Union Steward Takes On Shah

Thomas MacMillan PhotoPromising to take the West River neighborhood to “a higher level,” Tyisha Walker became the latest union-affiliated candidate to throw her hat into the ring in an election year marked by contentious municipal labor negotiations.

Walker (pictured above), a 31-year-old department steward in Yale’s Local 35 labor union, officially declared her candidacy for Ward 23 alderman on Thursday evening. She did so flanked by friends and supporters in the “Peace Park” at Boulevard and Legion Avenue as the sun began to sink towards the West River that gives her neighborhood its name.

Walker, a New Haven native, has lived in West River for seven years. She’s taking on incumbent Alderman Yusuf Shah, who has represented the ward in City Hall for a decade.

She said the ward is ready for a new leader to bring West River’s “voice back to the table.” She said the neighborhood needs better access to jobs, increased public safety, and an leader who’s “engaged” with the community.

Alderman Shah, who’s 50, welcomed his challenger and said he’d like to sit down for a conversation with her. He said he plans to run for his sixth term but is open to the possibility of stepping aside for Walker, if she proves to be a good choice and the community backs her.

Thursday’s campaign kick-off came two days after a similar event in Beaver Hills, where Yale union representative Brian Wingate announced he’s taking on Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield. Many of the same faces were at both events, including Wingate; Frank Douglass, who’s gunning for Alderwoman Gina Calder’s Ward 2 seat; and Shirley Lawrence, an organizer for the labor-affiliated Connecticut Center for a New Economy (CCNE). Walker’s yellow-balloned refreshments table even featured an glass lemonade dispenser identical to the one Wingate used. Similar labor-activist support has coalesced around two independent-minded incumbents running for reelection, Claudette Robinson-Thorpe of Beaver Hills and Dolores Colon of the Hill. More candidacies are expected on this emerging independent labor slate.

Walker, who’s 31, works as a cook’s helper at Yale. She started at Yale in 1998 as a part-time job as a desk attendant, and worked her way up to full-time. She’s also worked her way up in the union to her current role as a department steward supervising seven stewards.

She’s a single mother to two girls, 15-year-old Hillhouse sophomore Tenaiya Baker, and 8-year-old Tiasia Jones.

At 5:30 p.m., in the shade of a tall tree, Tenaiya introduced her mom, who she said has been an inspiration to her.

Addressing a couple dozen supporters, Walker cited her New Haven pedigree and her experience as a union supervisor. “I’ve been able to be a leader in the community and at work.”

Walker, who has never run for office before, also cited her political experience knocking on doors for the Obama campaign in Virginia. She also mentioned working for the Community Voter Project in New Haven, where she said she helped increase voter turnout.

“The people of West River want access to jobs,” she said. The “people of West River also want a reduction in crime, a leader who will bring their “voice to the table,” and a leader who is “engaged in the community,” she said.

“I’ve heard you,” she concluded. “I accept the challenge. ... Help me help you help the community.”

Walker declined to differentiate herself from the incumbent. “This is not about Alderman Shah, it’s about the community.”

Asked about three specific current issues in municipal government, Walker was noncommittal.

On the city’s $475 million budget, which was recently approved by the Board of Aldermen, she did not express an opinion. “I’m pretty sure that the alderman did what they thought was best,” she said. “I think they spent a lot of hard time on figuring out this budget.”

The budget was shaped in part by the Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee, which Alderman Shah chairs.

The alderman was also a prime mover in the recent attempt to resuscitate a controversial parking meter monetization plan, which would have given the city a quick up-front $50 million to plug budget holes at the cost of owing a private company $111 million over the next 25 years and possibly sacrificing some control over parking policy.

“I have no opinion on the monetization plan,” Walker said.

On union negotiations, which have been playing out through heated public discourse between the administration and labor leaders, Walker was also circumspect. “It’s not my place to take a stand on that right now.”

Walker said she’s just focused on what’s going on in her ward right now.

Gerry Poole, a longtime active West River resident and former head of the neighborhood association, offered words of praise for Walker’s campaign.

