Courtesy of Eli Sabin

Ever walk past a stranger on the paths of Cross Campus and wonder, “Who? Who are you?” Weekend does. Everyone at Yale has a story. Everyone has many stories. Here at Weekend, we want to know more. There’s the guy who sits at the same table in Atticus every afternoon, typing furiously. There’s the brunette swimming laps at the Payne Whitney pool. Everyday people, everyday lives. We want to know more. What’s going on under the surface? What’s the story behind the people you recognize but never meet?

This week, for a special Strangers profile, Weekend sat down at Blue State Coffee with Yale sophomore and candidate for Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin.

 

Tuesday, Nov. 5, will mark the end of a four-month-long campaign for Yale sophomore, New Haven native and prospective Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin ’22.

Sabin’s story in the Elm City started long before June, when he announced his candidacy to represent the overwhelmingly Yale-populated Ward 1 on the Board of Alders — New Haven’s legislative body. Sabin is hoping to take the reins from current Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19, who decided against seeking a second term. If elected, Sabin would advocate for affordable housing and jobs access legislation on the Board.

 

New Haven Roots

Growing up in New Haven, Sabin first got to know the city through sports. He played soccer from age five to his senior year of high school and played basketball at the Boys & Girls Club. Through sports, he told the News, he came to know people from across the Elm City.

“I feel now like any work that I’m doing is for those kids and their families,” Sabin said. “That’s definitely one of the reasons why I’ve decided to get so involved in New Haven — one of the reasons why I wanted to stay here for college. I feel a real, deep connection to the community that I grew up in and all the people who are here.”

That involvement, Sabin said, started in middle school, when he helped lead an annual Connecticut Food Bank fundraiser through the student council. He continued to volunteer at local organizations, such as Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, and became more politically engaged with the city as a student at the Hopkins School, a private college-preparatory school founded in 1660.

In his junior year of high school, Sabin took a course called “21st Century Democracy,” which required students to work on a local campaign. Sabin, through New Haven Rep. and Majority Caucus Chair Roland Lemar, connected with East Haven’s then-Rep. James Albis, who was running for reelection against a former WWE wrestler known as “Big Steve Tracey.” Sabin described Tracey as “running in the Trumpian mold” in 2016, the year that Donald Trump won East Haven by 11 points after Barack Obama had carried the city by 17 points in 2012. Albis bested Tracey, who is now running for mayor of East Haven, by a scant nine votes. This small margin of victory, Sabin said, demonstrated the potential for individual impact at the local level.

He went on to describe Connecticut as a politically accessible state — Albis, Lemar and others helped him navigate the state’s political system. Through his interactions with those politicians, Sabin learned the importance of local politics. Over the next few years, Sabin worked in U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s office, directed the Progressive Caucus of the Connecticut General Assembly, served as the co-chair for Ward 1 on New Haven’s Democratic Town Committee and joined the city’s Homeless Advisory Board, among other positions. This work, he said, gave him insight into the profound challenges that Elm City residents face and taught him about “what it means to actually legislate.”

Through politics, Sabin hopes to turn shared ideals into tangible progress by working with residents from across the Elm City.

“Each of us only has one experience of growing up in a particular place that we are from,” Sabin said. “I have continually made an effort to learn as much about the New Haven community as possible.”

 

The Campaign Team

In the fall of 2018, Sabin moved from Ward 10’s East Rock neighborhood to Ward 1’s Bingham Hall to start at Yale, where his parents both work as professors. He is in Grace Hopper College and is a member of Yale’s Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. Last year, Sabin was also involved in the Yale Political Union’s Progressive Party, The Politic and the club soccer team. He has since turned away from other campus commitments to focus on his campaign to represent Ward 1 on a platform of affordable housing and access to jobs.

In June, Sabin formally declared his candidacy and set about building a campaign team. He reached out to Matt Post ’22, who now serves as his campaign manager, and Elizabeth Bjork ’22, who is the campaign’s treasurer. In selecting his staff, he told the News, he sought people with both campaign experience and similar values.

Sabin got to know Post last year through activism around the Civilian Review Board — a police accountability body established in January — and reached out to him over the summer about the campaign. Before coming to Yale, Post served as the student member of Montgomery County’s school board, and he is currently part of the national March for Our Lives movement. Post said that he had always encouraged Sabin to run for the Ward 1 seat, given his demonstrated commitment of the Elm City.

“I believe in Eli because I don’t see ambition or narcissism or self-obsession that you see in so many other politicians,” Post told the News. “I just see someone who wants to put his head down and do the work to make his community better.”

Bjork said that she met Sabin during their pre-orientation backpacking trip and bonded with him through the Yale College Democrats. She currently serves as the Dems treasurer and worked with Sabin on the Dems board until he resigned as communications director upon announcing his Ward 1 candidacy. She supports Sabin, she said, because of his robust qualifications and continued engagement in the Elm City.

Other members of Sabin’s grassroots campaign team include Donasia Gray ’22, Ali Bauman ’21, Zola Canady ’22, Molly Shapiro ’21, Kennedy Bennet ’22, Aliesa Bahri ’22, Rama Varanasi ‘22, Liam Elkind ’21, Juma Sei ’22 and Isaac Yearwood ’22.

In recruiting volunteers, Post told the News that the campaign sought a team that reflects the diversity of both the University and the city. Sabin noted that while his core staff does not include any non-Yale affiliates, he has consistently turned to members of the New Haven community — ranging from alders to activists — throughout the campaign for support and advice.

“It’s really important to me that all of the voices of Ward 1 are included in the campaign, not just Yale students,” Sabin said.

 

The Upcoming Election

The campaign team’s efforts — which have included voter registration drives and campaigning around campus — will culminate this Tuesday in New Haven’s general election. Sabin will face off against Republican Chris Marcisz, who has criticized the Board of Alders as a “one-party echo chamber.” If elected, Marcisz told the News that he plans to serve as a conduit between residents, non-profit workers and government officials to improve safety on the Green and in the downtown district more broadly.

Sabin and his team have sounded the alarm on several of Marcisz’ proposed policies — particularly, Sabin has noted that Marcisz circulated a petition to end New Haven’s sanctuary city status on his personal Facebook page, has dismissed climate change as a hoax and has made “comments that range from offensive to intolerant.” On Thursday, Sabin hosted a press conference to “call out [his] opponent’s hateful ideas.”

“I think it’s really important that all the potential voters in Ward 1 understand that there’s a really clear difference between the vision that I have for the city of New Haven and the vision my opponent has,” Sabin told the News in an interview. “With as many vulnerable residents as we have in New Haven … we cannot afford to let there be any chance that Chris Marcisz makes it onto the Board of Alders.”

Post echoed this sentiment, calling Marcisz a “bigoted racist who wants New Haven to work with ICE and wants to actually hurt our immigrant neighbors.”

Marcisz did not respond to the News’ request for comment.

Post encouraged Yale students to vote in New Haven despite potential discomfort that they may feel given Yale’s already “outsized” influence on the Elm City. The decision to vote, he said, is a decision between being complicit with or working to mitigate the harm the University inflicts on New Haven through its real estate and its budget.

He further underscored the stakes in this election by highlighting the fact that the 2015 Democratic candidate for Ward 1 — incumbent Sarah Eidelson ’12 — bested Republican challenger Ugonna Eze ’16 by only 17 votes.

If elected on Tuesday, Sabin will join a tradition of Yale students holding the Ward 1 seat on the Board of Alders. He 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.

Mackenzie Hawkins | mackenzie.hawkins@yale.edu