First-Gen New Havener Seeks Ward 1 Seat

Christopher Peak Photo A New Haven local who grew up serving Yale students pizza at his father’s restaurant served up a new order there Wednesday night — for his college classmates to elect him as their representative on the Board of Alders.

On Wednesday night, at his dad’s shop Pizza at the Brick Oven at the corner of Elm and Howe streets, Hacibey Catalbasoglu (or “Haci” as his friends know him), announced his intention to run for alder representing Ward 1, which consists mostly of Yalies.

In an election that is often about what it means to be an Ivy League student temporarily residing in New Haven, Catalbasoglu is positioning himself as a candidate with a more permanent perspective: His Turkish immigrant family members will be affected by sanctuary city policies; his childhood buddies, by school quality; his dad’s business, by economic development. Catalbasoglu, a 19-year-old political science major, is campaigning as someone who personifies the town-gown relationship and intimately understands how it can be strengthened.

“You can’t stand for something unless you have a stake in it,” Catalbasoglu said. “These are my people. I’m not leaving when I graduate.”

Despite being a registered Democrat, Catalbasoglu said he plans to run as an independent in the general election instead of seeking his party’s nomination. Strategically, the decision allows him to skip the primaries straight into the general election. And Ward 1 has also been rich with unaffiliated voters in years past.

With November elections still more than six months away, it remains to be seen whom Catalbasoglu’s opponents will be. Incumbent Sarah Eidelson is staying mum about whether she’ll make a reelection bid, saying Wednesday she’s still weighing her options.

Catalbasoglu grew up behind the counter at Pizza at the Brick Oven, once even sleeping underneath its oven on a particularly late night. Its proprietor, his father Kadir Catalbasoglu, emigrated from Turkey in 1992. Following his brothers to New Haven, his dad worked as a dishwasher at Athenian Diner and a cook at Alpha Delta Pizza before opening his own restaurant.

Kadir Catalbasoglu told the Independent he always hoped his son would succeed —  “I don’t want him to be pizza man also”  —  but he never dreamed Hacibey would one day run for public office. “I think he can do it,” his father added.

Growing up here, Catalbasoglu attended public schools in New Haven and West Haven: Wexler-Grant, Savin Rock Elementary and Carrigan Middle. (Catalbasoglu’s campaign literature omits his high school years at Putnam Science Academy, a private boarding school 89 miles away in the northeast corner of Connecticut.) With a stream of Yale students ordering up pies, Catalbasoglu set a goal of attending the premier university in his backyard.

At Yale, Catalbasoglu’s links across campus — from athletics to model United Nations, politics to charity — make him a popular figure. “Everybody knows Haci. I’m still trying to find that person who has a negative viewpoint on Haci,” said Jacob Malinowski, a freshman supporter.

By 8 p.m., the family-owned pizza parlor at 122 Howe was packed with supporters, many wearing white t-shirts with the slogan “I ♥︎ NH.” A big show of support Wednesday came from the heavyweight crew team, which Catalbasoglu walked onto this season. “Haci’s the best kid I’ve ever met,” said Robert Hurn, the team captain. (He turned to the athletes beside him to add, “Sorry, guys.”)

Befitting a district that largely consists of undergraduate dorms, the campaign kickoff felt like a noticeably student production. Technical glitches interrupted a video screening, the campaign chair asked supporters to Venmo their donations, and a young press secretary tried to shoo off reporters after five minutes with the candidate. A bouncy playlist of Marvin Gaye, Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus rocked from the loudspeakers, while students filled out voter registration forms and snapped pictures of pledge cards.

Across town, Eidelson presented survey results about residents’ top legislative priorities to her colleagues at City Hall before the beginning of a Board of Alders meeting. More than 5,000 respondents said the most pressing issues in Elm City are good-paying jobs, opportunities for youth and safer neighborhoods. “The results are very clear about the urgency of staying the course on driving those issues” the board has worked on, Eidelson told the Independent.

Policy issues aside, Eidelson faces a tactical question this election: How long can an incumbent last in the city’s most fluid district? After each four years in office, a Ward 1 alder must face reelection by an entirely new constituency, their initial supporters having graduated and moved on to other wards, if not cities.

The fresh crop of student voters at Catalbasoglu’s kick-off said they hadn’t yet met her. “I don’t want to badmouth her: I just don’t know anything about her,” said Hurn, the crew captain. “If you asked that question [of what’s Eidelson’s reputation] to most Yale students, they’d say, ‘Who’s Sarah?’” said Malinowski.

Asked whether she had concerns about representing a new crop of undergrads, Eidelson noted that she still lives in the heart of campus. Then she added, “The question is really about the work that you do. It takes more than just being physically present to actually engage with students and be available.”

During her tenure, Eidelson has championed more programming, services and physical spaces for the city’s children. Her advocacy led to spots for two student representatives on the Board of Education. And as “third officer”, she holds a position on the board’s leadership — a first for a Yale alder.

