Next Tuesday, Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 will likely be elected Ward 1 alder. His election will be under conditions entirely different from those of two years ago — when Fish Stark ’17 and Ugonna Eze ’16 ran in close competition with incumbent Sarah Eidelson ’12 — and of the past decade, when every Ward 1 race was contested. To be sure, running unopposed has lightened the load of postering and polling, enabling Catalbasoglu to sidestep most of the political pressures that typically characterize campaigns: policy debates, opposition research and turnout operations, among others.
Perhaps because of the uncontested nature of this race, Catalbasoglu takes an idealistic, yet somewhat oblivious approach to the realities of public service. For instance, Catalbasoglu and his campaign have consistently branded his independent candidacy as a plus — by running unaffiliated he can reach a broader audience at Yale. Furthermore, as minority leader on an all-Democratic Board, he can appoint himself to any two committees of his choice, where legislative achievements are usually reached. But the talking point fell flat in a recent meeting with the News’ Managing Board, just one week before the election, when Catalbasoglu struggled to identify the specific committees he plans to join. He listed off the four committees he considered interesting, only two of which — Education and Youth Services — actually exist.
Yet in some ways, oversights like these are forgivable — at least in the absence of a challenger, who would likely have held Catalbasoglu accountable for such gaps in knowledge. It is true that candidates in other New Haven wards are rarely subjected to the scrutiny that Ward 1 candidates experience, especially considering the ongoing campus debate about the necessity of the very position. It is also true that, as Catalbasoglu points out frequently, campaigns are distinct from alderships. As the heavily staffed Haci for Ward 1 campaign comes to a close, it is worth considering instead the challenges Catalbasoglu will face once elected.
Chief among these challenges is apathy. Voter turnout next Tuesday will likely be low, not necessarily because of the particulars of Catalbasoglu’s agenda but because of campus indifference on the part of Yalies who perceive Ward 1 itself as unimportant. As alder, Catalbasoglu will have to convince both Yale and New Haven why Ward 1 — more broadly, why town-gown relationships — matter.
Because, if nothing else, we know that Catalbasoglu sincerely loves the city he has long called home. And while making good on his campaign promise to bridge the gap between Yale and New Haven will demand more than social media campaigns and canvassing on Cross Campus, we are hopeful that Catalbasoglu will foster dialogue and make decisions that include both Yalies and New Haveners.
He will likely find that navigating real politics, and effecting real change, is more difficult than campaigning in an uncontested race. And on a Board of Alders dominated by Democrats, most of whose decisions are made behind closed doors in caucus meetings from which an unaffiliated Catalbasoglu will be shut out, his work is cut out for him.
These challenges, however, may be blessings in disguise. As Catalbasoglu pointed out to the News, Ward 1 is unique in that its alder, unlike the 29 others on the Board, is not necessarily burdened with daily constituent concerns like sidewalk clearing — Yale takes care of the housekeeping. This presents an opportunity for Catalbasoglu to focus on broader problems and solutions. And although his campaign attempts to rationalize its lack of real policy proposals — at least in comparison to those of the previous Ward 1 campaigns — Catalbasoglu has the potential to, in tandem with his minority leadership on the Board of Alders, engage in serious policy debates with serious implications for the city and, indeed, for Yale.
As a candidate, Catalbasoglu has relentlessly emphasized his goal of strengthening the connection between Yale and New Haven. As an elected official, he will need to make good on that promise. We are cautiously optimistic he will rise to the challenge.