Yale will contribute $100,000 to the city’s efforts to combat youth violence, in a surprise deal announced Wednesday at a Board of Aldermen meeting.
The news came shortly after Gregory Morehead was sworn in as Ward 22 alderman, when the Committee of the Whole met for the seventh and final time to discuss, and ultimately table, the proposed youth curfew ordinance. During the meeting, amid complaints by some aldermen about the delay in creating a comprehensive strategy for dealing with city youth, committee chair and Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark announced that she had secured more than $350,000 in private fundraising for the city’s Youth Outreach Program. That sum includes the hefty pledge made by Yale through Vice President of New Haven Affairs Bruce Alexander.
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“I believed when we started this that the taxpayers did not have to, and should not have to, bear the burden of this entire program,” Clark said. “We have therefore been working behind the scenes since January to bring fundraisers together … and we have, after a lot of very difficult work.”
But the news was not enough to assuage the concerns of several aldermen, some of whom were even more frustrated by the announcement because they said City Hall has not been conducting deliberations over youth programs transparently enough. And the disappointment expressed by some aldermen at the beginning of the meeting remained by the end; after hours of listening to youth testimony in meetings conducted late last year and early in 2007, the committee failed to devise a youth program.
Tensions surfaced not only in discussions about how to address youth problems, but also regarding the aldermen’s varying conceptions of the role of the city’s legislative body in general. The role of the Board, some said, should not be simply to vote on other organizations’ proposals, but to pass independent legislation and make city agencies comply with new laws.
“I still believe we do not have a youth agenda,” Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said. “I still believe we do not have a mission statement, a set of guidelines, and a timeline. We’re still waiting somehow for that to happen. … We don’t have to wait for the mayor, the city or the executive office to do it.”
As Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield defended the Committee of the Whole proceedings, noting that they were only ever designed to address the narrow question of a curfew, his main opponent on the Board, Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez, had a somewhat different take.
“This was the catalyst that got a lot of meetings and a lot of attention, but you know what, talk is cheap,” Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez said. “I still can’t honestly look at any one of my constituents and say here’s our plan. There are still unanswered questions, and they need to be answered yesterday, not tomorrow.”
Although Morehead left the aldermanic meeting shortly after introducing himself — he said he would be celebrating with family — he was the center of attention at City Hall just hours before the debate.
After Mayor John DeStefano Jr. read the 29-year-old entrepreneur his oath of office with his family and many Yale supporters looking on, Morehead summoned what he said was the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. in vowing to bring unity back to his community. In addition to thanking those who he said were “instrumental” in helping him reach out to more than 1,000 residents in Ward 22, Morehead added a special thanks to his supporters for staying “strong with me and … on my side, even with the negative adversity and slander I had to experience.”
“Abraham Lincoln said, ‘United we stand, divided we fall,’ so as we begin today — my aldermanic term — my main goal is to unite Ward 22 so we can have access to all the resources available to make us a strong community,” he said. “United we stand. Divided we fall.”
Several of Morehead’s friends and family members at the meeting had traveled from Mt. Vernon, N.Y., where he goes twice a week to visit and attend church. His pastor called Morehead a “miracle tabernacle and one of Connecticut’s finest,” declaring that despite the claims made on fliers distributed by an unknown resident during the campaign, his “character is flawless.” Morehead was arrested several years ago for verbally fighting with his wife, which escalated to the point that a neighbor called the police, but Morehead said charges were dropped and he has no known criminal record.
Before reading the oath on the second floor of City Hall, DeStefano praised Morehead — whom the mayor had endorsed within days of Morehead’s early March announcement — for practicing a more palatable kind of politics than some of his opponents.
“You can do politics by appealing to people’s more negative, baser instinct, or you can do your politics by appealing to the values we share or to all the things that are important to our families,” DeStefano said. “When one of your opponents didn’t do that, you still stuck with what was positive and what was good for all of us.”
DeStefano was referring to Morehead’s outspoken opponent, Cordelia Thorpe, who has criticized the Mayor for practicing “plantation politics.” At one point during the campaign, Morehead threatened in a voicemail to sue Thorpe for slander. But as the election neared, Thorpe — who came in second place in the election — protested its legitimacy because of how the Democratic nominee was selected.
Thorpe spent Tuesday circulating a petition declaring herself the rightfully elected alderwoman, she said, and her e-mails now come with a signature naming her “Rightful Ward Alderwoman Elect.” A hearing before a special tribunal will be held today at 3:30 p.m. at State Central headquarters in Hartford to hear formal testimony about the legality of the endorsement. The panel will rule on the legitimacy of the election early next week, if not sooner.