“Labor” Agenda Takes Shape In 1st Year

Thomas MacMillan PhotoPaul Bass PhotoFirst of three parts.

Let us borrow another $900,000, City Hall’s emissaries asked.

The answer: Not so fast. Tell us first how you plan to plug a growing city budget deficit.

That exchange took place in October at hearing of a committee of the Board of Aldermen, 10 months into the first term of a new pro-labor majority in the city’s legislative body. It was a remarkable moment for two reasons.

One reason: In the past, minor City Hall requests like this one, to borrow $900,000 to pay off lawsuit settlements, sailed to approval with few if any questions from aldermen. At this Oct. 25 meeting of the Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee, lawmakers not only demanded more answers before approving it. They demanded a plan for closing the broader budget gap projected for later in the fiscal year—rather than have to wrestle with a last-minute plan presented at the end of the fiscal year with few options, as happened in the past. (Click here to read more about the Oct. 25 meeting.)

Reason Number Two: The exchange went against script. Aldermen saying “not so fast” to more borrowing were part of a new labor majority that critics feared would bust the government bank.

That was one defining moment in a watershed year in New Haven politics, in which labor took the reins of the city’s legislative branch with a mission to make laws as well as to make broader grassroots change. A year-end look at how they fared both inside and outside of City Hall reveals a work in progress, with some concrete results as well as first steps taken that will be better judged in 2013.

In January, 20 candidates supported by Yale’s labor unions took office as part of a coordinated sweep of the city’s traditionally subservient 30-member Board of Aldermen. (The actual number of aldermen in the new majority group fluctuates, sometimes well above 20, depending on the issue.) As labor was taking a political beating across the country in states like Michigan and Wisconsin, it now had control of a local legislature. It had a chance to prove that it can craft a viable governing agenda different from laws shaped by corporate-funded politicians.

Local critics immediately accused labor of hijacking the Board of Aldermen in order to promote big-spending pro-union policies with no regard to the plight of New Haven taxpayers. That criticism continued throughout 2012 as the newcomers grew into their new roles as lawmakers.

They didn’t always play the part that critics predicted. Or that anyone predicted.

They started their term in February by doing something unprecedented in New Haven’s legislative branch: crafting a unanimously-passed document spelling out what they promised to accomplish, focused first on community policing, job creation, and helping “youth.” (Click here to read that agenda, which includes nods to fiscal responsibility and constituent service.)

Halfway through their first term, members of the new labor-backed majority are still honing the script. After extensive public discussion, they’re still working out some key details of how to get there—and how to tackle other important parts of their jobs. They’ve asked more questions than they’ve answeredThey have yet to present a unified or detailed position on one of the city’s central challenges: improving the schools.

They delivered some votes to try get more people liveable-wage jobs and steer more money to youth programs, as promised. They also used their newfound political might outside the halls of government to help strike a favorable union contract with New Haven’s largest employer, Yale, and to extract the promise of some union jobs (with union wages) and payments for community youth programs from a deal to build a new charter high school in Newhallville.

Overall, the day-to-day business of governing proved less adaptable to ideological categories or detailed “agendas.” For starters, 19 first-term aldermen—including some not in the coalition—had to learn the job. They tended to look to the veterans on their team, most notably board President Jorge Perez and President Pro Tempore Jackie James, for guidance on issues and the mechanics of running meetings. Perez has served on the board for 23 years, James for 11. (At the Oct. 25 meeting, Perez and non-union-aligned Alderman Justin Elicker initially pressed the fiscal responsibility question; but the others at the table joined in and signaled that they planned to vote to delay approval of new borrowing.) They immersed themselves in the nuts-and-bolts constituent work so crucial to politicians’ long-term survival, such as getting neighbors information during Superstorm Sandy. They continued door-to-door organizing in their wards, which helped produce state-leading turnouts in the November federal elections.

And they came through on one overriding promise: to create a legislature that would work with the mayor’s office on issues, not as a rubber-stamp or reflexive naysayer, but as an independent partner in governing. City Hall no longer controls the Board of Aldermen.

Gearing Up

Thomas MacMillan PhotoTo the extent the union-backed aldermen identified an agenda in last fall’s campaigns, it centered on three main issues: Creating jobs. Creating opportunities for young people. Bringing back community policing.

On two of those signature issues—jobs and youth—the majority spent more of the year talking, inviting public comment, and planning than producing many results yet. The jury’s still out on results. Rather than having a secret detailed agenda to spring on New Haven government, they if anything went at times to a different extreme: months- or year-long wide-ranging public discussions preceding taking action.

They spent the year beginning to write a youth plan that they hope will eventually lead to a network of after-school centers in neighborhoods throughout the city, to replace bygone outposts like Dixwell’s Q House and Trowbridge Square’s Hill Cooperative Youth Services.

The plan’s not done yet.

“The first year you lay a foundation,” remarked Alderwoman James. “You try to get the funding.”

“The city’s been doing a [youth] plan for 20 years. In the last year we’ve made more headway than in the last 20 years,” Alderman Perez argued..

They succeeded in obtaining two grants to get the youth plan moving in 2013. One, a $250,000 state grant secured by New Haven’s “Two Tonis,” state Sen. Toni Harp and state Rep. Toni Walker, will filter to community organizations through mini-grants to carry out ideas for reducing violence through mentorship, job-training and other programs; a joint administration-aldermanic panel is scheduled to present recommendations in January. The other, a $200,000 grant from the city’s capital bonding budget, will pay for a study of existing buildings and facilities in town that could house after-school youth programs; as well as a look at how best to revive the old Dixwell “Q” House.

“We’re putting it on paper,” said first-term West River Alderwoman Tyisha Walker, vice-chair of the Youth Committee overseeing the plan. “People are going to expect us to make good on it.”

Similarly, the aldermen came to office promising a “pipeline” to good jobs for unemployed or underemployed New Haveners. They spent 2012 coming up with a plan for that pipeline.

Rather than make demands on the corporate sector, the aldermen’s representatives and union backers rolled up their sleeves with business leaders at the Chamber of Commerce’s conference room to organize a new entity called New Haven Works. The idea is to shepherd job-seekers through the process of getting ready for jobs, link applicants to local employers with job openings, then follow up on why they did or didn’t get the jobs. The new organization—with backing from Yale, Yale-New Haven Hospital, United Way and the Community Foundation—has moved into temporary space and hired an interim director, from Yale’s unions.