Walker represents a “fresh mind, fresh blood, and fresh energy,” Poole said. “We’ve got to have some new leadership.”

West River is fractured by small-scale political alliances that prevent people from working together, he said.

“People are afraid to work with each other,” he said. “You’ve got to get some new minds that are not part of that mindset.” That’s why he’s “excited and enthusiastic” about Walker, he said.

Poole said “engagement” distinguishes Walker from Shah. As alderwoman Walker would be more involved in the community, he said.

“You have to be proactive,” he said. “That’s her platform.”

Walker said she does not yet have a campaign manager and that she has no plans to reach out to her union for support. She said her campaign will be community-focused only.

“I want to do all my work here,” she said. “I’m willing to go all the way.”

Shah Eyes #6

Reached Friday at his job at the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center, Alderman Shah shared a list of what he sees as the major campaign issues in West River: cleanliness, crime, economic development, creating entrepreneurship possibilities for young people, and “getting our local corner stores to have fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Asked about his aldermanic activity on those issues, Shah said all credit should go not to him but to the community. West River is a very organized area, with several successful block watches and other strong neighborhood associations, he said. Shah said his role has been to help those organizations to further their goals at the level of municipal government.

“We’ve been organizing for the economic development on Route 34 and also for us as a neighborhood to own and operate businesses in that corridor,” he said. “The accolades go to those individuals in the community that have stayed the course and pushed issues. I am their representative.”

Asked about the question of his “engagement” in the ward, Shah said, I’m very much aware of what’s going on in the 23rd ward. If you’re a man like me who works three jobs and is serving as an alderman, there’s no way you can be everywhere. It’s impossible to be everywhere and at every meeting. That’s just a myth.”

Shah said people tell him what the desires and needs of the neighborhood are. “I don’t get involved in the micro-management of any community organization, but they all know that I’m there,” he said. “My re-election record has shown that.” 

On future legislative goals, Shah said, “That’s up to the neighborhood. I support everything that the neighborhood supports.”

That sentiment extends even to his own position as a lawmaker. He said he’s willing to step aside if it’s clear the neighborhood supports Walker. But first he’d like to have a conversation with her, he said.

“If she wants to be alderman and I sit down with her and I agree if she’s ready to go now and she’s inspired ... I would not seek re-election at this time.”

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posted by: ignoranceisbliss on May 27, 2011  10:19am

Both Ms. Walker and Mr. Wingate are unable to articulate where they differ from the incumbent Aldermen and offer a litany of “no opinions” (an presumably no knowledge) when asked their views on any of the major issues confronting the City. These people are being put up to run by the Unions for one reason, and one reason only, protect unsustainable labor contracts.  Taxpayers-watch out!

posted by: looking forward on May 27, 2011  10:22am

Tyisha seems like a very strong candidate: poised, confident, and very no-nonsense. Her perspective as a lifelong resident and Yale employee will no doubt be valuable. I look forward to learning more about her background and stance on the issues.

posted by: robn on May 27, 2011  10:35am

Thus begins the assault of 5000 employees upon on New Haven taxpayers.

posted by: public commenter on May 27, 2011  10:35am

I don’t know Walker - but Shah has presided over some of the worst public hearings I’ve ever attended.  When voters go downtown to speak up, they should be treated with more respect.

posted by: JAK on May 27, 2011  11:06am

Not a single issue on which to comment? Clearly the unions are organizing.  But which ones?  Yale’s unions?  Municipal unions?  CCNE?  All of the above in a coordinated fashion?

Calling all taxpayers…Watch your wallets.

posted by: JAK on May 27, 2011  11:11am

One more thing…if you look closely, the lemonade container looks a lot like the lemonade container at Wingate’s announcement.

