After 30 Years, Police Union Prez Plans To Retire

First Larry King hung up his microphone. Now New Haven’s longest-running union president—Sgt. Louis Cavaliere, an old-school labor leader and self-proclaimed “talented” talker—plans to tell his executive board Tuesday night that he, too, is ending a decades-long run in the spotlight.

In an interview at his union office Tuesday afternoon, Cavaliere said that recent dissension among younger cops convinced him that he should call it quits a bit sooner than he might have planned. Cavaliere, 65, has run AFSCME Council 15 police union Local 530 for 30 years.

As some members hurled charges at him at a boisterous February meeting, Cavaliere’s second-in-command, Frank Lombardi, leaned over to him. “For the first time in 30 years, I feel we don’t belong here anymore,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi, who has served on the union executive board since 1983, said Tuesday he, too, plans to step down as vice-president. Unlike Cavaliere, though, he plans to remain on the force.

Cavaliere has been in the spotlight recently as he led a no-confidence vote against the police chief and clashed with City Hall over the layoffs of 16 patrol officers. Some critics scored him for suggesting citizens arm themselves for protection in the wake of layoffs. At the other end, some officers have pushed him to take a stronger stand as City Hall seeks givebacks on pensions and health care to deal with a budget crisis.

“It’s like we were the enemy,” Cavaliere said. “It’s not even pleasurable anymore.”

He said that younger officers, with little appreciation for historical gains made by unions, don’t appreciate how hard he has fought for the rank-and-file or the complexities of negotiating with the city.

“They think you can take your Glock out and go up to DeStefano and say, ‘We want to fight for a raise.’ They think we can ... make them come down on their knees and give us the raises ... They don’t care about the recession. They say there’s no recession. They don’t care that the city is broke. ... That’s not the reality that’s happening in this country.”

Cavaliere said he’ll probably retire on May 19 after swearing in his union replacement. He said he’s open to working as a consultant to the union to help with tough contract negotiations with the city for the upcoming year.

Elections for the union’s top jobs are scheduled for May 12. Sgt. Anthony Zona, Local 530’s current treasurer, plans to run for president. (He’s also the president of AFSCME Council 15, the local’s parent union.) Patrolman David Coppola also plans to run for local president to replace Cavaliere.

Long-Distance Runner

Paul Bass PhotoFarrell. Pastore. Wearing. Ortiz. Redding. Lewis. Limon.

Those names have swept in and out of the police chief’s office since 1981. All of those chiefs have clashed with one union president over that time: Cavaliere. They’ve wrestled with him over contracts, battled over suspensions of officers. And, for the most part, developed a respectful, friendly working relationship.

In that way, Cavaliere may be one of the last old-style labor leaders: Savvy at the table. Fired up and blunt spoken in public, always good for a quote. Ready to fight, ready to deal, depending on when the time is right.

Similarly, most of the cops on the force, even those here since the 1980s, have known only one union president.

“I like labor relations. I like to debate. I like the controversy. The next day I come over for a cup of coffee” with adversaries, Cavaliere, wearing a white dress shirt and a New York Yankees tie, said as he reflected on his 43 years on the force and his three decades as union president. Born in West Haven to a trolley-car driver, Cavaliere joined New Haven’s force at the suggestion of his cousin, now-retired Detective Ralph DiNello. (Click on the play arrow on the video at the top of the story to watch Cavaliere describe tear-gassing demonstrators on the Green during the 1970 May Day rallies.) “Business is business. I don’t hold grudges. But I get aggressive at meetings sometimes.”

Over the years Cavaliere has always encountered some criticism from members. He didn’t like when some black officers charged that the union cared more about protecting white cops; he spoke of how he defended all cops, even if he personally didn’t like them. He spoke of one instance in which he provided crucial evidence to lock up an officer who shot up a house he thought belonged to then-mayor Biagio DiLieto; Cavaliere still fought on the behalf of the incarcerated officer against the city at a hearing to try to win him his pension.

But he rarely faced opposition in biennual elections. “The most someone got against me was 60-something votes” on a 400-member force, he said. “Either I was doing the job—or nobody wanted the job.”

The grumbling has gotten louder lately and has hurt him more, he said. He recalled how some years back anonymous criticisms of him started appearing one day on the union bulletin board at the station. He remembered taking a marker and writing, “You ball-less fuck. Come in here and come down to my office” to talk about in person. (He said he was convinced promptly to erase the remark.)

