With promises of a progressive agenda and a more active Board of Aldermen, Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield was elected president of the board at its most recent full meeting, defeating Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez, who had held the presidency since 2000.
The Jan. 3 election, in which only the city’s 30 aldermen were allowed to vote, split the board 16-14 in Goldfield’s favor. Ward 22 Alderman Rev. Drew King and recently elected Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05 cast key votes for Goldfield.
As president, Goldfield would become mayor if current Mayor John DeStefano Jr. were to be elected governor of Connecticut in November. Goldfield is also expected to play a key role as president in negotiating terms for the construction of the Yale-New Haven Hospital Cancer Center. Nearly 100 hospital employees, many of them clad in scrubs or white coats, attended Tuesday’s meeting to show the new president their support for construction of the cancer center.
In their statements before the vote, supporters of former president Perez called him an independent leader who brought diversity to the board, while Goldfield advocates praised their candidate’s progressive vision and desire to see the board play a more active role in shaping the city.
Some aldermen, including Babz Rawls-Ivy of Ward 28 and Edward Mattison of Ward 10, emphasized the need for reconciliation on the 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.”
Throughout the election, Goldfield faced allegations that he was too close to the Mayor’s Office to serve as an independent aldermanic president. In November, Perez and other Latino community leaders gathered on the steps of City Hall to praise Perez’s independence and accuse the mayor — who throughout the election quietly supported Goldfield — of working to stifle opposition.
“The only sin I have committed is to say no two or three times, and I have done that because of principle,” Perez said at the rally.
But Goldfield’s supporters defended their candidate’s willingness to stand up to DeStefano, and in a speech to the board immediately after Goldfield’s victory was announced, he said the board would serve as an “independent voice” for the city.
Goldfield said he will focus on increasing youth programming in the city and finalizing a plan for public funding of mayoral elections. He began focusing on those issues after brainstorming with a small group of aldermen, including former Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, 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.”
Mayoral Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Smuts ’01, who is temporarily serving as liaison to the board, said City Hall looks forward to continued work with a more active Board of Aldermen.
“We started to see that with some of them last term over a range of initiatives from relatively small, like the hybrid parking ordinance, to larger things like the work that a number of them … started to do on youth initiatives,” he said.
In addition to his work on youth initiatives, Goldfield had been establishing himself as a visible leader by lobbying for a bill, which the state legislature recently approved, to permit publicly financed mayoral elections in New Haven. Goldfield has also supported the creation of a city registry for gay and lesbian couples and a provision to require inspection of absentee-owned rental units, both of which 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.”
Still, the November rally, which featured former New Haven Mayor John Daniels, State Sen. Toni Harp, and State Rep. Bill Dyson, highlighted a racial element to the campaign that remained an issue during Tuesday’s vote. Although the final vote was not divided along racial lines — Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, president of the board’s Black and Hispanic Caucus, voted for Goldfield — many of Perez’s supporters said Perez represents the diversity of a city that 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, who is black, deflected the talk of racial diversity and tried to call attention 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. “Leadership is not what we are; it has to be what we do.”
At the end of the full board meeting, Lee called for an immediate meeting of the Black and Hispanic Caucus. Shah, who was elected at the same meeting 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.