Who paid for these little parties?

posted by: David on May 27, 2011  11:20am

So no opinions now and the opinions she will have are the ones spoon-fed by the union.  So no union concessions leading to higher taxes.  Sounds like a good plan.

posted by: beaverhillsjohn on May 27, 2011  11:55am

Anybody with a working brain knows that the Yale unions are private so they don’t cost the tax payers a dime. I am happy more people are challenging the current board, we need some serious changes around here. Too many people running unopposed for too long. The mayor cutting deals behind close doors with the aldermen. It is serious time for change. I’ll give a chance to anybody brave enough to at least try to shake things in the City.

posted by: JAK on May 27, 2011  12:08pm


Thanks for clearing that up.  I should have remembered that Yale’s private sector unions and the city’s public sector unions in New Haven never team up for political purposes. ...

posted by: David on May 27, 2011  12:26pm


Anyone who pays attention knows that organized labor is organized together, be it from Yale, AFSCME or any other local union-affiliated groups like CCNE.  The fact is that they have an agenda and will be working together to achieve it.

There is nothing wrong with that, its democracy.  Its what’s supposed to happen.  But to hide behind vague comments to avoid real issues is simply dishonest.  I for one am still waiting to an alternative budget plan from union officials or candidates.  They have two candidates in the race and still nothing.

posted by: streever on May 27, 2011  12:33pm

I think Robn raises a good point.

While I’m really happy to see more people seeking public service, I am curious if they are going to really represent their neighborhoods—and if they will be a check/balance, or if they are going to be an enabler for the out of town city employees.

I sincerely hope it is the first and not the latter.

I believe unions are essential to a strong democracy and give citizens rights we would not have otherwise, but the union contracts in New Haven are byzantine, ridiculous, and stacked.

Is anyone from a union able to explain why Principals have “Bumping rights” at NHPS, so that even proven incompetent administrators are allowed to retain their 100kPLUS salary if they are fired for incompetence? (instead of being fired, they are put into a teacher position, and retain their principal salary)

These are the types of deals that SHOULD be on the table. If the Unions want to get some good candidates and fresh blood in City Hall, amen, and more power to them. Just, please, be real about some of the protection that employees have for retaining their jobs.

If someone is grossly incompetent and routinely written up, they should be fired, they should not be able to bump a better, harder-working employee purely based on seniority.

posted by: Curlena McDonald on May 27, 2011  12:41pm

Alderman Shah and Candidate Tyisha Walker,
Remember that you also have constituents in the Dwight Neighborhood. That boundary runs to Edgewood Avenue and Kensington Street.

We also have monthly Management Team Meetings at the Dwight Police Station,where our issues are shared. We are also involved with opening Stop & Shop. The only alders who attend our meetings are Alderman Paca and Calder and West River Neighborhood Corporation,President-Stacey Spell.

posted by: Funky Chicken on May 27, 2011  1:07pm


I have been saying this for months – we are now seeing the battle lines drawn for the fight and soul of New Haven.

CCNE is the mussel and back office for this political operation. They are a non profit and this should be illegal.

Where is Mayor D and his troops when are they going to kick off his and his allies campaigns? Get moving people!

Also as a New Haven taxpayer I am quite concerned that Union reps will be voting on how much taxes I have to pay. They have quite clearly stated that taxes should be raised in New Haven in order to support their wages and benefits. I am sorry but I can not do this any more. I am happy that the Mayor finally figured this out and that Gov Malloy did as well (to an extent).

People realize who and what you are voting for. These union backed candidates WILL RAISE YOUR TAXES. No ifs ands or buts.


PS – doesn’t the cake holder and lemonade cooler look like the one in Wingate’s party?

posted by: Funky Chicken on May 27, 2011  1:14pm

Hey Paul - BTW - is candidate Walker related to State Rep Toni Walker?



posted by: Cookie Monster on May 27, 2011  1:42pm

It’s unclear to me what makes these candidates “independent.” As the article makes very clear, the stream of campaign announcements this week have been organized by CCNE and the unions. These are not “independent” individual campaigns. They are part of a larger organized effort by labor to increase its influence on the board. I’m not sure what “independent” refers to here. They are running in the Democratic primary, no?

