Supporters of Democratic Alderman Jorge Perez crowded the steps of City Hall Tuesday evening as they rallied in support of Perez’s bid for re-election to the Board of Aldermen presidency.
Perez, who has served as board president for six years, faces a challenge for his seat from Democratic Alderman Carl Goldfield, who contends that the board under Perez’s control has been reactionary rather than proactive in addressing New Haven’s needs.
By calling in supporters from Perez’s base among local unions and Latino leaders statewide, the rally’s organizers said they hoped to demonstrate the broad base of community support that Perez commands and to encourage New Haven residents to call their aldermen and urge them to support Perez.
Representatives from New Haven’s unions, including Local 35 and Service Employees International Union 1199, attended the rally, as did state Sen. Toni Harp and state Rep. Bill Dyson. A number of New Haven aldermen were also present, including Alphonse Paolillo of Ward 17 and Sergio Rodriguez of Ward 26.
Former New Haven Mayor John Daniels, who spoke at the rally, said Perez has served with integrity, and Daniels urged those present at the rally to speak out in support of the aldermanic president.
“Here is an individual who has served his city well, and people across the state are going to look at how the city treats him,” Daniels said. “Our mayor is running for governor … and he is going to be away from his office, and we need a person in that office in his absence who knows the city budget, and who knows every department, … and who works in the best interest of the taxpayers, and that is Jorge Perez.”
Perez said he has fallen out of favor with City Hall because he voted against a number of proposals the mayor had supported, including a bill to create a registry for same-sex couples.
“We need to make sure that the board works with the administration … but remains independent,” he said. “The only sin I have committed is to say no two or three times, and I have done that because of principle.”
Goldfield, Perez’s challenger, said he too is an independent alderman who has not hesitated to diverge from City Hall on proposals before the board.
“I’ve stood up to the mayor in the past, and if he needs to be stood up to in the future, I will,” he said. “I think most of the members of the board will tell you that they’ve supported the mayor more than not because the mayor’s done a great job.”
Although the president of the board has no power outside New Haven, a number of Latino Democratic representatives from Bridgeport and Hartford rallied behind Perez, asserting that Mayor John DeStefano Jr. wants to unseat Perez in favor of Goldfield. Some of the visiting Democrats suggested that they may withhold support from DeStefano’s gubernatorial bid if Perez is defeated in January’s election.
“This rally was aimed at … help[ing] the mayor and members of the Board of Aldermen understand that there is a strong base of support for Jorge Perez,” said James Newton, a rally organizer and former independent candidate for mayor. “What you don’t want to do when you’re running for statewide office is unsettle the support for you in your own backyard.”
Goldfield said that while aldermen are always responsive to their constituents, the selection of the Board’s president is an internal matter.
“Anybody is free to speak, it’s a free country, … but this is an internal Board of New Haven matter,” Goldfield said. “This has nothing to do with the mayor, nothing to do with people from outside the city.”
Speakers from New Haven’s unions also threw their support behind Perez’s bid for the presidency, commending him for standing up to the mayor’s office and acting as a check on DeStefano.
“Our support for Jorge Perez is unconditional, and we will reach out to our allies on the Board and our allies beyond the Board to give our message loud and clear,” Local 35 President Bob Proto said.
Yolanda Castillo, the chair of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus, said DeStefano risks endangering his popularity if he appears unresponsive to the needs of the Latino community.
But Shonu Gandhi ’03, DeStefano’s campaign director, said she is confident that the state’s Latino population will decide to support DeStefano for the Democratic party’s nomination for governor.
“We’re confident that Latino leaders from across the state will look at DeStefano’s record of advocating for issues of importance to Latinos,” Gandhi said. “We do have strong support from the Latino community statewide, in New Haven, in Bridgeport, in Hartford, and in many of the suburbs across the state.
Goldfield has said that his candidacy has the support of the mayor. While mayoral spokesman Derek Slap said the mayor has a close relationship with Goldfield, Slap said the mayor has remained uninvolved in the election process.
“The mayor does think that Carl would be a good president, but the mayor feels that it is up to the aldermen to decide,” Slap said.