Among the as-yet unsettled questions: Will this plan merely create a new bureaucracy and spend millions of dollars that could have gone instead to improving existing job-training and placement efforts? Proponents argue that testimony at public hearings proved that existing agencies haven’t been doing the job, and that the new organization will be uniquely placed to focus on the city of New Haven, rather than the region, while following people through all steps of the process.

Click here to read a fuller story about the new agency and here for a directory of “jobs pipeline” stories from throughout 2012. Early in the year the DeStefano administration sought to take the lead on the job-creation issue. The mayor personally enlisted employers to come to a jobs fair and to meet with 200 job-seekers prepared by City Hall staff. But that effort dissipated. City Hall did no follow-up to evaluate the results of the first effort or continue the campaign. It hired a “consultant” to start doing a report on the first fair’s outcome; she ended up campaigning for the mayor’s 2013 reelection during work hours (allegedly “lunch”) and completing her contract without producing a report.

Community Policing Redux

Paul Bass PhotoThe mayoral administration did take the lead on the third main demand of the labor-backed aldermanic candidates. Even before the new aldermen took office.

After most of them won their seats in a September primary, Mayor John DeStefano pushed the existing police chief out of his job. He brought in a new chief with a history of promoting community policing (including in New Haven). Since then, that chief, Dean Esserman, has launched a dizzying array of community-policing initiatives, from bringing back walking cops all over town to holding large open-to-the-community weekly “Compstat” crime-strategy sessions to helping launch a joint federal-state-local-community stop-the-shooting effort called “Project Longevity.”

So to some extent aldermen could claim victory on that issue before they took their oaths of office Jan. 1. Their job after that has been to monitor community policing’s progress and vote on requests from the cops.

“I’m not going to say we’re totally there,” said West River’s Walker. But she and Dixwell and Newhallville alderwomen noted the steep decline in violent crime this year from last year. They heap praise on their neighborhood cops. Weeks go by with one or zero major crimes in Dixwell, according to statistics presented at weekly data-sharing Compstat meetings.

The new alderwomen need to keep playing an important oversight role, Walker said. For instance: She wants more “answers” on “Project Longevity.” Walker and the aldermen are planning an upcoming briefing with the cops. She wants to know, for instance, how the police are identifying “associates” of gang members whom they promise to sweep into jail in the event of further shootings. “I could be a friend of somebody. That doesn’t mean nothing,” she said. She also promised to seek clarification about what kind of associate-sweeps can be done by law.

While supporting the reintroduction of community policing, the aldermen have also said no to the cops. The chief requested the creation of a second public-information position to handle social media. The board turned it down. The reasoning: They would support putting more cops on the street. They didn’t feel they could afford to create any other positions.

Fiscal Conservatives?

Paul Bass PhotoThat vote, like the Oct. 25 borrowing debate and follow-up sessions, fit into a pattern: scrutinizing all new spending and borrowing. Not necessarily saying yes or no. Not necessarily voting for or against the city administration. But asking the questions and showing a willingness to support a tighter rein on spending, at least sometimes.

In that quest, they’ve lined up with two aldermen considered independent of the labor majority as well as of City Hall: East Rock’s Elicker and Downtown’s Doug Hausladen.

Other examples of votes that didn’t match the free-spending-labor narrative:

• Aldermen approved two new union contracts—with city government clerical workers and with school custodians—that are each projected to save millions of dollars through changes in health and pension benefits. The custodial contract included privatization of many jobs as well. (Read about those contracts here and here.)

• Aldermen voted down accepting a federal $780,000 grant to plan a new trolley system. Advocates of the plan were withering in their criticism of the aldermen: They called the vote a short-sighted decision that blew the chance of getting a needed new mass-transit project with possible millions in future federal support. Perez and other no-voting aldermen argued that no guarantee of future money existed; that taking the grant would probably lead to spending more money the city can’t afford to, in some people’s view, replicate the existing Yale Shuttle route for people who least need it. Proponents argued that the initial planned route for the trolley, which indeed mirrored the Yale Shuttle’s, could be changed.

• In this spring’s budget deliberations, aldermen said no to city bonding for a new school: a proposed new campus for Hyde Leadership Academy.

• They also advanced a Plan B for making long-needed repairs for Bowen Field, reducing the amount the city would end up borrowing from over $10 million to $3.6 million. They got help from two of their powerful allies in the state legislature, Sen. Toni Harp and Rep. Toni Walker, on that. Read about that here and here.

• East Rock Alderwoman Jessica Holmes and Westville Alderman Adam Marchand successfully pushed the city to put out for bid the contract for servicing the city’s health insurance plans. Holmes argued that a competitive bid could cut the cost. (We’ll find out in 2013.)

Close observers of last fall’s elections would have found signs of the labor-backed candidates’ fiscally conservative streak: They tended to oppose a city proposal to start charging a stormwater handling fee. They insisted their constituents couldn’t afford another “tax.” (Their position contained an irony: Their unions have long demanded that Yale pay more of its “fair share” to the city. The point behind the stormwater fee was to shift millions of dollars a year in costs to Yale and other large not-for-profits, which otherwise can’t be conventionally taxed for the service.)

“We’re doing the opposite of what people envisioned,” Alderwoman James argued. “We’re looking at police and fire overtime ... It’s about being efficient.”

Fiscal watchdog David Cameron cautioned against jumping to conclusions yet about the new aldermen’s willingness to ride herd on an emerging budget crisis. Yes, they demanded that the city administration produce an early plan for erasing a potential deficit this year. But when the administration officials reported back at a Finance Committee meeting earlier this month, they offered skimpy details on their emerging plans, Cameron noted.

The aldermen shouldn’t just wait for the administration to fix the problem, he said.

“They ought to be trying to do it themselves. It’s their budget. They approved it,” said Cameron, who teaches political science at Yale and heads the independent Financial Review and Audit Commission. Past Boards of Aldermen have allowed the mayor’s administration to write the entire budget. Asking more questions and pushing for earlier deficit-reduction plans aren’t enough, he argued.

