New Board brings new focus

Nineteen new faces entered the aldermanic chambers last week, marking a major shift in the Board of Aldermen.
Nineteen new faces entered the aldermanic chambers last week, marking a major shift in the Board of Aldermen. Photo by Joyce Xi.

On Jan. 1, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. was inaugurated for a record 10th term, the same day that a radically different Board of Aldermen also took office.

The 19 aldermen beginning their first term this month were sworn in on New Year’s Day during the city’s inauguration ceremony held at Hill Regional Career High School on Legion Avenue. Many members of the new Board, which features a supermajority of labor-backed aldermen, have said it will work to push Mayor John DeStefano Jr. for big changes.

“My colleagues and I share many similar concerns about the state of affairs in New Haven right now regarding the issues of crime, violence, joblessness and youth,” said Ward 1 Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12 in a Sunday email to the News. “I look forward to tackling those issues and in particular I hope to play a key role in the ongoing shaping of real community policing in New Haven.”

While many of the new aldermen railed against the mayor during last year’s election season, his critics on the Board said they were eager to collaborate to tackle city issues.

City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04 said DeStefano’s priorities for the next two years include improving education, working with youth, implementing community policing and continuing to develop downtown. These overlap with those of the new Board, she said, creating opportunities for the two parties to work together.

In his inaugural address, DeStefano also brought up the idea of a “jobs pipeline,” which Benton said involves the connection between emerging careers and job opportunities within New Haven and the education and job training to prepare residents for those jobs. She cited medical and biotech research as an example of growing industries in New Haven, explaining that the mayor will pursue “targeted training” to ensure city residents can fill those jobs.

DeStefano said the jobs pipeline will help New Haven become an environment of “inclusive prosperity,” a term that originated in a December report by the Connecticut Center for a New Economy,a non-profit progressive advocacy organization, and has since been used by many of the labor-backed candidates.

During its first meeting Jan. 3, the new Board elected longtime Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez as its president and Ward 3 Alderwoman Jacqueline James-Evans as its president pro tempore, the next in command. Perez, a 24-year Board veteran who served as president from 2000 to 2005 before losing to a DeStefano-backed challenge from former Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield, pledged to act as a “facilitator” between DeStefano and the new Board and said the new Board will be much more proactive than it has been in former years because its supermajority will allow it to cut down on debate.

“For too long our city has appeared factionalized… This perception has often been used to our disadvantage,” Perez said in his acceptance speech. “I am committed during this next two-year journey to do my part where and when I can towards preventing that perception on or of this board by facilitating conversation, compromise and collective achievements.”

Perez said that although no specific legislation has been proposed, the Board will focus on youth, education, development and community policing — many of the same themes DeStefano mentioned. Benton said that DeStefano and the Board leadership will sit down in the near future to discuss how they can best collaborate.

The second Board of Aldermen meeting in 2012 will take place on Jan. 17.

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