“Democracy” ‘07 Grad: Next Stop, Elected Office?

DemocSchool_0043.jpgMarcus Paca would probably have been voted “best dressed” at his graduation from City Hall’s “Democracy School.” Will he also one day be voted into public office?

Paca was one of 25 New Haveners who spent six weeks learning how government works. Friday night was their Democracy School graduation. (Click here for a diary by one of last year’s graduates.”

They gathered under the vaulted ceiling of the aldermanic chamber to celebrate. Some of the graduates, like Jeffrey Kerekes, had joined Democracy School to find more outlets to be politically active citizens. Others, like Paca (pictured accepting his diploma),seemed to be using the class to prepare themselves for a run for office.

The Democracy School, which met for two hours every week for the past six weeks, provided residents of New Haven with a primer on the inner workings of city government. Each Wednesday evening, students were introduced to a different city department, from parks to police, and given the opportunity to ask questions about how decisions are made at different levels.

DemocSchool_0028.jpgStudents apply to the school by filling out a simple questionnaire. Emily Byrne (at left in photo), the mayor’s policy analyst and organizer of the Democracy School, said that they try to fill the class with residents from all sections of the city.

Friday night’s graduation was an informal affair: no “Pomp and Circumstance” and not a tassled mortarboard in sight. Before presenting the graduates with their diplomas, Mayor John DeStefano sat on the aldermanic conference table and engaged the graduates in a discussion of the problems facing New Haven. The conversation revolved around several themes, including crime, taxes, and downtown development. Several students were concerned about the perception of New Haven as a crime-riddled, unsafe place.

Citizen Jeff

DemocSchool_0012.jpgFor Jeffrey Kerekes (pictured listening to the mayor’s remarks), a psychotherapist and one of the founders of the New Haven Citizen Action Network, enrolling in Democracy School was an extension of his ongoing involvement in local politics. Kerekes said that he enjoyed meeting the other students in the school. “It’s good to know that other people are really interested in changing things,” he said. “I like to see people involved, in this time of apathy.”

Kerekes was slightly disappointed that the class sessions were not as interactive as he had hoped. “It was a bit more like ‘Meet New Haven’ than ‘Democracy School,’” said Kerekes. “It was a quick intro to the different city departments and not so much a dialogue with the different departments.”

Several graduates said that since taking part in Democracy School they felt empowered to engage with city government to solve problems in their neighborhoods. “I found this to be wonderful,” said Rebecca Turcio. “It gave me a better idea of how to help my community.”

“I feel encouraged to get involved,” said another woman, “I have a better sense of where to call and who to call.”

Candidate (?) Marcus

When it was Marcus Paca’s turn to receive his diploma, he took the mayor’s hand and turned to pose for a campaign-style grip-and-grin photo. Flashbulbs popped, startling the mayor, as one of Paca’s many family members — he had brought his fiancee, son, cousin and brother — took pictures.

DemocSchool_0021.jpgAfter the ceremony, Paca (pictured listening to the mayor’s remarks) was acting every inch the political candidate, regaling a reporter with his personal history and his record of community service. Paca, who grew up in New Haven and later moved to New Jersey, said that he is a volunteer in the public schools and a telecom marketing consultant. He explained that he had enrolled in Democracy School after moving back to New Haven six months ago, when he saw that “there are a lot of things happening in New Haven that need dialogue.”

Paca called Democracy School an opportunity to “meet with all the major players and ask them the burning questions.” He said that the group’s “burning questions” had to do mostly with everyday concerns like traffic, trash removal, and taxes. Asked if he had found the answers he was looking for, Paca paused and replied, in the diplomatic fashion of a practiced politician, “Well, I got answers.”

Asked if he was, in fact, running for political office, Paca smiled and shook his head no, but added wistfully, “if the people call me, I will respond.”

“He’s got my vote.” said a classmate, as she grabbed her coat to leave.

Byrne is currently organizing the next session of the Democracy School. Applications will be available on the city’s website.

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posted by: cedarhillresident on November 12, 2007  6:24pm

FIRST A BIG BRAVO to Emily for putting this together!

I hope more will try this class out. I went thinking that I knew all the numbers by heart in town hall what help is this class going to offer. Well to my surprise it offered alot. It was a meet New haven thing as Jeff said but I took it that bit further. The day after each class the people that spoke would get an e-mail from me :) explaining what my community needed from that department. And to my suprise they e-mailed me right back! And I am working with several departments with some of our bigger issues as we speak! I am crossing my fingers that it all pans out! I was told to make the most of the class,and I did. 

I was most impressed with LCI and the speakers they had, mostly because they were one of the departments I needed the biggest thing from. But I learned that they also were the people that could help with some other issues in my area.  Andy is really coming through for us! But I do have to say LCI is what kept my area from totally crashing. I know some people don’t get that department but in my opinion that is the most need one in the city.

The tax assessor who I yet to contact was the one I learn the most from. I think we could of kept him there for hours. And Kelly Murphy is a busy woman but she has offered some help in my area and I hooked her up with the merchants association this week.

And Mike from traffic is going to do some minor fixes but they will not help the problem that he need addressed but I was told that he should be getting in touch with me again about the issue this week. Really crossing my fingers on that one.

This class did not get things done for me it gave me the tools to do it. And as long as am willing to do the work with my community members we will benifit from it alot. I give it an A+

I also met a few people I would like to keep in touch with who’s community are similar to mine. And are in the same position as I am in with trying to educate people to be part of the cure.

