New Haven’s resolutions for the new year

If “The Twelve Days of Christmas” told the story of the last year in New Haven, the final chorus might sound something like this: two strikes by locals 34 and 35, one savings bank robbery, 13 new Aldermen, a sixth term for Mayor John DeStefano, two neighborhoods now covered under Yale’s Homebuyer Program, thousands of liens released by Yale-New Haven Hospital, one airport funded, hundreds arrested for civil disobedience, 13 Latino workers who refused to cross picket lines but still don’t have jobs at Yale, 66 units of affordable housing under construction by Elm City Congregations Organized, one admission of dishonesty by Gov. John Rowland, and a controversy over Brian Jenkins’ tree. 2004 promises to be just as busy. To make things run more smoothly, here are some potential New Year’s resolutions for the movers and shakers of New Haven.

For New Haven’s delegation to the State House and Senate: according to opinion polls, the front pages, and all conventional wisdom, Gov. Rowland’s career will die without an infusion of credibility. Don’t give it to him. There is no excuse not to pass a budget that helps New Haven avoid another deficit year, and House and Senate Republicans, as a result of the governor’s actions, are in no position to call for flat tax increases; last year’s tax hikes should be restructured to shift the burden away from people in lower income brackets. If there are objections, perhaps House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. William Dyson could suggest that Gov. Rowland contribute his unusually large profits from the sale of his Washington, D.C. condominium, or the money he saved on his hot tub installation to the people of Connecticut.

For Yale: build on positive changes such as the extension of the Homebuyer Program and reform of debt collection practices at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and commit the University to free speech and constructive dialogue. Make it absolutely clear that threatening people with arrest or firing them is not an acceptable response to ideas, no matter how much one might disagree with them. Instead of spending a fortune on print ads, hold a series of community forums that will allow people to voice concerns about and frustrations with University policy. It takes two to tango, and people don’t disagree just for the fun of it; New Haven residents have legitimate reasons to be angry at Yale, and even if you disagree, demonstrating a genuine willingness to listen to a broad cross-section of the community could help strengthen seriously frayed town-gown relations.

For Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf I. Shah, the new chairman of the Board of Aldermen’s Black and Hispanic Caucus: restore the credibility of the Minority State of the City Address. After two years of divisive and overly dramatic speeches by former Alderman Brian Jenkins, there is a risk that the substance of the caucus’ concerns will be overlooked. When he was elected president of the Board of Aldermen in 2000, Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez argued that the chair of the caucus should be included in the group of leaders who work with the mayor to determine the board’s agenda. Alderman Shah and his vice-chair, Ward 16 Alderwoman Migdalia Castro should create a Caucus that will serve as a strong, independent, and, when necessary, critical voice in New Haven’s political dialogue.

For Mayor DeStefano, one word: vision. With Gov. Rowland hemorrhaging public approval rating points, talk will inevitably turn to what Democrats have to offer as an alternative to Gov. Rowland, or if he is forced to resign, Jodi Rell. You’re the only Democrat with your hat definitely in the ring, so make the most of it. Don’t let that pesky Attorney General steal your thunder on the New Haven Savings Bank. Use the current turmoil in Hartford to pass the enabling legislation for your campaign finance reform bill. Pass the Domestic Partnership Amendment, and rebuke some of the more obnoxious and bigoted groups in Connecticut. And while you’re at it, think seriously about a living wage initiative. Not everyone gets an opportunity to do so many good things at once.

For locals 34 and 35 and the Connecticut Center for a New Economy: use those newfound electoral powers for good. New Haven’s Election Day 2003 proved that next to the Democratic Party, you’re the most potent get-out-the-vote operation in town. With that in mind, don’t settle for less than the best; your support is valuable enough that you can insist that your candidates be good on a whole range of issues, which will help avoid showdowns like the one at the Ward 2 polls.

And finally, for anyone with any influence in New Haven: work together and get the Dixwell Community House running again. It is a travesty that such a crucial piece of community life and New Haven history has been allowed to become the victim of mismanagement. This is the time to take a deep breath, set aside pride, frustration and bad blood, and get the doors open, the heat on, and the kids back inside.

It might be a lot to ask; these are big changes for a small city, and unlike most New Year’s resolutions, they require more than sheer willpower. But New Haven has always been a city with big dreams. 2004 would be a great year to see some of them come true.

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