Facing charges of driving under the influence — and increasing media attention — Ward 15 Alderman Joseph Rodriguez, 22, is using his Nov. 8 arrest as an opportunity to educate community members about the dangers of drunk driving, Rodriguez said Monday.
“I wish people could understand I am a young man,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview Monday night. “I realize I made a mistake, and I’m looking forward to moving forward.”
On Nov. 8 police arrested Rodriguez for driving under the influence and without a license after another driver spotted him going in the wrong direction down Elm Street near Broadway, New Haven Police Department spokesman Joe Avery said.
When the police arrived on the scene, Rodriguez failed three field sobriety tests before police brought him back to the police station. Since the breathalyzer Rodriguez used was not calibrated correctly, Avery said, police had Rodriguez produce a urine sample. The results of the urine sample have not been determined yet, and Avery said he does not know when they will come back. Rodriguez said he did not inform the police that he was an alderman.
Now, Rodriguez said he plans to join statewide efforts to educate community members about drunk driving and to support grassroots organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving. He said he also hopes to work with New Haven’s Board of Education and police to keep Elm City public school students from making his mistake.
Board of Alderman President Carl Goldfield called the incident an “exercise in bad judgment.” But Goldfield and two other aldermen interviewed Monday said they do not think the incident will adversely affect Rodriguez’s position on the Board of Alderman. Goldfield said that while there are methods for removing aldermen, “no one is going to propose to remove Alderman Rodriguez.”
Since his arrest, Rodriguez said he has received mixed reactions from his constituents. Some support him, he said; but others have been critical, and he has read harsh comments from them on Internet blogs.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” Rodriguez said.
Goldfield said he hopes Rodriguez uses the incident as an educational platform and that “if he continues to represent his community well and there’s not any other incidents, I think it will be totally forgotten.”
Ward 18 Alderwoman Arlene DePino said she does not think the incident will make Rodriguez a less effective alderman, but that if he is convicted, he will have to face the consequences.
“We all have choices when we drink to make sure that we’re safe and that those around us are safe, but we need to make those choices responsibly,” Rodriguez said at a press conference he called Nov. 10 to apologize for his actions. “This has been an important life lesson for me, [from] which I will grow as an individual, a leader and advocate.”
He explained that before he got behind the wheel on the evening of Nov. 8, he had been out with friends and had had a couple of drinks. He said he held the press conference because the police report had already showed that he had failed the field sobriety tests and he did not want to “hide under a rock.”
Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said he thinks Rodriguez should have waited for the facts of the case to be legally examined before making a public statement.
Rodriguez is currently serving his first term as Ward 15 alderman.