“They’ve been following whatever the mayor puts on the board,” agreed Ken Joyner, a citizen budget watchdog from Newhallville who regularly attends and speaks at aldermanic finance meetings..

Aldermen did not mess with much of the administration’s plan when they passed the most recent $486.4 million budget this past May. The true test comes this coming spring, because last year’s proposal was already well in the works when the rookie aldermen took office.

The city budget the aldermen passed in May already has an $11 million potential hole in it, with practically no money left in the rainy-day fund to cover another deficit. (Hence the aldermen’s push for a deficit-closing plan before they approve more bonding.)

New aldermen spoke in interviews of how they’ve been working hard this year at learning the budget. They’ve relied heavily on their more experienced colleagues, notably Perez and James. Dixwell’s Morrison, who sits on the Finance Committee, spoke of how they helped her figure out how to find existing money to stop a new $20 Lighthouse Park admission fee from taking effect without requiring a tax hike.

The labor-backed majority will have two chances in 2013 to prove they can shape the budget: When and if they follow through on plugging the current year’s deficit and when and if they take the initiative to craft new spending and revenue plans for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, rather than simply following the mayor’s lead.

Crossing Downtown

Some critics remain wary of the labor group’s agenda.

Those concerns arose when labor-backed Westville rookie Alderman Marchand tackled one of the year’s biggest issues: whether to approve Downtown Crossing, a new plan to gradually fill in the Route 34 Connector mini-highway-to-nowhere to make way for new 11-story medical-related office building and new downtown streets.

Marchand was appointed to represent the aldermen on the City Plan Commission, which held some of the key hearings and initial approval votes on the plan.

“Safe-streets” advocates as well as new urbanists detest the design for the new street grid. They complain that it will create a new highway made for speeding cars and pollution, crowding out cyclists and pedestrians. They criticized Marchand for casting his first votes without having read the plan in full; and for praising the developer Carter Winstanley for agreeing to give $150,000 to a training program at Gateway to prepare workers for jobs in the new businesses that will move into his building, rather than pressing him and other officials for pedestrian- and cyclist-friendlier streets.

Consider these two comments posted to New Haven Independent news stories about that process:

From commenter David Streever: “CCNE [the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, which is closely tied to Yale’s unions and the labor-backed candidates] is using their political appointments to get cash from developers, which, I applaud on one level. Unfortunately, they are doing it at the expense of long-term planning and strategic investment in neighborhoods. With Route 34, they let the city widen the roads, increase the design speeds, and reduce the curb radii, all which contribute to faster speeds and more vehicles. They also let the city move forward without full sidewalks. In exchange for cash for their jobs program. ... CCNE, and by extension the alders who support them, do have an agenda. While they may have great intentions and be noble in thought, what they are doing is perpetuating a pay to play system where the wealthy can circumvent rules and restrictions by giving opaque money to an opaque agency, which spends it without restriction, however they care to.”

And this from a well-known commenter who goes by “Anonymous”: “the Unions clearly want to tear down buildings and widen local highways so that their suburban members can have free parking—the new Board Leadership hasn’t said anything critical about the Administration’s efforts to do that, and in fact, probably wants to accelerate them. Another example is that the new Board Leadership will most likely want to keep taxes at unsustainable levels, cut programs for the needy, and stifle economic development projects (like streetcars, Yale expansions, and investments in infrastructure), if they have to do that in order to prop up their own union constituents’ salary and benefit levels.”

Marchand and other proponents of the project called Winstanley’s job-training commitment not a payoff to unions, but rather a response to an important public political demand: that New Haveners share in the prosperity created by new development projects.

Marchand noted that he asked many questions over the course of an hour in that City Plan hearing with Winstanley. He said in the end he was convinced the plan, which included a $100 million investment from the developer, is a good one. Click on the play arrow to the above video and on this story for Marchand’s fuller response.

Come this fall, Marchand and his 19 fellow union-backed aldermen will answer questions like those from the voters if they run for reelection. This time the overall question won’t be: What has to change? It’ll be: What changed?

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posted by: lawrence st on December 28, 2012  2:53pm

The Board of Aldermen is doing exactly what we elected them to do, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. They are tackling huge problems facing New Haven, and are doing it in a smart way, taking their time to make sure they do it right. And they are listening. To their constituents and to the public at large. They are showing that supporting labor is supporting all of us.

Thank you for your hard work, BoA!

posted by: anonymous on December 28, 2012  3:16pm

Good summary. I’m sure the baby steps toward fiscal restraint are appreciated by many residents.  But those are easily reversible—just like the perennial fluctuations of crime statistics (statistics that everyone wants to take credit for when they drop in a few blocks of Dixwell, and nobody wants to take credit for when they rise in vast, other, areas of the City). 

There are two major things have changed from the new “Labor Agenda.” These will be remembered, not just in this election, but also in many decades of future elections.

1) Displaying their lack of understanding that cities are entirely dependent on transit, the new “Board Leadership” turned down hundreds of millions in free investments from Barack Obama to rebuild our crumbling bus and transit system and create thousands of Union jobs.  This effectively killed New Haven’s future economic development prospects.  Even more importantly, this represented a direct attack on lower-income residents, disabled, and youth who—unlike virtually all of the middle-aged Union members running the show—rely on transportation other than private cars and Yale Shuttles.

2) The new “Board Leadership” moved forward with a disastrous plan to widen more highways right through the middle of Downtown and the Hill, directly adjacent to where thousands of young children live.  Given that a similar approach was taken by “Board Leadership” with regards to the new Hill school (though at much lower cost), this should not have been a surprise.  But it still represents a disaster for New Haven that many future generations will pay for.

Compared to these two mistakes, everything else is just window dressing.

posted by: EastRockIndependent on December 28, 2012  6:08pm

I too applaud the new Board of Aldermen for taking a very difficult task (liberating one branch of government from the grips of another) so seriously. Kudos to Paul Bass for recognizing this changed reality so clearly.

Right now, New Haven is in a transition moment. We have a divided government—much like the President faces in Washington. Here, however, decisions must get made, one way or another. That process has clearly been greatly changed by having one branch of government that is open, accountable and committed to an ongoing dialogue with New Haven residents.