Talking straight is crucial to doing the job well, he said. “It’s a natural talent I have. I talk. I don’t shut up.”

Were he to run again, he’d still win reelection easily, he said. But the growing attacks on his integrity and lack of appreciation for his history of battling for cops have made the job “less pleasurable,” he said. He concluded that at his age he doesn’t need all that negativity. “I’m 65 years old. I want to enjoy myself.”

(Mayor John DeStefano released a statement about Cavaliere’s decision: ““Lou has many characteristics of a good labor leader.  Whether you were a member of the union or the mayor, you knew where you stood with Lou because he was always straightforward when he communicated with someone.  He is the kind of guy you can have an argument with one day and a beer the next.  I have a lot of respect for Lou and I know his
heart with always be with the New Haven Police Department.”)


“I’m going to miss it. I love the job,” Cavaliere said, as he reflected on his 43 years on the force and his three decades as union president. “I had a great run. I can look in the mirror every morning; my integrity means everything to me.”

He was asked where he’d like his pals to throw his retirement dinner.

“Jack’s Bar & Grill? McDonald’s? A phone booth?” he responded. “I don’t look for that stuff.”

He’s focused on a different post-retirement plan: taking up yoga. For real.

“I’m going to try it,” he said. “I go 100 miles per hour. I have to slow down eventually.”

If that doesn’t work, he can always try the slow-down technique he’s used to date: “Miller Lite.”


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posted by: Your Elf on April 5, 2011  4:03pm

To me it is a sad day one the most respectful and caring person I know is now leaving NHPD I have known you forever and hope that you will now slow down and spend more time with your family and cindy my best to both of you.

posted by: robn on April 5, 2011  4:11pm

ah yes….

...tear gassing hippies…posing as black panthers…cointelpro wiretaps…busting heads and stealing money from drug dealers….

...all good times.

posted by: Relief on April 5, 2011  4:15pm

This is welcome news for human rights and social justice advocates in New Haven and elsewhere.

posted by: NewHaven on April 5, 2011  4:17pm


Why would you even go there be happy for the man he gave 43 years to the Dept. and 30 of them in the Union

posted by: Noteworthy on April 5, 2011  4:20pm

What pension will he get from the city? Does he get another one from the union?

posted by: robn on April 5, 2011  4:33pm

Hey…he brought up gassing hippes, not me. I just embellished because its funny. But seriously though, forget about consulting with the union…LC can make millions in Vegas working as a Larry David impersonator.

posted by: Elaine Braffman on April 5, 2011  4:44pm

We have had our differences…we have agreed at other times…Want to wish you many years of happiness, good health and a completely enjoyable retirement. Enjoy your family and others that are an important part of your life!

posted by: Fear City Resident on April 5, 2011  5:43pm

Who says the news outlets only focus on the sad and depressing news?  This made my day.

posted by: Ellis Copeland on April 5, 2011  6:01pm

Thank God.  Way past time.

posted by: a cop on April 5, 2011  6:16pm

My fellow officers and me are in BIG trouble!!
The young officers just do not get it. They
think is it easy running a union-yeah right.
I cannot believe how disrespectful they have been to Lou after all he has done for half of
his life for the New Haven cops. But due to
their stupidity they have no clue.

They complain about the old geezers, but those
geezers have all the knowledge and all the power to negotiate contracts, represent us when
necessary, and so much more than they will ever

Be careful what you wish for, it just may bite
you in the butt!!!!

posted by: Ex-NHPD on April 5, 2011  6:57pm

Lou was what a Union President should be—-a dedicated advocate for his membership. 

He could not pick which members he would fight for.  There certainly has been several members of the NHPD over the past 30 years who have been a disgrace and embarrassment to both themselves and the NHPD.  No different than an attorney who zealously represents their client, no matter the guilt or innocence.

Lou and his E-Boards also managed to out-negotiate the Big Money Hired Guns that the city would bring in at contract negotiation time. 

When a cop needed Union Representation, it did not matter what time of day/night, weather, holiday, etc.  Lou was there.

Those outside the NHPD have no idea how long and hard he worked for his members.  He received NO OVERTIME PAY for the hours he put in above and beyond his 8 hour day.

Every NHPD cop who served during Lou’s Union Presidency can not begin to thank him enough for his service.  Those outside the NHPD will most likely fill this site with Anti-Lou postings.  He may not have always come across in a way that was subtle or with smooth edges.  But, he was always there for the men and women of the NHPD.

