Eli Sabin applies insights from the classroom in service to his hometown
As a prospective college student aspiring to learn about government and public policy — and especially as one who grew up in New Haven — Eli Sabin knew there was a lot to learn right here in his backyard.
Sure enough, during four years at Yale he’s had a chance to learn from some of the world’s leading experts on political theory, but also from practitioners who’ve offered insights into how governing happens at the ground level.
He took a class on urban and regional planning taught by the deputy commissioner of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development. For a course on cities, with a focus on New Haven, his instructor was John DeStefano Jr., who served 10 terms as mayor. Then there was an independent study with Doug Rae, a renowned political scientist and professor emeritus who wrote a classic study of urbanism through the lens of the Elm City.
But for a student of government there’s no replacing actual experience. And for more than two years, Eli Sabin has had a front row seat to the machinations of city government, serving on New Haven’s Board of Alders.
Sabin was a sophomore when, in November 2019, he was first elected to the board to represent Ward 1, a seat traditionally held by a Yale student since the vast majority of its voters are students. Last year, however, he earned the seat for his new neighborhood, in Ward 7, which includes parts of downtown New Haven and East Rock.
In that role, he serves as chair of the education committee and as a member of the legislation committee and the health and human services committee. During his time on the board, Sabin has worked to add new affordable housing, helped local restaurants expand outdoor dining, secured new bike lanes, and helped win a $4.5 million state grant for a redesign of the State Street corridor in his district. He’s also fought for new transportation investments, more state support for New Haven’s immigrant community, and improvements to public safety infrastructure citywide.
Sabin first felt the pull toward public service as a teenager when he’d volunteer for the local congresswoman and helped local candidates during political campaigns. He got to hear the voices of constituents, learned about the challenges they were facing, and saw how government could help improve their lives.
“Since then, I've just tried to take advantage of every opportunity that I've had to get more involved and learn more about the city,” said Sabin, a resident of Grace Hopper College. “Those experiences also really made me feel that your community, the place where you're living, is where you can have an impact — even during college.”
Sabin admits there have been times when it’s been a challenge to make sure his papers get written while he’s also working on local legislation or initiatives in his district. But at the same time, he said, he loves his work in city government so much it really doesn’t feel like work.
After graduation he plans to stick around New Haven, where he will continue to serve on the Board of Alders. He also plans to take on a fulltime role with Connecticut Voices for Children, a nonprofit that does advocacy work on issues related to health care and education at the state level.
In the long term, Sabin expects that he’ll continue to work in government and public policy, ideally in New Haven and in Connecticut. “When you wake up every day and your job is to improve your neighborhood, your city, your community… I don’t think there’s anything better than that.”