As Board of Alders President Jorge Perez bids farewell to his 28-year career in city government, New Haven will look to a two-term alder to lead the board.
While Gov. Dannel Malloy announced last Friday that he had selected Perez as the new state banking commissioner, Perez said he will not leave his presidential post for at least two months. Ward 23 Alder Tyisha Walker — the board’s current president pro tempore who represents the West River— is in line to replace Perez after he makes the transition to Hartford later this spring. Walker will serve as the board’s president until the next election cycle in November 2015.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the alders included an agenda item to formally congratulate Perez and thank him for his service as alder of the Hill neighborhood. Perez’s colleagues, including current and former alders, said his experience and guidance will be missed in city government.
“You can’t replace that kind of leadership,” former West Rock Alder Darnell Goldson said. “No one on the board comes close. You just can’t do it.”
The Board of Alders has not seen a change in leadership since 2012, when Perez was elected as President after a six-year hiatus. Perez, who served as president from 2000 to 2005 and then again from 2012 until now, was voted out of office in 2006 and replaced by Carl Goldfield. According to former Downtown Alder Bitsie Clark, Goldfield was a closer ally for former mayor John DeStefano Jr. than Perez.
Goldson was unseated in 2011, just before Perez was elected president. Goldson, who served as DeStefano’s legislative liaison from 1997 to 2001, added that, while Perez and DeStefano had disagreements, the two leaders worked cooperatively from 2012 to 2013.
“They were two different leaders with two different agendas, but they worked together to get things done,” Goldson said. “It’s important to have competing forces in government so that the people are served well. That’s what you got with Jorge and [DeStefano].”
In contrast to the occasional tense relations between Perez and DeStefano, City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer said Perez has been a close partner of Mayor Toni Harp since Perez endorsed Harp early in her 2013 campaign.
Several alders and former city officials specifically underscored his financial background and knowledge of city government structure as key assets that will be lost when Perez makes the transition to his position in Hartford.
Harp’s liaison to the alders and former Fair Haven Alder Joe Rodriguez said Perez’s institutional knowledge was particularly helpful during the transition between mayoral administrations. He added that Perez’s experience as a banker — Perez currently works as vice president of Liberty Bank — had been an asset to the board’s finance committee and to the mayor during budget talks last spring.
“The kinds of questions he would ask at finance committee meetings were invaluable,” Clark said.
Rodriguez said, though Perez’s financial acumen will be missed, he hoped Ward 17 Alder and Democratic Majority Leader Alphonse Paolillo Jr., who represents the East Shore and serves alongside Perez on the finance committee, would take a leadership role in future meetings.
Ward 4 Alder Andrea Jackson-Brooks, who represents the Hill neighborhood and also serves as the chair of the finance committee, said the committee will miss Perez’s “back-to-front knowledge” of the city’s finances. Jackson-Brooks nominated Perez for president in 2012.
Rodriguez added that he had personally admired Perez’s leadership when working under him in the Board.
“Specifically for me, as a young Latino with political aspirations, Jorge Perez was an example of an influential Latino leader,” Rodriguez said.
Clark said that although she voted against Perez in 2006, she has been impressed by his leadership. She particularly admired his willingness to work with those who did not support him after he was voted out of the presidency.
“I think it’s an enormous loss for the board,” she said. “He’s one of the few people on that board who really, really knows what he’s talking about.”
During his most recent term as president, Perez has not been absent from a single board meeting, so Walker has not led any meetings as acting president thus far. Rodriguez said that while the mayor’s office has not yet worked with Walker as president, they have collaborated with the alder as a member of the board’s leadership. The mayor’s office hopes to continue to strengthen its ties with the alders with Walker as president, Rodriguez said.
Goldson echoed Rodriguez, adding that he hopes the new leadership of the board will maintain the trust established between the mayor’s office and the alders under Perez’s leadership.
“Jorge and the term ‘President’ go hand-in-hand,” Rodriguez said. “He’s such a fixture within the chambers at City Hall.”
Correction: Feb. 19
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Darnell Goldson served as a legislative liaison in 2012, when in fact he did so from 1997-2001. It also stated that Goldson left his position as alder in 2012 when, in fact, he was unseated in 2011.