Tim Tai

In Tuesday night’s election, two Yalies won seats on New Haven’s Board of Alders — Alex Guzhnay ’24 in Ward 1 and Eli Sabin ’22 in Ward 7. The election saw lower turnout among Yale students than past years did.

Previously, Sabin was the alder for Ward 1, which represents eight of Yale’s 14 residential colleges as well as several hotels and apartments along Chapel Street. Sabin estimates that 65 percent of Ward 1 constituents are Yale students. Sabin was third in line to vote for his successor, Guzhnay, as New Haven’s Ward 1 Alder at 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Sabin is now in the process of passing the torch to Guzhnay and preparing to take over as Ward 7 Alder, which represents Downtown and the lower East Rock neighborhood. Sabin and Guzhnay both ran in uncontested races Tuesday. Just over 100 New Haveners cast ballots in Ward 1 and over 500 voted in Ward 7. In 2019, 441 voted in Ward 1 and 704 New Haveners cast ballots in Ward 7, when New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker defeated incumbent Toni Harp.

“We definitely had a lower turnout than anticipated,” Guzhnay told the News. “I think I could chalk that up to a number of different things, it’s an off-year for elections, plus just the national climate around politics.”

Guzhnay is now the sixth Yale student to serve as Ward 1 Alder since 2007 and the latest in a line of Yale-affiliated alders that, according to Sabin, have held the position for the past 40 years.

Guzhnay, who is from New Haven’s Fair Haven neighborhood and attended Achievement First Amistad High School, said a major priority for him as alder will be investing more money into city-run youth programs such as Youth @ Work. He said he is also looking to create more infrastructure in Ward 1 based on recommendations from the Safe Streets Coalition — an organization that advocates for safer and more accessible transportation infrastructure in the Elm City — particularly creating more bike lanes. “That’s something every neighborhood should have,” he added.

He said he is in conversation with Sabin, city engineer Giovanni Zinn and Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison to determine where those lanes might be placed. 

“We’re going to continue having those meetings with folks and working together to make sure we’re  coordinating and everybody’s up to speed,” Sabin added.

Guzhnay said he would also like to keep part of the road on College Street reserved for outdoor seating to boost local businesses. The initiative started during the pandemic, in part due to Sabin’s advocacy.

Sabin said the Shubert Theater and College Street Music Hall are both transitioning back to having storage and moving trucks enter and exit as shows are opening. To accommodate this, they are requesting access to College Street, which would potentially eliminate the outdoor seating area that currently takes up a portion of the street. 

“I think they want a little more flexibility about the configuration of the street. I’m hoping we’re going to figure out how to make it work because I think it’s been a huge success and helped business out a lot,” Sabin said. 

Guzhnay and Sabin said they have been working together closely to make their transition in the Ward 1 alder spot as smooth as possible. 

All newly-elected alders will soon attend meetings at City Hall to review the ethics code, an outline of all city departments and rules of order. 

For Ward 1, Sabin said he is introducing Guzhnay to Brendan Borer, New Haven Police Department downtown district manager lieutenant, and Arthur Natalino, Livable City Initiative Neighborhood specialist for Downtown New Haven, who both are in frequent communication with the Ward 1 alder.

Guzhnay said he has already met with at least one-third of the board to discuss issues and ideas for New Haven over lunches and coffees. “Folks have been really supportive,” Guzhnay said.

“I think that relationship building makes the transition to being an alder and part of the group a lot easier,” Sabin added. 

Sabin has also been working with Guzhnay to fix Ward 1 specific problems such as trash bags over some pedestrian light walk signals and a United Illuminating home lighting issue on Chapel Street. 

On election day, Sabin was stationed outside the Hall of Records on Orange Street from 6:15 a.m. to 8 p.m. to meet Ward 7 voters. He only left at one point to grab warmer clothes saying, “it was a long day, but a good day.” He said it was “rewarding” to speak with constituents who recognized him and voted. 

As Ward 7 alder, Sabin said he plans to focus on affordable housing and transforming downtown New Haven into a neighborhood that “serves the whole city.” He said he would like to grow the downtown area and densify it though zoning changes that would allow for more housing.

Sabin said he also wants to fill vacant storefronts along Chapel Street to create more jobs and revitalize the economy. 

With many of his constituents being students and young professionals who often move in and out of apartments, Guzhnay said it can be difficult to interact with voters on New Haven issues. 

Guzhnay said that before the pandemic, he saw a lot of Yale students engaged in activism in the city. “I think it’s kind of slowed down thanks to the pandemic, but I think things will grow again,” he said.

To connect with voters, Guzhnay said he made phone calls and plans to attend Downtown Wooster Community Management Team meetings. 

Sabin said he would like to see a tradition of Yale students who have grown up in New Haven representing Ward 1.

“I think if you grow up here you have a much better sense of what’s going on here and what people care about,” he said. “I think it’s easier to figure out what issues to prioritize, build trust with other folks on the board and the community, and bridge the divide between Yale and the city.” 

Kiana Flores ’25 has been working as one of two interns for Sabin’s campaign since the start of the semester in September. 

Flores helped the campaign with phone banking, calling constituents about voting plans and locations and canvassing door-to-door with registered voters. She also aided the campaign in creating social media posts and emails. 

Flores is from New Haven and graduated from Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School last year. “I’m really excited to have two New Haven Yalies as alders because I feel like they give a really grounded perspective both being from New Haven born and raised,” she said. 

On election day, Flores was stationed outside the Ward 7 polling place at 200 Orange St. from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. interacting with voters. 

“A lot of them are more incentivized to vote since they’re living in New Haven whereas a lot of Yale students don’t vote in New Haven because they’re registered somewhere else or they simply don’t know they can register here and vote in the local election,” Flore said. 

Flores said she has run into more Yale students interested in New Haven politics since the start of the year. 

“I hope that people do take the time and consider voting in New Haven when they can and just learn a little more about who’s representing them, especially since they’ll be here for four years,” she said. 

To get more involved in New Haven, Flores said she hopes students will look more into local politics, nonprofit organizations and activist groups throughout the city. 

Flores highlighted the work Sabin has done in boosting local businesses by shutting down College Street for outdoor dining during the pandemic and the strides Sabin made in promoting bike and pedestrian safety. She said she is looking forward to seeing a continuation of his efforts on bike and pedestrian safety in Ward 7, as well as on zoning reforms before the broader Board of Alders.

11,813 New Haveners voted in the polls on Tuesday, compared to 17,849 in the 2019 New Haven mayoral election between mayor re-elect Justin Elicker and former mayor Toni Harp.

Sophie Sonnenfeld covers cops and courts. She is a first-year in Branford College majoring in anthropology.