting, we heard anecdotes about how “one of my liberal friends is going to vote for Paul.” Aggressive canvassing, telephone calls and “get out the vote” efforts from our opponent’s campaign couldn’t shake us.
We were even told by one of our opponent’s campaign staff that they had secretly voted for Paul. The momentum was on our side.
But by 8:15 on election night, I found myself sitting with Paul as he telephoned Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson to concede the race. We were crushed. Announcing the result to a room full of 40 dedicated volunteers, many of whom had started out back in April, was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.
But after a few days, as we resumed our normal lives, we realized the historic nature of our result. A Republican, the first to run in over two decades, had won nearly 40 percent of the vote in Ward 1 — a ward where registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans 10 to one. Paul had won the most votes out of any Aldermanic challenger across the city.
For the first time in decades, a Ward 1 Alderman was seeking re-election, which gave us, the challengers, a duty to highlight her record in office. We raised her lack of engagement with the student body as well as her connection with the UNITE HERE union political machine. In holding our incumbent to account, we encouraged an informed debate on campus.
The fact that Paul received support from Democrats at Yale and in the city, such as Ward 19’s alderman-elect, Michael Stratton, also reflects the true political divide in New Haven: one between union-backed politicians and independent representatives. In September, both Stratton and Ward 7’s Alderman Doug Hausladen sought to challenge the UNITE HERE political machine in city government and both found themselves fighting off aggressive primary challenges against union-backed candidates as a result. This previously hidden political divide in our city was an issue we wanted to bring to the attention of Yale students.
We also challenged Yalies to consider the relationship they wanted with the city, and argued that it took an active and engaged current student to be Yale’s voice in New Haven.
The combination of these three narratives meant that a real discussion took place about Yale’s relationship with New Haven, its politics and its future — and we are incredibly proud to have been the catalyst for that discourse.
Regardless of your political affiliation, I think most of us can agree that strong political discussions at Yale are good. A university campus should not be an echo chamber for liberal rhetoric, nor should it be a presumed hotbed for one political party. The fact that many students who identified as liberal or as Democrats — and had never voted for a Republican before — put their trust in Paul is a testament to the mature and pragmatic nature of debate that can be achieved among scholars at Yale. One prominent member of the Yale College Democrats even confided to me: “You got me to vote for a Republican, which is a pretty big deal.” This race sparked a change in our University, which began to transform campus into a forum for political debate and for challenging the status quo.
Paul Chandler may have lost the election on Nov. 5, but he and many others in our city, such as mayoral candidate Justin Elicker, will be remembered as trailblazers. Those seeking to replicate their efforts, years from now, will recognize this election as the first step towards a transparent and accountable city government. In a recent opinion piece for the New Haven Register, Elicker declared this election “historic, in that it marks the beginning of a transformation in the principles defining government and political engagement.”
He was right. Whether it’s two, four or six years from now, New Haven will elect more of the independent thinkers and principled public servants that it so desperately needs. The Paul Chandler campaign, a campaign dismissed by many as a joke three months ago, successfully shook up political discourse at Yale and challenged many students to retreat from the echo chamber.
At the first full campaign staff meeting we held back in August, I told my team that we were in this race to make history — and that’s what we did.
Ben Mallet is a sophomore in Davenport College and the former campaign manager of Paul Chandler for Alderman. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.