In a Black and Hispanic Caucus State of the City Address that garnered numerous cries of “amen” and “praise the Lord” from a large crowd of angry residents, Ward 28 Alderman and caucus chairman Brian Jenkins lashed out at the “sordid manner” with which Yale and the city treat unionized workers, suggesting that New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and University administrators have systematically colluded to deprive minority wage earners of basic human rights.
In his address to the Board of Aldermen, delivered more like a sermon than a political speech, Jenkins accused DeStefano of working with the University “to help Yale strangle the wealth” from the city’s poor.
“Under 10 years of the current administration’s reign — and nearly 200 years of Yale’s reign — there’s been a virtual ‘wall of denial’ in any meaningful participation of blacks and Hispanics in New Haven’s rich economy,” Jenkins said.
In the speech, Jenkins referred numerous times to a “Yale-DeStefano axis of power” and read sections of a report released last month by the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, an organization with close ties to Yale’s labor unions. He also accused DeStefano of steering the city away from making contracts with minorities. Yale and its unions are currently negotiating contracts for more than 4,000 workers.
Jenkins also compared DeStefano to the infamous French Queen Marie Antoinette for accepting an $11,000 pay raise.
“As I watched this unmitigated gall of the mayor seeking a raise on the backs of the very poor he was sworn to serve, I thought of Marie Antoinette, who at a time of crisis and need for her destitute French citizens said, ‘Let them eat crow.'”
After the address, both Yale President Richard Levin and a spokesman for DeStefano defended the current state of town-gown relations.
“Yale has worked actively over the past nine years to increase its involvement in the community and support for the community,” Levin said. “Many of our labor union employees are residents of the city of New Haven, and a great number are members of minority groups. They receive good wages and excellent health benefits.”
Julio Gonzalez, the mayor’s chief of staff and a former vice chairman of the caucus, called the speech “an inventory of personality assassination and personal politics” and defended the mayor’s record on minority contracts.
“[Jenkins'] tone and track record and his lack of constructive proposals will make it unlikely that he will be a vessel for justice,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez pointed to contract figures from the city’s $900 million school construction program that show DeStefano handed 43 percent of contracts to minorities.
Several members of Jenkins’ caucus said Jenkins failed to share the speech with them before he delivered it.
Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez said he was unclear about much of what Jenkins referred to.
“I would like an opportunity to discuss with [him] what he meant by the ‘axis of power,'” Perez said.
Jenkins mixed his general accusations with a series of personal attacks on DeStefano and Robert Solomon, a Yale Law School professor who has been credited with revitalizing the once-beleaguered New Haven Housing Authority.
“Our Housing Authority, the pinnacle of where poor black, white and Hispanic residents live, has been given over to a team of Yale bureaucrats, headed by Bob Solomon,” Jenkins said. “This giveaway of hundreds of millions in poor people’s housing resources can also readily be viewed as an effort to help line the coffers of Yale-related firms, DeStefano contributors, and those clearly against the interest of our — poor housing residents.”
Perez defended Solomon’s handling of the agency, which once received one of the lowest possible ratings from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“I think that the city and residents have a lot to thank him for in his leadership,” Perez said.
Jenkins also attacked Steven Yandle, another Yale Law School professor who is in line to succeed Solomon at the helm of the organization.