In all of the bickering and horse-trading that have marked the contentious race for the presidency of the Board of Aldermen, there are a number of critically important issues at stake. The independence of the board from the mayor’s office, the role New Haven’s growing Latino population plays in city politics and the way the board will ultimately decide the fate of the Yale-New Haven Cancer Center have all been extensively debated. But in all of these conversations, rallies at City Hall and all of the articles that have appeared in the New Haven press, there is one question that’s been decidedly under-addressed: Who is Alderman Carl Goldfield, and what does his record say about the kind of leadership he would provide if elected president of the board?
Instead, most of the debate has centered around the idea that current aldermanic president Jorge Perez is actually running against Mayor John DeStefano Jr. for re-election this January, with Goldfield as merely a convenient proxy. Separation of powers questions aren’t necessarily a waste of time; after all, constructive, creative tension between the mayor’s office and the board can produce better legislation, and a more vigorous debate about how best to bring change to the city. But painting Goldfield as a tool of the mayor’s office is a careless charge that ignores political history and unfairly discredits the stands Goldfield has taken during his time on the board.
In 1998, for example, Goldfield, in response to a summer of City Hall scandals, proposed a bill that would have prevented campaign contributors from being eligible to bid for city contracts for a period of four years. At the time, board president Tomas Reyes first refused to assign the bill to a committee, and when he relented, held up committee discussions by making the aldermen wait for the mayor’s lawyer to decide whether or not the bill was even within the board’s jurisdiction.
Paul Bass, then the editor of the New Haven Advocate, and now the editor of the New Haven Independent — a new online daily, where the coverage of the board race has largely followed the broad outline of Perez’s campaign — wrote at the time “Wow. The attorney for the mayor — the mayor who is the central figure in ethics scandals, the mayor who disapproves of Goldfield’s proposal — has to give the aldermen permission to even discuss an independent idea for how to clean up the mayor’s City Hall.” That mayor was — you guessed it — John DeStefano. DeStefano has since become a leader of the campaign finance reform movement in Connecticut, but anyone who thinks that Goldfield is simply going to toe the mayor’s line might do well to reconsider that position, or produce something more than assertions to back it up.
The other issue that’s been raised in the board presidency race is whether or not Goldfield would continue to support the movement that’s urging responsible development of the Yale-New Haven Cancer Center. But again, there’s nothing in Goldfield’s record to indicate that he’s secretly planning to capitulate to what has been so far an amusingly ineffective campaign by the hospital. Some of the union folks I’ve spoken with who support Perez cited his stronger personal relationship with the Federation of Hospital and University Employees, but that doesn’t seem to say much about what Goldfield would do as board president. After all, he told the New Haven Register in April that, “At this point, for the hospital to come and say to us, ‘Decide this on the merits,’ is just so out there without talking about labor; it is just so far removed from the reality of the situation, it’s absurd.”
So if Carl Goldfield isn’t really a tool of the mayor’s office and isn’t about to flip-flop on New Haven’s biggest economic development project, then who is he? He is a staunch and eloquent supporter of gay rights, an issue where the limits of Perez’s progressivism are obvious, and Goldfield has been a consistent supporter of other social-justice issues as well. This fall, he was one of the aldermen who led the board in trying to bring programming and support to New Haven’s youth. During board meetings, Alderman Goldfield is a sensible, forceful leader who, unlike some of his colleagues, is not given to grandstanding. Outside of meetings, I appreciate the work he’s done to incorporate the Online Journalism Project and to bring a new voice to the city in the form of the New Haven Independent.
In short, Carl Goldfield is a hardworking progressive who, unlike his challenger, has avoided political theatrics. It might be well worth it for his colleagues — and everyone else who comments on the race — to take that progressive record into account in January when they consider whether the board needs a new direction.
Alyssa Rosenberg is a senior in Silliman College. Her column regularly appears on alternate Mondays.