Newly elected Ward 10 Alderman Allan Brison ran as a Green Party candidate. But he won as an independent.
He also won as someone who will aim to shake up the Board of Aldermen — which, he said, is merely a “rubber stamp” for the mayor.
In other words, Brison is not even waiting to take his seat to begin sparking controversy. He has already declared his intention to join a faction that its alleged leader claims does not exist.
In contrast to outgoing Ward 10 Alderman Ed Mattison LAW ’68 — whom Brison called the “insider of insiders” — Brison said he is ready to assume his position as a skeptic of and opposition voice to the mayor. Even supporters of Mattison on the Board — who received the vote totals on election night with evident surprise and silence — called Brison’s 20 percent margin of victory over Mattison overwhelming.
In an interview, Brison said he intends to support Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez for Board president against current Board President Carl Goldfield, even though Perez said he has not even decided whether to run yet.
“There are two factions on the Board of Aldermen,” Brison said. “There is the Jorge Perez faction, and there is the mayor’s faction … I feel I’ll be more in the dissenting faction.”
The board presidential election will take place in two and a half months.
Perez said he welcomes Brison and his independent voice just as he welcomes everyone else, but that the lines on the Board are not drawn as clearly as Brison makes them out to be.
“I don’t think there is any Jorge Perez faction per se,” Perez said. “I am perceived to be [an independent voice on the board] … I work with the mayor when it makes sense, and when I disagree, I disagree. My disagreements with the mayor tend to be less theoretical than practical.”
Others on the Board said it was unwise for Brison to indicate his partisan preferences so publicly and so early. Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05, who did not pursue re-election this fall, said it is preferable to start with an open mind and get to know all the aldermen instead of rushing to judgement.
Ward 13 Alderman Alex Rhodeen said he agrees.
“I don’t think anyone would say there are factions,” Rhodeen said. “There are just different approaches to different issues. But I think it is important to be on the Board before you start declaring factions and which one you are going to be on.”
Fellow co-chair of the local Green Party Charles Pillsbury ’70 DIV ’90 said Brison is a “man of principles” who is averse to bargaining with his vote once he is on the Board.
Brison said he has no interest in playing politics.
“You have to decide to what degree you are upfront, and to what degree you are diplomatic,” Brison said. “I may not always make the right choice, but I strongly support Jorge for president, though on other issues it will be an issue by issue decision … With Jorge, I don’t feel I have to have total allegiance on every issue.”
Rhodeen said that as one of the more conservative Democrats on the Board, he looks forward to meeting with Brison, who he said ran a conservative campaign focused on “homeowner rights, police issues and lowering taxes.”
But Brison said any perception of him as a conservative is misinformed. Although Brison said he will also promote environmentally-friendly practices, a more classically “Green” platform, during his tenure on the Board of Aldermen, he said his principle motivation is providing an independent voice for his constituents.
The promotional pamphlets he handed out the day before the election are embossed with the logo of the Connecticut Green Party, but the issues they highlight — the high taxes, rising crime and unfair towing practices — are less about party politics than the quality-of-life of his constituents. And he said aldermen’s relationships with the “power-brokers in the city — Yale, the mayor, the Democratic political machine” matter as much as any other issue.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr said he hopes common ground can be found.
“It’s good to campaign during election season,” he said. “But the city is better served when we look for opportunity to work together.”
Pillsbury said Brison knows enough members of the Board to work effectively with them, even as a Green minority of one.
“He’s not as isolated as some,” Pillsbury said, referring to Joyce Chen ’01, who began her tenure as a Green before changing her affiliation to Democrat well into her first term. “But when he needs something from City Hall, he may not get it. It’s a calculated gamble that you take.”
Asked on which issues he thought he could easily work with all members of the Board, Brison said he expects to find common ground on environmental issues.
But Brison said he knows that on some issues, he will have to lead a possibly lonely charge. To ensure tax dollars are well spent, Brison said an elected Board of Education is necessary — one that will be accountable not only to the mayor, but also to citizens.
“As long as all the members [on the Board of Education] are appointed by the mayor, there is no way to stop the patronage that exists,” he said. “We have beautiful new buildings — wonderful facilities that I never had as a child — but there is not enough money for school books, and teachers can’t get stuff copied.”
Still, DeStefano said that attacking the Board of Education was empty rhetoric. Changing the Board of Education’s selection would require modifying the city charter, which he said requires a citywide vote, and so is not something the Board of Alderman can even vote on.
“It’s not even on the table,” he said.
He said the most important issue he heard from voters were reducing the number of shootings, which have gone up even as murders have gone down. He said residents want more police in the neighborhoods — something both he and Brison agree on.
Mayoral candidate Ralph Ferrucci said that Brison’s victory — the first for a Green Party candidate in a contested seat — was a first step in a larger effort to make a third party an acceptable and frequent choice in New Haven.
“Over the next two to four years, if we bring down the number of Democratic aldermen down, the government will have to be more representative of the city,” Ferrucci said.
The strategy for the Green Party has more to do with listening to citizens needs than any specific policy proposals. He said that most people, if asked, would give a definition of reminiscent of “a 1972 Green Party in Germany,” focused solely on environmental issues. Instead, the local Green party would be soliciting opinions from community members in the coming months on what direction to take the party.
Brison — who lost to Mattison in 2001 — credited his victory to his relentless door-knocking and his efforts registering new voters. He said he though he registered about 120 residents, of whom he said maybe 80 were graduate students or post-docs who were not usually involved in the political process.