Holmes Passes The Baton

Thomas Breen photosA political science graduate student who already doubles as a zoning commissioner and a union organizer is looking to pick up the batons of criminal justice reform and community engagement from an East Rock alder who has decided not to run for reelection.

The grad student, Charles Decker, a sixth-year Yale PhD candidate in political science who also serves on the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) and has been one of the leading organizers of Yale’s graduate teacher union UNITE HERE Local 33, formally launched his Democratic campaign to become the next alder for East Rock’s Ward 9 on Thursday night from his campaign treasurer’s apartment at Orange Street and Bishop Street.

Ward 9 covers parts of East Rock and a sliver of Fair Haven. It is bounded by Humphrey Street to the south, Orange Street to the west, Willow Street to the north, and Blatchley Avenue to the east. No one else has filed to run for the seat.

Two dozen neighbors, graduate students, labor organizers, and local politicians showed up on Thursday night in support of Decker’s campaign.

One of those supporters present was Jessica Holmes, a fellow Democrat who has served as Ward 9 alder since 2011. Holmes said that she has decided not to run for reelection so that she can continue to pursue her full-time career as a nurse at a short-term rehab facility and so that she can spend more time with her partner and two children. Both Holmes and Decker are supported by the UNITE HERE unions

“As alder, you have to be able to work with lots of different people,” Holmes told Decker and his group of supporters. “You have to have a lot of patience, and a lot of grit. You’re not going to be able to give people the answers that they want immediately, or the changes that they want immediately.”

“But,” she continued, “you can make sure that you leave the door open for people so that their voices are heard. Together, you can inch, bit by bit, towards moving the city in a direction that so many of us believe in, towards a prosperity that includes all neighborhoods.”

Holmes cited the reopening of the State Street bridge and the conversion of the old Star Supply factory on State Street into the Corsair apartment complex as two examples of major recent development projects in East Rock that took a long time to be completed, but turned out much better than they otherwise would have because of local politicians’ and developers’ openness to public input. Holmes played a leading role in bringing together the Corsair developer with the neighborhood to hone a plan all could support.

She also cited the current debate over the Civilian Review Board, a citizen-manned police accountability board for which she has drafted legislation currently under review by the Board of Alders, as another opportunity for local political leaders to work together with the community to make New Haven better.

“We can’t legislate away police brutality,” she said. “But we can grow police accountability.”

Markeshia Ricks photoDecker made headlines recently as one of the grad student leaders who went on a fast to seek to pressure Yale to negotiate a first contract with Local 33. (U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro pushed him in a wheelchair to one protest event.) His Yale studies focus on criminal justice policy, similarly identified community policing, along with community-based hiring and community-based development, as policy pillars that motivate him to run for local office.

“I’m the grandson of a police officer,” said Decker, 30, a native of Washington Heights in New York City who moved to New Haven in 2011.

“That being said, I am also a young black man. Yes, I go to Yale. Yes, I’m a zoning commissioner. Yes, I’m running for alder. Yes, my mother taught me from a very young age how to deal with the police so that I would be as safe as possible. But I also walk around every day with the knowledge that there might be a time that I might not get a chance to open my mouth, and then none of that actually matters.”

He pointed to the Civilian Review Board as a perfect opportunity for the city to foster the kind of mutual trust and respect between the police and the community that he sees as central to successful community policing, while still ensuring accountability when there is police misconduct.

Decker described his three years serving as a commissioner on the BZA as offering a lesson in how government can work fairly for all citizens, regardless of their political experience or economic status.

“On the BZA, oftentimes we hear applicants that seem exactly the same on their merits,” he said. “Where they differ is in their resources.”

He told the story of how, a few months ago, two applicants who lived two blocks away from one another brought similar proposals to the BZA. One wanted to turn her top floor into an apartment so that she could rent it out; the other wanted to turn her top floor into an apartment so that she could offer some privacy for her elderly mother who was about to come live with her.

The first applicant brought an attorney, big blow ups of the site plan, and a 20-minute presentation on relevant rules and regulations. The second applicant, who had never been to the BZA before, came with only her story.

“It would have been easy for us to judge these applicants very differently,” he said. “But I’m proud to say that we judged them exactly the same. We granted a common-sense approval for both. What that taught me is that, if you’re from the community and you need something from the city, you shouldn’t need to bring an attorney and an architect and dazzle the BZA.”

“I want to continue to make sure that local government actually works for New Haven residents,” he said. “It’s that spirit that moves me to run for alder.”

Decker is currently running unopposed for the Ward 9 alder position.

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posted by: Dwightstreeter on July 14, 2017  8:45am

“We can’t legislate away police brutality,” she said. “But we can grow police accountability.” - Jessica Holmes.

Wrong. We can do both, but not with the seriously deficient proposal for a Civilian Review Board that the Board of Alders proposed.

Sometimes I can’t tell the Unite Here administration from the DeStefano administration.

posted by: brownetowne on July 14, 2017  9:20am

Seems like he would be a good alder if it weren’t for his extreme views on the plight of the persecuted grad student

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 14, 2017  9:48am

If he does not play by the rules of the machine.He will not last.

posted by: DRAD on July 14, 2017  9:58am

I’m sure Mr. Decker’s six years of experience as a professional student living in New Haven qualify him to represent the neighborhood.  We are so lucky that needs of Unite Here are the same as the needs of the City New Haven. . . oh wait. . .

posted by: GroveStreet on July 14, 2017  10:14am

Not soon enough. May her replacement be less self-absorbed and care a tad about all residents of the city and the collective good.

posted by: welcometosohu on July 14, 2017  10:39am

We run into a lot of problems when political newcomers walk into office without understanding that local government is a slow, unglamorous grind—not just when it comes to providing constituent services (as Abby Roth learned last time), but also in order to hash out decent policy, which is never as straightforward as you expect (as everyone working on the CRB has learned).

