Community divided over King

It was a meeting called to heal a community, but Dixwell’s wounds may have been opened even deeper Tuesday night.

At an unprecedented gathering of Ward 22 residents at the East Rock Lodge several blocks from Yale, embattled Ward 22 Alderman Rev. Drew King made his first public appearance since his arrests for assault and violating a protective order. But he soon discovered that coming may have been a mistake: Ward 22 co-chair Cordelia Thorpe, sources say, had asked several Dixwell residents to call during the meeting for King’s resignation, and Thorpe unexpectedly broke from the meeting’s agenda to call upon King to make a public speech.

Yusuf Shah, left, stands next to Rev. Drew King outside of a Dixwell community meeting held to address the ongoing King scandal.
Andrew Mangino
Yusuf Shah, left, stands next to Rev. Drew King outside of a Dixwell community meeting held to address the ongoing King scandal.

“We voted him into office, and you have to at least apologize to the ward,” Thorpe said after the meeting.

King stood against the back wall for most of the meeting, which was packed with more than 50 attendees, dozens of whom left their seats to hug him. When it came time for Thorpe to give her “State of the Ward” address, she instead told the residents that King would speak to offer an explanation of “what’s going on.” He refused, calling for a return to the agenda, and then left the building. The Dixwell residents did the talking instead.

But not before what had been a relatively calm two hours turned “out of control,” as one onlooker remarked. After King refused, Thorpe continued to insist that he come to the podium, implying that the alderman should apologize.

As the crowd grew louder, Rev. Boise Kimber, a local religious leader whom King authorized to speak on his behalf, took the floor. He said it was unfair for Thorpe to have asked King to speak when he was unprepared to do so.

“I think that he has been criticized enough,” he said. “Everyone knows someone who has had problems, and none of us are exempt from our trials and trouble.”

Outside, about a dozen of King’s friends complained to one another about the unexpected call for him to speak. Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah hugged King and pledged his commitment to seeing that King finishes out his term without resigning. King has said he does not plan to resign.

Valerie McKinnie, who was outside as the meeting continued, said Thorpe had approached her beforehand to persuade her to “make a motion” for King to resign. Thorpe announced last week that she will run for Ward 22 alderwoman this November.

“I said no, I’m not going to do that,” McKinnie said. “We’ve all been up, and we’ve all been down.”

But after the meeting, Thorpe denied that she called for King’s resignation.

“I don’t want to rush to judgment,” she said. “Not at all.”

Inside the East Rock Lodge, the peaceful atmosphere deteriorated once the dispute over whether King should speak began. The meeting ended unofficially — with no “State of the Ward” address.

Maria Johnson, a New Haven resident, said she was disappointed in King.

“I am ashamed that our alderman was arrested, who represents me or the Board of Aldermen,” she said. “We should have the right to hear an explanation.”

But most of the residents seemed supportive of King: Many cheered when his supporters were arguing he should not be forced to speak and dozens shook King’s hand as he left.

There were other items on the agenda besides King’s future in the ward. Residents also discussed youth crime, the fate of the bankrupt Dixwell Community Q House, and how to combat poverty.

At one point during the meeting, Barbara Watley, 70, said she has lived in Dixwell for generations and thinks King may deserve a second chance — but not without some contrition.

“I’m not liking any of what I’m seeing,” said Watley, summoning King to her as he nodded in agreement and embraced her. She told him to repent and reform his behavior and left him with a simple instruction.

“Do your job,” she said, “or get off the job.”

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