There are some on this site and in the city Board who want their voices to be heard first and foremost, who do not show up to meetings and do not talk to their neighbors, and then cry out in protest when decisions are made that are not to their liking. It seems to me, as Paul points out, that the Board has gone to great lengths to engage our neighborhoods in public debate. That means, however, that when people who want to be heard aren’t willing to do anything but complain, our leaders have to make a call between being beholden to those loud voices or trying to balance a wide range of perspectives. If the “safe streets advocates” and “new urbanists” don’t make their voices and their presence felt by doing the work to knock on doors and convince fellow residents that what they want is a good thing, why should we (or our elected leaders) take them seriously?  I for one do not want my government beholden to online commenteers and their pet issues.

Finally, anonymous, in light of the fiscal cliff, and the years now of federal budget crunches, where do you think the city was going to discover hundreds of millions of federal dollars of investment in a streetcar that only was designed to serve neighborhoods already incredibly well-served by Yale and CT transit, bike lanes, etc? Either the feasibility study money would have been wasted or New Haven residents would have had to come up with those sums on their own.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 28, 2012  6:35pm

But will the New Board of Aldermen give the people what they want.Term Limits and Elected
School Board?

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on December 28, 2012  8:09pm

“They have yet to present a unified or detailed position on one of the city’s central challenges: improving the schools.” Solution: Vouchers. A monopoly will never have a true incentive to improve. When there is competition, those that produce a superior “product” or “service” at the best price survive. And those that produce an inferior “service”—such as education—don’t survive. And shouldn’t—unless you prefer perpetual mediocrity.

posted by: accountability on December 28, 2012  9:26pm

Shorter Paul Bass:

The Board of Aldermen made a public commitment to 3 issues, good jobs, youth opportunity and community policing, plus a commitment to fiscal responsibility.

1. The mayor, terrified by the elections raced to the front of the community policing parade. Since then, the Alders have pressed the cops at the grassroots to keep up the work. Enormous victory.

2. The Board President brought all the stakeholders together, analyzed existing programs and created a new program—for which not a single city dollar has yet been appropriated—to connect city residents to jobs, while the city’s largest employer and its unions negotiated guaranteed job openings for graduates of the program, and are privately funding the interim director. Check.

3. Rather than start throwing money at what is obviously the most potentially expensive priority—expanding youth opportunity, the Board’s leaders have worked with the state delegation to get funding to figure out what exists and can be expanded, what is needed and where to target resources. No grandiose plans, no wasteful spending, just careful planning. Check.

4. By far the most fiscally responsible Board in the city’s living memory, in extremely difficult circumstances. Check.

Pretty damned good for an institution that 12 months ago was a pathetic rubber stamp for an exhausted political machine.

posted by: robn on December 29, 2012  12:14am

Ahh…the seasonal march of the wooden soldiers has been joined by the march of the union shills. Put on those hip boots you got for Christmas mom and pop because the BS is getting very deep.
When the current union dominated BOA correctly files their conflict of interest disclosures, then maybe my warm and fuzzy feeling will return but until then, bah humbug.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on December 29, 2012  2:59am

Excellent reporting Mr. Bass.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on November 25, 2011 1:57pm

I would hope that these newly elected Alderman would understand that they are not beholden to any Union, but certainly are beholden to the interest of the voters and the voters only.

This post was made by myself over a year ago.  Certainly not to take a shot at any Union, but to enlighten the then newly elected aldermen as to whom elected them. 

Taxpayers have absolutely NO interest in hearing excuses, but they do have an interest in seeing results.

I, perhaps more than anyone else for years, have been a major critic of John DeStefano.  However, I have also learned that in politics u don’t have permanent friends and you don’t have permanent enemies. 

To the Mayor’s credit, his vision for Downtown New Haven upon my observation during my recent return home has been very impressive, to say the least. 

I too wish to further commend the Mayor, Gov. Malloy, David Kennedy and Bill Mathis for ushering in what I hope will be a tremendous initiative (to help “curb violence” in the city), in that of Project Longevity.
It is my view however, that more resources need to be made available from a prevention standpoint in order to approach this scourge holistically.

So now we get to sit back and watch certain elected officials claim credit for positive results they had absolutely nothing to do with.

This ought to fun!

posted by: Walt on December 29, 2012  8:21am

Just trying to figure out Anon’s claims above but suspect that he often makes up statistics and facts to push his opinions/  What is the truth?

For instance, while CT Transit has only about 750 drivers and mechanics to serve its areas of New Haven, Hartford and Stamford and surrounding Towns,  Anon says Obama will finance programs leading to “thousands of new Union jobs”
apparently just in the New Haven area.

How can this possibly be true?  What would they do?  Was there really an offer from   Obama of hundreds of millions of dollars from Obama re CT transit or area development or is this the usual BS?

How do Obama and Anon guarantee all jobs will be “Union’?  Wouldn’t a guarantee be illegal?”  (Note The current drivers and mechanics are already unionized,  a fact that Anon appears not to know,)

Admittedly I rarely ride CT Transit these days,  but I do see brand new equipment,  seemingly providing good service.

What is so bad that Anon is griping about?

What is the “hundreds of million dollars”  that Obama supposedly wants to give us?  (Not his money but ours).

posted by: robn on December 29, 2012  11:49am

Missing from the discussion are the BOA union majority’s approval of a $10M plus football field renovation when it would be perfectly acceptable to share another in town. Also missing is their desire to spend untold tens of millions renovating the armory as a community center next door to a jail). Their importation of regional union foot soldiers to canvass prior to the election ( all legal of course, just unspoken). Also their collaboration in extorting benefits for Yale membership by threatening to stall university construction (sorry but no take backs Mr.Proto).

posted by: Cristina Cruz-Uribe on December 29, 2012  1:18pm

I’m glad to see this article. The new BoA’s independence from City Hall is a big step in the right direction. I’m more excited, though, by the leadership shown by so many of our first-term alders. I supported these labor backed candidates because I wanted to see our conversation about development in New Haven change. I hope that the recent community benefits agreement for Newhallville is the first of many.

posted by: newmath on December 29, 2012  2:16pm

I think the new board is doing an excellent job overall. I don’t believe any line of critique that claims there has been too much discussion, too many questions. Is that not true leadership? To learn details, to learn process, and mostly, to ask what other people think? My sense is that the board has been deeply invested in learning what the residents of their wards feel, want, and need. Such an ambitious legislative project requires broad and deep discussion. I believe that the kinds of coalitions that have formed in our city represent a real effort to build structure from the bottom up, and thus to resist city hall’s top down “result” production. Regardless, many results ARE being seen, and I applaud them.

posted by: anonymous on December 29, 2012  2:59pm

EastRockIndependent, as far as I can tell, the citizens who advocate for issues such as graffiti removal, safer streets, parking tickets, trees, transportation, and better libraries are the most engaged people in the entire city, and can frequently be found going door to door, working at City Hall, or talking with neighbors. 

