Prez Perez Fends Off Surprise Challenge

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAt the new term’s first meeting of the Board of Alders, a new “People’s Caucus” tested its might, mounting a surprise candidacy for president of the board.

In the City Hall’s Aldermanic Chamber Tuesday night, incumbent board President Jorge Perez (pictured) won reelection by defeating a challenger, Beaver Hills Alder Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, 23 votes to 5.

Robinson-Thorpe was nominated by the People’s Caucus, a breakaway group of alders who object to what they call “union-backed machine” control of the board. The group, comprising seven alders, has said it is working to increase democracy and transparency on the Board of Alders.

The name—“People’s Caucus”—is just a placeholder until “the people” name the new group, explained freshman East Rock Alder Anna Festa, who nominated Robinson-Thorpe for the board’s top leadership position. The People’s Caucus will hold a public meeting on Jan. 25 at the Springs of Life-Giving Water Church on Sperry Street.

Paul Bass PhotoRobinson-Thorpe (at left in photo) initially formed the new caucus after a Board of Alders straw poll indicated that West River Alder Tyisha Walker would rise to the president pro tem spot, which Robinson-Thorpe had hoped to occupy. But in a surprise move Tuesday, Robinson-Thorpe was nominated for an even higher position: president of the board.

Robinson-Thorpe was one of two People’s Caucus members nominated to a leadership position. The group also put forward freshman Quinnipiac Meadows Alder Richard Spears for president pro-tem. He lost to second-term West River Alder Tyisha Walker, 22 to six. The position is officially the board’s number-two slot; the president pro tem fills in if the president is out of town.

The elections took place at the outset of Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Alders. East Shore Alder Al Paolillo rose to nominate Perez, calling him a friend, a mentor, and a “unifying force.” Paolillo noted that his father served with Perez on the board.

Perez has been an alder for 26 years. He was elected to the presidency in 2012 and previously served as president from 2000 to 2006.

Alder Rosa Santana seconded Paolillo’s nomination, as did Alder Andrea Jackson-Brooks, and Alder Dolores Colon.

Alder Migdalia Castro moved to close nominations, but withdrew the motion after Perez said they should remain open so that other candidates could be nominated.

Alder Festa (pictured) nominated Robinson-Thorpe “on behalf of the People’s Caucus as well as democracy.”

Alders Brenda Foskey-Cyrus and Michael Stratton seconded. Stratton said that his second was not a vote against Perez, but a recognition that “we need to be bold and audacious.”

“The best result comes when you have an adversarial process,” Stratton (pictured) said. “I believe it’s time we have more of a two-party nomination.”

Alders Festa, Spears, Stratton, Foskey-Cyrus, and Robinson Thorpe voted for Robinson-Thorpe. The other 23 alders present voted for Perez.

“I don’t take this lightly,” Perez said in a short victory speech. “I realize other people in this room are equally qualified.”

Perez acknowledged the People’s Caucus challenge, saying “there’s been some disagreement in the family in the last two weeks.”

“We need to move forward,” he said. “Whether you’re part of the People’s Caucus or not.”

Beaver Hills Alder Brian Wingate nominated Alder Walker for president pro tem, calling her a dedicated mother, friend, and confidante.

Alders Santiago Berrios-Bones, Sarah Eidelson, Castro, and Frank Douglass seconded the nomination.

Downtown Alder Doug Hausladen nominated Alder Spears. Hausladen said he has known Spears for several weeks and that Spears would be a good member of leadership because he would “understand how a rookie sees the process” and could help guide other freshmen.

Stratton and Robinson-Thorpe seconded the nomination.

Alders Hausladen, Festa, Spears, Stratton, Foskey-Cyrus, and Robinson Thorpe voted for Spears. Everyone else voted for Walker.

Walker (pictured with Spears) told the board she appreciated having a challenger “because that’s democracy.”

After the meeting, Alder Festa said the vote results were “what we expected.” She said the nominations were meant only to bring more “democracy” to the process.

“We come in peace,” she said. The People’s Caucus is trying to “just show people they have a voice.”

President Perez said after the meeting that he and other members of board leadership will be working on committee assignments over the next several weeks. He said he will, as before, collect requests from alders and try to place them each on at least two of their three chosen committees.

Committee chairmanships will be chosen by board leadership. Perez said that group comprises the president, the president pro tem, Majority Leader Paolillo, Deputy Majority Leader Jeanette Morrison, and the chair and vice-chair of the Black and Hispanic Caucus. Those positions are held by Alders Robinson-Thorpe and Colon, for now. The Black and Hispanic Caucus will hold new chairmanship elections on Monday.

New Mayor Toni Harp (pictured) and her new chief of staff, Tomas Reyes, attended Tuesday’s meeting. Both are former alders. Harp greeted alders before the meeting and later received a standing ovation from the board.

