Three newly elected members of the New Haven Board of Alderman were sworn in Thursday afternoon, filling vacancies that have existed on the Board for several months.
Though the three new members are unlikely to have any significant influence on the aldermanic agenda in the coming weeks, their addition to the body may affect the balance of power between the two loosely defined factions on the board, aldermen said. Two of the new aldermen — Roland Lemar of Ward 9 and Mordechai Sandman of Ward 28 — won in uncontested races on Tuesday, while alderwoman Erin Sturgis-Pascale defeated Evelyn DeJesus-Vargas by more than 100 votes in Ward 14.
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DeJesus-Vargas had been supported by Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez, who lost last year’s race for Board president by one vote to Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield.
Thursday was one of the first days that New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. returned his focus to the city after emptying out his gubernatorial campaign headquarters. Aldermen said they were looking forward to his return, since some residents have noticed that normally well-functioning public works and other activities have been neglected during the mayor’s absence.
“I think we’ll be focusing on public safety and public works,” Goldfield said. “I think people are concerned about crime, and people are concerned about the meat and potato issues like potholes.”
Goldfield and Perez have been seen as the leaders of two alliances since last year’s election, though aldermen on Thursday offered mixed opinions of the continuing relevance of the factions. Some said they see the alliances as unimportant, since there will not be another leadership race until after the next election in 2007, and others said they cannot yet gauge the positions of the new members.
“These are new folks,” Goldfield said. “They weren’t involved in that vote, so they’re going to have to find their own way and decide who they support on the board for leadership positions.”
Ward 17 Alderman Alphonse Paolillo, Jr. said the immediate effect of the addition of the new members is the re-enfranchisement of the residents of the three wards.
“The most important thing in all of this is now these communities have a voice, and for four months, these communities didn’t have a voice,” Paolillo said. “I think that’s the important thing now.”
The elections followed the resignations of three aldermen over the past years. Ward 9 Alderwoman Elizabeth Addonizio GRD ’09 stepped down to care for an ill relative. Ward 28 Alderwoman Barbara Rawls-Ivy resigned in September after pleading guilty to charges of embezzling. And Ward 14 Alderman Joe Jolly gave up his seat to attend Cornell Law School.
Ward 26 Alderman Sergio Rodriguez said the main concern now is getting back to city business.
“There are a lot of things going on that need a lot of attention,” he said. “Finally, I think now things are starting to gel and start to happen. With this election having happened now, we can move forward and begin to really work.”
Since the vast majority of ordinances and orders passed by the Board of Aldermen are approved unanimously, the alliances are often unimportant. But when it comes to the question of who will lead the board, the factions are more likely to come into play, aldermen said.
Ward 20 Alderman Charles Blango said future alliances and intraboard elections may not be a matter of Goldfield versus Perez as other candidates for president may emerge. Blango and Rodriguez said they are considering running for president.
“I may be interested in running for the president of the board, [so] it may not necessarily come down to two people,” Blango said. “That’s the good thing about democracy. It gives everybody a right to get involved and to exercise their rights. The options are open.”
Many aldermen praised their new colleagues for bringing diversity to the board. Lemar, a former city worker, is strong on economic development and other community improvement issues, Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05 said.
“[Lemar] has a very useful base of knowledge from his work with the city and understands the issues very well,” he said.
Sandman, who represents the neighborhood of Beaver Hills in the western part of the city, said he will work to improve Beaver Pond parks, get rid of the neighborhood’s shooting range that causes residents to hear automatic gunfire in their backyards, improve public safety and curb youth violence.
“It’s not a one-year vision,” he said. “This is a multi-year vision.”
Since aldermen in New Haven are elected for two-year terms, the entire board is up for re-election in November 2007.