In sharp contrast, some of the Aldermen elected by the CCNE/Union don’t even show up for work.  Are they too busy working on the “job pipeline,” aka public subsidy for private unions?

Ironically, these new CCNE/Union Aldermen seem to not even show up when beautiful homes are proposed to be demolished to turn into an expanded parking lot at CTown, or when Stop & Shop proposes to add a cancer-causing gas station across the street from where hundreds of children live (even though the City’s Comprehensive Plan, the Neighborhood Plan written by hundreds of citizens from the area, and common sense, oppose it).

posted by: HhE on December 29, 2012  8:21pm

Christopher Schaefer continues to make the mistake of thinking that free market forces are a solve all.  Free market forces, along with some government regulations and some other items, has provided us with an array of good motor cars to choose from.  In some measure, free markets can help improve colleges.  However, just as we do not set our Army missions out to bid amounts its divisions or brigades, vouchers will not improve our public schools—just make them easier to abandon. 

While I often take issue with Walt’s posts, he is bang on with this one.  Well said sir.  I would remind anon that the federal funding was only for a study.  It does not necessarily follow that a street car would have been built, moneys provided for same, or even that the study would have concluded that a street car was a good idea. 

The first part of Anon’s response to EastRockIndependent is however sound (he/she is occasionally right).  So the measure of merit of an arguments is to be measured in the number of doors knock on? 

I would remind everyone that this is the same BoA that borrowed $100,00 for tree trimming this year.  Last I checked, trees continue to grow.  So our city is borrowing money to address a continuous problem.  I would not cal that fiscally sound.

posted by: ElmJackCity on December 30, 2012  8:16am

If I were Samuel Jackson I would say TERM LIMITS M.F.

posted by: accountability on December 30, 2012  11:46am

anonymous: “turned down hundreds of millions in free investments from Barack Obama to rebuild our crumbling bus and transit system and create thousands of Union jobs.”

Hundreds of millions? Link please, or retract.

Commenters here constantly get away with ridiculous false statements, which is fine, it’s the internet. But when Paul decides to quote a commenter in the body of a story as though s/he is a credible source of information, the stakes go up.

Document your claim or take it back.

posted by: Eddie on December 30, 2012  12:21pm

Perhaps New Haven should just forego elections and instead, allow anonymous to appoint leaders who are “the most engaged people in the entire city.” 

As one who volunteered in the previous aldermanic elections, I’m very tired of the disrespect that some of those commenting direct towards the voters who I met, the fellow volunteers, and me.  CCNE and the Unions supported aldermanic campaigns, but they did not elect Alderpersons.  Each voter chose the candidate she or he preferred.  They did not act as automatons or puppets.  To suggest otherwise is to belittle thousands of individuals who participated in the recent aldermanic election.

Hundreds if not thousands of volunteers spent many hours going door-to-door having conversations with voters to build a shared vision of priorities in New Haven.  This was the first time I participated in such a massive grassroots effort.  It was the first time that I participated in campaigns that worked so hard to incorporate the real concerns of so many people across every neighborhood in a city.  It was this undertaking that inspired my participation and many voters who I met.  It is not fair or correct to ascribe a more pernicious motivation to any volunteer or me.

After elected the Alderpersons haven’t wasted any time in continuing the work they already started during the campaigns.  New Haven Works is not a public subsidy for private unions; it is a program that has a commitment from New Haven’s largest employer to provide more opportunities to people who live in New Haven.  Achievements such as this one will inspire me to again knock on doors.  I’m sure voters will be happy to discuss these accomplishments and what remains to be done.

posted by: robn on December 30, 2012  12:34pm


When designs ate pretty frugal, Light rail comes in at a cost of $10-20M per mile so assuming the federal study would lead to implementation, it would only take 5-10 miles to reach the $100M mark.



posted by: getyourfactstraight on December 30, 2012  1:06pm

2013 will prove to be interesting. I for one am hoping this board has learned quickly and understands the needs of the taxpayers and that they are keeping their pocket book strings tight (sadly) in order to remain in New Haven. That type of commitment by taxpaying residents must be appreciated and shown through budget restraint. Also, the city employees cannot be used as the scapegoats any longer because of past overspending and haphazard behavior of others. My gut is telling me that many of the aldermen get it…..and that in itself is encouraging.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 30, 2012  2:19pm

posted by: Eddie on December 30, 2012 11:21am

Perhaps New Haven should just forego elections and instead, allow anonymous to appoint leaders who are “the most engaged people in the entire city.”

As one who volunteered in the previous aldermanic elections, I’m very tired of the disrespect that some of those commenting direct towards the voters who I met, the fellow volunteers, and me.

Do you have a problem with Term Limits and geting rid of the two party system and replacing it with proportional representation.

posted by: accountability on December 30, 2012  2:37pm

ROTFLMAO Robn and anonymous.

Two links to the generic cost of light rail and “assuming implementation?” Really?

“Assuming implementation” of what, exactly?

Assuming the Board of Aldermen had passed Justin Elicker’s study to apply for a grant to study his pet East Rock and shoreline commuter trolley? Because that’s what was in front of the BoA.

Assuming that the city had then gotten the money, and then done the actual feasibility study.

Assuming that the study had suggested that the trolley would be a good idea.

Assuming that the city and state had then submitted an application to the feds for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Assuming that the pot of federal money was even there by the time we applied. In case the political genuises at the NHI hadn’t noticed, there’s an austerity panic in DC, the left wing of which (BHO) has proposed $1.5 trillion in discretionary cuts over the next decade.

Assuming that Connecticut and New Haven’s proposal was accepted against competing proposals from other states and cities.

Assuming that state matching money came through [there are, um,kinda budget issues here, too].

