Dixwell resident Jeanette Morrison announced Friday that she will challenge Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead in his run for a third term.
A lifelong resident of New Haven and a supervisor in the state’s Department of Children and Families, Morrison said in an interview Thursday that she decided to run because her community is “failing.” Residents of Ward 22 — which includes the new Yale Health Center, four Yale residential colleges and the planned site of two new residential colleges — face unacceptably high unemployment and an “invisible wall” around Yale student neighbors, Morrison said.
While Morrison said she remembers a psychological gap between the Dixwell community and Yale students when she was growing up, other problems have worsened since then. Once the “heartbeat of New Haven” and host of well paying jobs, she said, Dixwell Avenue and the area surrounding it have seen steady economic decline.
Part of the problem, Morrison said, is that efforts to inform Dixwell residents about job opportunities have been insufficient.
“People are standing on the sidewalk saying there’s no jobs, but at the same time I see a condominium being built and a multibillion-dollar college dormitories being built — those are jobs to me,” Morrison said. “The information is not falling into the hands of residents.”
Reached by phone Friday, Morehead, who moved to New Haven in 2000 from Mt. Vernon, N.Y., said he has done more than any of his predecessors to advocate for jobs for residents in the ward and lobby Yale’s administration on their behalf. Before Yale broke ground on its new health center, Morehead said, he negotiated an agreement under which the University promised to train Ward 22 residents for jobs at the center that would be set aside for them.
In addition to publicizing job opportunities through his quarterly newsletter, Morehead said, he takes a personal interest in securing employment for his constituents, especially young people. In 2009, he said, Morehead took several teenagers with him to Walmart and Home Depot stores to serve as their reference as they applied successfully for jobs.
“If they didn’t have a job, I knew that the ward was going to be a bit more dangerous,” Morehead said. “I put my name on the line for them.”
Morehead and Morrison saw eye to eye about the need to better engage Yale students living in Ward 22, home to Morse, Ezra Stiles, Silliman and Timothy Dwight Colleges.
Morrison, who called herself a lifelong student because of her two advanced degrees and her habit of sleeping too little, said she relates to Yale students and would seek to bridge the gap separating them from the surrounding neighborhood. At several meetings in college dining halls, students were very receptive to her candidacy, she said.
For his part, Morehead, who is a professional drummer in addition to running several local business ventures, said he considers himself a “mouthpiece” for students living in his ward. Each summer as part of FOCUS, Yale’s sophomore New Haven orientation program, Morehead leads students on walks throughout Dixwell to acquaint them with the neighborhood and help them feel comfortable living in it.
Morehead will face Morrison in a Democratic primary Sept. 13.