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Dwight Face-Off Centers On Labor Majority’s Role
by Thomas MacMillan | Sep 3, 2013 7:20 am
Posted to: Dwight, Campaign 2013
“Your current alderman voted to sell streets to Yale,” Greg Smith told a Dwight neighbor during a front-porch aldermanic election pitch. He vowed to bring “healthy debate” to the Board of Aldermen, to push back against the labor-backed super-majority that sold off High and Wall streets to plug a budget hole.
His opponent, incumbent Alderman Frank Douglass, said he’s part of a team that has brought needed voices to local government.
Smith (pictured) made his statement while canvassing the Dwight neighborhood Monday afternoon. He knocked on doors to gather support for his campaign to become Ward 2’s next alderman.
Smith is part of a slate of aldermanic candidates called “Take Back New Haven,” formed as an counterbalance to the union-backed supermajority on the Board of Aldermen. Smith said the slate is not anti-union, but pro-debate. He said the board needs more differing viewpoints so that the board doesn’t march in lock-step at all times.
“We’re just regular Joes. We care about this city,” Smith said of Take Back New Haven. “We are a group of individuals who believe the Board of Aldermen should have a healthy debate.”
Douglass rejected the notion that the board’s labor-affiliated aldermen form a homogeneous bloc in City Hall. He said the board has plenty of differing perspectives.
“I still don’t see where that’s coming from. We’re people that work together and happen to belong to the unions,” Douglass said. “I have my own mind. Nobody steers me.”
Smith said the union-backed board majority was wrong to vote to sell portions of Wall and High streets to Yale university. The board should have renegotiated a 20-year lease, he said. “We could have gotten a whole lot more money,” he said.
The deal set a bad precedent, Smith said. If the city has another budget gap, will it just sell more streets?
Douglass said he doesn’t think the street sale was “a big deal.” Yale gave the city $3 million for the streets and will continue to contribute to the city each year, Douglass said.
The city still has access to the streets, he said. “It still belongs to the city, basically. They’re not going to build a Popeye’s or a hotel there. ... It’s not like we sold the street to McDonald’s. It’s still a piece of New Haven.”
Douglass said the streets sale won’t be a precedent: “I don’t think you’ll see that anymore.”
Smith, who’s 52, took issue with a description of the Board of Aldermen as backed by unions. “Is it unions? Or is it Local 34 and 35?” he asked, referring to Yale’s two UNITE HERE locals that have become a major political force in town.
Smith pointed out that he’d be a union-backed alderman, having won the support of the police union. Smith, who works for Honeywell in Northford, said he’s been connected to the police department for years. He currently serves as the chair of the legislative services for the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers.
If he’s elected, it would be his second time serving as an alderman. Smith represented Dwight’s Ward 2 for several month at the end of 2011. He was appointed to the post after Alderwoman Gina Calder stepped down.
At the time, Smith and Douglass were both co-chairs of the ward Democratic committee. After Douglass won the aldermanic seat, Smith lost a reelection bid for the ward co-chair position.
Douglass (pictured), a 60-year-old maintenance worker at Yale, said he and Smith share a similar vision for the ward.
“We’re on the same page. I don’t know why we’re not working together. Basically we’re all working for the same thing,” Douglass said.
Both candidates spoke about the importance of job training programs and vocational education. Smith said the city’s unemployment rate should not be at 12 percent, given the number of construction developments that have occurred over the last several years. He said the city needs to do more to ensure that New Haveners—particularly minority contractors—are hired for construction jobs.
“I agree with that totally,” said Douglass. “We’ve been left out. We need more training. We need more vocational schools.”
Douglass hailed New Haven Works as part of the answer to the problem. The “jobs pipeline” program created by the Board of Aldermen is designed to connect New Haveners with New Haven employers.
Smith questioned the program’s efficacy. “It sounds good. But how many jobs has it created? And where?”
As he went door to door, Smith asked people if they know who their alderman is.
“Gina Calder?” responded one neighbor.
Another neighbor correctly identified Douglass but said he hadn’t seen him since the last election.
“That’s probably not a good thing,” Smith suggested.
