As a “gray tsunami” crashes over New Haven in coming years, the city may be able to turn it to good use, by converting a wave of retirees into a silver-hair cadre of volunteers deployed to libraries and schools.
That vision of the future came from mayoral candidate Henry Fernandez (pictured). He presented it at a mayoral debate on senior issues held Wednesday afternoon at the United Church on the Green.
The debate—sponsored by HomeHaven, the Commission on Aging, and the Mary Wade Home—drew several dozen people, mostly senior citizens, to the church. The event was moderated by retired Gaylord Hospital President, Science Park Development Corporation founder and Yale University Secretary Henry “Sam” Chauncey.
As Fernandez and the three other Democratic candidates for mayor—Kermit Carolina, Justin Elicker, and Toni Harp—debated, an ominous phrase came up more than once: the gray tsunami. It refers to a coming wave of retirees, an aging population of baby boomers set to strain the nation’s social services as they age out of the workplace.
Fernandez pitched the idea of harnessing the power of the tsunami by creating a “senior volunteer corps” to “help us on the biggest issues” facing the city. Seniors with small business experience, for example, could help advise entrepreneurs. They could tutor young people, sit on the boards of non-profits and city commissions.
When a member of debate audience later asked about how to provide more free services for seniors, Fernandez returned to his volunteer corps idea. He proposed rewarding senior volunteers who contribute a certain number of hours by making certain organized activities or trips freely available to them, while other seniors would have to pay.
Fernandez’s idea was one of the few specific suggestions to come out of a debate that was long on general ideas, but without a lot of concrete plans.
At one point, when asked by the Mary Wade Home’s David Hunter (pictured) for “one concrete thing” they would do during in their first six months in office to address the “exponential” increase in people over 65, the candidates each said his or her plan was to come up with ... a strategic plan.
At other times, the candidates spoke about ideas they’ve discussed previously elsewhere, and connected them to the needs of seniors.
Elicker (pictured) talked about revising the city’s zoning code to encourage more mixed-use development, which would encourage more “empty-nesters” to move to town. He pitched his transportation improvement plans and advocacy for pedestrians and cyclists as efforts that will help seniors get around the city.
Harp (pictured) spoke about the need to provide seniors the option of “aging in place,” staying in their homes as they get older, rather than moving to nursing homes.
Carolina and Fernandez took advantage of a question about senior housing to hammer Harp about conditions at Robeson Elderly Housing, a complex in the Hill owned by her son Matthew Harp. Toni Harp didn’t take the bait.
Asked about how to cut spending in order to have more money available for senior services, Carolina talked about police overtime, Fernandez about cutting Board of Ed administrators, Harp about consolidating the city’s maintenance services; Elicker said he helped cut $69 million out of city budgets during his four years on the Board of Aldermen.
The final question from the audience was a non-senior-related curveball asked by Arlene Goldbatt (pictured): What do you think of the role of UNITE HERE in city politics?
UNITE HERE’s Locals 34 and 35—two Yale unions—have emerged in recent years as a major political force in town. They helped elect a supermajority on the Board of Aldermen.
Harp answered first: “I would say that it plays a positive role,” she said. “Before we had UNITE HERE, were really didn’t have an engaged populace. We weren’t able to have civic discourse.” She noted that the unions have endorsed her.
“I honestly think the opposite,” said Carolina (pictured). “I think UNITE HERE has taken advantage of its dues and fees of its members and taken advantage of minority communities.” He said, the unions have used their power to get people onto the Board of Aldermen to “push their agenda at the expense of people who live in this city.” The unions are led by people in the suburbs who are now making decisions for people who live in the city, he said.
Fernandez said the unions have done well for Yale workers, making sure they earn good wages and benefits. But in Fair Haven’s Ward 14, where Fernandez lives, the unions “spent $14,000 to elect a young man who had never accomplished much,” he said, referring to Gabriel Santiago. “After his second aldermanic meeting he stopped showing up. ... My ward was unrepresented for a year,” because the unions pushed a candidate with no experience, Fernandez said.
Elicker said union involvement have gotten more people involved. He said he’s been disappointed by the lack of transparency on the board. He said he’s asked for more public hearings on issues like streetcars and the sale of Wall and High streets, a decision that he said was made behind closed doors. “I also think UNITE HERE needs to make sure they don’t become another machine,” Elicker said.
The debate was filmed and will be broadcast on Citizens Television, channel 96, at on Friday Aug. 16 and 23 at 4 p.m., Sunday Aug. 18 and 25 at 5 p.m., and Wednesday Aug. 21 and 28 at 2 p.m.
1. Once again it is clear that Toni Harp has not a clue about which she speaks and is simply parroting lines from some special interest group mentor.
2. Seniors need the option of “aging in place?” OMG - this is already possible from any number of home health providers, private insurance, government reimbursements not to mention there are places like Masonicare and others where seniors can buy into a continuum of care from independence to nursing home. There is something the city should do? Uh no.
