Ethan Wolin, Contributing Photographer

While running to represent a Yale-dominated district in New Haven’s Board of Alders, Kiana Flores ’25 told the News that she would focus more broadly on citywide problems like housing access.

The issue arose on Flores’ turf early in her term, when residents of an Orange Street building in Ward 1 faced a burst pipe, water damage and an unresponsive landlord. Flores helped her constituents arrange an official inspection of their apartments, and she later attended the certification of their new tenants union, the city’s fifth.

“It’s more effective, I think, when you have an alder standing by you, navigating city agencies,” said Alexander Kolokotronis GRD ’23, a founder of the Emerson Tenants Union.

Flores, a New Haven native who on Tuesday reached her 100th day as the Ward 1 alder, has consistently voted in line with her colleagues, all fellow Democrats. She has not proposed any legislation for the Board of Alders to take up — not uncommon for a rank-and-file member of the 30-person body.

Instead, she has supported constituents’ initiatives as she gets the hang of what alders do. Juggling the work of an alder and her life as an undergraduate, Flores has refrained from speaking out on major subjects of student activism, such as the Israel-Hamas war.

“I don’t think I necessarily came in with any type of strategy, but more so looking at it as a learning opportunity,” Flores said of her position, “knowing how collaborative the alders are.”

A unique position

Ward 1 encompasses eight of Yale’s 14 residential colleges, Old Campus and many University buildings, but also numerous businesses on Chapel and College Streets and half of the New Haven Green.

Flores continues a recent pattern of Ward 1 alders: Her three predecessors also ran as Yale undergraduates who had grown up in New Haven. Each left the seat after one two-year term, which Flores said she is likely to do too.

The ward also stands apart for having fewer voters than any other, given the number of Yale students registered elsewhere. Only 11 percent of the ward’s residents are on the New Haven voter rolls, compared to 39 percent in the city overall, based on registration numbers and population data from the 2020 census. Ninety-four voters turned out for an unopposed Flores in November.

Occupying a distinctive, albeit minor, role in town-gown relations, Flores said she has spoken with members of Yale’s Office of New Haven Affairs about seeking student input for changes to the Shops at Yale on Broadway. She told the News that students could use a grocery store there.

Alexandra Daum, who took the helm of the office in February, confirmed the effort to solicit student feedback on the use of Yale’s commercial properties.

“Even though she is early in her term, Alder Flores has already been a great partner to the Office of New Haven Affairs,” Daum wrote in a statement.

Flores also helped YaleBleeds, a student group focused on menstrual equity, with an effort to offer period products to New Haven Public Schools. She put students in touch with the chair of the alders’ Education Committee, on which Flores sits, according to Jessica Yu ’26, an organizer of the project.

Yale President Peter Salovey posed for a photo with Flores at her inauguration ceremony on Jan. 1. The two have not met since, according to Flores.

Learning the ropes

Soon after the inauguration, Flores participated in a training program for alders to learn the Board’s procedures. In the months since, amid the rhythm of evenings in City Hall, Flores has grown closer to legislative colleagues, some of whom she had previously encountered as an environmental activist in high school.

In full Board of Alders meetings, twice most months, Flores sits to the far right of the first row of alders. Official records of the seven full Board meetings so far this year indicate that Flores has attended every one and has never opposed the majority in a roll call vote.

Ward 7 Alder Eli Sabin ’22 LAW ’26, who previously served as Ward 1 alder, said Flores has been “taking the right approach, which is trying to learn as much as possible.”

Flores’ three committees — Education; City Services and Environmental Policy; and Health and Human Services — each meet monthly to hear testimony and consider measures. Flores said the meetings give her a window into officials’ successes, but also the serious problems the city faces, from unaffordable housing to learning deficits in public schools.

“Those are very heavy things,” she said. “Balancing going to City Hall and then coming back to my dorm to study for an exam or something, there’s a bit of a mental switch that has to happen.”

Flores, a political science major, said she is enrolled in three courses this semester and will be able to take as few as 6.5 credits as a senior next year after a course this summer. She works as a Pierson College aide and was chosen to be a first-year counselor.

An informational Yale webpage says that “FroCo duties take priority over all other commitments, so any second job must be flexible and limited to 10 hours per week.” Flores said she is inclined to work as a FroCo but could not yet specify how her arrangement would fit with the duties of an alder.

Much of what an alder does happens outside of City Hall, handling constituent needs and community activities. Several people who have sought Flores’ support in dealing with the city government described her as an accessible point of contact.

Flores met in February with leaders of the Shubert Theatre on College Street and helped the theater get the street closed so school buses could park outside for an event with local students, Kelly Wuzzardo, the theater’s director of education and engagement, told the News.

“She’s already shown herself to be way more responsive than some of the alders we’ve had in the past,” Wuzzardo said.

Former Ward 1 Alder Alex Guzhnay ’24, Flores’ immediate predecessor, when asked about criticism of his responsiveness to a similar request from the Shubert last year, said he tried to be as communicative as possible while managing the many demands made of an alder.

An on-the-ground focus

In recent newsletters to constituents — among about a dozen email bulletins she has sent this year — Flores has advertised a rally for the Emerson Tenants Union on Saturday, April 13, and a New Haven Green clean-up event on Earth Day. She also holds periodic office hours.

But engaging students in non-Yale goings-on can prove difficult. After Flores repeatedly promoted, and postponed, an event called “Walk the Ward” to find infrastructural problems around the neighborhood, the only two people to join her were a News reporter and a member of the team of students Flores recruited to support her Board work.

During the walk on Saturday, Flores took photos of cracks in the sidewalk and other defective infrastructure to report to the government for fixing. She said she has received some concerns about dangerous intersections and crooked street signs.

The matter before the Board of Alders that has attracted the most attention among Yale students this year, however, is a proposed resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, which alders will hear testimony about in May. Despite efforts to win her backing, she has not taken a position.

“There is no limit of what people can discuss with me if they think that I’m a good avenue to express any type of grievance,” Flores said. “In terms of what I can do as one of 30 in a city legislature is maybe a different question.”

Pro-Palestine student activists, including the Yale first year and Ward 1 resident who initiated a 25-minute disruption of a mayoral address in January, did not respond to interview requests.

Flores has generally avoided mixing campus politics and local politics.

Yale College Council President Julian Suh-Toma ’25, Yale College Democrats City Engagement Coordinator Alastair Rao ’26 and an Endowment Justice Coalition organizer each said they have not interacted with the alder.

Sabin said that, although he fielded many fewer requests for help from constituents while representing Ward 1, policy issues such as housing affordability and traffic safety affect Yale students and other residents alike.

“The challenges that Yale students face in New Haven are often parallel or connected with challenges that people are facing generally in New Haven,” he said.

Students who live in Silliman, Timothy Dwight, Ezra Stiles, Morse, Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray Colleges are represented by Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison.

Laura Ospina and Kaitlyn Pohly contributed reporting.

Ethan Wolin covers City Hall and local politics. He is a first year in Silliman College from Washington, D.C.