With the election of new leaders on Monday night, the Black and Hispanic Caucus of the Board of Aldermen may have an opportunity to regain its momentum after two years of waning attendance.
Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez, the outgoing president of the full board, was elected president of the caucus, replacing Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, who left the caucus’ presidency after his election as president pro tempore of the board. Perez lost his own reelection bid to Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield a week ago, but won the caucus presidency based largely on his perceived ability to reinvigorate the caucus, some aldermen said.
“Yusuf Shah did a great job, but it wasn’t a well-attended caucus,” Ward 28 Alder Babz Rawls-Ivy said. “Jorge has some great leadership ability, and I think if anyone could breathe life into the Black and Hispanic Caucus, he will be able to.”
While an official agenda for the caucus has yet to be determined, Perez said it would likely address issues of job creation, low-income housing and youth programming.
“I foresee that some of the issues we’ll be looking at are affirmative action, economics development opportunities for African-Americans and Latinos, and at ways that companies do business in the city,” Perez said.
Perez said he will try to engage the members of the caucus by dividing the group into subcommittees, each of which would address a smaller-scope issue of importance to the Black and Hispanic communities, which together represent the majority of New Haven’s population.
“I felt great energy in that room and great commitment by everybody, and I suspect that that commitment will continue,” he said. “One thing is to be realistic about what we can do, and not take on more than we can handle.”
A majority of the caucus’ members attended Monday’s meeting, and Shah said he is cautiously optimistic that the caucus will be able to form a proactive agenda for the next term. He said he is hopeful it will address urgently important issues for New Haven’s minority community, such as increasing access to low-income housing and improving the local job market.
“There are a lot of things before us: the [Yale-New Haven Hospital] Cancer Center, and we have the budget coming up, so there are going to be a lot of things that we can do as a board,” Shah said. “But there is really not a whole lot you can do in two years unless you have a really committed group.”
Although 17 aldermen — a majority of the full board — comprise the caucus, few of those alders regularly attended the caucus’ meetings last term, several board members said.
“We couldn’t get enough folks of color to participate,” Rawls-Ivy said. “It always ended up being five or six of us working on whatever we could. It’s always been sort of a dormant kind of board.”
Last year, she said, the caucus succeeded in organizing a Kwanzaa celebration and establishing contact between the aldermen and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Shah said that last term, caucus members were focused on other tasks and did not prioritize the activities of the Board. One of the goals he said the caucus was unable to achieve was bringing together civic, religious and political leaders of the minority community to hold a public discussion of the needs of the community and its goal for the future.
“You can’t really move a caucus unless, number one, there’s participation, and, number two, there’s a goal and objectives,” he said. “Last term was pretty difficult, there were a lot of issues on the table, and there were a lot of people who were busy.”
The next caucus meeting is scheduled for Jan. 23, at which point the group will discuss its agenda for the coming term.