3. How should the city budget be cut to provide more free services to seniors? NONE. It should be cut so the property taxes, which can be frozen or abated for seniors, actually goes down, not up.
4. Re: Unite Here benefits? What another OMG moment. Because of Unite, we can finally have a “civic discourse.” I’m so thankful, but on one of the most critical discourses, Unite was silent. That would be the budget. And just because I can, here’s a primer: You are never going to make more than a thimble worth of change in the city budget by focusing only on school administrators, maintenance departments or police overtime. The weakest is the maintenance departments. Whoever told that to Ms. Harp should be fired. Maybe she read it in the paper.
posted by: JuliaCS on August 14, 2013 6:49pm
Here are 4 detailed, specific policy proposals from Justin Elicker on Senior Issues. To find out more about his positions on other issues, check out his website, Elicker2013.com. He is putting out 75 such solutions over 75 days.
The framing of this debate is a bit off. The “gray tsunami” will mostly impact our suburbs, which are seeing triple digit increases in poverty. Most of the increase in age 65+ will happen there. Meanwhile, the city of New Haven is much younger. It will be the home to a large and rapidly growing workforce - for the most part, workers will have much more choice in where to live than seniors.
Some wealthy seniors in New Haven will stay, and age in place, but many more will be “gentrified out.” Those are the ones whose quality of life will suffer.
Either way, of course, a lot more affordable housing and transportation is needed. Elicker is the only candidate who has a specific plan of attack on that, and Fernandez and Elicker are the only candidates who can speak with any lucidity on the subject.
Unions are great, but unfortunately, UNITE HERE backed politicos have squelched transit & bus investments (FTA grant killed by Perez/Marchand) and affordable housing (Star Supply killed by Holmes/Marks), possibly the two most damaging economic development decisions in New Haven’s 375 year history. Sad to see Harp cozying up to these damaging policies.
In order to have affordable housing, you just need to build housing, period. As luxury units come on line, other high end units become affordable. Eliminating parking requirements is the other tool as this allows housing units to be constructed for a dramatically Lower price.
posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on August 14, 2013 8:25pm
wondering if this works, lol
posted by: HhE on August 14, 2013 8:33pm
“Asked about how to cut spending in order to have more money available for senior services, ... Harp [talked] about consolidating the city’s maintenance services;” by setting up mini-city halls?
posted by: tj1944 on August 14, 2013 8:55pm
We don’t need someone like Toni Harp for our next mayor…..she does not have a clue about her own city on what needs to be addressed….please people open your eyes for this election…she does not answer any questions with knowledge…maybe some spelling errors sorry for that but you get the point…
posted by: AJF515 on August 14, 2013 9:07pm
Lately it seems as though the “Independent” has been favoring Fernandez over all the other candidates. I’ve been reading and it appears as though he gets the headlines, he gets the pictures, and he’s quoted and covered more than the other three candidates. I’m a little disappointed.
posted by: Brutus2011 on August 14, 2013 9:41pm
This whole thing smacks of age-ism.
Educated, experienced and qualified seniors add value—for which no one wants to pay for.
And don’t get me started about minority seniors.
You folks don’t have a doggone clue about how to marshall community resources to solve our problems.
posted by: wendy1 on August 14, 2013 9:59pm
how about soylent green.
posted by: Claudia Herrera on August 14, 2013 10:40pm
Paul Bass, why JuliaCS is allowed to keep using all comment section to advertise her husband’s fryer mayoral campaign? Is this OK for the “comment Policy of NHI?
if people want to read and follow his campaign they know where to go. Or this is a charge service?
[Editor: Thanks for the feedback. You raise an important point about our policy. We do not let people advertise commercial goods through the site’s comments section. We felt this was in the realm of a campaign supporter leading readers to a candidate’s positions, which seems public realm and noncommercial. But we should keep an eye on this.; self-promotion can definitely get out of hand and wreck a commenting thread]
posted by: Morgan Barth on August 15, 2013 8:16am
This was the first debate that I had the chance to go to. While I have not chosen a candidate to support I was impressed by one aspect of Elicker’s presentation. Many of his answers about how to make the city better for seniors were very similar to the ways that we need to make the city better for all citizens. The other candidates (especially Harp) focused mostly on how to restore social services and create more programs. What makes a city livable for seniors makes it livable for everyone - safety, better streets and traffic control, better public transit, more mixed-use developments.
I really like Fernendez’s idea of a senior corps and I hope this turns into a real proposal.
posted by: HhE on August 15, 2013 9:51am
Claudia Herrera, I find you to be the stealth anti Elicker poster. Naturally, you would object to someone posting a link to Justin’s web site—that actually gives his positions on this, that, and the other thing. Its getting tired, especially since if Sen. Harp does anything more than walk across a street, the NHI is there with a camera and a full spread.
