Chuck Allen Passes

by Paul Bass | February 11, 2008 12:08 PM | | Comments (10)

headshot%202.jpgHe was the ultimate political survivor.

Kidney cancer finally claimed Charles H. “Chuck” Allen III Sunday evening at the age of 54, ending the life of a native New Havener who helped shape public policy — and just as often dissented from it — from the mid-1970s into the 1990s.

Allen represented Newhallville on the Board of Aldermen from 1976 to 1988. Sometimes he was an ally of City Hall in crafting legislation or deciding ward-level issues. Other times he was the board’s most outspoken and informed critic of City Hall’s complex downtown development deals or neighborhood housing plans. An accountant by training, he provided a level of independent scrutiny rare to this day on New Haven’s legislative body.

During that time Allen survived a series of controversies and primary challenges. Several times his career was declared dead, only to have him reemerge as a state senator in the early ’90s, then a mayoral aide to the DeStefano administration. He served on a myriad of volunteer boards.

Click here to read Allen’s obituary.

“One of A Kind”

Former Alderman Willie Greene was Allen’s sometimes co-consipirator, sometimes sparring partner in Newhallville.

“No one will ever fill the shoes of Chuck Allen,” Greene said Monday.

The two joined forces in the early ’80s when Greene ran a community center in Newhallville. They organized protests against the administration of Mayor Biagio DiLieto, which was cutting funding. The belief was that the center was being punished for Allen’s independent politics.

Years later, the DiLieto administration helped Greene run against Allen in a campaign to unseat critics on the Board of Aldermen. (Greene would eventually disappoint City Hall; he won the race, then became just as outspoken a critic of the Democratic machine’s plantation politcs in the black community.)

“I remember when I decided I would run against Chuck,” Greene said. “I struggled with it. Vinnie Mauro [Mayor’s DiLieto’s Democratic town chairman and chief political enforcer) had asked me to run. Chuck and I met at the old Hattie’s when it was on Fitch Street, before it moved to Science Park.

“I’ll never forget it. Chuck reaches across the table. He sticks his finger in my face and says, ‘Willie you’ve been a good director. But you need to leave politics to the big boys. I’m gonna kick your ass on name recognition alone.’

“I had come to say I wasn’t running. Instead I said, ‘I’m gonna kick your ass.’ He walked out and slammed the door.

“My own mother was mad at me when I beat Chuck. She walked around for two days and wouldn’t say anything to me.

“Chuck didn’t speak to me for six months. Then he called me and said, ‘Willie, I’m really proud of you. I really thought that Ben DiLieto had bought you. But you went down there and did some things that even I wouldn’t do.’ Every two weeks Chuck and I were sitting down, and I was telling him what I was planning to do. It was like sitting down with an instructor. I’d write down my letter. He’d tear it up. He had his index cards. He’d say, ‘This is what I want to see when you come back to me.’ He was such a brilliant guy.”

Out Of The Closet

As a reporter, I always found Allen among the most informed, intelligent, unpredictable, interesting, and just plain fun public figures in town to interview and follow. It’s fair to say he served as one of my professors as well in that rarefied academy known as New Haven Politics.

Allen lived by a credo of New Haven’s political survivors: If you get slammed on Tuesday, Wednesday is another day. If he disliked an expose that named him in the newspaper one day, he was always ready to participate in discussion about a different story the next. He never ran from a fight.

He continued to surprise — and challenge — us after he moved to New York. In 2004, after surviving nine separate operations that could have claimed his life, Allen gave an interview about his upcoming marriage to Harlem gallery owner Tod Roulette. (Tod introduced Chuck to the beauty of Gregorian chants. Chuck turned Tod on to the Temptations and Diana Ross.)

In the interview, Allen spoke about the life of a gay black politician. He challenged New Haven’s black church to apply the same spirit of inclusiveness and compassion to the gay community’s struggle that it championed during the civil rights movement a generation earlier.

Click here, here, and here to read the pages of the resulting 2004 New Haven Advocate article, “Out of the Closet & Into The Church.”

A memorial service for Chuck Allen will take place Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m at St. Philips Church, 204 W. 134 St., between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. and Frederick Douglass Blvd. in New York City.







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Posted by: catherine sullivan-decarlo | February 11, 2008 5:19 PM

I am sorry to learn about Chuck's passing. I worked with Chuck, going back to Mayor DeStefano's second Mayoral run and later at City Hall. He really was brilliant, incredibly street smart and a joy to work with. We had a lot of laughs during the Mayor's campaign, dressing up friends and relatives in disguises (sunglasses) to eavesdrop on other peoples' news conferences, things like that. Chuck, I will miss you!