I support the democratic system of checks and balances, but I do think this concept has been distorted in these campaign announcements, particularly in the Wingate piece. It’s meaningless, and potentially harmful, for an alder to think of his or her role as just opposition leadership. Support or opposition should be based on individual issues, and the candidates who have announced this week have not identified any meaningful areas where they oppose the incumbent alder or the current direction of the board. Opposition for the sake of opposition leads us to the kinds of dysfunctional messes we have now in Washington.

As a country, we are missing out on important progressive legislation because too many legislators feel it’s better to say no than to hand their opponents a win. This election season I will be supporting smart, progressive candidates who have the guts to lay out a positive vision for this city, and have the skills and passion to identify some clear and doable ways to get there.

posted by: notty on May 27, 2011  2:18pm

ignoranceisbliss you took the words right out of my mouth. We the voters of new haven should be very afraid of these 3, walker, douglass and wingate who interesting enough represent the same union. They cannot articulate their opinions on the issues the people of new haven are facing because they have no knowledge, and cant provide a solution to any of these issues. What you are going to see from these candidates during the campaigning is their ability to get union members that dont live in new haven out knocking on doors in numbers. They are going to swarm the different wards with union members and not member from the wards they claim they want to represent to win their seats. Once in office you will have at least 3 members who will be clueless on how to vote on the issues. Trust me on this one.

posted by: Steve B on May 27, 2011  2:33pm

I agree, there’s nothing “independent” about a slate of candidates that are all members of the dominant political party in town, and whose campaigns are being organized by a statewide organized labor group.

Nice lemonade dispenser.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on May 27, 2011  3:53pm

This news of a new and vibrant young lady (Tyisha Walker)challenging Yusuf Shah for Alderman of Ward 23, is a breath of fresh air.

Alderman Shah has delivered absolutely nothing to his Ward, but has delivered everthing to the Mayor.

It’s time for the “Rubber Stamp” to go!

However, if the Union is truly serious isn’t sending a message to the Mayor, then they would endorse Clifton Graves expeditiously. To not do this, sends a subsequent message that their (the Union’s) interest is only in it’s membership and not the taxpayers of the city.

This isn’t about playing tepid political games. This is about investing in the future repairing of a once vibrant and economically sound city.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 27, 2011  4:26pm

I’m confused by Walker and why excactly she is running. She has no platform, no opinion on the budget or union negotiations; no opinion on the parking meter debt. These are only among the biggest issues of the year.

Perhaps she was having a beer and all of a sudden had an epiphany that she should hold public office without a clue, research or any idea on where she stands on these issues. I would suggest that nobody vote for her until she states exactly where she stands. Period. That should be non-negotiable otherwise, people will be voting blindly. It’s not right.

posted by: Alan Felder on May 28, 2011  8:13pm

A change is taking place in the City of New Haven, those who are loyal to the political machine your time has come to an end. “A Change Is Going To Come, Yes It Will”.

posted by: Yaakov on May 28, 2011  9:43pm

I second Curlena McDonald’s statement.  Ward 23 includes parts of the Dwight neighborhood. I would like to see the alderperson for Ward 23 show some concern for the drug dealing and gunshots on Sherman Ave between Edgewood and Chapel (which are included in the ward).

posted by: win win on May 29, 2011  12:38pm

I understand how people have become suspicious of unions, however, I think we should direct some of that suspicion toward the entrenched powers that be, including the mayor’s political machine (of which Shah is clearly a de facto member), and wealthy corporations and so-called non-profits. Unions are one of the only ways that working people in this country can make their voices heard. If they are pushing an “agenda” it’s the agenda of good jobs that support families and make our communities safer, stronger, and more viable for all. Throughout history unions have bargained not only for their own wages and benefits, but for the benefit of the clients, consumers, communities which they serve. Health care workers bargain for more coordinated, better managed and more humane care for their patients. Teachers unions bargain collectively for smaller class size, updated materials, and resources that go directly to the students.
  However, only a fool would argue that taxes in this city are reasonable. The primary reason we’re forced to pay such high taxes, however, is because the burden is not shared evenly or fairly. If we closed tax loopholes to large companies, demanded giant “non-profits” paid their fair share in lieu of taxes -or better yet, reexamined their “super exemption status” - and lobbied for more progressive taxation at the state level, we would not be in such a wretched position as taxpayers.
Like others,
I hope to see Tyisha’s platform better articulated in the future. Shah has got to go - he is totally unresponsive and unaccessible to his constituents and has ceased representing their interests long ago. I would vote for almost anyone over him, but I would like to see Tyisha propose a coherent agenda. She should also take up Shah’s invitation to meet with him. This is going to be an interesting year!

