Tony Dawson, a civil rights activist and former 16-year alderman, is the latest candidate to jump into the mayoral race.

On the steps of City Hall Saturday morning, Dawson announced to a crowd of supporters that he would be running for mayor to “change the course” for New Haven. Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who launched his ninth reelection campaign Tuesday, has run the city through “patronage and cronyism,” Dawson said.

“Let there be no doubt: if we do not correct the course now, New Haven is well on its way to becoming a city where no one wants to raise children, own a home or do business,” Dawson said.

Among the specific charges of corruption Dawson leveled at DeStefano were the rotation among city boards and commissions of mayoral appointees and DeStefano’s decision not to participate in the public financing system he created in 2007 for mayoral campaigns.

Clifton Graves, the first candidate to declare a bid against DeStefano, was in the audience at

at Dawson’s announcement. Graves said he and Dawson “go way back,” having worked to elect DeStefano’s predecessor, John Daniels, and served on the board of the Greater New Haven NAACP.

“We’ve fought many battles together,” Graves said. “I have only respect for Tony.”

Because Dawson and Graves are both African-American, some have speculated that their candidacies would split the city’s black voters, a concern Graves said he understands but does not fear.

A lifetime resident of Ann Street in the Hill neighborhood, where he bought and fixed up an abandoned home at age 16, Dawson said many streets in the city are like a war zone. Rather than laughter the city’s parks, he said, there is only fear.

As mayor, Dawson said, he would strengthen the workforce of the police and fire departments, which he said have been “gutted” by DeStefano. 16 police officers were laid off in February, though some have since rejoined the force.

DeStefano’s budget policies have led to the city’s current fiscal instability, Dawson said. While he said he is not an expert on the budget, one thing he would do differently from DeStefano is invite more community participation in finding fiscal solutions.

“Unlike Mayor DeStefano, I do not think our families, businesses, teachers and workers should give up their voices,” Dawson said to the applause of about two dozen supporters.

Introducing Dawson was Ward 30 Alderman Darnell Goldson, a frequent critic of DeStefano’s administration. Goldson said that Dawson began the rejuvenation of Ann Street, by purchasing his now home, which he bought for a dollar because of its status as “abandoned and in need of repair.” Dawson was instrumental in creating a park that serves as a safe place for the neighborhood’s children, Goldson added.

Dawson currently works as a lieutenant at the protective services department at Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he has been employed for 27 years.