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Seniors Central In Fair Haven Election
by Thomas MacMillan | Sep 9, 2013 11:12 am
Posted to: Fair Haven, Campaign 2013
Alderman Santiago Berrios-Bones is preparing for the coming wave of retiring baby boomers. His primary election challenger, Thomas Burwell, wants to make sure they have good food to eat.
Those two concerns have emerged along the campaign trail to the Ward 14 Democratic primary on Tuesday, Sept. 10.
Incumbent Berrios-Bones, a 65-year-old high school biology teacher, and challenger Burwell, a 31-year-old engineering student, are competing to represent the ward, which includes the east end of Fair Haven and part of the Annex.
On the campaign trail, each candidate has dealt with concerns of and for senior citizens. Berrios-Bones has approached the subject from a macro level, seeing a wave of retirees about to hit the city, and looking to take care of them and take advantage of their experience.
Burwell was confronted with the issue at a more micro-level, when tenants at Fair Haven’s Atwater senior center told him how terrible they think the food is.
“The food isn’t really cooked good,” said Shirley McCoy. “I wouldn’t even bring my dog, if he were alive, to eat here.”
Janet Gregory compared the lunch offerings to “cold dirt.”
Burwell heard those complaints during a recent campaign stop at the senior center on Atwater Street. McCoy and Gregory were among a group of women gathered in a back room at the center. Also present was Joan Garner (at right in photo), the only person who lives in the ward, and thus can legally vote for Burwell or Berrios-Bones.
Garner agreed that the lunch food is no good. She said it comes from an off-site kitchen and is cold by the time it’s served at Atwater. Garner said it would be fine if it were heated up and seasoned with some salt and pepper.
Burwell noted the complaints and promised to look into them. He conferred with the kitchen staff at Atwater, who assured him the food is top-notch. Burwell promised to look into it further.
FSW, the organization that provides the food at Atwater, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Asked about the complaints 10 days after his visit to Atwater, Burwell said “I haven’t followed up on it yet.”
He said he still plans to do so: “I gave my word to the people that I will look into that.”
In a telephone interview, Berrios-Bones offered his take on senior issues. He said he’s focused on the coming wave of retiring baby boomers, a group to which he belongs.
Berrios-Bones said the country needs to get ready for the estimated 80 million boomers who will retire in the coming years: “It’s a huge proportion of the population.”
Berrios-Bones said he’s “very concerned about what kind of services” the city can offer to aging retirees. He said he’s interested in the situation’s opportunities as well as its challenges.
“A lot of professional people are retiring with a lot of skills and knowledge,” he said. “How is the offices of every city going to deal with this bounty of knowledge and skills? That is a good challenge. Why not invite them to come to New Haven?”
Berrios-Bones said New Haven should make itself an attractive destination for seniors looking for a place to live after retirement. It could do that by improving transportation and making sure the sidewalks are safe and even, Berrios-Bones said.
In Fair Haven, Berrios-Bones said, the neighborhood could be improved by making the shuttered Strong School into an arts center, as some advocates are trying to do. That would attract people to Fair Haven. “People would be walking in the neighborhood. That’s what I’m looking for. So that people can enjoy it, old and young.”
Watch For Cameras, Johns
Berrios-Bones (pictured at his swearing-in) joined the Board of Aldermen in March after a special election to replace Alderman Gabriel Santiago, who went MIA after just a few board meetings. Berrios-Bones said he has lived in the ward since 1997.
“I feel that I’ve done a very good job in the six months that I’ve been in office and I should be given another chance,” Berrios-Bones said. “Six months is a very short time. You’re still learning the ropes.”
“But I’ve done quite a bit,” Berrios-Bones said. He mentioned his advocacy for the Strong School conversion plan and his support for the creation of a dog park near East Pearl Street and Grand Avenue. Berrios-Bones spoke of his work on the Youth Services Committee, which has ordered a study of youth programs in the city, to join forces and avoid redundancy.
Berrios-Bones said a major concern in the ward is prostitution. He said he hasn’t seen it for himself, but hears many complaints about it. He spoke of organizing block watches to deal with the problem. He pitched the idea of publishing photos of johns and their cars on Facebook to try to shame them. He said he’s not sure if this would be legal. “We have to get a lawyer here.”
“In The Biblical Sense”
A fourth-generation Fair Havener, Burwell referred to the good old days of Fair Haven as he toured Atwater Senior Center. He invoked the Fair Haven of his youth, when the neighborhood was closely knit together.
Burwell is the single father of a 6-year-old son. He dropped out of high school, then got his GED. He is now working toward an associate’s degree at Gateway. He has two misdemeanor breach of peace convictions from 2007 and 2009, incidents that he said he has put behind him: “I’ve been on record saying I’ve changed my life around.”
Burwell said he would focus on three goals as alderman.
First, he would help restore a sense of community to the neighborhood: “A community in the biblical sense, where we all look after each other.”
Goal two: better communication. He said he’d like to help with “civics education” in the ward, to help people understand what an alderman does.
Third, Burwell said, he’d like to “structurally fix” the neighborhood. “It’s crumbling apart.” Burwell said he would work on putting in new bus stops, new sidewalks, improving transit, fixing up the main business corridors, and rehabbing abandoned industrial sites on River Street.
“This was a nice neighborhood,” he said.
“A Social Revolution”
Berrios-Bones is running with the support of the Yale unions, now a major political force in town allied with the majority of aldermen on the board.
“They have been contributing to my campaign,” Berrios-Bones said. “They are doing a wonderful job. I think it has been a social revolution, really. I think the board wrestled [before 2011] with how to get some power back, and I think they’re doing a good job.”
Berrios-Bones said revisions to the city charter proposed by the Board of Aldermen are part of this movement toward a better balance of power in city government. The revisions include a proposed requirement that the Board of Aldermen approve the mayor’s top staff appointees.
“They’re taking some power back to the community, to the people,” Berrios-Bones said.
“I have no problem with the unions,” Burwell said. “I don’t see them as this big, bad monster. They aren’t scary to me. They’re just trying to promote jobs in the neighborhoods.”
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I for the life of me can’t imagine why we would need yet another non-profit, non-job producing, non-development, non-contributing, diversion in Fair Haven. Just plain shortsighted and quite frankly, pandering to the do-gooders, who have jobs.
These folks advocating for the old Strong School as some sort of cultural-after school place, have no clue about the costs of maintaining a building of that age.
We have an over abundance of new schools in this city, and the economy will require the eventual consolidation and shuttering of some of these new schools because the school system is unsustainable without raising property taxes.
Why don’t we look at the Old Strong School an asset for economic development? Make these multimillion dollar new school buildings accessible to the community after hours and on the weekend.
People strolling around the neighborhood is not what we need. We need real jobs for real people living in the neighborhood. Geeze, are Claudia and I the only ones who see the lunacy of this proposal?