One candidate is a former alder of the ward with a big personality and strong opinions about what he calls a lack of leadership. The other candidate is a soft-spoken first timer who says she is ready to take the reins.
Those candidates are former Alder Robert “Bob” Lee and party-endorsed Renee Haywood. They are vying to replace outgoing Alder Barbara Constantinople to represent Fair Haven Heights’ Ward 11.
The Ward 11 race is just one of three alder contests in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
Haywood, a former New York City horticulturist, has been fighting for her life since she nearly died more than a decade ago after a mosquito bite became so infected that it spread to her left hip and ultimately impacted her kidneys. She moved to Bella Vista 10 years ago weighing only 91 pounds and using a wheelchair to get around. Her doctors never expected her to walk again.
But on Thursday during a candidate meet and greet, the petite 55-year-old stood before an audience of about 35 people gathered on the 18th floor of Bella Vista Building D and asked them to vote for her in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Constantinople was there to show her support for Haywood, who has served as ward co-chair during her tenure as alder. City Town Clerk Michael Smart and Alders Gerald Antunes and Kenneth Reveiz also were on hand to show their support.
“This is a lot of hard work,” Constantinople, who has served three terms, told the assembled. “This is who you want to do it. Not the other one.”
Haywood said she wants to be the voice that speaks for all of Ward 11, not just Bella Vista.
“I believe that you are never too old to make a difference, and you’re never too sick to make a difference, and you’re never too young to inspire change,” she said.
An Alder You Know
The “other one” Constantinople referenced was Bob Lee, who on a previous Saturday walked up to two people enjoying cigarettes in front of Building A and asked them if they know Constantinople and what she did as their alder. They didn’t.
Lee, a 60-year-old who builds helicopters at Sirkorsky, said he wasn’t surprised.
“When I was alder, you knew me,” Lee, a native New Havener and former three-term alderman, said. “And If I am alder person again they will know me.”
Former Ward 11 Co-Chair Patty DePalma, who challenged Constantinople in 2013, said that under the current regime in the ward “it’s hard to know who’s doing what.”
“When I was ward chair, I was busy,” she said. Lee said he wants to see stalwarts like DePalma busy again.
Not only did his constituents know him, Lee said: he got stuff done. He pointed to the 10 percent tax break for veterans he got raised from 2 percent. He said the nearby hidden quarry was well maintained during his tenure.
Lee called out Constantinople and Mayor Toni Harp over the opening of the Bella Vista police substation.
“There’s no substation,” he said. “It’s just an empty room.” Instead of a substation, he said, banking should be brought back to that space. What the ward really needs is more police presence out in in the community, he said. He said he also would focus on making sure taxes don’t go up and that seniors are not afraid to walk the streets.
Lee said he doesn’t believe the mayor “has the heartbeat of the community” and doesn’t really know what people want.
“I want to represent the whole ward,” he said. “People in the building don’t have a clue who Barbara is. They don’t know who Renee Haywood is for the life of them. If Renee is elected, we won’t have a voice for another two years.
“At the end of the day, I think the 11th ward deserves to have a voice downtown,” he said. And that voice, Lee said though he’s a union guy, shouldn’t be the voice of any particular union.
“It’s kind of unfair that the mayor and the unions take advantage of the constituents,” said Lee, a member of Teamsters Union Local 1150. “They have their party on the 11th, then they give them pizza and they say, ‘Vote for me for a slice of pizza and I’ll see you in two more years.’ Sometimes the people get caught up with that pizza and think that they’re going to represent them because they’re feeding them.
“I’m not saying that the people of Bella Vista vote for pizza,” he added. “But sometimes you give the senior citizens food they think that you want to do the right thing. I think a vote means more than a slice of pie and if I am alder again I will represent more than Bella Vista. I’ll represent the entire ward.”
Doing Some Good
Lee’s not the only person looking to be a voice for the whole ward. Haywood said she wants to do the same. As the attendees around her munched slices of pizza at her gathering Thursday night, she talked about working to find solutions in the ward that help small children like her 2-year-old granddaughter, her 24-year-old daughter, and grandparents.
Though she’s running for her first office, she served as ward co-chair and worked on a number of campaigns, including those for Constantinople, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy. Being a voice for the ward means looking for ways to provide more job opportunities for younger people but also to better maintain the sidewalk and make sure that where people live is presentable, she said.
“I don’t just think about the elderly,” she said. “I look at the future.”
Haywood said she also doesn’t look just at what she might do for the able-bodied, but also how to help those who live with disabilities navigate the ward. She said she’s been in their shoes, having once gotten stuck on Eastern Street because the city left sand on the street that her wheelchair couldn’t traverse.
She wasn’t surprised at the criticisms that Lee had. She said they were similar to those that he levied at Constantinople when he last ran against her in 2015.
“I’m not one to be negative,” Haywood said. “We have enough negative around us that we’re dealing with on a daily basis. Life is too short. There is enough ugly on the outside.”
As far as the substation, Haywood said she has heard the concern of people outside Bella Vista who want more police presence throughout the ward. While she thinks that people had the wrong idea about the substation increasing police presence, she said, she would work with Ward 12 Alder Gerald Antunes, a former city cop and chair of the Board of Alders Public Safety Committee, to address the problem.
“He’s Ward 12, so we’re connected,” the wife and mother of two adult children said. “I kind of feel like once you cross the bridge we’re on our own. What’s really important to me is the treatment of the elderly and the seniors and the adult handicap, of course. I have a passion point for it because I see myself from that point.”
Haywood said she’s endured so much with her health and that she believes that she has been blessed with renewed health so that she can help others.
“I feel I can do some good,” she said. “That’s what it really boils down to.”