With freshmen just moved into their new homes on campus, Fish Stark ’17 — a Democratic candidate for Ward 1 alder — and a group of roughly 50 political leaders and students gathered on the New Haven Green yesterday to kick off two frantic weeks of campaigning ahead of the Sept. 16 Democratic primary.
The rally on the Green, featuring Connecticut State Senator Gary Winfield and former Ward 10 alder and 2013 mayoral candidate Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, among other alders, came only a few days after Stark was asked by a Yale administrator to move his campaign table off Old Campus on freshman move-in day. Since students returned to campus, the second Democratic candidate and current Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12 — with whom Stark will square off in the Ward 1 Democratic primary debate next Wednesday — and Republican candidate Ugonna Eze ’16 have had only a limited campaign presence on campus.
Stark, who had set his table up in the middle of Old Campus last Friday, was simultaneously registering voters and campaigning until Director of Student Life Hannah Peck DIV ’11 demanded that Stark relocate his table to a spot off Yale’s property. Peck said Stark was canvassing without the permission of Yale’s Student Life Office, which governs the events held on campus.
Peck said Stark might have been able to continue to canvas if he had spoken to her or another administrator earlier. Stark protested to Peck, saying that Yale Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews had stopped by his table earlier and raised no concerns.
Stark eventually moved his table to the gate between Lanman-Wright and Durfee halls on Elm Street.
“I don’t see the rationale for telling a candidate that they can’t be on campus,” Stark said, calling his removal “ridiculous.”
He also noted that past Ward 1 campaigns were permitted to campaign on campus. Indeed, Stark’s voter registration drive was one of multiple drives that occurred on campus that day.
Maxwell Ulin ’16, the elections coordinator for the Yale College Democrats, organized a voter registration drive “on behalf of the Yale administration,” he wrote in an email. He invited the three aldermanic candidates to join the drive, noting to them that the drive “must remain non-partisan.”
Ulin added that any campaigning done by Eidelson and Stark was strictly separate from the voter registration drive he coordinated.
Eidelson was also registering voters on Old Campus on move-in day. Peck did not ask the current Ward 1 alder to leave Yale’s property, according to Eidelson.
Stark’s rally on the Green yesterday was his first since students moved in, and it is the first to occur since he garnered the endorsements of six sitting alders over the summer. Two of those alders — Ward 26 Alder Darryl Brackeen Jr. and Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa — were present at the event and spoke in support of Stark’s bid to unseat the incumbent Eidelson.
In his stump speech, Fish said he is the candidate best equipped to address the “dynamic of distrust and suspicion” that he said exists between Yale and surrounding city. He cited the conversations he has had with New Haven public school students as evidence of his ability to work in the city outside the borders of Ward 1. Festa praised Stark for forging a relationship with a city that he has known for only a little over two years.
“I have absolutely nothing against Sarah, but I think the position in Ward 1 was put in place for a Yale student,” Festa said. “I think it’s time to get an insider perspective.”
Eidelson did not respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday afternoon and evening.
With the Democratic primary only two weeks away, the rhetoric at the event was notably more aggressive than that which Stark’s campaign has previously used.
Brackeen, who serves with Eidelson on the Youth Services Committee, criticized her for not standing beside him in support for legislation regarding college loans earlier in his term. Brackeen traveled to Hartford to advocate for legislation in the general assembly, but Eidelson did not attend. He said Eidelson’s unique constituency — almost exclusively college students — would have made her voice particularly valuable in the debate over the issue.
“There have been so many issues on the table this year where your voices were not heard,” Brackeen said to the crowd. “If I were you, I’d be pretty upset about that … It’s time for a new voice.”
The rally’s attendees were largely upperclassmen who had already committed to the Stark campaign, but about 15 freshmen also attended. One of those freshmen, Michelle Santos ’19, said she was interested in the Stark campaign as a chance to learn about political campaigning and become more active in her new city.
All of the public officials present at the rally had already endorsed Stark. He has also received endorsements from Alders Brenda Foskey-Cyrus, Richard Spears, Claudette Robinson-Thorpe and Carlton Staggers. Those four alders, along with Festa, were members of the short-lived “People’s Caucus,” which formed in 2014 to counter the influence of the UNITE HERE union coalition — which employs Eidelson — on the Board of Alders.
Stark also received statements of support from 19 of 37 Ward 1 committee members. In an early August press release, the campaign said that if the committee had held an endorsement vote, he would have been chosen as the Democratic nominee.
Eidelson has not yet received public endorsements from any city officials. Last week, UNITE HERE released its endorsements for candidates in six of eight primaries in New Haven. The union did not endorse a candidate for Ward 1.
Eidelson’s campaign has also been active in recent days, despite the lack of public events. On Tuesday night, volunteers for her campaign went door-to-door in the residential colleges, handing out flyers and encouraging students to re-elect the incumbent.
Republican candidate Eze, who will face the winner of the primary in the general election, said collecting endorsements is not as pressing for his campaign as it is for those of his opponents.
“Since the Democratic primary is so soon, Fish and Sarah appear to be in fierce competition over who can grab up the most endorsements,” Eze said. “It’s a real blessing that we don’t have to resort to that — it means we can focus on actually reaching undecided voters and engaging them on the issues.”
Eze said he expects to receive endorsements later this week.
Correction, September 2: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Democratic primary is on Sept. 9. It is on Sept. 16. A previous version of this article also incorrectly stated that Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12 has not campaigned on campus this year, when she has in fact had a limited campaign presence.