Posted by: OH WELL | February 12, 2008 8:33 AM

Am so sorry to hear of Mr. Charles Allen 111
death. Mr Allen was a dedicated Community Leader ,he loved his Community and would always fight for the good of it. He has been missed and always will be.He loved this City,He was Director of the first Teen Center in Newhallville. GOD BLESS HIS FAMILY

Posted by: Jeff Gorley | February 12, 2008 5:47 PM

i am so sorry to hear about the passing chuck allen he was a great friend and a good and caring community leader, i worked with him on a number of community projects together he will be missed at both the state and local level


sincerly,

Jeff Gorley
Miami,Florida

Posted by: Darnell | February 13, 2008 11:20 AM

Brilliant. Complicated. Caring. Schrewd. Cunning. These are but a few of the words that would describe my relative, good friend, and mentor Chuck Allen. His passing, along with Walter Brook's several years ago, leaves a huge hole in my heart, and is a great loss to the progressive community in New Haven and Connecticut.

He will be remembered and missed.

Posted by: Diane Brown-Petteway | February 13, 2008 5:55 PM

Chuck was like family....very intelligent, well-spoken..I admired him. I went to visit him in the hospital in New York. There he laid with such dignity and poise. Not one complaint. We talked about my career as a librarian being that it was he who suggested 4 years ago that I go meet the new City Librarian, Mr. James Welbourne. At the time he was the mayor's Legislative Assistant. I took his advice. That meeting was the beginning of my career as a librarian. He told me that he was proud of my accomplishment and once again I thanked him for the advice. He will be missed by many......

Diane Brown-Petteway, MLS

Posted by: Chris Gray | February 14, 2008 1:03 AM

It is a great misfortune that Chuck Allen was never able to see his way to run for Mayor of our city.

It may well be that such a campaign might have brought scrutiny that he felt he could not survive. He was acutely clear-eyed about the political climate here.

He, none-the-less, was one of the most talented political actors on our small stage and we are diminished by his loss.

In my days in New Haven politics, I benefited from his advice, his encouragement and his support but, most of all; I appreciated the sense of fun with which he imbued his public service. He relished the challenges.

It seems fitting that he be memorialized at a church "between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. and Frederick Douglas Blvd.", for his career spanned the poles of both of their legacies; a shrewd political operative and a committed idealist.

Posted by: Lovebabz | February 15, 2008 10:00 AM

Chuck was a lovely man. He could talk you under the table. He taught my oldest daughter how to eat with chopsticks. When drama came my way, he was the first person to call and say keep your head up. He called me and wrote to me all the time. Always cheering me on, always offering kind words of support. He was a well-spoken Brother with real swagger. A well educated Black man who knew it. I will miss my dear friend and his take on New Haven's political scene past and present. He knew this town like nobody else and still loved it, even when this town didn't love him back. He is missed.

Posted by: Steve Bradley | February 21, 2008 11:40 PM

It's disheartening to hear of the passing of Mr. Chuck Allen. During my years as a reporter and editor covering New Haven's African-American community and its politics we sometimes had epic disagreements but understood it was never personal.
He kept you on your toes. His political acuity and dedication to public service was something to be admired. This town has lost one of its favorite sons.

Steve Bradley

Posted by: Ken Braffman | February 22, 2008 1:23 PM

Chuck will be missed. He was one of the more memorable and colorful participants in New Haven politics and government through the 80's and 90's. I had the priviledge of serving with him on the Board of Alderman in the early 1980's. The Board at the time was populated by some very accomplished and intelligent individuals who distinguished themselves in public service then and in time to come. Most prominent among them that come to mind was the Board's President, Steven Wareck; young law student Marvin Krislov, later to serve as counsel to President Clinton; Tony Williams, later to serve as Mayor of Washington, DC; John Einhorn, later to serve on the Police Commission; Steve Mednick, later to serve as corporation counsel; Pat Dillon, current State Representative; Tomas Reyes, later to serve as President, and very well-informed others who contributed greatly to the public good of the City such as Nate Zeidenberg, Ed Zelinsky, Van Selden, Bob Hauser and Marty Dunleavy. Among this talented and dedicated group, Chuck stood out as an incredibly articulate, well informed, strategically savvy and intelligent legislator.

The early 1980's was a time when City government and political power was consolidated under Mayor DeLieto and Town Chairman Mauro. Chuck Allen was conspiciously outside of that group. To those that were on the inside, Chuck was "radioactive". I think Chuck had a good understanding of this dynamic and may have even fed on it a bit. Nevertheless, a good amount of proposed legislation was improved because of his input and persuasive abilities. On a personal level, he was a someone that I always felt comfortable with and whose company I enjoyed.

As someone who knew him "back in the day", I could appreciate the irony of him becoming "politically correct" with the current administration. He will be missed by many; he was a contributor.

Posted by: Steve Bradley | February 22, 2008 2:38 PM

I was quite disheartened to hear of the passing of Mr. Chuck Allen. During my years as a reporter and editor covering New Haven's African-American community and its poilitics we sometimes had epic disagreements but we both understood it was never personal. He kept me on my toes.
His political acuity and dedication to public service was something to be admired. This town has lost one of its favorite sons.

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