I make no bones about being in favor of Justin Elicker, and why. When I decry anouther candidate, I do so directly, and with cause.
posted by: Jefferson on August 15, 2013 10:17am
Claudia Herrera -
Your accusations - that JuliaCS’s linking to Elicker’s website somehow amounts to self-interested advertising, all mixed in with bizarre insinuations as to the commentator’s identity - smack of the worst kinds of politically-motivated misrepresentation. If you have your way, it would be impossible for supporters to air their views and supports openly; they would be treated as advertisers by the Independent and shut down. The comment thread would turn into an antiseptic array of dull, “balanced” comments.
Now, linking to websites can be something bordering on advertisement but clearly not when the intent is furthering information on a political topic on a article relevant to that topic. Now, even if this did count as advertising under the Independent’s policy (which would be insane), I would still support it. Take an example: an article comes out about a housing agency with a host of supposed violations. A high-ranking member of the housing agency sees the article and posts a comment linking to the mission statement of the agency. This would seem to be perfectly reasonable in the context of informed discussion. What matters is not whether readers have some personal connection to the ideas and politicians they advocate but whether or not their advocacy serves a useful and constructive purpose on the forum. And JuliaCS’s - providing information on a campaign she presumably supports - certainly does.
posted by: Razzie on August 15, 2013 10:41am
In the recent NHI article thread on former State Treasurer Hank Parker endorsing Senator Harp, the Elicker and Carolina crowd seemed to be adopting the view that Hank Parker was “too old” to be of political relevance anymore. And that the voters under 28 years old was their primary demographic. Carolina has even gone so far as to suggest that Harp’s age (60 something) should be enough to disqualify her in the minds of his hip hop supporters.
I find it humorous that Harp can talk about specific cuts in the budget to support seniors, when she’s also admitted, “I haven’t been able to get my hands on the budget in an in-depth way,” in yesterday’s article.
I’m frightened that she will likely be our next mayor when she comes across as clueless on so many issues.
I’m undecided on this primary right now. None of these candidates get me excited about the future of our city.
posted by: stick21 on August 15, 2013 12:34pm
@Razzie no news yet on his exit or his plan to exit…Has to be coming soon….
Here is a guy who doesn’t believe Bob Proto or Louis Cavaliere should have a voice in who becomes the next mayor because they don’t live in the city, don’t pay taxes in the city and can’t vote in the city…...
Yet he brings in Carroll Brown, President of the West Haven Black Coalition, who lives in West Haven, pays taxes in West Haven and votes in West Haven to give him her endorsement…. And she works at Hillhouse High…..HYPOCRISY OR WHAT ?
posted by: elelsnow on August 15, 2013 4:17pm
My chuckling pet peeve of this discussion as someone who works in the aging field, is that I wish they had gotten the phrase “Silver Tsunami” right.
As I see it, a huge barrier for most seniors is affordable housing. Most senior housing statewide has 2-3 year waiting lists. Whatever mayors can do to encourage afforable housing (not just for homeowners) is important to prevent homelessness or premature nursing home placement (which is expensive for all taxpayers). I presume they were in the audience, but I’m surprised there was no mention of the Agency on Aging in this article. They often work closely with senior center directors and know the needs in each town.
posted by: True that on August 15, 2013 8:56pm
@stick21, your post makes no sense. Proto and Cavalier are power brokers, suburban union leaders with access to resources, and will expect to be taken care of should Toni win, (which she won’t). On the other hand, Brown is not a powerbroker, does not live in the suburbs, is not a union leader, and has nothing to gain personally by supporting Carolina. She is a part-time employee at Hillhouse, and has been there for several years. To compare Brown to two suburban union leaders is intentionally deceptive, deliberately misleading, and downright ridiculous. But that’s what should be expected when your candidate has so many negatives working against her.
posted by: Razzie on August 16, 2013 11:14am
@ Stick 21
I am as puzzled as you are about why Principal Carolina would seek the endorsement of the West Haven Black Coalition in his run for Mayor of New Haven. I can only assume it is because he believes Carroll Brown wields some political power and influence in New Haven that he wishes to tap into. A desperate move on his part, but if you haven’t won any of the endorsement prizes that truly do matter, you need to show something for your effort. Certainly, I find it hard to believe that he would think a personal endorsement by Carroll Brown would be very meaningful to the New Haven voters. (PS—Carroll lives in West Haven - a municipality that would be subject to Carolina’s “commuter tax” levy, and hence a “suburban” resident like the union officials)
posted by: stick21 on August 16, 2013 12:37pm
Outside of this comment section everyone I’ve talked to regardless of who they are supporting are baffled as to why he has her doing his bidding for him…. You on the other hand think my comments make no sense, okay.
I believe Carroll Brown would be upset if you thought she was not a power broker, but that’s just me… Carolina took over at Hillhouse three years ago. I believe she was hired after that and by him. So several years of service, that depends on who you talk to.
(She lives in West Haven, pays taxes in West Haven and votes in West Haven. She is a suburbanite). Subject to the commuter tax he is proposing!!