After passionately criticizing what he called the “Yale-DeStefano axis of power” in last year’s Black and Hispanic Caucus State of the City address, Ward 28 Alderman Brian Jenkins agreed to submit a copy of this year’s address to the caucus before he reached the podium.
He did submit a speech, but it was not the one he delivered Monday night.
Jenkins proceeded to read a new speech altogether, criticizing the mayor for the continued vacancy of downtown commercial properties, for failing to include minority youth in contracts for the city’s $1 billion school reconstruction program, and for conspiring to deprive the New Haven citizenry of its right to transparent government.
“I have created my own speech the way I see it as the chairman of the Black and Hispanic Caucus,” Jenkins said by way of introduction. “And in the interest of time, I don’t think it would be appropriate to deliver two speeches.”
Stressing the relationship between leadership and constituent service, Jenkins outlined what he saw as a breach of social contract between the mayor and the city populace, especially blacks and Hispanics.
Citing high percentages of New Haven residents at or near the poverty line in relationship to new high-rent housing under construction, Jenkins posed a question to those in the aldermanic chambers.
“One must ask — and I do — is there a deliberate plan of displacement of poor people, blacks and Hispanics, and gentrification to make New Haven only for the well-off?,” Jenkins said, eliciting applause from a small group of supporters.
Following Jenkins’ speech last year, in which he personally attacked several city officials and Yale administrators, members of the caucus called on him to resign his position.
In his speech Monday, Jenkins offered mock praise to DeStefano for what he called “his new downtown development plan Number 487.”
“To my recollection, ever since Mayor DeStefano has been here, a new downtown plan has emerged every five or six months,” said Jenkins. “Yet, the Macy’s site is vacant, the Malley’s site is vacant, the Coliseum is vacant — In fact, the only thing the mayor has made sure is not vacant is City Hall.”
He reserved his harshest criticism for DeStefano’s proposal in last fall’s failed charter reform plan that would have extended mayoral and aldermanic terms from two to four years.
“Of all the many unfair, unwise, and even unchaste things I have seen this administration do, this was the most frightening and disturbing act of all,” Jenkins said.
Reaction to the address was mixed, some expressing surprise and chagrin, others unfazed by Jenkins’ performance before the cameras.
“I feel a bit betrayed. You’re just short of lying when you pull a switch like that,” said Ward 7 Alderwoman Delores Colon, a member of the Black and Hispanic Caucus. “We all agree there’s a lot of problems in the city, but to throw blame around doesn’t really help.”
Ward 30 Alderman Nathan Joyner, who grew up with Jenkins, said he was not shocked by his colleague’s unprecedented move.
“Nothing he does surprises me — we know each other,” said Joyner. “I wasn’t offended by anything he did tonight.”
Others affirmed Jenkins’ right to free speech.
“He’s the chair,” said board president Alderman Jorge Perez, a member of the caucus, who said he needed time to digest Jenkins’ speech before commenting. “He has the right to collect our thoughts and put them into words.”
David Watts DIV ’03, a lifetime New Haven resident, said he liked what he heard.
“The truth is the black community is frustrated right now, and Mr. Jenkins and others want answers,” Watts said. “DeStefano is focused on downtown. What about uptown?”
Watts said he is going to run against Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen in the next election.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 described the general reaction to Jenkins’ speech.
“I think we got pretty much what we expected tonight,” Healey said. “Alderman Jenkins made his views clear — with great force.”