In her first public debate, aldermanic challenger and Yale undergraduate Ella Wood faced a pointed question from a downtowner she’s running to represent: Will you be in New Haven to help in the winter when the roads need snowplowing – or home in New Mexico?
Wood spoke about her experience reaching out “beyond the walls of campus.”
“Can you answer the question?” an audience member shouted.
“Am I committed to staying in New Haven for the next two years? Yes,” she answered.
(Click the video above to watch her response.)
The exchange typified the skeptical response Wood received in the Bourse Thursday night, as she squared off with Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen in an hour-long debate and Q&A. Wood is challenging Hausladen in one of 10 contested aldermanic races in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
Hausladen supporters lined the back of the loft workspace on Chapel Street, cheering and clapping after his responses. When the moderator, Pastor Carl Sharon of Emanuel Lutheran Church on Humphrey Street, asked if the audience would consider holding their applause, they replied with a hearty, “No.”
After city redistricting that went into effect January 1st, Ward 7 now consists of downtown and parts of the Hill, Dwight, and Wooster Square neighborhoods. Yale graduate students and undergrads share the area with longtime residents and professionals. No single demographic dominates.
While Yale students typically hold office in Yale’s Ward 1, it is rare for an undergraduate to run in Ward 7, whose boundaries extend so far beyond campus. Wood has been painted by some as an interloper, especially since she broke a lease, then moved into the ward just days before signing up to run for office.
Wood said during the debate that she thinks both Yale students and locals have viewed Yale students as “people who aren’t invested in the community and should not be,” but that she hopes to change that opinion.
Hausladen spoke at length (at one point apologizing for “getting lost in the weeds” when he went over the allotted time) on city budgeting and finance and his work making the city easier to navigate for pedestrians and bicyclists. “I live downtown, work downtown, and walk and drive the city streets every day,” he said. He called attention to his efforts to make walk-up access to Walgreens safer and to improve visibility at the intersection of Whitney Avenue and Audubon Street.
In response to a question about night-life noise and occasional violence in the area, Hausladen cited an instance where a constituent tweeted a noise complaint to him at 11:30 at night. After investigating, he learned that evening construction was taking place because Comcast couldn’t receive a permit to do the work during daytime hours. He proposed an online system whereby aldermen would learn of late-night construction projects ahead of time – and warn neighborhoods in advance to prepare.
Wood, in turn, talked about “making channels of communication more accessible” and the footwork necessary to reach out to community members who don’t actively seek out representatives themselves.
Answering a question on policing and regulating homelessness, Wood said some businesses have opened in crime spots, but haven’t made them better: She called some nightclubs that have entered the scene “detrimental to quality of life.” Although she called “homelessness as an inconvenience” a “legitimate concern,” Wood said the city should look at the services on offer. She mentioned that her mother’s church at home in New Mexico helps the homeless, offering free food. Wood spoke about the importance of “integrating the voices of people left our of the conversation,” such as low-income and transient populations.
Hausladen, in answer, mentioned several of the city’s homeless by name – Gary, William, and Roger. He said he frequently gives Roger money—“in part because he asks how my day is,” and recalled how, the other day, “the Shakespeare Lady gave me a verse and sonnet.” Hausladen distinguished between panhandling—“in which someone on the street comes up and asks you for money”—and structural homelessness caused by unemployment.
When a homeless veteran lost his spot in a shelter at 645 Grand Ave., as well as his ID, Hausladen recalled, he personally helped the man register to vote (which counts as an ID), signing him up for a library card, and giving him bus fare. He called the experience his proudest moment as an alder. Hausladen also said that ex-convicts frequently experience the most difficulty finding work. He noted that while the city has banned the box that job applicants must check if they have been convicted of a felony, “there’s no ‘Ban the Box’ at Yale,”
Throughout the debate, Hausladen emphasized the urgency of “getting our debt under control and having a debt management policy in place right away, so we can stop borrowing.” At one point, he held up a copy of the city budget.
“The way the alders get it is in a pdf – it doesn’t link. It doesn’t make any sense to anybody,” he said. New Haven’s “number one problem” is the need to reassess city budgeting, he said. He called on the city to enter a contract with “Open Gov,” which would alter the budget’s data visualization in order to “make sure the last four years… are comparable in a format we all understand.”
Wood described how high property taxes are causing residents to move elsewhere. She called issues of livability and quality of life her highest priority.
Before the candidates’ closing remarks, a voice spoke up from the audience. A man in his 80s called out, “I live at the Eli. It’s a very lonely place at night. Could either one of you tell me how many people were shot in Ward 7 last year?”
Hausladen stood and recounted the details of a gun battle at the corner of Crown and College that took the life of a man from Bridgeport, before calling Ward 7 “the safest in New Haven.” Wood spoke about how crime in other parts of the city affects Ward 7 as well, and how violence that touches one part of New Haven touches it all.
Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Wood is 19 years old. She has lived in New Haven for the past two years and spent this past summer working for New Haven Rising, the jobs pipeline New Haven Works, and Locals 34 and 35. She moved to Ward 7 days before filing paperwork to run against Hausladen.
Hausladen, 31, from outside Cincinatti, graduated from Yale in 2004. He said he’s lived in the ward since 2006, except for one year when he lived a half-block outside the ward. He currently works several part-time jobs: A program manager for the healthy corner store initiative at Community Alliance Research Engagement (CARE) at Yale’s School of Public Health; he also manages two properties in Florida for his dad, and works as a consultant.
Neither candidate explicitly mentioned labor unions during the debate, though Wood said she was running “to be a part of a team” and has received support from union-backed candidates Ward 1 Alderman Sarah Eidelson, Ward 22 Alderman Jeanette Morrison, and mayoral candidate Toni Harp.
Hausladen, meanwhile, invented a slate called “Take Back New Haven,” committed to “anti-machine” politics and the inclusion of independent voices on the Board of Aldermen, which is currently stacked with two-thirds labor-backed candidates.