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posted by: Wooster Squared on January 8, 2014  10:02am

I love the name “People’s Caucus”. I say stick with that.

It tells you everything you need to know about the group: They represent the people of New Haven, not some suburban union, not a political machine, just the folks who live here.

posted by: CarlosR on January 8, 2014  11:29am

I love the vote count: 23-5!  Seems like a pretty clear indicator that a pro-worker political majority is here to stay.  I’d love to hear what Wooster Squared dislikes about that.

posted by: Wooster Squared on January 8, 2014  12:20pm


What I dislike about the current Union-Backed majority is that it is a group whose allegiance is to suburban union leaders first, and New Haven residents second.

Unions are good when they are securing fair pay and benefits for their members. When they start taking control of local governments and put their own interests ahead of the public’s, that’s a problem. We saw this first hand when the Union-backed board sold off public streets to Yale well below apparent market value. This all happened at the same time the union was negotiating a contract with Yale. The whole thing stunk and the ultimate losers were the general public.

Just like businesses can be good when they are producing goods for their customers, but bad when they starting dominating governments.

You also have to ask yourself why, if the union-backed board has so much public support—Why do they hide their affiliation during election season? I was canvassed multiple times by a union candidate in my ward and that person did not disclose their affiliation iwth Unite Here until I pressed them about it.

I guess my ultimate problem is that I just feel that elected officials should be more concerned with the needs of residents and less concerned with the opinions of suburban union leaders like Bob Proto and Gwen Mills.

You can be pro-labor and still put voters first. The People’s Caucus does that, while the Unite Year super-majority does not.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 8, 2014  12:24pm

This appears to be the fundamental guiding principle of the current Board of Alders supporters:

“I agree with the goals of the current BOA super-majority’s agenda - therefore I support the tactics used for achieving said goals, even if it involves exploiting the democratic process, hi-jacking the board, and giving disproportionate time and voice to the concerns on behalf of a small, not individually ward-based constituency.”

What would someone who supports the current BOA say about someone who supported the previous City Hall machine that ran the BOA for the reason that they happened to agree with the goals of City Hall?

See how profoundly weak and pathetic that line of reasoning is? When you criticize the tactics of one machine because you disagree with them, then support similar tactics by another machine taht you happen to agree with, its called being a hypocrit - and in civic life, it doesn’t get much lower than that.

The BOA should represent the cosmopolitan character of the city it is representing, not the narrow interests of one group. This is an elemental principle that transcends ideology.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 8, 2014  12:34pm

@ Wooster Squared

How about geting rid of the two party system and replacing it with PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION ELECTIONS.

posted by: CarlosR on January 8, 2014  1:17pm

@Wooster Squared: your information is either incorrect or pathologically dishonest.  Gwen Mills lives in East Rock.  Laurie Kennington, Local 34 President, lives in Fair Haven.  So do the majority of UNITE HERE elected leadership, staff, and the overwhelming majority of their members.  And if UNITE HERE is hiding their role in city politics, it is the worst kept secret in New Haven.

@Jonathan Hopkins: where to begin?  Perhaps in the real world, where city elected officials who become Mayor (DeStefano, Harp, or Elicker had he won) Do take phone calls from, say Marna Borgstrom or Rick Levin.  Just as George Bush or Barack Obama take calls from Warren Buffett or Bill Gates.  Do any of those individuals take calls from janitors or secretaries as Jane or John Citizen?  Not so much.  So no, it does not upset me, not even a little, that unions use the power they have to influence public policy in a pro-worker direction.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on January 8, 2014  1:17pm

And there you have it, Jonathan Hopkins nailed it.
and Threefifths I think may can agree with that but what is the starting point…can we make changes on a city level or do we have to go to Hartford.

posted by: Common Ground on January 8, 2014  2:15pm

Congratulations President Perez.

As president, Perez has supported the approval of new city worker contracts that include overhaul of pension calculators. These changes are to the advantage of New Haven taxpayers. Perez has also led the efforts to get more New Haven residents hired by major New Haven employers. Hardly a suburban union stooge.

When will folks stop bickering about whether people that serve food, clean floors and teach classes have a seat at the table and focus instead of positive ways to work with our new Mayor to tackle real problems.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 8, 2014  2:26pm

I sympathize with the notion that institutions like Yale University, Yale-New Haven Hospital, and other large, wealthy and generally powerful corporations have a substantial say in policy and the direction that the City goes regardless of their representation on the BOA, and therefore a less powerful constituency like ‘the working poor’ requires representation by means of super-majority on the BOA. However, I worry that power corrupts regardless of intentions, which is why I am skeptical of the current BOA - just as I was with the previous City Hall-backed Board. I also question whether Unite Here’s intentions are truly to benefit the City as a whole in the long term or if their allegiance lies with their members. While what is best for Unite Here’s members may overlap sometimes with what is best for the City, the two have differing interests at the end of the day.

