Members of New Haven’s Board of Aldermen called on colleague Brian Jenkins to resign his position as head of the body’s Black and Hispanic Caucus Tuesday, following Monday’s Minority State of the City Address.
During the speech, Jenkins personally attacked several city officials, including Mayor John DeStefano Jr., and alleged that City Hall and Yale administrators have worked together to deprive minorities of economic opportunity.
Members of the caucus also said last night that Jenkins did not show them a copy of his remarks before he delivered them, a courtesy the chairman has provided to members in the past.
Alderman Willie Greene, a member and former head of the caucus, said the speech did not represent his interests or those of the city’s blacks and Hispanics.
“I can’t speak for the caucus, but I can tell you that it was probably one of the most ignorant speeches I’ve ever heard in my life,” said Greene, who sent a letter yesterday to Jenkins asking him to give up his leadership post.
Jenkins was unavailable for comment last night.
In his address before a spirited standing-room-only crowd Monday night, Jenkins compared DeStefano to Marie Antoinette and referred numerous times to a “Yale-DeStefano axis of power,” suggesting that city administrators and the University are systematically preying on unionized labor.
“Local [Yale] unions 34 and 35, 1199, and our city of New Haven unions — are constantly denied fair wages, rebuffed at contract renewals, and coerced in givebacks of health and insurance benefits crucial to their families,” Jenkins said. “Despite a mask of liberalism espoused by this Yale-DeStefano axis of power, our neighbors, friends and relatives who make up these unions and working poor are constantly struggling to achieve the essentials of life.”
Alderman Yusuf Shah, another member of the caucus, said he liked Jenkins personally but acknowledged that the chairman had made a “big mistake.” Other members of the caucus, who asked to remain anonymous, said they agreed with Shah.
Shah said Jenkins distorted several statistics regarding the number of contracts the city gives each year to minorities. During his speech, Jenkins accused DeStefano and city Economic Development Administrator Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 of depriving blacks and Hispanics of access to city-funded projects.
“There are some things that are going to be done that will be handled internally,” Shah said. “We love Brian, but many of us believe he made a mistake — We’re going to talk to him.”
Shah would not say whether he would ask Jenkins to resign, but Greene said Jenkins’ speech demonstrated why the caucus never should have elected him its chairman.
“I think the speech was divisive,” he said. “It was not the kind of speech that would create dialogue. I can tell you that if I was on the other side of this ‘axis of power,’ I wouldn’t listen to anything Brian has to say.”
Shah said Jenkins’ apparent anger might be a product of discrimination.
“We have seen some injustices in the city of New Haven with respect to how contracts are handed out, but we’ve also seen progress,” he said. “So where did it come from? Maybe 25 or 30 years of dissatisfaction. Poverty breeds this type of anger.”
DeStefano chief of staff Julio Gonzalez ’99 and Yale President Richard Levin each denounced the speech yesterday as divisive.