Vivek Suri

It all seemed so simple. But then elections never are.

In the days leading up to this week’s election, Ward 1 alder-elect Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 — who ran uncontested for the position — told the News and other New Haven media outlets that running as an independent would guarantee him the chance to serve as the Board of Alders’ minority leader, allowing him to choose which aldermanic committee to serve on and granting him weekly meetings with the mayor.

But the rules governing the minority leader position — and the unexpected election of independent candidate Steven Winter ’11 in Ward 21 — have thrown Catalbasoglu’s plans into doubt.

Both Catalbasoglu and Winter have expressed interest in serving as the minority leader, the board’s fourth-ranking leadership position. They plan to meet next Tuesday to discuss their future roles as alders, according to Catalbasoglu.

“I’m interested in exploring whatever options there are to maximize the voice that the neighborhoods in our wards have on some of the real issues they face down at City Hall,” Winter said.

According to the New Haven City Charter, if no member on the Board of Alders is part of a minority party, the board will elect a third officer to serve as minority leader for the two-year term. But whether that officer will be Catalbasoglu, Winter or even one of the other 28 alders remains unclear.

Because of the charter’s ambiguous language, politicians and city officials have conflicting views on how to apply the rules governing the minority leader’s selection to Catalbasoglu and Winter — registered Democrats who ran as independents. Under one possible interpretation, since both alders-elect ran unaffiliated and have previously registered as Democrats, the entire board — Catalbasoglu, Winter and the 28 Democrats on the Board of Alders — might be able to vote on the minority leadership position, according to the Office of Legislative Services.

In an interview with the News, Catalbasoglu said he still hopes the charter’s language works in his favor. But if his registration as a Democrat opens the minority leader position to the entire board, he would consider “re-registering as an unaffiliated candidate,” he said.

For the past two years, Democratic Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12 has served as minority leader. Because the entire Board of Alders currently caucuses with the Democratic party, she was nominated and voted on by the entire board.

“In my experience the most important aspect of the role has been about the collaboration with my colleagues on the board,” Eidelson said.

In recent history, all 30 alders have been affiliated with a party — whether the Democratic Party, which has held a majority of aldermanic seats for decades, or a minority party. When a pair of Republicans and two members of the Green Party served on the Board of Alders in 2002, the four alders had to decide among themselves who would fill which positions. After negotiation, the two Republicans served as minority and deputy minority leaders. In exchange, the Green Party members accepted committee positions that Republicans on the board had previously held.

The swearing in ceremony for New Haven’s 30 alders will take place in January.

Ashna Gupta |