“Most people don’t know their alderman,” Smith said. He promised he would be a constant presence in the ward, if elected alderman.
Douglass defended his responsiveness record: “I can’t make it all over the neighborhood. I’m not seeing everybody everyday. The folks who reach out, I respond quickly. I do not not answer my phone.”
Douglass said he’s been particularly involved with tenants at Dwight Gardens, the former housing co-op that has fallen on hard times at the hands of a developer who didn’t follow through with promised improvements. The city is working to find a new developer to rescue the complex.
“I’m there for those folks,” Douglass said. “I’m setting up these meetings, putting a little fire under the city to make this happen.”
Smith said he would like to make sure that the next Dwight Gardens developer has sufficient oversight to ensure accountability. The way to do that would be to make sure that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plays a strong role.
Tags: Frank Douglass, Greg Smith
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If you had Proportional Representation you would not have this problem.
“His opponent, incumbent Alderman Frank Douglass, said he’s part of a team that has brought needed voices to local government.”
Unfortunately Frank Douglass has been a mute when representing the concerns of the Dwight neighborhood in zoning and development issues. He was mute because the union was negotiating with the developer for union jobs on the very project that went before the Board.
If he and pro-development candidates are elected, there will be a fusion of City Hall and the Board of Aldermen to push for development at the cost of neighborhood stability and scale. Just check out the School of Money (Management) in East Rock.
Greg Smith is independent and can best represent what the residents of Ward 2 want.
It is more than disappointing to hear repeated calls for more of the same old appeals for growth and development and an increase in the PILOT payments. Neither one has worked historically and the residents of the City can no longer afford the real property taxes, the car tax, business property tax, increased parking meter costs and now the sale of city land to an entity with a $20 billion endowment.
It is time for bold, innovative ideas, not pushing the same failed agenda that clearly does not work.
The Dwight neighborhood needs an Alderman who puts their interests first, but hasn’t had one the past 2 years.
This is what is wrong with Alderman Frank Douglas: He lacks a larger view of New Haven, is uninformed of past practices and as a consequence, thinks selling city assets is “no big deal.” He votes on a deal that is lopsided in Yale’s favor - while working at Yale. He doesn’t recognize the conflict of interest.
For the union and Douglas: The city under DeStefano has been selling city assets for years to raise cash to pay for deficits. From the recyling center to the triangle on Broadway, to parking lots to the Parking Authority to the streets to Yale - it is a pattern and practice of DeStefano that masks our fiscal mess. He even tried to sell our parking meters which was the crown jewell of stupidity.
Douglas sees nothing wrong with this as long as it gives the board and the mayor the money to do what it wants to do. It’s wrong, it’s shortsighted and to say otherwise, is rather dishonest too
In the article, Greg Smith suggests that Frank Douglass hasn’t been active in District 2 and claims that he’ll do better. My own experience with both of them has been exactly the opposite: When Greg was the interim alderperson, I tried to contact him in regards to a nonprofit I work with which had business before the city. He didn’t respond to either of my phone messages. In contrast, Frank did call me back and was very helpful. People who accuse Frank of being AWOL must not read the Independent very often. Their reporting has confirmed for me that the union backed candidates have been much more active and engaged than previous alders supported or appointed by DeStefano, like Gina Calder and Greg Smith.
It’s ironic that alders who quietly acquiesced to the DeStefano administration for years are suddenly claiming that there’s a lack of debate in city government. There’s clearly much more debate about major decisions and the direction of the city than previously. The people who claim that there’s a new political machine in town are often the same ones who benefited from the previous majority in the city, and would love to establish a new majority that happens to share their priorities. Accusing someone of being part of a machine is lazy rhetoric intended to hide the fact that you’re unable to come up with much substantive criticism.
I don’t agree with every decision that the new alders have made (though in most cases present and past nonunion candidates would have done exactly the same thing). But on the whole I think they’re doing a good job and are taking their responsibilities more seriously than the people they replaced. And the fact that they seem concerned about all New Haveners, especially the people who suffer the ill effects of poverty and crime much more than I do, carries a great deal of weight with me.