Thank you Lou. There will be a case of Yuengling waiting for you at your party.

posted by: TheVin on April 5, 2011  7:28pm

......Unions are right out of the Fabian play book and they are Un-American…...period.

posted by: Be Realistic on April 5, 2011  9:39pm

This guy is smart enough to know when to fold. It’s time Johnny Boy did the same, but then he’s not as smart as Lou. Must think he’s the energizer.

posted by: Ken on April 5, 2011  10:11pm

Lou you will surely be missed, but it was time and you knew it.  Good for you enjoy life!

We need to be very careful who takes over as President and we need to put all personalities and biases aside and put the BEST person in that position.  We are in the worst possible situation, our President is retiring, labor is being attacked (pensions and medical) and we are in the worst recession in my lifetime.  I want the most experienced person with the most connections and least baggage in there.  Whats going on with the rest of the board and who from the board is staying and who is going. 

Frank are you staying and taking over and if not is Sgt. Zona staying to take over we need answers now.

posted by: robn on April 5, 2011  10:28pm


Fabian? Like “Turn Me Loose” Fabian?

posted by: Paul Martin on April 5, 2011  11:44pm

I’d feel better about this if he wasn’t still going to be on the payroll, collecting more than most people I know earn in a year while yukking it up about how we’re all a bunch of losers.

I love the anecdote about him defending the guy who shot up some civilian’s house because he thought it was DiLieto’s. Could have killed someone, sure, but if it’s one of their own they’ll justify anything. We’ll be better off without his so-called “service.”

posted by: cba on April 6, 2011  10:11am

How many articles are we to be bombarded with by this officer’s retirement ?  Enough already

posted by: New Haven Pastor on April 6, 2011  10:38am

Lou even though thru out the years we didn’t agree in many things, and you gave us the new haven pastors a difficult time in many occasions, I must say that I admire your dedication and your courage, May God Bless You and your family you will be in our prayers, Enjoy your well deserve retirement.  And don’t let this ignorant people discourage you from the well deserve recognition your deserve.  You are leaving the NHPD thru the front door and HONOR not like some that left thru the back doors like thieves.
It a sad day for many that respected you and your work and devotion to the city. Even though we all know that mayor Destafano is having a party, cause now that you are leaving, there is no one to step up to him and tell him what he deserves like you have.  Once again Cavalier God bless you, and in behalf of the New Haven Hispanics ministers, we apologies to you publicly if in any way we disrespected or offended you SIR, and that I truly mean it.  Take care Soldier…

posted by: blkb on April 6, 2011  10:53am

Lou, you are a good friend and union leader I am honored to have worked with you. Good luck and congratulations on your retirement.

posted by: Observer on April 6, 2011  1:07pm

65 years old and he still wanted to hang around???  Are you kidding me!  No disrespect intended becuase I’m sure he did a great job as union president, but the NHPD will be just fine without him.  New leadership needs to emerge—it’s not like the sky is going to fall in because he retired.

posted by: Why on April 6, 2011  2:20pm

I wonder why Det. Prince is seen in this puicture above? shoulden’t he be working on solving his cases while getting paid instead of hanging out in the Union Office? hmmmmmm

posted by: bjfair on April 8, 2011  10:03am

Awwww, he will surely b missed. Wishing him peace and tranquility.

posted by: Paul Hammer on April 9, 2011  4:21pm

This is a superb article but in the interest of encouraging minors to read the New Haven Independent and having their parents allow them to do so I would have sanitized the reference to Sgt. Cavaliere’s reply to a note left on the Union bulletin board, which begins with “You ball-less fuck…” 

What is your policy on expletives and is there a means of allowing parental control while guaranteeing access for all to the Independent?

[Editor: The policy is not to use gratuitous swears. None in comments, none in the voice of writers of articles. But if we feel that profanity in a quotation is crucial to capturing the essence of a comment or to communicate information in the most accurate way possible, we leave it in.]

posted by: Greg C on April 20, 2011  11:20am

Unions represent everything that is wrong with this country.  You don’t need to look any further beyond teaching and manufacturing professions to see what type of shape unions have left those industries in.  GM and Chrysler got a one-time bail out, but teachers and police departments get a “bail out” every single day from us taxpayers.  They’re sucking us dry with their inefficiencies, bloated pensions, and misdirected priorities where they believe their employer’s main priority is soley to keep them employed, all ahead of the interests of the public they serve.

I absolutely hate unions.