With promises of a progressive agenda and a more active Board of Aldermen, Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield was elected president of the Board on Jan. 3, defeating Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez, who had held the presidency since 2000.

The election, in which only the city’s 30 aldermen are allowed to vote, was fiercely contested. The final count was 16 to 14 in Goldfield’s favor, with recently elected Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05 casting a key vote for Goldfield.

As president, Goldfield would become mayor if current Mayor John DeStefano Jr. were elected governor of Connecticut in November. Goldfield is also expected to play a key role in negotiating a settlement regarding the construction of the Yale-New Haven Hospital Cancer Center. Nearly 100 employees of Yale-New Haven Hospital, many of them in white coats or scrubs, attended Tuesday’s meeting to show the new president their support for the cancer center’s construction.

In their statements before the vote, supporters of Perez praised him for being an independent leader who brought diversity to the board, while those who supported Goldfield spoke of their candidate’s progressive vision and desire to see the Board play a more active role in shaping the city of New Haven.

A few aldermen, notably Babz Rawls-Ivy of Ward 28 and Edward Mattison of Ward 10, emphasized the need for reconciliation on the deeply divided board.

“People were really choosing up sides in a very powerful way,” Mattison said after the vote. “I don’t want us to turn into the [U.S.] House of Representatives, where decisions are never made on the merits.”

Goldfield, an alderman for 12 years, said his decision to run for president came after meetings with a small group of aldermen, including former Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, to brainstorm projects that they believed would help the city. Some of the ideas developed at those meetings, especially plans to increase funding for youth programming and to design a system of publicly funded mayoral elections, remain at the top of his agenda for the upcoming term, he said.

“We really just felt that the direction the board was going in was not a good one,” he said. “We had become a totally reactive board. We weren’t initiating anything on our own.”

In the months before the election, Goldfield was already working to establish himself as a visible leader. He helped design the city’s plan that will allocate $1 million toward youth programming, and a bill that will allow New Haven to establish publicly financed mayoral elections, which Goldfield and a coalition of his colleagues had spent three years lobbying for, was recently approved by the state legislature.

Prior to that, Goldfield supported the creation of a city registry for gay and lesbian couples and a provision to require inspection of absentee-owned rental units, both measures that Perez had opposed.

“Carl’s work on progressive issues … and his commitment to working with students from Ward 1 and other Yale students on those measures is a good sign,” Shalek said. “The legislature should act both as a check — which it traditionally has done pretty much exclusively — [and] as a policy maker, and there is an opportunity for a board under new leadership to actually initiate interesting policy and address important issues.”

Throughout the election, Goldfield had to defend himself against allegations that he was too close to the Mayor’s Office to serve as an independent leader of the Board. Latino leaders gathered on the steps of City Hall in a November rally to praise Perez’s independence and accused the mayor, who throughout the election quietly supported Goldfield, of wanting to stifle opposition.

“Jorge … stood up for independence of this board,” Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01, a Perez supporter, said during the meeting. “Are we going to be [the voters’] representatives? Or are we going to be somebody else’s representatives?”

Goldfield’s supporters, however defended their candidate’s willingness to stand up to Mayor DeStefano, and in a speech to the board immediately after his victory was announced, Goldfield pledged that the board under his leadership would serve as an “independent voice” for the city.

The November rally, which featured former New Haven Mayor John Daniels, state Sen. Toni Harp, and state Rep. Bill Dyson, also highlighted racial undertones to the campaign that remained an issue at Tuesday’s vote. Although the final vote was not divided along racial lines — among Goldfield’s supporters was Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, president of the board’s Black and Hispanic Caucus — many of Perez’s supporters spoke of how he represented the diversity of the city, which is over 20 percent black and Hispanic.

“We’ve come too far to not have a mix of ethnicity in leadership,” said Ward 11 Alderman Robert Lee, who voted for Perez.

But Goldfield supporter Rawls-Ivy, herself an African-American, deflected the talk of racial diversity and called attention instead to the new ideas she said Goldfield would bring to the presidency.

“Diversity is not based on race or ethnicity or religion. It is diversity of ideas,” she said in her remarks to the board. “Leadership is not what we are; it has to be what we do.”

At the end of the full board’s meeting, Lee called for an immediate meeting of the Black and Hispanic Caucus. Shah, who was elected Tuesday as president pro tempore of the full board, said he had not been aware of any plans for such a meeting, but speculated that Lee wanted to nominate Perez to replace him as president of the Caucus.