Most Yalies have been absent from the Elm City for four months, but that hasn’t stopped the three-way race for Ward 1 alder from heating up, with the Democratic primary only weeks away.
The candidates — sitting alder Sarah Eidelson ’12, her Democratic challenger Fish Stark ’17 and their Republican opponent Ugonna Eze ’16 — have been active throughout the summer, making their cases to both incoming and returning students. For Eidelson and Stark, the urgency is particularly acute, as voters will head to the polls on Sept. 16.
Eidelson has retained an active presence in New Haven over the summer. In June, the election of the first students to non-voting seats on the Board of Education took place, representing the fruition of a project Eidelson has worked on throughout her four years as alder. Earlier this month, she organized a community cleanup effort in downtown and Wooster Square.
Stark was also in New Haven this summer; he worked full-time as a teaching fellow at Calvin Hill Daycare in Prospect Hill on a fellowship from Yale.
Eze’s campaign has been less active than those of his two Democratic opponents this summer. Eze spent the summer in Washington, D.C., where he studied political philosophy through the Hertog Political Studies Fellowship. He said in an interview that he returned every weekend to New Haven to campaign, which he said involved talking with members of the Yale and New Haven communities.
He emphasized the “unique perspective” that he will bring to the race.
“I think the more voices in this race the better because we get these unique perspectives on the issues. Fish, Sarah and I come from very different backgrounds,” Eze said. “All three candidates are well-versed in the political culture on campus but I think what I have to bring is that I’m involved in a lot of activities outside of the political culture.”
Because he will only be running in the general election and will not face a primary challenger, Eze has more significantly more time to make his case than do Stark and Eidelson.
Though Eidelson is the incumbent, neither she nor Stark has been endorsed by the Ward 1 Democratic Committee, which declined to hold an endorsement vote in May.
“It’s tradition in Ward 1 not to have an endorsement vote,” Jacob Wasserman ’16, co-chair of the committee, said. “In general, it’s more democratic that way — not to have a small vote decide when we could have a full election.”
The lack of a ward committee endorsement meant that both Stark and Eidelson had to petition to reach the primary ballot, which they both did successfully.
But in mid-August, after petitions were due, it was reported that Eidelson had filed to run in the general election as an independent as well as in the Democratic primary. This would give her a backup plan in case she loses to Stark in the primary — a similar plan to the one Ella Wood ’15 pursued two years ago, when she lost the Democratic primary in Ward 7 to incumbent alder Doug Hausladen ’04, and campaigned for the general election until dropping out a month before the vote.
Eidelson said she decided to file to run in the general election because of her concerns with the timing of the primary. Because freshmen arrive on campus only three weeks before the primary, she said that delaying the final say in the election until November would give freshmen more time to learn about the candidates and begin to involve themselves on campus.
“We need to give people a chance to vote; otherwise it feels like disenfranchisement,” she said.
Stark took an opposing view. He strongly condemned Eidelson’s move, describing it as “very disappointing,” and vowed to stick by his pledge not to pursue a run in the general election in the event of a defeat in the primary.
“I definitely agree it’s important for people to be informed about the issues before making a decision,” he said. “That’s why we have been working since March to educate people about the issues.”
Tyler Blackmon ’16, president of the Yale College Democrats, said the Dems will not make an endorsement in the primary and will instead wait until after the primary to begin campaigning.
He said the Dems will support the winner of the primary, regardless of the candidate.
“I think they’re both good candidates,” he said. “Sarah has her strengths, and Fish has his strengths as well, and I think we’re going to win no matter what … I want this thing to be over as quickly as possible so that we can gear up for whatever comes next.”
Stark has secured the endorsements of six sitting alders and former mayoral candidate Justin Elicker SOM ’10 FES ’10. In an interview earlier this week, Stark noted that Eidelson was endorsed by only three sitting alders in her campaign in 2011. The endorsement from Upper Westville Alder Darryl Brackeen Jr. may prove especially important. Eidelson works for Local 34 and Local 35 — the Yale unions that backed her 2013 re-election campaign.
Because Stark has no union backing in the race and Brackeen has endorsed union-backed candidates in other current aldermanic races around the city, Brackeen’s endorsement might upset the traditionally solid union bloc.
In addition to his endorsements, Stark has released policy proposals over the last week via posts on the Yale Ideas Facebook group and on his campaign’s website. Among his positions are increased support for early-childhood education, divestment of the City of New Haven from fossil fuels and the establishment of a fully independent civilian review board to oversee police conduct in the city. He has also advocated for “responsible development” throughout the city, especially in the area around Yale’s campus.
Stark said that, so far, he has raised $3,500 for his campaign from 58 donors, of whom 75 percent were in-state. The average donation size to his campaign, he said, was about $60. The official numbers for summer fundraising will not be available until the Sept. 9 filing date.