Vivek Suri

Ward 1 alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 is standing by his decision to caucus with the Democrats.

On the campaign trail, Catalbasoglu cast himself as an independent voice who would break the Democratic stranglehold of the Board of Alders. But now that he has chosen to caucus with the Democrats — effectively ceding the minority leader position on the board to Ward 8 alder Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 — Catalbasoglu and his supporters are singing a different tune.

“The Board of Alders is highly collaborative and relationship-driven, and the Democratic caucus, rightly or wrongly, is where a lot of the collaboration and dialogue happens,” previous Ward 1 alder candidate and outspoken Catalbasoglu supporter Fish Stark ’17 told the News on Wednesday. “By not joining the caucus, Haci would have put himself on an island, shut himself out of important discussions and reduced his power to get things done.”

Throughout his campaign, Catalbasoglu — a registered Democrat — promoted himself as the only “unaffiliated” politician in an all-Democratic Board of Alders, saying that “partisanship has no role in municipal politics.” He said repeatedly that he would serve as the board’s minority leader — a position that entails weekly meetings with Mayor Toni Harp and the opportunity to choose which committees to serve on. As election day approached, he even received bipartisan endorsements. The Yale College Republicans endorsed Catalbasoglu, saying that he would represent an “independent stance on a Board of Alders controlled by unions.” The Yale College Republican did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

But the surprise election of Ward 21 alder Steven Winter ’11 — a registered Democrat who also ran as an unaffiliated candidate — threw Catalbasoglu’s plans into disarray. And when it became clear that Catalbasoglu and Winter would have to formally register as independents in order to assume the minority leader position without approval from the Democratic alders, both alders ultimately balked.

In November, Catalbasoglu said he would consider “re-registering as an unaffiliated candidate.” But after conversations with city leaders and other alders over winter break, Catalbasoglu changed his mind, he told the News on Tuesday night, shortly after a meeting at which he caucused with the Democrats and saw Greenberg elected as third officer — an alternative name for the minority leader position when all of the alders on the board belong to the same party.

“Working together with the rest of the board is more beneficial for not only me but also my constituents,” Catalbasoglu said.

John DeStefano, the former mayor of New Haven and a political science lecturer at Yale, told the News on Wednesday that Catalbasoglu “made the smart choice,” as joining the leadership team “adds little” and his decision shows that “he is a team player.”

“The fact is that some might find a Yale student who catapults themselves into leadership as a newbie when other members have been serving for years is off putting,” DeStefano added.

Although the Yale College Democrats initially issued a critical statement about Catalbasoglu during his campaign, the Dems told the News on Wednesday that they support his decision and are excited to work with him.

“If Haci has found that caucusing with the Democrats will best serve his constituents and the city, we look forward to his leadership and advocacy,” said Jordan Cozby ’20, president of the Dems.

Former Dems President Joshua Hochman ’18 concurred. He said Catalbasoglu made a “smart choice” that will allow him to “be party to internal caucus debates.” In addition, he said, there was no “compelling reason” for Catalbasoglu to be minority leader.

Regardless, Hochman urged observers to focus on Catalbasoglu’s “soon-to-begin legislative activity” rather than “titles and the parlor game.”

Stark noted that although Catalbasoglu believes city politics should be nonpartisan, he identifies as a Democrat.

“Changing his registration would have kept him from participating in the Democratic primary for governor and being involved in the party,” Stark said. “I imagine that had to be part of his decision.”

However, 2015 Republican Ward 1 alder candidate Ugonna Eze ’16 said he disagreed, arguing that one-party rule has “stifled” New Haven.

“I would hope that in making this decision [Catalbasoglu] would be aware of the tension between how the union leadership has chosen to run the city and what New Haven residents need at this time,” Eze said.

The last Ward 1 alder was Sarah Eidelson ’12, who decided to step down at the end of her second term.

Ashna Gupta | ashna.gupta@yale.edu