Charlie Pillsbury ’72, fresh off a colorful Congressional campaign in which he aired Green Party concerns, has thrown his name back into the political scene — this time with decidedly more local ambition.
In November, Pillsbury, great-grandson of the cookie company founder and college classmate of Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau ’70, will compete to represent the 19th ward on the Board of Aldermen. Alfreda Edwards currently serves the district, which comprises Prospect Hill and east Newhallville, split by Chapel Street.
Pillsbury said he sees the need for a viable opposition party to counter what he called the Democratic stranglehold on the board. Twenty-six aldermen are Democrats, with two Republicans and two Greens filling the remaining seats.
“We need more debate, more democracy,” Pillsbury said Thursday. “That’s why I’m running. The Greens are going to bring democracy to New Haven.”
Edwards, in her third term as alderwoman, has not yet made clear her intentions for the upcoming election. She could not be reached for comment Thursday.
“The current alderwoman is a very nice person,” said Pillsbury, explaining his reasons for challenging Edwards, “but she is not very active and energetic and basically will vote the way the Democrats want her to vote.”
Colleagues on the board offered contradictory testimony regarding Edwards’ work ethic and said her party line voting is more a direct response to constituent input.
“Alfreda is very well known and highly respected,” said Ward 10 Alderman Ed Mattison, whose ward shares a common boundary with that of Edwards. “I hope she does stay because she does good work. She’s not one of the flashiest but she is one of the solidest.”
Mattison suggested the loyalty of the residents in Edwards’ ward will make the incumbent tough to beat — that is, if she decides to run for a fourth term.
“People think very highly of her and it would take an awfully good argument to replace her with him,” said Mattison, though complimentary of Pillsbury’s work in the community. “The only reason he’d have a reasonable chance is if she decided not to run.”
Ward 21 Alderman Willie Greene also spoke highly of Edwards, noting she has been “responsive and sensitive to the needs of the ward.” He also questioned Pillsbury’s motives.
“I think Charles needs to make up his mind if he wants to be a U.S. Congressman or if he wants to fight in the trenches,” said Greene. “I’m starting to wonder whether he just wants to be a politician period.”
Democratic Town Committee chairwoman Suzie Voigt expressed similar reservations about what Pillsbury’s redirected focus from national to municipal issues reveals about his agenda. Voigt said she is not sure who an alternative candidate would be should Edwards choose not to run.
“I’m not sure what agenda he advances other than a personal agenda,” said Voigt. She also said the proposals for national policy Pillsbury voiced in the fall are “very important” but that on the Board of Aldermen, he would only be able to “cast symbolic votes” on such issues as universal healthcare and a war in Iraq.
In response to accusations that the one-time Congressional candidate is thinking too globally, Ward 9 Alderman John Halle, a Green, argued that Pillsbury has been dedicated to local affairs for decades.
“Charlie’s lived in the city for 30 years,” said Halle, a Yale music professor. “He’s been involved in local politics for a long time. He always has been and will continue to be.”
Pillsbury, a resident of Prospect Hill, is a lawyer by training and the executive director of Community Mediation in Fair Haven.
Ward 25 Alderwoman Nancy Ahearn, a Republican, seemed to capture the general attitude toward the announcement.
“I think he’s going to be a very interesting candidate as he was when he ran for Congress,” said Ahearn, who would lose her position as minority leader if Pillsbury won, “but there’s a long road between announcing that you’re a candidate and winning an election.”
Pillsbury garnered five percent of the Congressional vote to the 66 percent that voted for incumbent Rosa DeLauro, who is currently in her seventh term representing the 3rd Congressional District.