The aldermanic race in today’s primary in Ward 2 presents a clear choice between an experienced incumbent, Joyce Chen ’01, and a political neophyte in challenger Gina Calder ’03. Joyce has been one of the leading independent voices on the Board of Alderman, fighting the strong political machine of the mayor. Consider the following:
1. The Arts Co-op High School Development. In the fall of 2001, the mayor and his team decided to site the new Arts Co-op High School at the corner of Howe and Chapel. The project would have involved displacing a number of small businesses, such as Pizza House and the India Palace restaurant.
This plan was made without engaging, or even notifying, anybody in the ward, including Joyce, the alderwoman. The first notice anybody in the community heard of the project was when the involved small businesses received notices of eminent domain!
Joyce’s reaction was the model of what any courageous leader should be in these circumstances. She organized community meetings, listened to what her constituents said, and formulated a plan of action. The city, after seeing the widespread opposition among all sectors of the ward, backed down. Pizza House, India Palace and the rest were saved.
This was the first time during my tenure in New Haven politics where I have seen an alderwoman go toe-to-toe with the mayor on a major project and win.
2. Elected Board of Education. In this time of dire economic straits, Joyce has been a major voice on the board for fiscal accountability regarding the Board of Ed. She has fought for an elected board, which would remove a major source of mayoral patronage and cronyism and allow the Board of Aldermen to gain some transparency concerning the Board of Ed budget.
3. Rental Licensing Ordinance. Joyce has been criticized for her opposition to this ordinance which will, supposedly, make absentee landlords more accountable to their tenants. While Joyce totally supports the concept, there were many troubling aspects to the legislation.
First, it would have put the licensing in the hands of the Livable City Initiative (LCI), an ineffective, unaccountable bureaucracy which can’t handle its current mandates concerning Section Eight housing and blight eradication. Second, the worst landlord in the city, the Housing Authority, would have been exempt from the legislation, putting into question the motives of the administration.
4. Environmental, Labor and Anti-War. In addition to standing up to the machine, Joyce has an excellent environmental, labor and anti-war record on the Board. Among other things she:
•authored and pushed through a strong anti-war resolution making New Haven one of the few municipalities in the country to be on record to call for bringing the troops home;
•authored the resolution for Community Benefits Agreements which passed unanimously;
•has supported CORD (Communities Organized for Responsible Development);
•has a perfect labor record concerning Yale union issues;
•is the only alderman advocating green building and sustainable city programs;
•successfully fought for the bike lanes at IKEA;
•successfully fought rate increases for public transportation.
5. Community Outreach. Joyce has demonstrated a long-term commitment to the Dwight neighborhood. She is out in the streets every day, working with parents to help contain the multiple problems confronting inner-city youth. She has initiated job preparation programs, formed violence bereavement groups, and worked for the successful reintegration of returning ex-inmates.
In contrast to Joyce, her opponent has little experience in local politics and no known history of environmental or labor activism. Though a resident of New Haven for seven years, Gina only recently decided to register to vote here — just in time to run for public office. In contrast to a number of recent Yale graduates and undergrads, she has not been involved in the big issue before the Board today: the Yale Cancer Center development. Gina has been nowhere to be seen.
I hope that the voters of Ward 2 will enthusiastically return Joyce Chen to the Board of Aldermen. To do otherwise will be a loss to both the residents of the ward and of the city.
Allan Brison is co-chair of the New Haven Green Party.