Ward 1 Debate: Stark Speaks Well, But Eidelson Gains Momentum

During the season of Republican presidential debates, the democratic primary debate – for Ward One Alder of New Haven – took center stage at Yale. Spaces in Davies Auditorium quickly filled up as students and New Haven residents seated themselves, eager to hear the answer to the question: how does Fish Stark ’17 differ from incumbent Sarah Eidelson ’12?

The verdict: they are profoundly similar. When both candidates were asked what the most salient variance between their two platforms was, Stark said that “there is no substantive policy difference,” while Eielson suggested differences in approach.

The debate did, however, reveal other insights into Stark and Eidelson.

The youngest debate attendees arrived decked out in Eidelson gear.

It made clear that Sarah Eidelson ’12 is a New Haven resident first and a Yale alumna second. As Stark explained his policies and reiterated time and time again how he will organize Yale students to participate in New Haven’s “economic renaissance,” Eidelson mentioned the work she has done as Ward 1’s alder—from encouraging job growth throughout the city to calling on student groups when necessary. She did not engage with Stark’s attacks, even when given clear opportunities to defend her position.

Eidelson did not speak particularly well at the debate, nor did she expand much upon her campaign. If anything, she looked uncomfortable talking at the front of Davies, a room notorious for putting freshmen to sleep in Introduction to Microeconomics. But she was thoughtful in her answers. She did not seem afraid of taking long pauses to think about her response, and when she gave one it consisted of her experience working alongside her colleagues on the Board of Alders and of her work in New Haven, as opposed to Ward 1.

The debate was sponsored by the Yale College Democrats.

Stark, on the other hand, responded easily and confidently, dropping name after name of politicians that supported him (6 of the 30 alders and State Senator Gary Holder-Winfield, among others), explaining his policies eagerly and, often, attacking Eidelson. “Where have you been for the last four years?” he said at one point, accusing the incumbent of being absent as a progressive on the Board.

The closest that Eidelson came to an attack on Stark’s policies occurred when she described her job as alder. “My job,” she said, “has been about…figuring out how we, as students, are not ignoring the rest of the city and not talking down to people from other neighborhoods.” The clearest difference between the candidates seems to be on how they see the relationship between Yale and New Haven. Stark sees it as a point of departure from which to engage with the wider New Haven community. Eidelson sees Yale as an important source of help, but not a priority. She believes there are other issues that New Haven is dealing with that deserve more of her attention.

It was striking to look around Davies Auditorium and see the people who were there for Stark and those who were there for Eidelson. There were students on both sides, to be sure, but many sitting in the first three rows were adults, people of color, New Haven politicians and residents from communities other than Ward 1—people, in other words, who had to do more than walk two blocks to make it to the event. Most of them were wearing yellow shirts and yellow buttons, clapping and whooping during speeches, making clear their support for Eidelson.

Fish received loud bouts of applause as well, mostly from students. That’s just it, though—his supporters, many of who already wore shirts proclaiming their commitment to Stark, were mostly Yale students. And you didn’t exactly need to go to the debate to find out what his policies are: numerous fliers, meet-and-greet events, rallies, and so on have reiterated his platform time and time again. What was important about the debate was seeing the candidates in contrast to one another: Stark as a well-connected aspiring local politician with a deep knowledge of the issues, and Eidelson as a New Haven resident who sees problems in her community that she wants to fix.

Eidelson, who did not have the momentum going into the debate, was able to articulate her passion for the issues and her proximity to the communities of New Haven. Stark impressively reiterated once more his position on the issues. But if Eidelson continues to rev up her campaign this coming week, the race for alder will be closer than ever.


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