When John Lugo speaks, people listen. That’s because Lugo, who leads the community organizing group Unidad Latina en Acción, knows when something is fishy in New Haven and isn’t afraid to say it. ULA has uncovered countless cases of wage theft, shining a spotlight on bad employers and winning workers huge six-figure settlements from the Connecticut Department of Labor.
Now, Lugo is shining his spotlight on an alarming trend in local politics:
“He came in a parachute. … He is pretending he has lived in that neighborhood for a long time, but he doesn’t know that neighborhood and I don’t know how he’s going to do his job.”
That’s Lugo’s take on Kenneth Reveiz ’12, who was recently sworn in as alder in Fair Haven’s Ward 14 despite having moved to the neighborhood less than a year ago.
Reveiz played dirty — allegedly manipulating opaque and archaic political rules to prevent longtime community members from voting — to secure a controversial victory over neighborhood leader Sarah Miller ’03.
Almost immediately after moving to the ward, Reveiz became co-chair of the Ward Democratic Committee, which votes to endorse alder candidates. He and his co-chair, Mark Firla, secretly removed Miller’s supporters from the committee and replaced them with Reveiz acolytes. It was disenfranchisement at its finest — a slap in the face to an immigrant-rich neighborhood that needs real representation in the age of Trump.
This would be troubling even if Reveiz’s coup had been an isolated incident. Alarmingly, it’s part of a pattern of “parachute politics” and community disenfranchisement in New Haven.
In 2013, for instance, Yale junior Ella Wood ’15 broke her Dwight Street lease, moved into Ward 7 and immediately challenged incumbent and community leader Doug Hausladen ’04. That same year, in Wooster Square’s Ward 8, Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18, a graduate student who had lived in the neighborhood for less than a year, challenged longtime resident and local block watch leader Peter Webster for an open seat. Greenberg won, Wood lost.
These three upstart challengers were all current or former Yalies who had lived in their neighborhoods for less than a year (or in Wood’s case, less than a week). Not only were they supported by an organization which, by its own admission, controls 23 out of 30 seats on New Haven’s Board of Alders, they were also employed by it. And this organization will do anything to maintain its grip on the city’s legislative body — even if it means steamrolling neighborhood voices by parachuting in candidates from Yale.
Many Elm City progressives, including me, are reluctant to criticize these tactics, because the organization employing them is a union (Unite HERE Locals 33, 34 and 35,) which wield extraordinary influence over city politics. After all, we believe that Unite HERE’s work to win good contracts and benefits for its workers is valuable, regardless of how we feel about its political activity. And generally, we believe that union involvement in politics is a good thing, insofar as it advances legislation supporting workers’ rights and protecting fair wages and benefits.
But it’s not a good thing when people with real roots in the community are shoved aside in favor of “parachute candidates” with establishment support. It’s not a good thing when city government is used as a bargaining chip to win benefits for a small group of people — especially Local 33’s graduate students, most of whom leave New Haven after a few years for well-paying jobs around the country — rather than fighting forcefully for all New Haveners, especially those most in need.
Recently, the Board of Alders has been under fire for neglecting this responsibility. They’re facing criticism from criminal justice advocates for waiting three and a half years to fulfill their promise to create a Civilian Review Board ordinance to provide police oversight, and for creating a measure with no teeth and little input from activists.
They’ve disappointed education leaders who have found that the Youth Committee’s most touted accomplishment — an online “Youth Map” with a $150,000 price tag — now redirects to a static list of about a dozen youth programs.
And they spent the bulk of this past summer picking a fight with Yale over a laboratory renovation that no one could find a serious objection to, holding up 280 construction jobs as building trades unions protested in the audience, delaying millions of dollars in building permit fees and nearly causing the city’s bond rating to be downgraded.
It’s time to pay attention, ask questions and look beyond labels. Calling parachute politics “progressive” doesn’t make it so. We should join leaders like John Lugo in decrying it as nasty and undemocratic, even if we agree with its practitioners on other issues.
Fish Stark is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at email@example.com .