The Yale College Democrats will wait to decide whether to endorse Haci Catalbasoglu ’19 — who is running uncontested for Ward 1 alder — after hosting him on Monday night for the first Q&A session of his campaign.
During the Q&A, which took place in WLH 211, Catalbasoglu fielded questions on topics ranging from Yale–New Haven relations to homelessness, bike lanes and funding for English as a second language students. When asked, Catalbasoglu also expressed support for New Haven’s current status as a sanctuary city and a proposed police-civilian review board with subpoena power, an idea endorsed by the Dems and local anti-police violence activists.
According to Keerthana Annamaneni ’20, the communications director for the Dems, the group will hold a board meeting on Sunday to discuss a potential endorsement.
“Dems is grateful that Haci took the time to speak with us tonight, and we look forward to having productive conversations like this throughout his term,” said Michelle Peng ’19, the vice president of the Dems, in a statement to the News.
The Ward 1 alder seat, which represents eight of Yale’s residential colleges, has long been known as a “student seat” on the New Haven Board of Alders, the main governing body of the city. But as Yale College Democrats President Josh Hochman ’18 noted in a question to Catalbasoglu, past Ward 1 alders have been criticized for not keeping Yalies up-to-date about city projects. Catalbasoglu said he would try to avoid this pitfall by establishing a Yale–New Haven committee comprised of Yale students, Yale faculty and New Haven residents.
“There is no space where Yalies can talk with city residents and where New Haven residents can talk with students about Yale,” he said.
Regarding homelessness, Catalbasoglu spoke about wanting to change Section 8 housing laws to prioritize those who need housing the most, rather than operating on a first-come, first-served basis. He also said he would like to promote donation parking meters by advertising to expand their usage.
Asked his opinion on decriminalizing homelessness, Catalbasoglu said that homelessness is “not necessarily something that should be criminalized, but the city’s role is to help these people, not sit back and be complacent.”
Regarding his decision to run unaffiliated, Catalbasoglu said he does not believe party ideology matters at the city level, adding that running a partisan campaign would stifle communication between him and constituents.
“If I had a label next to my name, this would deter people from talking to me,” he said.
In addition, as an unaffiliated alder in an otherwise completely Democratic board, Catalbasoglu said he would automatically assume the minority leader position and have the privilege of sitting in on weekly meetings with Mayor Toni Harp and choosing which committees to serve on.
One Dems member asked Catalbasoglu how he will stay accountable to voters after running unopposed. He responded that he is not only accountable to the Yale students in Ward 1, but to “my family and the people I grew up with.”
Catalbasoglu grew up in New Haven, spending much of his time working in his family’s pizza shop, Brick Oven Pizza.
“I have lived in this city for 19 years and plan on staying after graduation,” Catalbasoglu said. “This is my home … I have a stake in the city’s future, which is why I want to create change.”
During the Q&A, Catalbasoglu stressed that he has witnessed firsthand the divide between Yale and New Haven, an issue he is particularly keen to address.
Though he hopes to talk with many students about their policy ideas, Catalbasoglu said he will ultimately make decisions based not on “whether this is the popular opinion on campus, but … on my lived experiences and what I think will best help the citizens of my city.”
Regarding education, Catalbasoglu said he hopes to pressure the Board of Education, which he described as “frozen,” to utilize the funds allocated for ESL students.
“It can be so difficult to get your feet on the ground if you can’t speak the language,” he said, citing his own experience as a son of Turkish immigrants.
Catalbasoglu added that he hopes to use Dwight Hall resources to encourage more Yale students to interact with New Haven public school students.
In response to a question about an Oct. 29 Yale Daily News Magazine article which called into question Catalbasoglu’s focus on policy, the aldermanic candidate said the interview cited in the article was conducted over the summer, when his campaign was in its beginning stages. While Catalbasoglu said he will rely on his experiences living and working in New Haven, he stressed that the assertion that his campaign lacks a policy platform is “completely false.”
In an interview with the News, Dems member Andrew Gamzon ’20, said that while he thought the Q&A went well, Catalbasoglu could have been “a little bit more specific.”
“He talked about a committee for putting Yale and New Haven back together, but a lot of these initiatives sometimes fall by the wayside simply because of laziness,” Gamzon said.
Gamzon added that Catalbasoglu should figure out how to make existing systems for involvement with New Haven more accessible, “rather than just creating new systems.”
Dems member Ananya Kumar-Banerjee ’21 said she found the Q&A “very revealing,” adding that she came away with “a lot of newly informed opinions” about Catalbasoglu’s campaign.
“He did have a lot of great points … but I’d like to see more development on his opinions about decriminalizing homelessness,” Kumar-Banerjee said.
The race for Ward 1 alder is uncontested for the first time in a decade.
Clare Wu | firstname.lastname@example.org