The news cycle gave Marcus Paca’s mayoral candidacy a last-minute boost Tuesday, as voters woke up to learn that a the headquarters of a marquee new-economy New Haven company is moving to Boston.
Paca, who’s challenging incumbent Toni Harp in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, spoke about the news at the polls: That Alexion Pharmaceuticals, which the Harp campaign has portrayed as a symbol of the city’s success in landing jobs of the future, is moving hundreds of top jobs to Boston my mid-2018.
“It speaks to the continued viability of our workforce development opportunities,” Paca said outside the Ward 25 polling station at Edgewood School. He said he had speaking for months about the drugmaker’s problems and the need to tackle underlying fiscal and job-readiness issues rather than rely on “rosy” descriptions of the local economy.
Paca was joined on his rounds Tuesday morning by star basketball wing guard Bria Holmes. Holmes, who plays for the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, said she first met Paca, a fellow Hillhouse graduate, when he would attend her high-school games. “He’s a great guy. He can change the community a lot,” Holmes said.
Mayor Harp Tuesday issued a statement seeking to downplay the impact of the Alexion announcement. “Alexion’s decision to move corporate functions and some headquarters staff to Boston – with access to a full-service airport and other essentials for an international corporation – seems intended to suit its new, Boston-based CEO and a worldwide sales force,” the statement quoted her as saying “We’re told New Haven, with its top-tier workforce, will retain most of the company’s research operations and that hundreds of Alexion personnel will continue working at 100 College Street. Beyond that, New Haven will remain a bustling hub of bioscience and other medical research. For example, the new College Street building is perfectly situated near the hospital and the Yale School of Medicine – we expect new tenants there to contribute in this growing sector of the national economy.”
Meanwhile, inside Edgewood School, where voters can find themselves waiting up to an hour to vote, no line existed at the polls. People walked right in to vote. The same story was found all over town Tuesday morning, as turnout was reported as low, even for an odd-year municipal election with no statewide or federal offices at stake. At the Ward 7 polling place at 200 Orange St., for instance, only 88 people had voted by around 11:30 a.m., by which times hundreds have often cast their ballots in other years.
As of 11:30, the City Clerk’s office reported that 340 absentee ballots had been received citywide out 604 applications that had been taken out for the election.
Busy In Fair Haven
When Frank Fortin came by to canvas for voters at the Paca campaign office on Grand Avenue a little before 11 a.m., he discovered the canvassing materials — flyers, buttons, stickers, the works — had all been expended. And the office was closing up.
All the campaign materials had either been given to other volunteers or sent to the main Paca headquarters at the Elks Lodge building on Webster Street in Dixwell, explained Heather Wainwright, the Paca volunteer coordinating the busy Fair Haven office. And that’s where the Fair Haven volunteers were heading, closing the door behind them.
Fortin has been one of many canvassers working the Fair Haven neighborhood, talking to local businesses, over the past days in the run-up to the primary.
“We feel good about this neighborhood,” Wainwright added.
Lost At The Polls
At Fair Haven’s Ward 15 polling place, Clinton Avenue School, Carlos Velez cited the good educational experience of his grandchildren as a main reason he cast his vote for incumbent Mayor Toni Harp. Velez has one grandson doing well at Hill Central and another studying electronics at Gateway Community College and he pronounced Harp’s record “good.”
One more Harp voter, Gerardo Hernandez of Clay Street, found himself at the wrong place at Clinton Avenue. He was sent to vote, or to figure out the proper place, at Wilbur Cross High School.
Still, he was comfortable saying that he would vote for Harp, citing, first and foremost, the education of his three children. “Our schools are improving. My daughter is learning algebra, in the sixth grade!” he said, with evident pride. Another of his three kids is doing well, he said, at the East Rock Magnet School. Hernandez also cited jobs—“she’s trying to keep jobs [in New Haven]”—as an additional reason he was off, in his grey Ford truck, to find out where he could cast his Harp vote.
Another man, who refused to give his name or be photographed, or tell for whom he voted, was adamant about the secrecy of the ballot. “It’s not for you to know,” he said.
However, a Paca poll worker in the parking lot of the school assured this reporter that that man was a Paca voter, as he got into his white van and drove away.
A Borinqueneer At The Polls
After finishing his never-ending rounds as an engaged citizen — most recently as a poll worker for Mayor Toni Harp at the Ward 16 John Martinez School voting site in Fair Haven on Tuesday — 89-year-old Celestino Cordova will be flying off to Korea.
Six decades ago, in 1951, Cordova was a sharpshooter in a reconnaissance unit of the then segregated all-Hispanic, all-Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment, affectionately known as the Borinqueneers, which saw heroic and brutal action in the Korean War despite facing discrimination on and off the battlefield
Cordova was among the unit’s survivors who went to Washington in 2016 when President Obama decorated the unit with the Congressional Gold Medal.
While hailing Harp voters Tuesday afternoon, he said he will be flying off to Chicago on Sept. 17 and then to Seoul with a group of 15 other members of the 65th under the sponsorship of the Revisit Korea Program in collaboration with the Korean War Legacy Foundation.
He left the army in 1958, eventually making his way to New Haven. In the 1960s he helped found the Spanish Cultural Association, which was headquartered on Congress Avenue. There, 12-year-old Migdalia Castro, now the city’s elderly services director, twirled a baton and taught in one of his youth groups. Former Hill Alder Jorge Perez, now the state banking commissioner, was the baseball coordinator then. Future, now former, New Haven Police Chief Francisco Ortiz was one of several dozen Latino high school grads whom Cordova recognized through staging the city’s first annual Hispanic awards dinner.
And his civic involvements continued, including helping to found Junta for Progressive Action. Cordova serves as a Democratic ward co-chair and as a volunteer and mentor to many. In 2010, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro pinned several medals on Cordova. In his humility, he had forgotten to pick them up when he left the service.
The visit to Korea is being coordinated by Noemi Figueroa, the producer of last year’s award-winning film The Borinqueneers in which Cordova’s life and contributions are included.
Cordova said his father was a member of the 65th regiment in World War I. The stated reason for the segregation of the unit — the last segregated unit in the U.S. Army — was members’ inability to speak English, he said.
“On the battlefield, you don’t need English,” he added.