After King fall, Ward 22 searches for leadership

Just over a year ago, Rev. Drew King, a Ward 22 staple who fought for drug rehabilitation programs, minority rights and Yale’s expansion into Dixwell, issued a bombshell statement — all because of one mean Georgia hot dog: “I’m resigning,” he wrote.

“You get to the point where you just get tired, and I’m at that point,” King continued. “The city, the board and the Dixwell community now look to move forward from these troubles the past couple of months and focus on a positive agenda.”

The story went something like this: Three months before the resignation, a dispute ensues between King and his illicit girlfriend. She gets angry when he takes a “Georgia” hot dog off her plate. He strikes her — allegedly. She calls the police, and he is arrested for third-degree assault. His name is plastered, humiliatingly, on newspapers from New Haven to Boston.

Ward 22, meanwhile, also takes a beating. Several community meetings, which bring together dozens of residents, expose fractures that run deep. Residents take sides, accuse one another of either inability to forgive or willingness to stand idly by corruption.

Then, finally, comes the resignation — and, soon after, a four-way special race for alderman to fill the suddenly void spot.

Although both the special election and the general election to come produced a clear answer — Greg Morehead, who garnered more votes with each win — two questions are still unresolved for Dixwell in April 2008, one year after the resignation.

Did the disappearance of King from the political scene change the ward in any significant way, now with the dust settled? And on a more basic level, what ever happened to Rev. Drew King?

According to interviews with more than three dozen ward residents and a handful of city and neighborhood officials, the answer to both questions, respectively, is ‘no’ and ‘I don’t know.’

“When I look back,” Ward 22 Democratic co-chair Gina Phillips said, “nothing really changed.”

‘Blessed’

It all started at 274 Edgewood Avenue.

Just before Christmas Day 2006, King — the owner of the site, a “sober house” that houses recovering alcoholics and drugs addicts — encountered 24-year-old Kia Williams at the site on the night of December 22. King and Williams had a conflict over a “Georgia Hot” hot dog. The two both agreed on that much.

But what happened after is still unclear. King — who rose to prominence first as Ward 22 Democratic co-chair in 2001 and then as the ward’s alderman in 2003, pegged as the candidate who managed to ingratiate himself with Yale students as well as ward residents — said the woman went “berserk,” grabbed a stick and hit him repeatedly. Williams, who some neighbors at the time speculated was in a relationship with King, told police the opposite story: King, under the influence of drugs, had beat her with the stick, she said.

And just a few nights before Christmas, King, married and 55 at the time, was arrested.

King’s public record never recovered since. As the new year began, more troubling news came: King was again arrested for breaking a protective order issued by Williams.

(Later, city officials discovered King’s Edgewood Avenue property was not properly registered with City Hall and was illegally overcrowded. The house was condemned by the New Haven Living City Initiative last June.)

After promising to check himself into a month-long rehabilitation program and meeting with Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield, Blango and Shah, King sent his resignation letter to Goldfield. In the letter, he said he was “blessed” to have been a city official.

This good-bye marked the conclusion of what many saw as a surprisingly sudden end to the political career of a resident who had followed a gradual and secure route into Ward 22 politics — as Democratic co-chair and then as alderman.

He focused his efforts on youth issues, drug rehabilitation and public safety. He was also known for his consistent support of DeStefano in his aldermanic voting record.

In line, politically?

In one sense, the contrasts between Morehead and King could not be starker. One is a family man; the other was accused of cheating. One prides himself on being upstanding, the other has faced several run-ins with the law.

But in another — and arguably more important — sense, Morehead and King are actually quite similar, interviews suggest. And thus, according to officials like Phillips, for all the hoopla, Ward 22 has actually not changed much over the past year.

Like King, Morehead is a solid supporter of DeStefano, for example, and of Yale’s expansion into the community.

Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs Associate Vice President Michael Morand ‘87 DIV ‘93 said he had “cordial” relations with both. And they share a focus on youth issues, as highlighted in their attempts to redevelop the Dixwell Community House — or Q House as called by locals.

And, neighborhood political leaders acknowledged, both men’s political records feature small wins over major policy changes.

Some of Morehead’s more outspoken critics — like longtime rival Cordelia Thorpe — said over the weekend that little has changed politically between the two tenures because both men are staunch DeStefano supporters.

“There’s really no change because Mr. Morehead was handpicked by the mayor,” she said. “He has to vote how [the mayor’s office tells] him to vote.”