posted by: thinktwice on May 29, 2011  2:40pm

Cookie Monster ... if we want to talk independent lets put it in correct terms when it comes to certain alders being challenged by these new comers. How can you possibly think the incumbents are independent? Geesh what a ploy ...

posted by: haveFaith on May 29, 2011  6:00pm

I have spoken with Tyisha Walker on several occassions and it surprises me that she was unable to offer her opinions on the issues. She frequently comes out to community meetings and events and helps out with clean-ups and festivals and the like. Whenever I’ve talked with her she spoke passionately about issues affecting this community. She is a strong, open-minded and dedicated woman and I would be proud to have her representing me. I hope in the future she does a better job of publicly expressing her views because she has alot of good things to say and I believe she would be a huge asset to us and to the board. If you are skeptical -and we all need a healthy does of skepticism with ppoliticiansbeing what they are- I encourage you to meet Ms Walker and see for yourself what she’s all about. I have full confidence that Ms Walker is someone we can trust to represent us; someone who would be tuned in and responsive to her constituents and ASK for our input not just assume she knows best and go on some self-serving path making backdoor deals and ignoring her own people like Yusef does. 

It wowouldn’t suprise me if the reason she stayed mum on certain questions was she’s not into bashing other people in order to get ahead, but she is someone who would prefer to stay outta that negativity and focus on the future. If so, I applaud her positivity and restraint. We need more positive leaders in the inner city. West River has a lot of leadership on different neighborhood projects, don’t get me wrong, but we need more of a voice in citywide affairs that is able to enhance these efforts and bring people together. In her role as union steward I would guess Tyisha is used to having to do just that. If she steps up with a clear platform she definetely has the personality to defnitely be a unifier.

posted by: Hill on May 30, 2011  1:50am

It’s obvious that the unions are organizing these campaigns. Whether these union backed candidates win or lose, the union will increase it’s influence in city hall.

I am pretty sure these candidates have a strategy. They are not going to comment on their strategy because they clearly do not want the incumbents to know it.

This is going to be the most interesting ever. I am sooooo excited to see this happening.

posted by: JAK on May 30, 2011  8:43am

@ More democracy,

Punish the productive by taxing them more?  You talk about Yale without saying the name Y-A-L-E.

Just what do you think the impact would be on “working” people in New Haven if Yale, through a steep decline in enrollment due to a crime scare or the imposition of confiscatory (sorry, I meant to say “progressive”) tax policies, had to cut its costs? 

And someone please explain just what a “working person” is and why that term is only applied to blue collar employees. Just who are all of these people who somehow get paid loadsof money but who don’t “work”?

posted by: nnd on May 31, 2011  9:26am

Ms. Walker,
Has my vote she young and seems as though she knows what she is talking about and we need Shah out of there!

posted by: Cedarhillresident on May 31, 2011  11:29am

I am in no way a Johnny lover. (spent the better part of a decade ACTIVELY fighting him) But I feel like I have to state this because part of this union groups strategies is stifle anyone that does not agree with them by saying… if you do not agree with us you are with the mayor…and that is far from the truth (scare tactics).

And I am all about getting rid of “Yes” men. I vote for who I think will represent the people that “LIVE” in New Haven (not just work here) and (ALL THE PEOPLE not just a chosen few).

What is my point…. well Shah and I have had our differences and disagreements on a HELL of alot of issues. But…he also does what he feels will benefit his community, not mine but his (which does not always benefit mine) or the city as a whole (which ticks me off!). But I believe that is what being an alderman is all about representing your community even if it is not the same as other communities.
Now I do not vote in this area so my thoughts on this are not really relevant. but… I am going to share them anyway.

