Paul Chandler knocked on the door of Yale freshman Sophia Kecskey, then began his pitch with a question: “What do you know about the Ward 1 race?”
Chandler proceeded to explain to Kecskey that he is running to represent Ward 1, consisting of almost entirely Yalies, on New Haven’s Board of Aldermen. The position, he argued, has typically been the student voice in the city legislature, and he’s running to maintain that tradition. As a current Yale senior, Chandler is emphasizing that point in his contest against one-term incumbent Sarah Eidelson, who graduated in 2012.
Chandler asked if Kecskey has any city concerns she cares about. He asked if she’s registered to vote in Connecticut. Before leaving, he gave her with some campaign literature and a referral to his website if she has any other questions about his policies.
Just one point he left out of all that information: he’s a Republican. His opponent is a Democrat.
He had good reason not to broadcast his party credentials.
Running as a member of the GOP is difficult enough in a city where all 30 aldermen are Democrats, and registered Republicans are in short supply. (He is one of just three Republicans running this year for a seat on the city’s 30-member board.) It’s even more difficult at liberal Yale, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 14-to-1 margin and Democrat Barack Obama clobbered Republican Mitt Romney 1125-199 in last year’s presidential election. As a Republican candidate, Chandler is a red micro-dot in a sea of blue dots in Yale’s political map. (Chandler and Eidelson will debate Monday night beginning at 7:30 in Yale’s SSS (“Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona”) Hall.
So instead of mentioning party affiliation, his campaign has focused largely on Eidelson’s tenure and relative disconnect from campus, including a poster campaign that, among other attacks, used Downtown Alderman Doug Hausladen’s words to criticize her.
Even without highlighting his party in literature, Chandler, who identifies as a political moderate, faces skeptical voters. A sign on one dorm room (pictured at the top of this story), which Chandler canvassers skipped over, read “Paul Chandler + Friends: Don’t waste your time ... Eidelson for Ward 1! Love, Loyal Dem.” When asked about party, Chandler has echoed Republican Town Committee Chair Richter Elser’s argument that municipal-level Republicans differ from their national counterparts He still fights an uphill battle on Yale’s campus.
Aside from Chandler’s party, the nature of Yale as a university presents a different set of challenges. Many students hail from across the world, rendering them ineligible to vote. Others prefer to stay registered in their home states, where high-profile elections such as the race between Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia may seem more important than the question of who replaces New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. after 20 years in office.
These issues and more arose when Chandler, a senior who came to New Haven from Westport, canvassed students in Lanman-Wright Hall, where freshmen in Pierson College, one of Yale’s 12 residential colleges, live. Other challenges included students who were too busy studying for midterms to listen to Chandler’s pitch, as well as students who weren’t in their rooms at all — 8 p.m. is “prime library hour,” explained Chandler campaign manager Ben Mallet.
While most freshmen canvassed that night didn’t know much about the election — ”I know you’ve just been here a bit more than a month,” Chandler reassured them — Sophia Kecskey was a little different, questioning Chandler on the rationale behind the poster campaign, which she said “seemed like a weird slam campaign.”
“We think it was important to make voters aware of her tenure in office,” Chandler explained, steering the conversation back to his policies, including a focus on education reform that he said grew from his desire to be a teacher.
After Chandler finished his pitch, Kecsksey, who described herself as “very liberal,” said she’d consider supporting him. Upon arriving at Yale, someone in the Yale Political Union’s Party of the Left told Kecskey that Alderwoman Eidelson is “the best thing to happen to New Haven politics.” Kecskey had been committed to supporting the incumbent since meeting her a month prior. Now she wasn’t so sure.
Until being informed that Chandler is a Republican. As for Chandler’s argument that local Republicans shouldn’t be equated with the likes of Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Kecskey wasn’t buying it.
“I think the basic mentality of a Republican is different from that of a Democrat and that permeates every decision,” like budget priorities, she said. “Being a Republican speaks for itself.”
Toni Harp Ally
Eidelson encountered different reactions when she knocked on the doors of sophomores, juniors and seniors in residential Trumbull College one recent afternoon. As she climbed entryways filled with Chandler’s posters, Eidelson, accompanied by campaign manager Sarah Cox, started her pitch with a question: “What issues are important to you?”
Then, after giving students a chance to respond, Eidelson gave her pitch. She graduated from Yale in 2012 (“I was in Jonathan Edwards; I know it won’t get me any points in Trumbull,” she joked) and is running for reelection as Yale’s alderwoman after focusing heavily on youth issues during her first term on the board. There’s also a mayoral election going on, she said, as well as a once-a-decade chance to change the city’s charter. Then she offered to talk about her policies or answer any questions voters might have.
One Yale senior said he didn’t need to hear about any of Eidelson’s policy stances, telling her he’d support her anyway.
