January 6th, 2014 | City

Alders seek distance from unions

Seeking to counterbalance perceived union control of the New Haven Board of Alders, seven local lawmakers have formed a coalition they say will operate independently of the influence of Yale’s UNITE HERE unions, Locals 34 and 35.

Six of those alders announced the fledgling coalition Sunday evening at the home of Ward 28 Alder Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, the New Haven Independent reported. Robsinson-Thorpe was elected in 2009 and again in 2011 with labor backing.

“During my second term I soon realized that I had left one master for another,” Robinson-Thorpe said in a statement.

Robinson-Thorpe and Ward 21 Alder Brenda Foskey-Cyrus, two of 18 candidates elected in 2011 with the support of Yale’s blue-and-pink-collar unions, are now splitting with the labor-backed majority, governed, they say, by Board president Jorge Perez and UNITE HERE organizer Gwen Mills.

Robinson-Thorpe argued that the UNITE HERE’s electoral influence has forged a new political machine — akin to the Democratic Party machine it sought to replace — in prescribing which way alders vote and promising retribution for not toeing the labor line.

“By making this statement I was told I would be committing political suicide and the Unions would run someone against me,” Robinson-Thorpe added.

The two union breakaways were joined by Ward 30 Alder Carlton Staggers and a handful of freshly minted alders: Anna Festa in Ward 10, Richard Spears in Ward 12 and Mike Stratton in Ward 19. Ward 7 Alder Doug Hausladen ’04 told the Independent that he, too, counts himself among the group’s members.

In statements to the Independent, Perez and former Ward 3 Alder and Democratic Town Committee chairwoman Jackie James said Robinson-Thorpe’s enmity is personal: that she was not selected as the Board’s choice for president pro tem — second behind Board president — when the Board’s majority met in caucus and voted instead for Ward 23 Alder Tyisha Walker. A formal vote for that position is slated for Tuesday, likely the first demonstration of newly redrawn lines of labor allegiance.

The set of alders unattached to labor will be forming an independent caucus, Robinson-Thorpe wrote, with its first meeting set for Jan. 25 to gather input from city residents.