Law professor Drew Days III has just secured himself a place in New Haven history — and not because of his stints as the U.S. solicitor general and assistant attorney general. Instead, Days has been selected to a position of even greater historical significance for the city — the first black proprietor of the New Haven Green.
Three weeks ago, the four other proprietors of the Green approached Days to join this elite group, which is a non-governmental organization that manages the New Haven Green.
After a few days of deliberation and research, Days decided to accept the offer.
“I decided it was a great honor and an opportunity for me to contribute to the city in which I live — to help preserve and protect the Green, which is so important to New Haven and the community,” Days said.
Replacing banker Charles Terrell, who died last month from a brain tumor, Days joins a distinguished group of city leaders: C. Newton Schenck III, a lawyer and the president of the group; Anne Calabresi, a civic leader; Julia McNamara, president of Albertus Magnus College; and Henry Townsend, a retired banker.
In accepting this position, Days became the group’s first black member. Although the five-person contingency had been comprised of only white males in the past, it has since diversified and now includes two female members as well.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if race had bearing on the decision,” Days said. “I’m an additional voice that may be able to address concerns and interests in the community for all races and ethnicities.”
Schenck, the president of the group, said while the committee recognized the importance of having a minority, it wasn’t the key factor in selecting Days.
Instead, the two most influential factors were his distinguished record as a law professor and solicitor general, and his affiliation with Yale. The group wished to restore a longstanding relationship with the University, which had disintegrated in the recent past.
“It’s an honor, and we try to recognize somebody who’ll be useful to us, but who has also earned a reputation in one important way or another,” Schenck said. “He has been very involved in the community, and he’s a very thoughtful, nice man who we’ve all known for quite a while.”
Since its inception in 1805, the committee has always been a self-perpetuating group of five. Members are appointed for life and when one dies or resigns, the four remaining members privately select the new successor.
“The idea is not for the process to be political,” Calabresi said. “We don’t think of this as a title position, and we have no precedent for any other system. It’s a much more historical than political issue.”
When New Haven was settled in 1638, the Green was the center of the nine-square city plan. Although the 17-acre plot of land is owned and physically maintained by the city, the proprietors are responsible for managing it. They make fundamental decisions about its use, events, crowds, statues and other issues.
“It’s the focal point of New Haven, if not Southern Connecticut,” Schenck said. “We make sure the events that take place on the Green are appropriate.”
And what exactly is appropriate?
In the past, the proprietors have allowed many events, from a protest campout by homeless residents to a Kool and the Gang concert, to take place on the Green.