Walking the Hill with John Carlson, you can get the impression that his campaign for city alder is largely about fixing sidewalks and paving streets.
Reading the requests for repairs he has posted to SeeClickFix, you’d understand why.
Carlson currently has 31 posts seeking repairs posted on the New Haven-based problem-solving site SeeClickFix. Now he’s seeking to take that fix-it quest to the next level by running for alder.
The 48-year-old Carlson is running as a Republican against incumbent Democratic Alder Dolores Colon in the Nov. 7 general election. He is one of two Republicans running for seats on the 30-member Board of Alders.
Colon has represented the ward since 2001, playing a visible role in community demands to preserve affordable housing amid redevelopment, to address dangerous conditions at the Church Street South housing complex, and to hire local people for jobs at Yale and Yale-New Haven Hospital.
The sidewalks and streets Carlson has reported to SeeClickFix are all over the swath of the Hill, including City Point, comprising Ward 6.
A sidewalk on Putnam Street, for instance, has been reduced to rubble thanks to tree roots. Carlson said the family who lives there has tried for years to get it fixed with no results. And one of the family members uses a wheelchair. He said that’s a disgrace.
“To me, it reflects on leadership at its highest level,” Carlson said. “You’ve got someone who has been calling for five years ... and it’s not fixed yet.
If he is elected alder, he would push first to have that sidewalk fixed, he said.
“I think part of the problem in New Haven is that we’ve had one-party rule for so long that Democrats have a stranglehold on the city,” he said. “Since they have no opposition, they kind of just do what they want and they’ve taken the voters for granted.
“I mean personally, if I had that sidewalk, I wouldn’t vote for whoever is in office. I wouldn’t vote for my alderman. I wouldn’t vote for the mayor.
“I pretty much feel like we don’t have representation at City Hall,” he said. “And someone from the Republican Party had to step up, or someone from the Democratic Party could have stepped up and challenged the incumbent.”
Carlson has lived in the Hill on Greenwich Avenue for most of his life, except for a few years when he was married and lived in West Haven. He said he’s seen a lot of things change since he was a kid.
“There are a lot of vacant houses,” he said during a recent walk through the ward, pointing to three on the same block where he lives. “There are not a lot of activities for kids, like when I was young.”
Carlson, who has taught fourth grade in Bridgeport for 18 years, said if he is elected alder he’d like to see a greater push for homeownership, particularly as a recruitment tool to get police officers, firefighters, and teachers to live in the community.
He said that might sound funny coming from him since he works out of town. But when he was finishing up his teaching degree at Southern Connecticut State University and looking for a teaching position, New Haven Public Schools had a policy of not providing benefits for new teachers during their first two years working for the school system. He was a husband with a new baby at the time and felt he could not take a job without benefits. Bridgeport’s schools were hiring and did not have a similar policy. By the time New Haven ended that policy because it couldn’t attract teachers, he was already settled and happy.
“There should be more programs to encourage homeownership, more programs to help more homeowners stay in their homes, repair their homes, get tax relief,” he said. “Connecticut is one of the top five states for taxes, and we really have to do something about that.”
Carlson has never run for office before. When a friend and fellow Republican — State Sen. George Logan — won in a district that was held by Democrats, it didn’t seem such a long shot idea.
Still Carlson knows he has his work cut out for him. He said Ward 6 has about 1,200 Democrats, 100 Republicans, and 500 independents.The last couple of elections have turned out about 300 to 400 voters for the incumbent and 100 for any challengers.
“I’m going to be responsive to the people of Ward 6,” he said. “As alderman, everyone would have direct access to me. Some people have complained to me that they’ve emailed people and they’ve called people and no one has emailed them back. No one has called them back. They just get ignored.
“No one likes to be ignored,” he added.
He said as alder he would work to increase participation in neighborhood management team meetings. Renters often aren’t as aware of how to participate in those types of meetings, and he’d try everything from word-of-mouth to social media to get people out, he said.
“I would tend to think if everyone went, the sidewalks, the streets, the parking problems would get rectified sooner,” he said. “Politicians respond to people and if you have crowds demanding things they take care of it.”
Alder Colon said she’s still the person to take care of the ward, particularly the former residents of Church Street South.
When mold and years of neglect forced the city to begin finding new homes for the apartment complex’s inhabitants, Colon became one of the champions for ensuring that they were treated equitably. She was also the person who helped make sure that their voices were included as part of the ongoing discussion around the city’s Hill-to-Downtown plan.
“I was very proud that so many of them came out and had their voices heard,” Colon said. “So many of them had never been asked to speak about anything.”
She said she wants to be the person to make sure that they get justice, and that when Church Street South is redeveloped, those residents have an opportunity to return if they want.
Colon also has been among those city officials heading to Hartford to mix it up with the state Department of Transportation over the operation of Union Station and the impact of a second garage there. She took time off from her job as a public services assistant at Yale University’s Beinecke Library to lobby legislators to tax her employer.
Prior to her career at Yale, she worked from 1998 to 2000 to train some 70 women who lived in the city for jobs at the university through the New Haven Residents program.
“Many of them have gone on to bigger and better things,” she said of the women.
Colon said she worked for weeks with New Haven Rising last year to canvass the Hill and survey neighbors so that she and her colleagues could create a legislative agenda driven by the desires of the community.
She pointed to her leadership of the Board of Alders Black and Hispanic Caucus, which has pushed for jobs for New Haven residents, raised money to support youth programs and seniors, and put on its first Hispanic Heritage Month event Friday, as one of the things she is proudest of during her tenure. She also pointed to her work as a member of the alders’ Finance Committee, which has worked to keep taxes from being raised.
“There are still things I want to do,” she said.