Assuming that the City’s ultimate share was in any way remotely affordable.

Assuming anyone outside of East Rock and downtown gave a damn about the project.

and assuming this was anything resembling the most appropriate federal transportation money that we should invest our own time, political capital and tax dollars pursuing.

This is a joke. The categorical statement that the Board of Aldermen turned down hundreds of millions of dollars is at best the fantasy of a half-informed policy wonk wannabe and at worst a malicious fabrication for whatever political agenda anonymous carries.

Regardless of motive, it’s false. Better links or retract, please.

posted by: anonymous on December 30, 2012  4:01pm

Accountability: Your assumption that a major metropolitan center like New Haven would *not* wish to invest in improving its bus & transit system, using Federal, State, and regional funds, is one that is counter to all available evidence. 

Perhaps $150,000,000 is a mind-boggling expense to our current Board Leadership, which mostly seems to care about $150,000 donations to their “union pipeline” programs.  If $150 million sounds like a lot, they might consider the cost of the single-lane, new “flyover” bridge from I95 to R34, or the current $3 billion cost of our I95/I91 improvements.  If that kind of money exists to subsidize suburban commuters, than surely 1/20th of this amount exists to rationalize New Haven’s local transit system.  Unlike CCNE leadership, low income, youth, disabled, and elderly rely on it for their livelihoods.

Consider that hundreds of other cities around the United States and world are taking exactly the approach that you try to discredit.  In general, they are finding it easy to raise the necessary hundreds of millions of dollars, even when they are located in third-world countries whose budget issues far outstrip ours. There’s no need to list the examples.

The reason for this is simple: Transportation is the only way a city can extend prosperity to all residents, particularly the majority of the population who are not wealthy middle-aged suburbanites. Cities wouldn’t exist without it.

Consider that, to pay for light rail, public referenda in several US metropolitan areas have recently approved advance taxes based upon the inevitable billions in economic development that result when you improve transportation.  It’s unheard of for a metropolitan area of our size to turn down this kind of opportunity.

The decision to turn down the essentially 100% Federal & State-funded design study, and the nearly-guaranteed hundreds of millions of dollars that would follow it, represents the worst decision in the history of New Haven, from the point of economic development as well as social equity.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on December 30, 2012  5:55pm

To HhE: Here’s more on vouchers:  http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB8018/index1.html  “In the first study, using a randomized experiment to measure the impact of school vouchers on college enrollment, Matthew Chingos and Paul Peterson, professor of government at Harvard University, examine the college-going behavior through 2011 of students who participated in a voucher experiment as elementary school students in the late 1990s. They find no overall impacts on college enrollment but DO find large, statistically significant positive impacts on the college going of African-American students who participated in the study.” http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2012/08/23-school-vouchers-harvard-chingos “House and Senate Appropriators this week [Dec. 2009] ignored the wishes of D.C.’s mayor, D.C.’s public schools chancellor, a majority of D.C.’s city council, and more than 70 percent of D.C. residents and have mandated the slow death of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. This successful school voucher program, for D.C.’s poorest families, has allowed more than 3,300 children to attend the best schools they have ever known.” http://heartland.org/policy-documents/dc-school-choice-leaders-blast-appropriators-decision-kill-school-voucher-program “the researchers found a 24 percent increase in college enrollment among African American students who were awarded and used vouchers to attend private schools.” http://blog.heritage.org/2012/08/23/back-to-school-how-can-we-truly-help-minority-students/
To ThreeFifths: As we continue to discuss methods to overthrow of the current regime, I hope you’ll also take a look at Instant-runoff Voting, which already is used by several US cities. ¡Viva la revolución!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 30, 2012  6:37pm

@Christopher Schaefer.I know about Instant-runoff Voting.I have always push for it over town committees.But sorry to say,School voucher are a scam.Look at what happen in Milwaukee.They claimed would help poor children of color receive a quality education.But The academic researchers hired by the state to examine the results later tried to fuzz up those numbers, saying some children do about the same.But the fact remains we’ve spent billions of tax dollars for private school vouchers over 21 years, and private schools aren’t any more successful than public schools in educating children of color and closing the state’s appalling black-white achievement gap.Private schools are very expensive. In light of this reality, vouchers would do very little to give any additional poor families access to private education.Last vouchers as proposed are nothing more than coupons so the wealthy families who are already sending their kids to private schools can save some money on the taxpayer’s dime.They be anything more than welfare for the rich.

posted by: accountability on December 30, 2012  7:45pm


New Haven was not “nearly guaranteed” hundreds of millions of dollars for anything. That’s your fantasy. Hell, the GOP platform explicitly called for removing light rail funding from the Highway Trust fund—just one of the many ways in which funding for it is and always was highly speculative.

Two proposals came before the Board:

1. A proposal for a design study for a trolley from the train station to City Hall to East Rock. It came with a map, and a relatively lengthy report touting the wonders of trolleys in Portland. I read the whole thing.

2. When Alders raised objections such as a) don’t we already have bus service and free shuttles on those routes? b) why would we spend all this effort to build public transit for the most-served neighborhoods in the City, and c) is a trolley really the most efficient use of transportation funds?, we got Plan B. Which was Justin Elicker making vague, unsubstantiated verbal commitments: hummina, hummina, hummina…we can do a regional needs assessment!....hummina, hummina, hummina….ignore the map!....hummina, hummina, hummina…we can have trolleys all over town!....

It was crap. No meaningful documents for anything other than the trolley, no strategy, no nothing. So it was spend money studying a project for which the Board was given a slick report, but that most people were unconvinced was worth further study, or try to scramble to hustle the feds to give us money for vague studies for which nobody had laid any foundation.

Federal transportation dollars are good. A regional needs assessment would be good. Someone should put together a proposal for one, not try to shoehorn it into a controversial project at the last minute. The idea that we’ve somehow forfeited our ability to get federal transportation dollars by not embracing the stupid trolley is both wrong and insulting.

The Board of Aldermen turned down several hundred thousand dollars which would have required the expenditure of local money we didn’t have to study a project of marginal merit, the long term funding for which was speculative. They did not turn down hundreds of millions of either actual or “nearly guaranteed” dollars.

That’s false. Stop saying it.

posted by: accountability on December 30, 2012  7:59pm

One further general comment.

