Caucus stresses economic equality

Repeating a cry for less talk and more action, Ward 3 Alderwoman Jackie James sketched out a comprehensive agenda for alleviating New Haven’s economic inequality and improving the quality of life within the city’s neighborhoods in Monday evening’s Black and Hispanic Caucus State of the City address.

The address also marked the caucus’ rebirth this term under a new president, Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez, after two years of waning attendance. In her speech, James rebuked local journalists who had called the caucus irrelevant before describing the caucus’ agenda for improving access to health care, eliminating the achievement gap in New Haven’s public schools and expanding economic development programs to New Haven’s minority neighborhoods.

Mayoral spokesman Rob Smuts ’01 said the city was already working on many of the issues James identified, such as promoting the use of hybrid cars, but said the alderwoman was right in suggesting that more work needed to be done.

“The need is still clear, and we look forward to working with the … caucus and the board,” he said.

James, who represents part of the Hill neighborhood near Yale-New Haven Hospital, alternated praise for the work of Mayor John DeStefano Jr. with harsh reminders of the city’s needs that, she said, remain unfulfilled.

Speaking of the downtown revitalization and the construction of IKEA on Long Wharf, James argued for a redevelopment policy that would include neighborhoods such as the Hill, Fair Haven and Newhallville, which lie relatively far from downtown.

“We applaud the city for these successful efforts — unfortunately, none of these businesses serve the average New Haven resident,” she said. “Some of our children believe they cannot enter the Criterion cinema unless they are formally dressed.”

Michael Morand, Yale’s associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs, said James’ critique of the city’s economic development policy was valid, but he said an improved downtown is essential because of the tax revenue it generates.

“Downtown comprises less than 5 percent of the city but generates the bulk of the tax revenue, so a vibrant downtown is important,” Morand said. “I think it would be terrific to have even more economic developments in the neighborhoods. … Fair Haven has unique assets and strengths that should be built on, as does the Hill.”

James also spoke at length about the achievement gap between low-income minority students and middle-class students, a topic some had criticized the mayor for not addressing in his February State of the City address.

Jeffrey Klaus, market president for Bank of America, said the achievement gap was one of the biggest problems facing New Haven. The gap, he said, hurts students in addition to the local economy, as businesses find it hard to hire talented new staff. He said he had been working to promote the work of Amistad, a charter school renowned in New Haven for its successes with middle-school students.

“The average graduate of New Haven schools comes out with seventh-grade skills, and that’s a huge crisis,” he said. “This is the largest socio-economic problem that we face.”

The board also passed an ordinance requiring that carbon monoxide detectors be installed in homes. The board had previously passed the same amendment to the city’s Housing Code, but the mayor had vetoed it and sent it back to the board, the first or second time the mayor has ever sent something back to the board for reconsideration, Smuts said. Smuts said the mayor had been concerned that the original wording of the resolution would violate a state law which prevents cities from amending the code except for reasons of health or public safety.

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