Courtesy of Eli Sabin

With the Ward 1 alder campaign in full swing, Democratic candidate Eli Sabin ’22 is running on a platform of alleviating poverty in New Haven and bettering the lives of people in the city he grew up in.

Sabin announced his candidacy for alder in June, filing the relevant paperwork two days after current alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 announced that he would not seek reelection. Sabin, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary, grew up in the East Rock neighborhood of New Haven’s Ward 10. A member of Grace Hopper College, Sabin is now a resident of Ward 1 along with students in eight of Yale’s fourteen residential colleges and all students living on Old Campus. If elected, Sabin would be the third Yale student from the Elm City to serve as Ward 1 alder in the past 12 years, following Catalbasoglu and Rachel Plattus ’09, who served from 2007 to 2009. He says that he is running because of his lifelong connection to New Haven and his profound belief in the value and importance of public service.

“This is my community, I care deeply about it, and I want my work to reflect the challenges that affect people in Dixwell and Fair Haven and Newhallville,” Sabin told the News. “[As alder] you get to legislate for a really diverse population that has a lot of challenges, and I’m really excited to get to work with members of the Board on trying to help improve people’s lives.”

Sabin is running against Republican Town Committee-endorsed Chris Marcisz, who has lived in Ward 1 for seven years and did not attend Yale, according to the New Haven Independent. Marcisz told the Independent that he is running on a platform of “cleaning the Green,” which would entail relocating bus stop hubs to the Union Station area and addressing aggressive panhandlers downtown. If elected, he would also fight against tax increases and work to make the Elm City safer by emphasizing community policing while supporting the New Haven Police Department.

Reflecting on his decision to run for alder, Sabin recalled a conversation he had with a homeless veteran who called Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro’s office while he volunteered there in high school.

“[He] was talking about how he felt like he had nowhere to go,” Sabin said. “And it just made an impact on me — the way he reached out to the government looking for help. … In the work that I’ve done, I’ve seen tremendous need that exists in New Haven and I really just want to be a part of the solution.”

A primary component of that need, according to Sabin, is a lack of affordable housing in the Elm City. He cited a January 2019 report by the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force which states that 41 percent of New Haven residents are rent burdened, meaning that they spend greater than 30 percent of their household incomes on rent and utilities. This contributes to the larger problem of poverty in New Haven; 25.6 percent of city residents live below the poverty line.

In addition to housing, Sabin has also identified jobs as a key issue in his campaign. In a Tuesday interview with the News, he said that job instability and rent burdens “prevent people from being able to put food on the table, pay gas and electric bills, buy school supplies for their kids. … It’s also about racial and social justice because the poverty in New Haven disproportionately impacts communities of color.”

These issues, according to Sabin, are directly tied to Yale’s relationship with the Elm City. He said that the University’s recent expansion and failure to deliver on a 2015 jobs agreement have had negative impacts on the city Yale calls home. He also emphasized the impact that a Yale job has on New Haven families and the importance of the University fulfilling its responsibilities to the city.

While he praised the recent hiring agreement between the University and local unions as a step in the right direction, Sabin also criticized Yale for generally failing to consider the New Haven community when making administrative decisions.

“Yale just needs to do more, and pay more to the city, and help make sure that New Haven thrives,” Sabin said. “Not just downtown and the part of the city where students and prospective parents come visit, but the whole city, because this is Yale’s home.”

The Ward 1 alder is tasked with representing both Yale students and affiliates — who constitute the overwhelming majority of Ward 1’s residents — as well as non-Yale affiliates who live in the ward. Chris Marcisz, Sabin’s opponent, told the New Haven Independent that the position should not be reserved for Yale students, as their affiliation with the University poses a “conflict of interest.”

When asked about the precedent of a Yale student occupying the seat, current Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu acknowledged that the seat is not “designed for a young person.”

However, Catalbasoglu maintained that “[having a student alder] has been a great addition to the Board because … the student seat brings a diversity of opinion. It gets a young voice on the table, [and] it allows the body to look at issues from a different perspective.”

Additionally, Catalbasoglu said that, as alder, a Yale student can utilize the University’s financial and intellectual resources. He hopes to see the next alder continue working to bridge the divide between Yale and New Haven by encouraging Yale students to get involved with city boards and commissions, among other initiatives.

Sabin has echoed this sentiment, telling the News that, as alder, he would seek to connect students with boards and commissions. He emphasized that on committees, students can both learn about city government and foster the community engagement necessary to build a strong and prosperous city.

“As I go through the campaign process, I have been trying my best to talk to as many people in New Haven as possible,” Sabin said. “The biggest takeaway I’ve had is [that] people in New Haven are very passionate and kind and want a government that reflects those values. I’m just looking forward to the opportunity to try to make that happen.”

The 30 members of the Board of Alders, the city’s legislative branch, represent New Haven’s approximately 130,000 residents. Ward 1 is one of two majority-Yale wards and the only one that is overwhelmingly so.

Mackenzie Hawkins | mackenzie.hawkins@yale.edu