Given that the trolley didn’t make that much sense and the slipshod political leadership displayed by its sponsors, the Board deserves a lot of credit for voting it down.

They set their priorities publicly, stuck with them, and made important progress on each front. I’m confident that when the Board’s attention does turn to transportation policy, they’ll approach it with the same intensity of focus, determination to involve all stakeholders and attention to detail that they’ve shown on the current core agenda.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on December 30, 2012  8:00pm

Re. vouchers, I meant to include the following quote [from 1st link given above]: “More generally, the specifics of policy design are likely to have large effects: Not all voucher and charter programs are alike—and different programs will produce different outcomes… MORE RESEARCH IS NEEDED to determine the effects of VARIATIONS in the scale of voucher and charter programs”. [emphasis mine] Re. Milwaukee’s program, studies of results are conflicting, e.g. http://cnsnews.com/news/article/study-milwaukee-school-choice-program-leads-higher-graduation-rate-among-participants [=school choice leads to higher graduation rate] versus http://urbanmilwaukee.com/2012/10/01/education-the-truth-about-voucher-schools/ [= standardized test scores are not improved].

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on December 30, 2012  11:21pm

Meanwhile, here’s a little notice that has quietly slipped by: The 2013 Charter Revision Commission scheduled [sic] was released today [Dec 28]: Public Hearings at 7 PM**
January 17 @ Davis Street School
January 31 @ Hillhouse High School
February 5 @ Jepson School
February 7 @ Conte/West Hills School
**Locations subject to Department of Education Approval.http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/meeting_notice2/

ThreeFifths: here’s your chance to insist they discuss Proportional Representation. (Actually, I think the related, but different, “Instant Runoff Voting” is the best way to bust up the 2-party system. Or, in New Haven’s case, the 1-party system. Which, of course, is why the election process itself will never even be discussed.)
Some of the more recent updates on Charter Revision: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/new_items_added_to_charter_revision_menu/  and http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/charter_revision_discussion_begins/

posted by: Walt on December 31, 2012  8:31am


Thanks for clarifying Anon’s comments above. 

I often question the “facts”  (s)he quotes on varied topics, but did not realize there was really so little truth   involved

posted by: anonymous on December 31, 2012  9:14am

Accountability, I stopped reading after you referenced a “glossy report.”  I think you are confusing one of our $25,000 regional TIP studies (studies which produce glossy reports) with what, in reality, would have been a $1,000,000, nationally-significant investment in improving our rapidly-declining bus and transit system.  The Federal grant was the first step in the FTA New Starts program and would design bus system integration and expansion, possible alignments (e.g., a Union Station to West Haven line), begin environmental permits, and complete technical documents. 

For the reasons above, the State bent over backwards to provide the “matching funds” regionally, meaning that the local (City) match, in the words of several Alders who voted against the plan, was “essentially zero.”  Perhaps you are confusing the initial plan from 2010/2011 (sent back to get the State match) with the final plan voted on by the new CCNE Board Leadership that required “essentially zero” local funding.

“Hummina”? The points you make reveal exactly why the project was stopped: inept and personally vindictive local politicians voting against transportation investments that would have benefited our low-income, disabled, elderly, and youth population (i.e., the majority of the population), but perhaps carried smaller benefits for the CCNE leaders who live in the suburbs and who told them how to vote.

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on December 31, 2012  9:50am

I, for one, have been very impressed, and surprised at times, by how this BoA has handled itself. Particularly impressive has been the fact that despite 2 year terms, the BoA has taken the time to formulate the foundations of a broad, extensive vision of how to make change in the city. They have not rushed the jobs pipeline or education reform in order to have an additional bullet point on their campaign flyers for re-election, but are really doing this the right way.

Accountability, Thank you for sharing your views on how that debate went down; your account makes far more sense to me than what I have heard from supporters of the streetcar proposal. From the outset, the proposal smacked of a subsidy to Yale, basically upgrading the shuttle system they pay for with a streetcar system funded by the city. I do not think that it is the role of government to upgrade services that already exist for the people who are already provided the most services in the city.

I would LOVE it if the city were to get involved in projects to upgrade and overhaul our public transportation infrastructure. But such an effort would have to be based on the premise of breaking down the divisive barriers erected by things like the Yale shuttles & freeways, and re-connecting neighborhoods to one another by making sure those with the LEAST access are the FIRST priority in planning. The proponents argument that the streetcar proposal would be “getting a foot in the door” for expansion struck me as quite naive. If you are not finding a way to include those most in need of public transportation from day one, you will never have another chance. Kudos to this BoA for “getting it” and not caving to this superficial appeal to “sustainability” and “public service.”

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on December 31, 2012  9:58am

One more thing: I find it disconcerting that so many of the “urban planners” (armchair or professional) who comment here take such a top-down view of how to improve city design. This BoA has shown itself to be dedicated to finding out what more people than just the white entrepreneurial class think about development projects, and I think that is great. If you think voting down the streetcar proposal is “the worst decision in the history of New Haven,” I can’t help but think you probably also would have been pimping the Ring Road proposal back in the day.

posted by: robn on December 31, 2012  10:51am


No retraction from me. My links are perfectly reasonable and footnoted to
past expenditures on precedent projects. For the record, I though the
streetcar was a waste of time. However, that being said, ANONYMOUS really
only left out the word “potential” to accurately describe the endgame of
streetcar study funding. You’ll recall that at that time, the Obama
administration was actively seeking shovel ready projects for stimulus money
and Rosa DeLauro helped acquire Tiger grant money for Route 34
redevelopment so it wasn’t really a stretch to believe that the full
streetcar funding might be around the corner.

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on December 31, 2012  11:14am


Why do you make so many claims about CCNE leadership living in the suburbs.? I checked out the Staff & Board page on the CCNE website, and it seems to prove your claim incorrect:

posted by: robn on December 31, 2012  11:29am


How do you reconcile your comment advocating bottom up design with the fact that the BOA union supermajority rubber stamped the RT34 project after the city basically ignored 1000s of hours of citizen input advocating for safe streets design. Don’t answer because I know already. Construction jobs for suburban union members. The union supermajority on the BOA has its own agenda based upon increasing their power and self enrichment.

posted by: anonymous on December 31, 2012  12:22pm

SOA: It’s ironic that you mention “armchair urban planners,” given that so many professional city administrators and planners had spent years working on getting the free Federal and State money, and so many professionals came out to testify at hearings, where public testimony in favor was almost unanimous. 

