When Republican Ugonna Eze ’16 began his campaign for Ward 1 alder in April, many dismissed him as a long shot. But Tuesday night, he came closer to defeating Sarah Eidelson ’12 than any candidate has done to date.
The final results of the Ward 1 aldermanic election were close: Eze won 369 votes to Eidelson’s 386, making the election the ward’s closest in decades. Throughout her tenure on the Board of Alders, Eidelson has often seemed an electoral juggernaut, impervious to challenges from Democrats and Republicans alike. Her September victory over Fish Stark ’17 in the Democratic primary, by a 2-to-1 margin, was typical of her strong electoral history.
But Eze bucked the trend, and at a post-results gathering in Yorkside Pizza & Restaurant Tuesday night, his campaign volunteers credited the narrowness of his defeat to their canvassing tactics, quality of ideas and the strength of their candidate.
“We did lose, but I still see it as a win,” said Mollie Johnson ’18, Eze’s campaign manager. “We raised the level of discussion so much, I think people really are going to hold [Eidelson] accountable now.”
Eze’s former campaign manager Amalia Halikias ’15 said the campaign’s Tuesday operation was conducted from a “war room” on campus. She said she obtained a list of all registered voters in Ward 1 and had Eze volunteers mark the names they knew on the list. Those volunteers called and texted these friends to make sure they went to the polls. The result, she said, was that canvassing only occurred among people who were already acquaintances.
Johnson said when the campaign launched in April, she had little idea of what end result to expect. She added that Tuesday night’s result had a silver lining: it showed that Yale students can approach politics with an open mind.
Halikias echoed Johnson’s point, stating that the narrow margin of defeat proved an important point of Ward 1: Yale students, who are typically left-leaning, will not dismiss a Republican based solely on his or her political affiliation.
“To win 49 percent of the vote with a Republican candidate is history,” she said. Eze’s margin of defeat was the slimmest borne by any Republican candidate this year. Ron Codianni garnered only 74 votes to Barbara Constantinople’s 572 in Ward 11, and the Ward 18 Republican candidate Lisa Milone received less than a quarter of the vote.
Eze’s narrow loss is anomalous among recent Ward 1 elections, which have seen Eidelson win a double-digit majority or plurality. Eidelson defeated Republican Paul Chandler ’14 with 65 percent of the vote in 2013 and Vinay Nayak ’14 with 59 percent in 2011.
Halikias added that Eze’s strength as a candidate played a major role in his electoral performance. Eze is an unusually well-connected figure on campus, with extracurriculars spanning from the Conservative Party of the Yale Political Union to the Hip-Hop Collective and the Black Men’s Union. That diversity, Halikias said, allowed Eze to attract outspoken left-wing students to his campaign, despite his party affiliation.
“We couldn’t have had the race without [Eze],” she said. “Having someone who’s that involved at Yale is rare. Having someone who’s that involved at Yale and wants to stay in New Haven is like winning the lottery.”
Students who voted for Eze expressed similar sentiments. Alex Wang ’19 said his vote was influenced by Eze’s familiarity with diverse groups on campus. Austin Strayhorn ’19 said he found Eze personable, and added that the State Elections Enforcement Commission’s investigation of Eidelson’s campaign for alleged election law violations concerned him.
Members of Eze’s campaign emphasized that they deliberately steered clear of any tactics that could have been viewed as aggressive or intrusive. Taylor Holshouser ’18, Eze’s director of opposition research, said volunteers worked to ensure they interacted respectfully with both voters and their opponent.
“I think it was a very fair process,” he said of the campaigning outside the library Tuesday. “I think everyone kept each other in line and everyone had a mutual respect for the process.”
But reports of aggressive tactics from the Eidelson campaign surfaced throughout the day over social media. Ian Niederhoffer ’19, who voted for Eze, said Eze’s “less aggressive” canvassing practices were an important factor in determining his vote.
In an interview with the News, Eze said he hopes the race will encourage students to think more critically about their role at Yale and in New Haven. He said he sought to raise the level of political discourse on campus and to run an open campaign that made all students feel welcome.
Eidelson will begin her third term as alder on New Year’s Day.