In my opinion, it is a mistake for Alders to focus their concern on individuals because that can lead to policies that are to the detriment of their wards. Alders should represent their wards, which includes not only current residents, but also businesses and future residents. I worry that too much attention to generous wages and benefits will simply enable and encourage out-migration to suburbs while doing little to address neighborhood concerns. When neighborhoods are safe and healthy, medical costs are reduced. When housing is located near jobs, transportation costs are minimized. When parks are maintained, private yards become less necessary - reducing housing costs. The current BOA appears to be putting the cart before the ox in assuming that a Jobs Pipeline and generous contracts will result in improved neighborhoods.

The principled approach would be to encourage a diverse and cosmopolitan BOA, which is swayed collectively by citizen input during hearings, not a BOA that already collectively has an agenda based on the interest of one constituency.

posted by: CarlosR on January 8, 2014  3:14pm

@Jonathan Hopkins: “I worry that too much attention to generous wages and benefits will simply enable and encourage out-migration to suburbs while doing little to address neighborhood concerns.”

So…strengthen neighborhoods while keeping services sector jobs at poverty level wages?  I am not so sure it makes for good policy, though.  Workers with livable wages use those wages to consume things, thereby strengthening local businesses.  By the way, UNITE HERE unions push at each contract to get the University to expand their homebuyer program, which is explicitly limited to New Haven.  So they actively DISCOURAGE the outmigration you talk about.

But maybe things would be great if we suppressed wages and benefits.  That hasn’t been tried, has it?

Oh, yeah, guess it has.

posted by: citoyen on January 8, 2014  3:40pm

“Perez acknowledged the People’s Caucus challenge, saying ‘there’s been some disagreement in the family in the last two weeks.’”

There, in a nutshell, is the psychology that governs New Haven—an underlying assumption that in a one-party town, the government consists, or at least should consist, of one big “family.”

But families often have disagreements within themselves.  A board of governance *should* have disagreements within itself.

The previous model in New Haven was for a mayor to control the board of alders, both moving in one unopposed direction.  The new model is for a board of alders to control a mayor, both moving in one unopposed direction.

Different orientation, same dynamic.

Some of the underlying assumptions in *democracy* are of contest, opposition, openness, responsiveness, divergence.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 8, 2014  4:43pm


I have now argued two separate points in this article and I hope to ensure that my two arguments remain separate and are not combined.

1) The Board of Alders, one of New Haven’s many governing arms, should consist of individual alders who represent their wards. In order to appropriately represent their wards, Alders should consider the needs of current and future residents and businesses. Representing future needs requires ensuring the longevity of the ward by not selling out for current residents. This does not mean, however, that alders should ignore the needs of current residents - there is a middle ground that is necessary to occupy in order to effectively legislate.
Some signs of a BOA that accomplishes these things might include clear diversity of opinions, professions and backgrounds between members; a great deal of debate in crafting legislation; and compromising in order to pass legislation for the betterment of the city. How the Board represents the city should be based, in part, on soundness of argument from citizens that show up to hearings, not on some agenda crafted beforehand.
I support grassroots initiatives, fully functioning democracy, and efforts that enourage civic engagement and the education of citizens in the hopes that they become more involved. I would hope that living wages can be achieved for most, if not all, fulltime workers, but that should happen in the way described above, which I don’t believe is what’s currently happening.

2) I have a lot of concerns about the current BOA. I worry that 75% of the Board represents (perhaps unconsciously) the interest of a constituency of people who disproportionately reside in New Haven’s suburbs, or live a suburban lifestyle. I worry that Unite Here actively sought out control of the BOA to push their agenda.

I have a feeling that you would agree with most of my #1, but are willing to abandon its principled stance in the case of the current BOA simply because you disagree with my #2.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 8, 2014  5:11pm

posted by: cedarhillresident! on January 8, 2014 12:17pm

And there you have it, Jonathan Hopkins nailed it.
and Threefifths I think may can agree with that but what is the starting point…can we make changes on a city level or do we have to go to Hartford.

It can be done.Look at how Port Chester will use Cumulative Voting.

On June 15th the village of Port Chester, NY will become the first community in the state to elect its representative body through a semi-proportional system of elections known as “cumulative voting.” The reforms include a bi-lingual voter education campaign and “early voting,” a process allowing voters to cast ballots up to a week before Election Day.
These changes are the result of a court ruling which found that the old system limited the collective ability of Port Chester’s Hispanic community to elect a candidate, thus violating the federal Voting Rights Act. Other communities currently using cumulative voting include Amarillo, TX, Chilton County, AL, and Peoria, IL.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on January 8, 2014  8:16pm


Well we did see a spark in Westville during this past election with their ward committee and Henry Fernandez seemed at the least did a shout out for run off. It would be far more inclusive than the way we do things.