One year ago today, canvassers for Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12 and her opponent Ugonna Eze ’16 set up stands and handed out pamphlets across campus. Now, campaign signs for Eidelson are long gone and campus chatter about the local election has died down.
But Eidelson, who represents eight of the 12 residential colleges, has been busy.
In the year since she won re-election by a mere 17 votes, Eidelson has been working on several initiatives with fellow alders for Elm City youth. One such project — New Haven Youth Map, an online database of resources and services for children and young adults — will connect parents and their children with opportunities across the city. Eidelson said she worked on this project with the other six members of the aldermanic Youth Services Committee.
Ward 29 Alder Brian Wingate, the committee’s chair, said she played a critical role in the website’s creation and the committee’s other endeavors.
“Her leadership stands for itself,” Wingate said. “She really cares about the city of New Haven and its residents.”
As part of the Youth Committee, Eidelson has also been working on The Escape — a project to create a recreational and community space for teenagers in Dixwell. City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said Mayor Toni Harp has been working with the Youth Committee to make this plan a reality. The city has leased a building on Goffe Street, though major renovations are required for the project to be finished, he added.
City government also hopes to add a drop-in center for teens, so that homeless Elm City teenagers will be able to find shelter separate from homeless adults.
Wingate added that Eidelson helped secure a $341,000 grant from the state for groups within the city that aim to prevent youth violence. Last year, 17 organizations in the Elm City benefited from the funds.
She also sits on the aldermanic Legislation Committee, which deals with zoning proposals and issues related to the city’s general functioning. Earlier in her term, Eidelson helped create the process for high school students to run for two spots on the Board of Education. Eidelson explained that the positions were created when the Board of Alders examined and revised the city charter in 2013, which it does every 10 years, and decided the city would benefit from student perspectives on the BOE. Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison, vice chair of the Legislation Committee, said Eidelson almost single-handedly created the election process for the new positions.
“We knew we wanted students, but didn’t know how to do it,” Morrison said. “When the topic came up, she said ‘this is what I think we should do’ and laid it all out.”
Morrison added that the process for students is similar to the aldermanic election process. Candidates get a certain number of signatures from students from Elm City high schools to appear on the ballot.
Eidelson also recently became a member of the Aldermanic Leadership Board. Members meet regularly with the mayor to coordinate and talk about different initiatives the alders are working on and oversee bond sales and transfers of funds between city departments.
But several students, most of whom live in Ward 1, said they were not aware of Eidelson’s work on the Board. Ethan Lester ’20, who was in high school during last year’s election, said he did not know who Eidelson was. Caleb O’Reilly ’18, who considers himself politically engaged, said he did not know what she has done as an alder.
Like O’Reilly and Lester, many students feel disconnected from their New Haven representatives: They may hit the polls during elections years, but stop paying attention in between. According to a News survey released earlier this month, less than 2 percent of the 2,054 student respondents said they were “very engaged” in Connecticut politics. This figure was more than 20 times smaller than the percentage of respondents who said they were “very engaged” in the national election.
Lester said it is Eidelson’s responsibility to keep her constituents better informed of what she is doing.
“If she wants us to get involved and be active in the community, then she needs to at least make sure we know she exists,” he said.
Eidelson responded that she hopes the citywide legislative agenda survey will help involve more students in community issues. The survey asks respondents to list several city initiatives, such as community policing and the online youth map, in order of importance. It also asks for comment on the biggest problems facing New Haven and how they should be approached. Eidelson added that the Board of Alders plans to send the survey to residents across New Haven, including students, and that she has been talking with student groups at Yale about accessing panlists to distribute the survey electronically.