“There’s a Democrat and a Republican. It’s not very hard,” he told Eidelson and Cox.
Sophomore Aimee Sawyer, meanwhile, had a question for Eidelson: Given that she graduated over a year and a half ago, why does she want to run for a second term?
“We’ve made exciting progress the past two years, but we need to stay the course to see it through,” said Eidelson, who was elected to office as part of a team of labor-backed candidates who now comprise a majority on the Board of Aldermen.
Only recently did the city receive a $750K youth violence prevention grant . Work on revitalizing the Goffe Street Armory and Dixwell Community “Q” House is still underway. As the chair of the board’s Youth Services Committee, Eidelson wants to continue that effort.
At the end of her pitch, the team of Sarahs asked Sawyer if they could count on her vote.
“Probably,” she said, “but I don’t know for sure yet.”
Backed by the Yale College Democrats — whose members far outnumber the relatively small Yale College Republicans — Eidelson’s campaign has greater manpower than Chandler’s. Between that numerical advantage, as well as the head start that comes with being a Democrat, Eidelson seems to be the favorite heading into the Nov. 5 election.
Sophomore James Woodall had a different question for Eidelson. He’s a Democrat. So he “was going to vote Democrat.” But he wanted to know why Eidelson endorsed mayoral candidate Toni Harp before September’s Democratic primary election.
Eidelson, who until now had not mentioned either Harp or independent challenger Justin Elicker by name, explained that it was her personal experience with each candidate — on youth issues, in Harp’s case — that led her to back Harp, who is a state senator.
“It’s really thanks to her advocacy that we got [the $750K] grant,” Eidelson said. “She’s engaged with people in every ward in the city.”
After speaking with Eidelson, Woodall told the Sarahs that he was “pretty sure” he’d support her over Chandler, but would still be doing some thinking about the mayoral race. Cox handed him an Eidelson campaign sign and some tape, explaining that “in the absence of yards, we have door signs.”
Where They Stand
Following are candidate responses to some of the major citywide questions at stake in this election.
Do you support the proposal to change the Board of Education to a “hybrid” model [a question on this Nov. 5 general election ballot]?
Eidelson: “Absolutely in support” of the proposal, particularly the component about student representation on the Board. The hybrid model is a good compromise.
Chandler: He can see why people have concerns about elected officials, but is “fairly supportive” of the proposal after seeing similar models work in other cities.
Do you approve of Board of Aldermen approval of mayoral appointees [another issue up for referendum on Nov. 5]?
Eidelson: “I think that having the Board of Alderman confirming all appointees instead of some makes a lot of sense … kind of a classic lesson in checks and balances.”
Chandler: Concerned about the fact that this point comes packaged with nearly all the other proposed charter revisions changes, but does “not see” a problem with it.
What are two immediate steps you’d like to take to manage our budget crisis?
Eidelson: 1. Managing overtime costs in the police and fire departments.
2. Look at cost-savings in the budget, like she has by establishing the health benefits review task force.
Chandler: 1. Dropping the assumed rate of return on pensions from 8 percent to 4-5 percent to be more realistic, eliminate more of our pension problem.
2. Be wary of long-term implications of contract renegotiations, citing the recent fire contact.
Do you support opening schools after-hours to use as youth centers, or looking instead at renovating new buildings like the Goffe Street Armory or the Q House?
Eidelson: The youth committee generally supports both options, and is in the middle of a feasibility study to find the most efficient solution.
Chandler: We need to think about how we pay for these things. Calls the idea of using school as youth centers “great” but says he understands the need for separate youth centers.
What do you take to be the role of party affiliation in the Ward 1 race?
Eidelson: “There are some students for whom party makes it quite simple, but I don’t feel like my role on the board is primarily about party politics, and I think students are engaging with the issues.”
Chandler: “Occasionally, there’s someone who says ‘I’m a Democrat .’ but the vast majority will sit there and listen to what you have to say … You’re voting for a person, the person who will do the right job.” Says he should be judged on his policies, not his party.
How do you view the role of labor unions in New Haven politics?
Eidelson: “For me, my work on the board has been driven by a set of values and vision for the New Haven that I think students want to live in, that’s what’s led me to focus on the issues that I have ... Some board members are in unions; some are not.”
Chandler: “Unions are not inherently bad. I think unions are great in a lot of respects. A lot of the city unions are doing great things … They deserve a voice. My general concern is that… there are conflicts of interest that comes up [in contract negotiations].”
What do you think the adjectival form of gender-neutral alder should be [assuming a referendum question passes requiring aldermen and alderwomen to be called “alders” and the Board of Aldermen renamed “Board of Alders”]?
Chandler: “I’ve seen suggestions … I don’t know; I’m not an English major. It’s tough.”