Ward 2 Aldermanic candidate Gina Calder ’03 has a lot to say about what she says are her ward’s biggest issues: education, crime, and development.

Going door to door on Kensington Ave., one of the poorest sections of the ward, to secure votes before Tuesday’s Democratic primary, Calder promised residents more opportunities for youth, a stronger and more respectful police presence, and more community involvement in decisions. But Calder’s biggest obstacle in the likely-decisive primary, four-year incumbent Joyce Chen ’01, was completely absent from her vocabulary.

The name never passed her lips once during interviews or a two-hour stint on the campaign trail Thursday. When constituent Catherine Roberts, who lives three doors down from Chen, asked who Calder’s opponent was, Calder replied, “the incumbent.”

“I can only talk about myself,” Calder said. “That’s who my campaign is about.”

Ward 2 is one of New Haven’s most diverse wards, covering portions of the relatively poor Dwight and Dixwell neighborhoods, extending far down Edgewood and Whalley, as well as a few blocks of student off-campus housing on streets like Lynwood and Howe. Adam Barth ’07 — political director of the New Haven Action Fund, which has been providing Calder campaign assistance — said students in Ward 2 were definitely a minority but an important one.

Calder’s campaign, whose message is tightly focused on public safety, social services, and responsiveness to the community, has been affected by a number of issues that reach beyond her ward. One is the proposed cancer center addition to Yale-New Haven Hospital, which has drawn unions and community groups like Community Organized for Responsible Development into a battle for a community benefits agreement.

Calder, a health care consultant, said she supported the timely building of a cancer center for patients’ sake, but she also expressed support for the unions’ position, though she said she didn’t “know much about CORD.”

“This is a good time to bring the hospital to the table,” she said. “With all the jobs this project brings, this is an important opportunity for union efforts to gain a stronger foothold and to think about community benefits and good jobs.”

In addition, Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s endorsement of Calder against Chen may have provided a campaign boost, but a recent New Haven Advocate article alleged that neither candidate would admit a position on gay rights, an issue that had previously drawn scrutiny only to Chen.

When asked about her position on gay rights, Calder said that as a black woman, she could not tolerate discrimination “of any kind,” but she did not elaborate on her position on specific measures such as the Domestic Partnership Amendment, which Chen voted against in 2003.

Chen has also avoided elaborating on her position despite having a voting record on domestic partnership, but she spoke generally about the issue.

“I think that all couples should have all the benefits they need to have wholesome lives,” she said, “and it seems like that’s been taken care of in our state.”

Pressed further, Calder said gay rights are not a central concern for Ward 2 consituents.

“I’ve talked to more than 800 people while campaigning, and no one has mentioned gay rights to me,” she said. “We have a duty and a calling to work on the priorities of the community.”

Calder spoke at length on what she said those priorities were. She said she aimed to turn the area’s many abandoned properties into an advantage by pushing for extensive redevelopment. She promised constituents a more involved police presence, pointing to the recent string of crimes near Lynwood as a failure in public policy. She said the closure of a police substation on Park Street has contributed to the problem.

“The police were there, lined up along Park,” she said. “There was visibility and they were out there walking around. We need that back.”

Migdalia Roldan, who lives with her family of five in a third-story apartment on Kensington Avenue, responded to the message of public safety with enthusiasm and promised Calder her vote.

“Safety is the only issue around here, because you can’t go down [onto the street],” Roldan said. “We need something to change soon.”

Roldan emphasized her words by pointing out a bullet hole next to her third story window.

Calder said she intended to make tangible changes as quickly as possible to keep residents involved in the political process. She emphasized small, visible victories like clean streets and trimmed trees as a gateway to larger change.

“I’ve already got some residents together in an education task force to provide added help for our schools,” she said. “For example, they’re working on getting after-school programs in the arts, though it may have to be on an all-volunteer basis at first.”

Education is where Calder got her start in Ward 2 seven years ago, tutoring third graders in reading at Timothy Dwight Elementary. In addition, she said she has advocated for foster children, canvassed for heart health and stroke awareness, mentored teenage girls, and worked with Mothers for Justice around parent and family issues. She also credits her membership in sorority Delta Sigma Theta for keeping her committed to activism.

It was this experience as an advocate that pushed her into politics, Calder said.

“I just have a genuine heart to help. I’m young, so I don’t have competing interests or concerns,” she said. “I just want to help the community.”

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