I love Yale and New Haven. That’s how my campaign began.
I love the vibrancy of the campus and the energy in the city. I love that both places are always active. In New Haven, we are researching cures for cancer or developing apps that help our city prosper. At Yale, we pride ourselves on our busy schedules that focus on our ability to engage and create change — to make the world a better place.
That’s why the primary election this September was such a disappointment. Over 3,700 people can vote in Ward 1, but, in a contested mayoral primary race in our city, only 46 people in our ward cast a ballot.
We had the smallest turnout in the city — and New Haven noticed. Yet, we have the second largest electoral district in New Haven. The ward with the next fewest votes cast still turned out 112 people, almost three times as many as Ward 1. And this ward has half the number of eligible voters as ours.
New Haven is the most represented city in the country, with 30 alders for 130,000 residents. Therefore, Yale is one of the few universities of its size or kind to have its own electoral district. On paper, we are one of the highest achieving electorates across the nation. We may have the highest average SAT scores or the highest IQs or the highest proportion of people who have read Plato of any local electoral district in the U.S., but none of that matters when just over 1 percent of our electorate votes. None of the knowledge or critical thinking skills we have acquired over the years make any difference if we don’t use them when exercising our democratic right to vote.
These embarrassing statistics represent more than just voter turnout — they represent what my campaign is fighting to achieve.
Over the past few months, I’ve been asked repeatedly why I am even bothering to continue to campaign, given that I have no opponent. I always give the same answer:
For Yale and New Haven to prosper, they must work together. For this to work, Yale students must be invested in this city. That starts at the ballot box.
Elections, especially local ones, influence the way we interact with our community. For one thing, they definitely demonstrate how much we value our community. When only 1 percent of Ward 1 votes in a New Haven election, we show the city that Yalies don’t believe they are members of this city, that we don’t believe these elections impact us and that we don’t care how they impact other New Haveners.
But the Board of Alders, the mayor and other elected officials do a lot in this city. They allocate funding for programs on which New Haveners rely. They pass, or fail to pass, legislation that significantly impacts residents. Elected officials decide the curriculum in New Haven Public Schools. They impact programming for formerly incarcerated community members. They can help or hurt small businesses. In other words, they are involved in the life of every New Havener, and that means that we should all be involved in their election.
For New Haven to see that Yale cares about this community, we need to show up and vote next week. It is the easiest message in the world to send. The polling booth is no more than a 10-minute walk from anywhere on Yale’s campus, and there is almost never a line when you try to cast a ballot. But I hope that’s different this year.
I hope Yalies across Ward 1 pack the polling station to send a message to New Haven that we are ready to bridge this gap, to strengthen the relationship between our city and our school. But this work doesn’t stop at the ballot box. I hope that, if I’m elected alder, Yale students from across campus will come to me with ideas to help work with the city. I want people to be invested in the place we all call home — in the place I’ve always called home.
And I believe that starts with me. As your alder, I promise to engage with campus organizations and experts who I know can make a difference. I promise to be accessible to people with plans and problems. I promise to make local government local. You’ll see me in the dining halls and the streets. You might even spot me in the library or at Brick Oven Pizza late one night. When you see me, know that you can always ask a question or give a suggestion. Nothing is too big or too small, because, to me, I will be serving as your alder to connect all Yalies with City Hall. Your ideas are my ideas and your concerns are my concerns.
In return, I ask only that you promise me you’ll vote on Nov. 7 to show New Haven that we care about investing in Yale’s future with this city.
Haci Catalbasoglu is a junior in Davenport College and a candidate for Ward 1 alder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .