Ashna Gupta

The New Haven Board of Alders, which for six years has been composed entirely of Democrats, will now have two unaffiliated members, throwing into doubt the plans of Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 to serve as the board’s minority leader.

Catalbasoglu — the independent, uncontested candidate for Ward 1 alder — made the minority leader position one of the central talking points of his campaign. The minority leader meets regularly with the mayor and other city officials and can choose which aldermanic committees to serve on.

But those plans are now up in the air, after independent candidate Steven Winter ’11 pulled off an upset over Ward 21 Democratic co-chair Rodney Williams to clinch the Ward 21 election. In an interview with the News on Tuesday night, Winter expressed interest in serving as minority leader.

“I’d like to explore how serving as minority leader can help me best represent the many issues our ward and the city face,” he said.

In the past, alders in the minority party have had to decide among themselves who would serve as minority leader. That meant that if members of the minority failed to reach a compromise, there would be no minority leader and thus no minority state of the city address, according to a 2003 article in the New Haven Register.

In 2004, there were four minority aldermen on the board, two Republicans and two members of the Green Party. The Republicans — Nancy Ahern and Arlene DePino — served as minority and deputy minority leaders, respectively; in exchange, the two Green Party members were appointed to committee positions previously held by Republicans.

Asked to comment on the implications of the Ward 21 upset, Catalbasoglu said speculation would be premature. “Until we figure out who is or isn’t caucusing with the Democratic caucus, it’s too early to discuss the role of the minority leader,” he said.

But those considerations didn’t stop him from highlighting the prospect that he would likely serve as minority leader in interviews with the News and the New Haven Register in the days leading up to the election.

“Being able to create this relationship with the mayor will be vital,” Catalbasoglu said at a rally with Mayor Toni Harp on Sunday, referring to the access to city officials that the minority leader has historically enjoyed.

Winter, a former Rhode Island resident, moved to New Haven to attend Yale, where he majored in philosophy. After his graduation in 2011, he started a small painting company in New Haven. The 28-year-old lives with his wife on Prospect Hill.

In his interview with the News, Winter said he ran as an independent in order to “reach out to people directly.”

He said has been “knocking on doors for the past three months” and hopes to explore policies on education, safe streets and police accountability.

“I’m excited to have won and grateful for the opportunity to serve,” Winter said. “I would encourage Yale students to stay politically engaged with the public meeting process and local elections but also to look for opportunities to engage with students in New Haven.”

Catalbasoglu received 244 votes in the uncontested Ward 1 election, more than five times the number cast in Ward 1 during the Democratic primary in September. Winter defeated Democratic nominee Rodney Williams by a significant margin — 234 to 118 votes.

Catalbasoglu and his team celebrated the election results at a campaign member’s house and expressed excitement at the turnout.

“We received well over 200 votes, which is a pretty huge accomplishment for the campaign and a testament to the fact that the ideas that Haci believed in and spoke about struck a cord with a vast number of Yalies and people who live in New Haven,” said Christopher Moeckel ’20, one of Catalbasoglu’s press secretaries.

New Haven Alders create, pass and amend local laws and approve the city’s annual budget.

Ashna Gupta |