Eidelson first won the Ward 1 seat in 2011, as part of a labor-backed slate of candidates. (A Yale graduate, she handles communications and graphic design for UNITE HERE, the collection of Yale unions, as her day job.) By 2015, Eidelson barely eked out a victory over a Republican, prevailing by just 17 votes. If she chooses to defend her seat, she’ll be up for a fourth term.

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posted by: Dwightstreeter on April 20, 2017  10:26am

Check out yesterday’s Yale Daily News for an excellent essay by this young man, plus the article on the powers running New Haven is also worth your time.
This guy has my vote.

posted by: Yalie2018 on April 20, 2017  10:55am

It’s really upsetting that Sarah is just blatantly lying here, and that the Independent takes it at face value without question. The idea that Sarah would “actually engage with students and be available” is absurd.

Most students have absolutely no idea who she is, and the ones who are actually active in the city are used to her never returning emails and rudely brushing off students who want to get involved that her total disengagement has become a running joke.

She is so disengaged that the Yale Daily News called her “lazy and undemocratic” when she last ran, and one editor even wrote that she wouldn’t show up to her own office hours. Now she doesn’t have office hours anymore.

The only time she does come on campus is right before an election, when her campaign people harass students (friends of mine have been sworn at, one of her canvassers faked an injury and was yelling in the hall in order to get students to come out of their rooms and talk to them) to get them to vote. She was reported for this and is under state investigation.

If she really care about engaging with students and getting them involved in the city—which she clearly doesn’t—she should just say it instead of lying through her teeth.

posted by: thecove on April 20, 2017  12:46pm

Come to think of it…Eidelson never returned an email I sent her either.

posted by: whalley4727 on April 20, 2017  12:53pm

If memory serves, Rachel Plattus was the last native New Havener to occupy the Ward 1 seat, while she was an undergraduate. I don’t remember anyone ever having a bad thing to say about her. It seems like a good tradition to continue.

posted by: Bill Saunders on April 20, 2017  12:59pm

Dwightstreeter,

If your ‘handle’ is any indication of your Ward, you cannot give this guy your ‘vote’, but only your ‘endorsement’...

posted by: robn on April 20, 2017  1:06pm

Good luck Haci,

Nice to see a non-carpetbagger / non-sell-out fellow citizen run for office. Lets see how much money and how many foot-soldiers UNITE’s East haven bosses devote to crushing his soul.

posted by: Bill Saunders on April 20, 2017  1:25pm

I am also liking the new Neon on Brick Oven…. a little of the right light goes a long way!!!

Best of Luck to Haci!
I hope you will be serving a Shake-Up come November….

posted by: Dwightstreeter on April 20, 2017  2:18pm

@Bill Saunders: I moved.

posted by: Bill Saunders on April 20, 2017  2:59pm

The Poster formerly known as ‘Dwightstreeter’:

Ha!  Been Nice Knowing You!!!!! 
Don’t let the Bulldog Bite!!!!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 20, 2017  3:02pm

He will fall in with the rest of the machine.

posted by: Renewhavener on April 20, 2017  10:11pm

Oh my dear child.  You have my praise and sympathies.

posted by: BevHills730 on April 20, 2017  10:18pm

He will have big shoes to fill.  Sarah is one of the most successful alders in that ward to move beyond the boundaries of Yale.  For all the talk about carpetbagging, I bet there aren’t many other alders from ward 1 who continue to live in New Haven and represent their ward long after they graduate from Yale.

posted by: Bill Saunders on April 20, 2017  10:58pm

BevHills,

I would like to see a movie starring former Ward One Alder, Mike Moran called the Ernest goes to Yale.

posted by: robn on April 21, 2017  7:04am

BEVHILLS

if your measure of success is lining the pockets of suburban union bosses, then yes, the UNITE backed alders have been wildly successful. To me the measure of success for a NHV Alderperson is not using a city street giveaway and the obstruction of construction projects to enhance your employers bargaining ability during contract negotiations. Its astonishing that this has been going on for so long and that the FBI hasn’t investigated this corruption.

posted by: BevHills730 on April 21, 2017  10:11am

Robn… Next you’re going to be leading the “lock her up chants”?

posted by: robn on April 21, 2017  10:44am

BEVHILLS,

One Hillary supporter to another…its unethical for any organization, whether its a union or a corporation, to fineagel their way into political power, and then blatantly wield that political power mainly for their own self interest. Thats what UNITE did and does and its cheating the citizens of New Haven.

posted by: CTLifer on April 22, 2017  10:44pm

I know I am in the extreme minority here, but given the current political climate and the City potentially facing challenges it has never seen before, I cannot in good faith support a teenager.  The current BOA needs to be challenged and replaced-it has been a rubber stamp for Harp and every other special interest group and politician in New Haven, but they need to be replaced with people who, at the bare minimum, have some life experience.  Political experience and/or individuals who have served in any capacity in City governance would likely be highly problematic if not disastrous, but a kid who attended private school in the NE corner of the State and is ‘rallying’ Yalies (most of whom cannot even vote as they are not NH residents) strikes me as an adolescent campaigning to be voted “most likely to succeed” for the high school superlatives.  I admire his gusto, but we need qualified candidates.