But in interviews, both men have said they are actually quite different from one another.

King said last September that progress in Ward 22 has been “negative” and he had not seen Morehead “make a positive step in doing anything.”

Morehead dismissed King’s pessimism toward his efforts. He pointed to his Ward 22 newsletter and Web site and his instituted Open Mic nights for community members as changes in the community. He said the initiatives have brought the community “back together.”

“Things are getting done,” he stressed. “When people say the ward is getting worse, that’s a lie.”

And while community meetings shortly after King’s resignation provoked outrage and conflict, Morehead’s young tenure has been free of such clashes.

A mixed bag

Last September, Thorpe was much harsher in her criticism of the ward’s current state, claiming that the neighborhood had taken a turn for the worse under Morehead’s tenure.

Phillips said that both men failed to fix the lack of rehabilitations programs in the ward, which brings many problems to residents.

“There are still drug addicts and alcoholics on the streets,” she added, although she said Morehead may still need more time to enact change.

But Valerie McKinnie, 50, a resident of Monterrey Place, had a different take. “King deceived a lot of people,” she said this weekend. “But Morehead has done so much for my ward.”

Despite his campaign promise to examine youth issues and vocal support of the youth-oriented Dixwell Community House, King was not helpful in McKinnie’s effort to provide for disadvantaged children through non-profit work, she said. Morehead, on the other hand, has already helped organize out-of-town youth trips, among other activities, she said.

On the alleged lack of change under his tenure, Morehead said there is still work to be done.

“Nothing will happen overnight,” he said.

He added that he has been in conversations with different constituents in the ward and will push for more community events and unity among residents.

And several residents and officials interviewed said maintained that it is too early to tell what Morehead’s legacy as alderman will be. After all, he still has a year and a half left in his first full term.

‘Can of worms’

But, as of now, the future of Drew King — the one-time alderman brought down by a hot dog — remains uncertain. Friends said he has no current plans for a political future.

King, who was difficult to track down last week, currently works at his business “Blessed Detail” Auto Shop, a car wash that employs paroled prisoners. One employee said over the weekend that he was a “respectful” boss, but declined to comment further. King’s friend Ward 20 Alderman Charles Blango speculated that King may consider moving into the carpentry business.

When the News approached King for the story, he declined to comment several times after failing to show up for an interview he scheduled.

“I don’t want to open up another can of worms,” he said last weekend. “If it is dead, let it stay dead.”

Maybe, but Ward 22 is still very much alive with — some would argue — the same aldermanic approach, and by extension, the same problems, it faced prior to the messy imbroglio of its fallen one-time leader, Drew King.

Comments

  • Henry

    I live in Ward 22 and honestly have nver seen Drew King around on my street, Henry St. For him to say that Mr. Morehead has not done anything and that things have gotten worse, is crazy. Mr Morehead has done more things in a short amount of time than Maeola or Drew. Give me a break! Drew, you kill me and Gina Phillips too. I dont understand how Ms Phillips can say that either about things being the same. I know on mystreet, things have improved and gotten better since mr morehead has been in office.

  • Regina

    I have lived in WARD 22 for over 30 years. This story caught my eye because the story didn't glaze over the truth. Our ward is constantly looked at as run over, unsafe and filled with an enormous amount of trafficking by addicts and drug dealers. I have been hoping that a change would come. Unfortunately, with every political campaign and promise; we are left with nothing! I was not surprised when Drew King had to step down from his position. But, for you to say you never seen him when he was in office is either a complete LIE or you did not live in this ward during his
    term(s). He cared enough about the people in his community to make sure we could recieve money for Scantlebury Park and he hired many ex-offenders who had nowhere to turn in regards to finding employment. Is he a role model? No. But, he is someone that many people in the Ward could go to for anything and see a result. As for your praise for Alderman Moreheads contributions to our neighborhood…he has been delivered but, the jury is still out on his ability to get the job done in our ward. Gina Phillips is someone that Morehead and Jesse Phillips (Mayorial Intern)tapped to run for Co-Chair. We recieved literature on how our Alderman looked forward to working with someone that shared his views on how to improve the ward. Hence, he endorsed her. This speaks volumes on his ability to bring the masses together collectively to get a long awaited job done. In closing, its ironic how you extracted what you wanted from this article. I believe their were more than 3 residents interviewed. Kudos for such a candid approach to a topic that many refuse to face.