Yale Daily News

Just a week after the nomination of a longtime critic of the New Haven Board of Education to serve among its members, Mayor Toni Harp will have to look elsewhere to fill the vacant board seat.

Last week, Harp nominated Liam Brennan LAW ’07 and Yesinia Rivera to fill two empty seats on the embittered Board of Education. Brennan, a graduate of Yale Law School, former assistant U.S. attorney and current staff attorney at New Haven Legal Assistance, had previously mulled a mayoral run this year against Harp. He has since ruled out a bid, garnering praise from the mayor when she tapped him for the seven-member board last week.

But before the alders could hold a hearing on the two nominees, Brennan announced that he would decline the nomination. According to mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer, Brennan cited the professional demands of a new position that he will soon assume with the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center. Rivera’s nomination will continue to move forward, with a hearing planned for Monday.

“Attorney Brennan accepted a new full-time position that he feels would preclude his ability to give as much time to the board of education as it warrants,” Grotheer told the News. “Mayor Harp is ready to make another appointment.”

On Thursday, Brennan told the New Haven Independent that he will begin his new role as executive director of the veterans legal center March 4. The organization, which is based in nearby West Haven, provides free legal assistance to military veterans and collaborates with VA medical care providers.

Brennan was nominated to fill the seat of Vice President Jamell Cotto. Cotto’s nomination for a third term was rejected by the alders last month. Brennan, a New Haven Public Schools parent, has been a vocal critic of the board. He called the city’s governing public education body a “circus” and described Harp’s leadership as “erratic” in a 2016 op-ed in the New Haven Independent.

In her announcement of Brennan’s appointment, Harp expressed confidence in the former federal prosecutor, who was a member of the team that dealt former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland jail time on corruption charges. She released a statement last week following Brennan’s nomination in which she lauded his commitment to the city and his background as “a part-time law professor” and “parent of school-aged children.”

“I have every confidence about Attorney Brennan’s desire to work on behalf of a sound education system to the benefit of its students throughout New Haven,” Harp said in the statement.

Grotheer told the News that Harp already had a replacement nominee in mind and hopes to make the announcement in the coming days. But as of Thursday night, Harp has not yet released the name of her nominee.

Although Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 was unaware of the details surrounding how Harp would select another nominee, he cited the importance of a diverse board membership to reflect the city’s educational needs.

Catalbasoglu told the News that Brennan “would have been a great member of the [board].” He cited, in addition to positive personal experience working with Brennan, the strong legal background and unique perspective that Brennan would have brought to the current board.

In the mayor’s next nominee, Catalbasoglu hopes for an individual with a background in education — like Rivera — or finance. The board has struggled to keep itself fiscally sound as budgets have tightened in Connecticut’s major cities and management of funding has proven to be one of the board’s primary and persistent challenges.

Edward Joyner, who previously served as president of the Board of Education, declined to provide a comment on the future of Harp’s nominations.

Brennan attended Yale Law School and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame.

Angela Xiao | angela.xiao@yale.edu