Tenaiya may be a great candidate. But is she representing the ward or the 5000 union members…many who do not even live here??? (take note that this union group is running candidates all over the city) Do property owners want unions running the show?? They have demonstrated that they think our property taxes should be increased (not directly but indirectly with their intensions that add up to higher cost to run the city which means…tax increases on a large level), which means rents will go up as well. Because the burden of paying for the operations of this city fall on the property tax payers (and renters).
Not saying this will happen but worth we should always keep it in the back of our minds when chosening people to represent the 130,000 residents of this city …( or the 12,000) that come out and vote.

What is their “point line” their selling line… “we are about the working middle class and jobs.”  Sounds noble enough, I can agree with that. BUT do they mean those of us that live in New Haven?? Or the members of their union that do not live here??? Or jobs for New Haveners or the jobs of union members…. Now I could be wrong (I have been in the past) but I am very stand-offish on some they are running (mostly because they all will OWE this union group!)

Will I support some of who they will be supporting… most likely yes…. But not because they are not with the mayor…but because they are the better person to vote for. 

All I am saying is make sure your community is truly going to be who is represent by these alderman….. not just people that will vote against the mayor.

PS I hope to god they do not pull the dirty nasty tricks and lie tackets they pulled last go around. ( not all of the members, but many are just plain wrong on their election tackets)

God bless us all and may truth and honesty and honor be the winner in this years elections

Good luck to all that are running and thank you!

posted by: proof reader on May 31, 2011  2:09pm

Tenaiya is not running for alderperson her mother is Tyisha Walker!

posted by: thinktwice on May 31, 2011  4:06pm

Cedar ...  the folks running are not members of the local unions for the city of New Haven. They are Yale. So are you saying that anyone who belongs to a union is a no go? Even though you talk one way, you always seem to go back to union bashing and employee bashing who by the way happen to be hard working families also. Why don’t you attack the two employees that don’t live in the city and the board of aldermen just agreed and voted language that make them legal not to live here. High paid personnel both in the labor department both were directors but the language changed that to fold them under Rob Smuts to get them out of the residency requirement. That is not ok Cedar. And perhaps you should shame all the alders for doing such a thing. You seem to have such opinions on residency maybe you should have an opinion on this. The charter imposed that they live here. This administration put in an amendment that the aldermen voted for and passed.
Also, you have to be kidding about Shah. He is an unbelievable go with the mayor no matter what. He is rude to the public at hearings he that he oversees.
No, candidates should run because they are anti-administration. They should run because they are independent thinkers, union member or not.
Please start doing your home work before you try to plant the wrong idea and just not accurate. Why aren’t you enraged about the high paid Craig Manimet and Steven Librandi who do not live here and were suppose to move into New Haven months ago and the city comes to their rescue and has legislation passed to help them out. Why aren’t you enraged that aldermen work for the city? Why aren’t you enraged that many deputies who get paid big bucks don’t live in the city? Come on now lets start being fair!

posted by: The Professor on June 3, 2011  4:01am

Alan Felder says:
A change is taking place in the City of New Haven, those who are loyal to the political machine your time has come to an end. “A Change Is Going To Come, Yes It Will”.

It’s tough to take a statement like that seriously when it comes amid a slew of candidacy announcements by Union affiliates.  It would seem that the Walker/Wingate/Douglass/Thorpe/James-Evans/Colon/Perez crowd is actually MORE cohesive and organized than the “pro-Mayor” bloc of Aldermen.  The fact is that the “anti-Mayor” candidates benefit from direct grassroots support from the unions—so much so that they don’t actually feel the need to have any concrete policy positions

In any objective sense, it seems to me that the Mayor’s coalition is just that—a set of loose alliances with the occasional candidate or two who the Mayor steers help to (which, by the way, is perfectly normal and okay—Barack Obama steers help to Senate candidates all the time, just look how much help Harry Reid got from the White House in 2010).