When asked what the ideal Yale-New Haven relationship would look like, Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 described a student who feels at home in the city–or at least, a student “not terrified to go down Whalley Avenue.”
“A student,” he went on, “who would be willing to stand ten seconds in front of the home that I grew up in for seven years.”
Catalbasoglu, a lifelong New Haven resident and current sophomore at Yale, launched his campaign for Ward 1 Alder on Wednesday after announcing his candidacy on Monday. Campaign staffers and supporters packed into his family’s Howe Street restaurant, Brick Oven Pizza, to celebrate the kickoff with pizza, music, and speeches.
The Ward 1 Alder seat is currently held by Sarah Eidelson ’12, who was first elected to the board in 2011. Ward 1 encompasses Old Campus and eight of Yale’s twelve residential colleges.
In an interview with The Politic, Catalbasoglu said that his top priorities as alder would be “one, the Yale-New Haven relationship; two, small businesses; three, immigrants; and four, the youth.” When asked what specific policies he would like to implement or change, Catalbasoglu promised to reveal more later.
“I have these certain policy topics that I want to focus on,” he said. “I will definitely in a later interview give you the specific details of each policy.”
Improving the relationship between Yale and New Haven is the keystone of Catalbasoglu’s platform. As a representative of both, Catalbasoglu believes he can bridge the gap.
“[These people] came out here because they’re my good friends and they know this is important to me,” Catalbasoglu said, gesturing at the crowd. “It’s going to be my job to make sure that when they look at me they see New Haven.”
He emphasized his own stake in the well-being of both communities and his personal reasons for wanting to cultivate a stronger, mutually beneficial relationship between them.
“I think I can make people want to a) vote for me, and b) just get involved in the New Haven community in general,” he said. “I want people to want to build this relationship for me and my family.”
In conversations with The Politic, attendees consistently cited Catalbasoglu’s background when asked why they supported his candidacy. The campaign’s executive secretary, Lorna Chitty ’20, emphasized Catalbasoglu’s connections with both city and school.
“[Catalbasoglu] grew up in New Haven but also has a wonderful, lively social network at Yale,” she noted.
Travis DeShong ’19 told The Politic that he supports Catalbasoglu because he wants an alder who is “receptive to calls and contact, and who’s representative of this section of New Haven.” He said that Catalbasoglu “has the connections that would make him an effective leader.”
In her speech, Catalbasoglu’s campaign chair, Makayla Haussler ‘19, voiced similar concerns.
“I believe that the Ward 1 Alder should work to build the Yale-New Haven relationship, not ignore it,” she said. “Students who want to get involved in the city should be met with a representative who will answer their call—not silence.”
DeShong and Haussler’s comments highlight a widespread dissatisfaction with the current board among Yalies who follow local politics. In a 2015 article, The Politic noted that Eidelson, the incumbent, had “amassed accusations of opacity and absenteeism.” Like Catalbasoglu, Eidelson emphasized bridge-building in her campaign.
“It can be hard as a Yale student to find a point of entry into New Haven,” Eidelson told New Haven Independent in 2015 when she was campaigning for reelection. “I see my role as being that bridge.”
But two years later, some Yale students do not feel that she has made an effort to connect the communities. Isabel Bysiewicz ’20, a junior staffer on Catalbasoglu’s campaign, shares the sentiment and wants a board that would “actively engage in the population…and talk to its constituents.
“[This] hasn’t really happened with the current board,” Bysiewicz commented. “No one really knows who she [Eidelson] is.”
While some feel that Eidelson is out of touch with Yale’s student body, the student body is also relatively out of touch with New Haven politics. Catalbasoglu wants to change that.
“Haci’s campaign is about more than just politics,” Haussler reflected. “Our campaign team includes people from all across the political spectrum working together to create a New Haven that’s better for all of us…We all care about being involved in New Haven and strengthening the relationship between our city and school, which has created a sense of unity and cohesion amongst our team.”
The campaign’s press secretary, Christopher Moeckel ’20, told The Politic why he is working to get Catalbasoglu elected:
“I met him and was inspired,” he said.
For now, Catalbasoglu is uncontested. Eidelson has not yet announced whether she will be running for reelection, and no other candidates have entered the race.
“I have a stake in [the race]…because it is in my family’s best interest for the Ward 1 Alder to do a good job,” Catalbasoglu said. “Regardless of who it is, it’s going to affect my life.”