The revolving door of the city’s various committees and boards continues to spin, with a slate of nominees one step closer to filling the city’s empty seats.
On Tuesday, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp announced her last appointment to the city’s Board of Education, Quinnipiac library director and former Yale librarian Matt Wilcox, to replace her original nominee, who abruptly withdrew last week. One day prior, the Board of Alders’ Aldermanic Affairs Committee, which reviews and votes on various nominations to city boards and committees, met to debate a slate of nominees to various city commissions. Although the highest-profile nomination was another Board of Education appointee, Yesenia Rivera — who was confirmed unanimously — the committee also reviewed the nomination of Eli Sabin ’22 to the Homeless Advisory Commission. While Monday’s other four appointments considered were approved and sent to the full Board of Alders unanimously, Sabin’s nomination was passed with one vote against it— 4–1.
“Wilcox’s desire to be more active in the community and to serve the city was known to the mayor,” mayoral spokesperson Laurence Grotheer told the News. “When she reviewed his background, she decided that his willingness to serve and this vacancy would be a good match.”
In an emailed statement, Harp said that she was “confident about Mr. Wilcox[’s] commitment” to serving the students of New Haven. No hearing date has been set for Wilcox’s appointment.
Monday’s hearing originally included an additional agenda item — the appointment of Liam Brennan LAW ’07 to the city’s Board of Education. Harp tapped Brennan, a former United States attorney and outspoken critic of the Board of Education to fill the seat of current Board of Education vice president Jamell Cotto. Earlier this month, the city legislators rejected the reappointment of Cotto. But Brennan withdrew himself from consideration last week after he was hired to direct the Connecticut Veterans Legal Assistance.
Along with filling vacancies on the city’s education oversight board, the Alders made headway in doing the same in other city commissions and boards.
The City of New Haven has 45 commissions and boards, whose members are nominated by Harp. Across the 45, over 300 city residents serve as volunteer members. The Board of Alders’ Aldermanic Affairs committee considers all appointments and votes to pass the nominations to the full Board.
In 1999, the city established the Homeless Advisory Commission, which addresses homelessness in the Elm City and its various impacts and groundings. University undergraduates have served among the committee’s ranks before. Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 — who grew up in New Haven before matriculating to Yale — served on the commission as a college sophomore prior to his election as alder. Catalbasoglu is currently a member of the Aldermanic Affairs Committee.
Sabin’s nomination comes as the Elm City has struggled to keep its boards and commissions fully staffed. Catalbasoglu, who has advocated for greater involvement in City Hall on behalf of Yale students, sent a campuswide email in January stating that Harp had expressed a desire to see more Yalies serve on commissions. Those interested in serving were directed to the mayor’s office to file preliminary paperwork and speak with her staffers.
Grotheer told the News that he was unable to provide any information about the volume of current vacancies across the city’s boards and commissions. But Catalbasoglu told the News that he is reasonably comfortable concluding that the “majority” of the boards and commissions have “at least one” vacant spot at any given point, though he does not have knowledge of the direct numbers. The city’s website and information on commission membership are not up to date.
During the hearing, Sabin emphasized his background in local politics and familiarity with the issues discussed by the Homeless Advisory Commission. He previously served as a policy intern under state Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, who represents parts of New Haven and East Haven in the Connecticut General Assembly, and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. Sabin, a graduate of the city’s Hopkins School, is also a Ward 1 Democratic Town Committee co-chair as of October 2018.
Catalbasoglu spoke in support of Sabin’s nomination on Monday’s hearing. Catalbasoglu assured his colleagues of Sabin’s commitment to the city and to the issue of homelessness specifically. Catalbasoglu cited Sabin’s work with Yale College Democrats to promote student participation in the city’s public forums on homelessness.
Ward 12 Alder Gerald Antunes took issue with Sabin’s nomination given Sabin’s youth and inexperience. He was “not convinced [Sabin is] prepared for this job” and also took issue with some of Sabin’s answers to questions.
Antunes disagreed with Sabin’s characterization of the city’s homelessness problem as one that could be addressed principally through affordable housing and zoning policies. Ultimately, Antunes voted against Sabin’s appointment.
Three other New Haveners — respectively nominated to the city’s Historic District Commission, Humane Commission and Board of Education — received the full support of the voting Alders.
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