A new split in the Board of Alders continued to show itself Monday night, when a member of the newly formed People’s Caucus lost a leadership position in the Black and Hispanic Caucus to a labor-backed challenger.
The Black and Hispanic Caucus votes for new leadership at the start of every new term. That election, usually a non-controversial affair, took place at City Hall. The caucus includes 18 of the board’s current 29 alders, with the 19th likely to be African-American when a special election takes place in Ward 3.
Until Monday, the Black and Hispanic Caucus was chaired by Beaver Hills Alder Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, who last week mounted a last-minute challenge as part of a new “People’s Caucus” to Board President Jorge Perez’s reelection. Robinson-Thorpe used to be part of the board’s majority coalition, backed by Yale’s UNITE HERE unions; she and other People’s Caucus members have declared their opposition to how the majority runs the board.
The vote took place by secret ballot at the request of newly elected Bishop Woods Alder Richard Spears, who voiced concern that leaders of the Board of Alders (who are also members of the Black and Hispanic Caucus) were in the room.
For Black and Hispanic Caucus chair, Fair Haven Alder Santiago Berrios-Bones nominated labor-affiliated Hill Alder Dolores Colón. The nomination was seconded by Edgewood Alder Frank Douglass.
Once the secret ballots were tallied, Colón assumed the role of chair, defeating Robinson-Thorpe by a vote of 10-4. Robinson-Thorpe also ran for vice chair, losing to labor-backed Newhallville Alder Delphine Clyburn by the same margin.
Dixwell Alder Jeanette Morrison ran unopposed in her reelection for caucus treasurer, while current caucus secretary Ernie Santiago nominated Berrios-Bones as his replacement, also with no opposition.
Once the vote was over, Alders Robinson-Thorpe, Spears and Brenda Foskey-Cyrus left the meeting room in City Hall where the caucus was meeting. All three said they were unsurprised by the results.
“The cards were already stacked, it was obvious,” Foskey-Cyrus said.
Robinson-Thorpe called the vote to unseat her “punishment” for forming the People’s Caucus. She said that she had “energized” the Black and Hispanic Caucus as its chair, raising over $32,000 for students and seniors, as well as for funeral expenses for victims of violence in the black and Hispanic communities.
The other labor-backed alders, Robinson-Thorpe added, “do whatever [Perez] says.”
“Jorge is pissed at me right now, so this is my punishment like a child,” Robinson-Thorpe said. “Why is Jorge the king, and what he says go?”
After the meeting was over, Perez said Robinson-Thorpe is entitled to her opinion, but dismissed the argument that he had any undue influence over the results of the leadership elections.
“I didn’t run, but people are still going to argue that I influenced people,” Perez said. “Maybe I shouldn’t go to board meetings so I don’t influence people… How do you defend yourself against those sorts of allegations?”
New caucus chair Colón, meanwhile, said that her decision to run for the position was about “challenging” herself. She praised the work that Robinson-Thorpe has done. She said she hopes to take the caucus’ work to new heights.
“It’s not about a punishment, it’s about me seeing how far I can take the caucus this time around,” Colón said.
A Majority Caucus
On a Board of Alders which now has a black and Hispanic majority, is there still a need for the caucus to exist?
Colón said yes. New Haven’s black and Hispanic communities, she argued, endure “a great deal” of city violence. The caucus helps raise money for victims’ funeral expenses, Colón said, providing at least one reason that it’s “important” to continue with the caucus.
Robinson-Thorpe agreed. The caucus, she said, should determine and act to rectify the issues that afflict New Haven’s black and Hispanic populations.
Perez echoed those points, arguing that the board’s Black and Hispanic caucus exists “to make sure everyone in the city is treated fairly.” While it may seem like the caucus is unnecessary now, he said, that’s no guarantee that it won’t be important in the future.