Days after another daylight fusillade of bullets on Newhallville’s streets and a decision by Yale to pull out of a home-building project due to safety concerns, mayoral candidates Wednesday called for creative new approaches from the city to bring order to the neighborhood.
They called for more of a police presence—and they’re receiving it. The police have saturated the neighborhood with officers and investigators to follow up on the recent incidents of gunfire; the U.S. Attorney’s Office is sending investigators to help. Five of the six incidents of reported gunfire that took place in New Haven last week occurred in Newhallville.
The candidates—two of whom live in Newhallville—also called for longer-term solutions, from a crackdown on absentee slumlords to more job creation, to address the ongoing violence in the neighborhood.
At the root of the discussion is an elusive search for an explanation—an explanation for why, as shootings continue to decline everywhere else in New Haven, including in neighborhoods with similar rates of poverty, the violence has remained so concentrated in Newhallville. Each week few if any bullets fly, few if any major crimes occur along the southern corridor of Dixwell Avenue that anchors the Dixwell neighborhood.
Candidate Sundiata Keitazulu (pictured) had just finished seeking contributions to his campaign Sunday afternoon on Shelton Avenue, and had just left the area, when gunshots rang out there.
The next day he was visiting a campaign supporter on Read Street. Moments after he left, two groups of young men—as yet unidentified—engaged in an apparent shoot-out. They didn’t hit each other; they did hit some cars.
Keitazulu, who owns a plumbing business (“Nate the Snake”) on Shelton Avenue, noted that lots of school-aged kids live where those shoot-outs occurred, some of whom wait for buses by the corner there.
“It’s a great decision,” Keitazulu said of the ramp-up this week of police patrols and investigations in the neighborhood. “They have to do it. They also have to keep their presence there.
“But the whole problem with this area is it’s underdeveloped. There’s no money in this area, no jobs in this area. There’s a lot of abandoned houses in this area. Nobody wants to move in this area. They don’t feel safe.”
Nemerson called for a greater presence of not just cops but also housing regulators in Newhallville, as well as street-sweepers and street-lighting repair crews. Police not just the shooters, but also the absentee landlords, he said.
“Let’s get more LCI [Livable City Initiative] inspectors out there. Let’s be monitoring Section 8 tenants and landlords much more closely. And let’s make sure there’s a uniform treatment of the streets. When you have streets with trash and rundown houses, people are hanging out,” Nemerson argued.
Candidate Matthew Nemerson also noted the predominance of abandoned and rundown, absentee-owned houses in Newhallville. He said young people who cause trouble tend to congregate by those properties.
Newhallville has been a particular focus for out-of-town speculators and other investors who have collected Section 8 rents without fixing up properties—and in some cases committing mortgage fraud to pocket money intended for repairs. Dixwell, by contrast, is anchored by well-managed blocks of homes in the Monterey Place development (which replaced a former high-crime development known as Elm Haven) as well as owner-occupied single-family homes on Frances Hunter Drive. Closer to Yale, it also regularly sees university as well as city cops in the area.
State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, who lives on Winchester Avenue in Newhallville, issued a statement calling for “an examination of the city’s approaches to handgun trafficking and youth violence” in the wake of the latest gunfire. He distributed a video (found at the top of this story) of recent remarks he made in the Capitol about the need to deal with trauma experienced by young people exposed to gun violence as well as the need to deal not just with Sandy Hook-style assault weapons, but, as he put it in Wednesday’s release, with “the illegal handguns that flood our city and endanger our neighborhoods.”
In other campaign-related news:
4 Pitch To Yale Union: The Executive Board of Local 34 of UNITE/HERE, Yale’s largest union and the most successful source of vote-pulling help for candidates in New Haven elections, invited four of the Democratic mayoral candidates to its College Street offices Tuesday evening to make half-hour pitches for the group’s endorsement.
The union invited candidates Toni Harp, Henry Fernandez, Kermit Carolina, and Justin Elicker, all of whom showed up.
Union President Laurie Kennington said the board probably won’t make a decision on an endorsement for at least some weeks. There has been much speculation in town that the union will support Harp, especially after many union-backed aldermen attended her campaign kick-off rally last Saturday and she hired a veteran UNITE/HERE staffer as a campaign consultant. Kennington said the union has definitely not made a decision yet, and that the campaign consultant, formerly affiliated with UNITE/HERE Local 217, does not currently work for the union.
Kennington said the union decided upon which candidates to invite Tuesday night based on “who our folks were most excited about and feedback from the [Central] Labor Council” based on interviews it had done with the hopefuls.
“I must have said something that annoyed them,” speculated one of the non-invitees, candidate Matt Nemerson. He said he’d met personally with local UNITE/HERE leader Bob Proto and organizer Gwen Mills. “I have been very clear that I think we’re going to have to put all the issues in front of the city, in front of the unions and the taxpayers, and the taxpayers have to have equal standing at the table.”
So Much For Promises: Nemerson (pictured) also said he didn’t have a full explanation for why his campaign has not yet made good on a promise to be immediately “transparent” about money it raises.
Amid criticism for his decision not to participate in New Haven’s public-financing Democracy Fund, Nemerson said the names of all contributors and the amounts they donate would appear within 48 hours on his campaign website. (Read about that here.) Candidates who agree to participate in the Democracy Fund receive a public grant and matching dollars in return for limiting individual contributions to $370 (rather than $1,000) and forswearing donations from outside committees.
Nemerson said his campaign started collecting contributions last week. As of Wednesday afternoon, the site listed no contributions. It did have a page set up ready to accept people’s contributions.
“There’s no explanation” beyond the fact that his campaign hadn’t yet set up the section for recording and publishing the donation information, Nemerson said. “We’re still working on it.”