And meeting Johnny in the end was really a good little gathering he is quite the regular Joe. He is a charmer isn’t he.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 12, 2007  8:46pm

Democracy School? Give Me A Break!!! Tell Them About The Real School Which Should Be Called The School Of Corporate Plutocracy In which The Politician Are Nothing More Than Ventriloguist Dummies And Political Prostitutes With There Corporatist Pimps. Did They Learn About Back Room Deals, How About Hot Tubs!!! Did you Teach Them About Political Patronage How About The Controled
Town Committes? This Is One School That We Should
All Play Hooking From!!!

posted by: Dean Moriarty on November 12, 2007  11:02pm

Mr. Paca sounds like a good man with some good beliefs.  If he does have any interest in running for local office he’d be wise to distance himself from Mr. DeStefano quickly.  Just a word of advice Mr. Paca, things on the web never go away.  Be a true politico and just deny, deny, deny that it is you in that hand-shaking photo. 

As for the project?  Noble indeed.  Can we just get someone else to steward it?

“The Democracy School, which met for two hours every week for the past six weeks, provided residents of New Haven with a primer on the inner workings of city government.”

—their education would have been better served by reading the postings on the NHI.

“students were introduced to a different city department, from parks to police, and given the opportunity to ask questions about how decisions are made at different levels.”

—Here’s a New Haven 101 primer for you:  the descisions at every level and from every Board are already cast by what the Mayor wants.  See, education IS simple!

“Mayor John DeStefano sat on the aldermanic conference table and engaged the graduates in a discussion of the problems facing New Haven”

—I doubt that he happened to mention that HE is the problem facing New Haven.

Hey, sorry Mr. Mayor, guess I’m just going through post-partum election blues.  I can endure another 24 months.  Yeah, I can, I can, I can, I…

posted by: -FairHavener- on November 13, 2007  12:22pm

“Kerekes was slightly disappointed that the class sessions were not as interactive as he had hoped.”

Since when did democracy in New Haven have anything to do with interaction? Barely anyone even shows up to vote. So should you be surprised that the “Democracy School” doesn’t deviate from DeStafano’s plan? Joking aside, I wasn’t there, I have no idea how much “interaction” took place. It could be that Kerekes was annoying and everyone was tired of hearing him talk.

“I feel encouraged to get involved,” said another woman, “I have a better sense of where to call and who to call.”

Didn’t they tell the “students” about 311?

They wasted 2 hours a day for 6 weeks when all they had to know was to call 311 (soon). They could have read the article here at NHI in about 3 minutes - 10 minutes with all the comments. After thinking about all the comments and understanding everything, then writing their own comment, they may have spent 2 hours at most - 1/6 the time of the class.
Furthermore, everything about ALL of the city departments is here:

http://www.cityofnewhaven.com/

Not only does it explain what each department does, but it gives you names and phone numbers and you can actually call and talk to them any time you want. I try to call certain departments weekly - sometimes daily. And yes cedarhillresident, LCI is great. They need to step up a bit, but they are great. 

So, basically, all the supposed school did was tell people what they could have easily figured out/read from the city webpage. Don’t tell me it was about meeting people from LCI etc, you can call them anytime and you can drive/walk/bike down and meet them in person. I could think of better issues this effort could have been devoted too (see below).

Ah, but then there wouldn’t be the Publicity. “Democracy School” sounds really cool BTW - like something started by someone who REALLY cares about Democracy. Definitely not like something someone who only thinks about the publicity doing something with the word “Democracy” in it would think of. And the word “School” is in it too. Good job once again.

BTW, next time you Geniuses have a “School” about “Democracy” in a town where NO ONE votes, why don’t you teach people about voting, how to do it, and why it is important? Because once again, that would be getting at THE REAL ISSUE and not the publicity. It would also damage the plan.

“Flashbulbs popped, startling the mayor…”

That nervous? I guess I would be too.

posted by: cedarhillresident on November 13, 2007  1:44pm

Dean Moriarty
I have to agree I do learn alot from the NHI!! Thanx Paul!

-FairHavener-
The city did not invite the independent, I did. So it was not publicity for them. I felt that I had got so much out of the more personal intro’s to these people that I wanted people to give it a try. As I stated I knew all the numbers by heart but this gave me a more one on one contact with the departments which enabled me to get things done.

The women that made the “I feel encouraged” is another very active person in her community and I am sure she will be using this class as a way to get things done in her area aswell. Not to mention the people that we got to meet. All active people! Which I will be seeing and working with in the future. 

I hope every one here signs up for the next one including you my little fraction (THREEFIFTHS) :)

I even got to meet my buddy Ortiz. I think he thinks I am a wonderful person :)  :) ok maybe not but I do think that he got were I was coming from.

posted by: -FairHavener- on November 13, 2007  2:35pm

cedarhillresident,

I am sure everyone there, except perhaps Kerekes, thought it was great and informative.

“Not to mention the people that we got to meet. All active people! Which I will be seeing and working with in the future.”

This is probably the most beneficial aspect of the “School” that I can see. And I am glad it worked for you.

But, ask yourself seriously:

In a town where hardly anyone votes, how can there be a “Democracy School” that does not teach people about voting, how to do it, and why it is important?

Why do you think that is?

Why do you think they chose the name “Democracy School”? It could easily have been called “City Departments School”.

It doesn’t matter if you were the one who called NHI - or even if this was the first time this was in the news. DeStefano’s “Democracy School” will find a way to the news - it is why it was created.

posted by: charlie on November 13, 2007  4:51pm

PACA FOR MAYOR