Reality is that new CCNE/Union supermajority had to revert to its typical closed-door meeting tactics in order to trample the public interest and the guidance of professionals with hundreds of years of combined experience.

Perhaps the real “armchair” planners are the people who, newly elected to office using funding from a private special interest group (Holmes excepted), voted down regional, State, and Federal funding for improved transportation when every other city in the world has moved forward with it.

posted by: Eddie on December 31, 2012  1:16pm

It is telling that this project’s initial routes followed the Yale shuttle when so many city planners and experts were involved.  Securing these funds from federal and state sources without imposing a major expense on the city still seems unlikely.  Even so, working hard to federal and state funds for the most served neighborhoods in the city is precisely the problem with this type of development.  I don’t understand why there wasn’t broader stakeholder involvement.  I don’t understand the needs of the “lower-income residents, disabled, and youth” were not the top priority in the plans. 

At best this type of development might justified with the same old Neoliberal trickle down theory.  Subsidize New Haven’s downtown and Yale with the vague hope that others get the crumbs.  Clearly such a model of development has not worked for much of the city.  The failure of this model, coupled with the current BOA’s vision of development that is more participatory and inclusive seems to be one key to the BOA’s electoral success.

posted by: anonymous on December 31, 2012  2:36pm

Eddie wrote: “Clearly such a model of development has not worked for much of the city.”

Considering that roughly 80% of the city’s jobs are located downtown—and that these jobs are growing, when those in many other cities are departing—most professionals would say that the “model” of downtown development has worked pretty well. 

It’s frightening to see our “armchair” planners (such as the new Board Leadership, some of whom sit on our City Plan commission?), argue and vote otherwise.  In doing so, they threw out the potential for hundreds of millions of dollars in critical transportation system funding, that could go a long way to helping the unemployed (in Connecticut, transportation is far-and-away the largest barrier to jobs), elderly, disabled, low-income, and youth get around the city. 

It’s even more frightening to see the “armchair” planners, incorrectly, argue that such transportation system funding would simply replicate the services or route of the Yale Shuttle, and that an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars somehow would not have any positive impact on our rapidly-declining bus system. 

The latter argument suggests that while the recent vote was the worst economic development decision in the history of New Haven, it may not hold that title for long.

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on December 31, 2012  3:32pm

anonymous, You have made a nice turn-of-phrase by (mis)quoting me talking about “armchair urban planners,” when what I said was ‘urban planners’ (armchair or professional).” When I said that, I in no way meant it in the deprecating manner you infer, because I believe that all people who live in a place and have an opinion about how that place functions and changes deserve to have a say in what it looks like. Going out into neighborhoods, knocking on doors, holding community meetings, and the like is a commendable practice by public servants who are paid something like $2,000/year for their time & energy in making this a better place for all of us to live. I believe strongly that it is the “urban daily lifers” that oftentimes bring more profound insights into development than it is the “urban planners” who recognize success by the money they can make off of a project.

robn, You make what seems to me to be a valid point, as I have not followed the Route 34 project as closely as I would like. It is an unfortunate reality of the complexity of urban life that we are not all able to be completely up-to-date and in-depth on every issue as we would like. That’s not an excuse, but a reality, and I hope to educate myself better on that particular issue. But here’s where I don’t follow you. I don’t follow the leap to decrying the entire BoA, CCNE, and everything they stand for based on one issue that you disagree with. Given the fact that you were an outspoken opponent of the current BoA, I’m not particularly surprised, but I also find it unfortunate that you seem so unwilling to engage with members of the BoA to try and bring about the change that you would like to see.

Perhaps the biggest question I have is this, robn: To whom are you accountable? You may proudly answer “no one” in true gadfly fashion, but I think that is actually very unfortunate. It is, after all, by being accountable to one another that our criticisms are open to change & able to evolve. You may disagree, but experience has taught me that sitting in meetings looking for consensus with people I don’t agree with has a tendency to make us open to solutions beyond what we are capable of conceiving on our own.

posted by: Anstress Farwell on December 31, 2012  3:48pm

By the time the BOA declined to approve $30,000 to fund the streetcar study, a few weeks of negotiations between their leaders and City Hall had failed to clarify where the first leg of the streetcar could be built or if the proposed location of a repair yard near the Church Street South housing development could be moved. With these important issues unresolved, the “no” vote on funding was inevitable. The New Haven Urban Design League, a strong advocate for streetcars and transit improvement, could not get answers to our questions on the project. There were many factors which lead to the “no” vote—inadequate information, miscommunication, political brinkmanship, and preoccupation with other issues at the beginning of this year’s legislative calendar. City Hall said, “You have to approve these funds!” and the BOA said, “We want to talk about jobs!” and no one in that conversation was able to negotiate a discussion on how to improve transit for job development.  Perhaps one of the most fatal factors was that the new BOA and City Hall did not know each other.

In any case, I think the stale arguments and accusations which have played out for months now in these online comments need to be set aside—that is my wish for the New Year.

My hope for 2013 is that we can reopen the conversation based on what I see as everyone’s interests—how do we plan an improved transit system which opens up job opportunities, improves air quality, creates an equitable transportation system for people of all ages and income, and increases the development potential of underutilized properties in the City.

posted by: anonymous on December 31, 2012  5:13pm

Anstress, that is a great wish for 2013 and I agree.  While Paul Bass used this failure as a good example of the “labor agenda,” looking at the bigger picture, it represents just one of many failures of the new Board Leadership to stand up on behalf of the residents it purports to represent. Only Holmes had the guts to stand up to the CCNE/Union machine.

Given that the BOA consisted of many veterans, like Perez and James, I do not think the idea that City Hall and the new Board Leadership didn’t play enough drinking games together should be an excuse for crippling economic development and social equity in New Haven for generations. 

Residents will hold them accountable for poor decisions like these—Independent comments or not.

posted by: robn on December 31, 2012  6:09pm


Nice rhetorical turn but I didn’t promise 5000 people that I would represent them equally and democratically; each Alderman did.