Elm City Digest
Hacibey Catalbasoglu is the Alder for Ward 1 in New Haven. He is a current senior in Davenport College, majoring in Political Science. Hacibey currently serves on the Education and Aldermanic Affairs Commitees and works with Yale to improve the city of New Haven.
First, what prompted you to join local politics in New Haven?
When I was about ten years old, my father and I went to Brick Oven to open up for the day. I think it was the summer of 2008, if I’m not mistaken. Like any other day, we both walked up to the front door and I heard sirens in the background. I initially thought nothing of it, but then they started to get closer and closer and I thought maybe something happened next door. Then, three black Chevy Suburban SUVs and two New Haven Police Department cars pulled up to Brick Oven. A man in plain clothes came out of one of the Chevy Suburban’s and came up to my dad and said that he was with the Immigrations Customs Enforcement Agency and that he was being taken into custody. My father went to jail because he came here as an undocumented immigrant. He was about to be deported when the mayor of New Haven at the time, John DeStefano Jr., wrote a letter in support of my father and allowed him to stay in New Haven. This, in turn, allowed me to stay in New Haven. At ten years old, I saw the effect of politics and how beneficial it can be in people’s lives. I’ll never forget that.
How long have you been the Alder for Ward 1?
I have been the Alder for Ward 1 for nine months now. I was sworn in on January 1st, 2018, and my term ends December 31st, 2019.
How do you think your roles on the Education and Aldermanic Affairs Committees impact New Haven and what are some of the projects that pertain to these committees that you have been working on?
I think that the committees are important because it is necessary to discuss information before it goes to the full Board of Alders. The Board has thirty people so it is difficult to expect for them to all know everything about each item. We debate and argue specific items in the committee meetings. Additionally, any Alderperson can push forth an agenda item in any committee. An Alderperson does not have to be on a specific committee to put in an item. For instance, I pushed forth a marijuana legalization resolution. It went to the Public Safety and Human Service Committees, both of which I am not on. The Aldermanic Affairs Committee deals with the appointments that the mayor pushes through. For instance, tomorrow night we are having a committee hearing on the new Chief Administrative Officer of New Haven. Similar to how the Senate vets political appointees by the President, we vet political appointees by the Mayor.
What are some past projects that you have worked on and what are some future projects that you are looking forward to?
I have worked with Yale students to create a resource map, which you can find at foodhaven.org. It shows where you can find food pantries, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, etc. In my opinion, that project epitomizes my role as Ward 1 Alder. The majority of my constituents are Yale students. Because of this, I do not have many of the same issues that other Alders have, such as road paving and tree cutting. I am able to work directly on long term issues, especially with having many of Yale’s resources at my disposal. For instance, I did not code the website forFoodhaven.org, but I worked with Yale students to help put it on the city of New Haven’s website and put them in contact with other city leaders. We’re still working on that. There are other resources mapping websites and we want to consolidate them into one, universal map for the city. For the marijuana legislation, I worked with a Yale student group, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, to write the resolution, then pushed for it on the Board. In the future, there are a couple of things that I am excited to work on. One is to redesign the New Haven flag. At first glance that may seem like a minute issue when we are dealing with bigger topics in New Haven, but at the end of the day if you go to cities like D.C. and Chicago, the city flag symbolizes the people and provides a sense of pride. Many city leaders in New Haven do not know what the flag looks like and that’s a problem. I am working towards getting public school students the day off for Eid al-Fitr, which is a holiday that follows a month of fasting during Ramadan. Currently, we celebrate Christian holidays, Jewish holidays, and Puerto Rican holidays, but we do not celebrate any Muslim holidays. As the only Muslim on the Board of Alders, I was in the unique position to push this through. I am also in discussion with stakeholders in the New Haven Green. We are seeing what we can do to make it a more inclusive space and a destination for people. I am working with activist groups to see what we can do on topics surrounding immigration and immigrants’ rights. As you know, that is a very big issue for me.
Earlier you mentioned your role as Ward 1 Alder, could you please elaborate on what you see your role is?
An Alder has two overarching requirements for their job, one of which is to draft legislation for the city. This is making laws, resolutions, and ordinances. The other job is to approve the city’s $800 million budget. That takes place over the summer. This year it was very tough. Hartford has slowly started to take away resources from the city. Fifty-two percent of all buildings in New Haven are not taxed. This means lower revenue for the city because the only way for a city to generate revenue is through property taxes. When fifty-two percent of the property is not taxable, you are trying to squeeze money from wherever you can. We rely on PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) funding, and we’re supposed to be funded seventy-five percent of what we would be getting if un-taxable buildings were subject to property tax. However, we have only been funded around twenty-five percent. This puts us in a tough position and we have to look where we can cut services. It is a large part of my job that often goes overlooked because it is not one of those things that captures headlines in papers. Another part of my job, which I mentioned earlier, is to draft laws. Taking the day off for Eid al-Fitr is an example. Those are two overarching roles. For example, there are also other aspects, such as the Aldermanic Affairs Committee, where we appoint people to positions.
Finally, do you have any advice for Yale students interested in learning more about New Haven or politics in New Haven?
I think the main thing for students is to just get out there. One of the beautiful things about Connecticut is that it is big enough where you can meet someone new every day, but it is also small enough that you can see the same people every day. That goes for everyday life, but also for politics. One summer, I spent the summer in New Haven working on issues facing New Haven residents. It was a very rewarding experience because I got to do things that positively affected people’s lives and it helped me grow as a person. If you want to get involved, reach out to me email@example.com and I can get you connected. Also, New Haven is such a beautiful city and has so many opportunities. There are many different commissions that anyone can join. For example, there are the Cable TV, Health, and Livable Cities Commissions. If not now, when else would you have an opportunity like this?