It’s good to see someone with serious exposure to the hard, detail-oriented work it takes to make city government function for constituents, which is inescapable at the BZA. And I’m sure being a political scientist and a committed activist must teach you something about politics, too…

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on July 14, 2017  10:45am

Wow, Holmes chose not to give her ward much advance notice of her decision to give up her seat.

Of course with the Union machine firmly in place, any Ward 9 resident wanting to serve would have to run against the outside resources the Unions will bring to bear, (paid canvassers, centralized communications, orchestrated whisper campaigns, other alders actively campaigning in the ward, etc.) Seemingly not much fun….

posted by: Mark Oppenheimer on July 14, 2017  10:57am

I truly have no strong views on this alder race across town from where I live. BUT it’s astonishing how few people run for office in this town. People who are inclined to oppose Decker: are you filing papers to run? And people who run: are you knocking on every door, attending community meetings, studying up on the town budget, charter, etc.? One reason the union alders stay in power (again, not taking sides one way or another; I was a GESO organizer in grad school, and believe in unions) is because we have such an atrophied political climate, with so many alders running unopposed. If everyone who griped about our current city govt got together, planned, learned the game, raised money, and recruited and ran candidates, we would all be better off, because a robust political climate benefits us all. Democracy needs people to run.

posted by: Katydids on July 14, 2017  11:26am

I’m sorry to see Jessica go. She wasn’t perfect, but she’s done well by her constituents, and has shown a lot of thoughtfulness in how she’s engaged with the neighborhood. I don’t know anything about the new candidate, but if he comes with Jessica’s recommendation I’ll be listening and interested to learn more.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on July 14, 2017  11:28am

I’m just glad the proxy war between UNITE HERE and Yale can continue unabated. I’d hate for someone to represent a normal town citizen interest.

posted by: robn on July 14, 2017  11:59am

Will no one run against these self-serving people?

posted by: 1644 on July 14, 2017  12:29pm

Why don’t NHI reporters ever ask obvious, and relevant questions rather than publishing fluff pieces that read like press releases?  E.g., given that his scholarship support will expire this year (Yale offers six years of support to humanities candidates) what are his future plans for employment?  When will he be ready to defend his dissertation, and what are his post-doctorate employment plans?  Does he anticipate any conflicts between the interests of UNITE-HERE and other city residents?  Does he believe those interests are ever in conflict, or are UNITE-HERE’s interests and the city’s always aligned?  UNITE-HERE has sponsored protests which involve criminal action, i.e. blocking vehicular traffic.  Does he support these actions?  If he is okay with UNITE blocking streets, would he be okay with the Proud Boys, or the KKK, blocking traffic?  Or should the city discriminate amongst protesters based on their viewpoints?  Why, knowing he had only five or six years of support, did he take on the duties of ZBA commissioner?  Didn’t those duties take time away from doing his dissertation?  Won’t serving as an Alder do the same?

posted by: HewNaven on July 14, 2017  12:58pm

How do we know Decker is not actually a Yale Corp. spy disguised as a PhD candidate in the Political Science program? Wake up, Sheeple!

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on July 14, 2017  1:01pm

I had the chance to speak briefly with Charles at the launch and he had intelligent responses to my questions. One issue I did not bring up was his future in New Haven. As a sixth year Ph.D. candidate, he will presumably be on the job market in the next year or so. I trust he would serve out his term, but wonder what his longer-term plans are.

posted by: vpaul on July 14, 2017  3:03pm

All you nit pickers that had nothing but criticism for the Civilian Review Board can see that you’ve effectively killed it. Where is it now? Next time, offer constructive suggestions on how to remedy a proposal’s deficiencies. Now, you’re left with nothing, as one of the main sponsors leaves.

And it’s hilarious that no “concerned citizen” of Ward 9 will consider running on the Republican ticket to oppose the union/Yale high-jacking of our City government! The local Republican Party is in an alternate universe from the national Rs, and owes them absolutely no obedience. The statutory machinery is there for utilization - no petitions, no defending the President, no worshipping of Ronald Reagan - just waiting for the public to shed its apathy!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 14, 2017  4:07pm

posted by: Mark Oppenheimer on July 14, 2017 10:57am

If everyone who griped about our current city govt got together, planned, learned the game, raised money, and recruited and ran candidates, we would all be better off, because a robust political climate benefits us all. Democracy needs people to run.

But if we push for Proportional representation we would not have this problem.

How & Why Other Countries have Ended the 2-Party System


posted by: Morgan Barth on July 14, 2017  5:13pm

Though I have often disagreed with the positions taken by Alder Holmes I have known her to be a diligent representative, a genuinely concerned neighbor and someone who has volunteered (for nominal pay) thousands of hours out of a sense of civic responsbiity and a sincere interest to make her adopted hometown a better place.

@Mark Oppenheimer: I appreciate your put up or shut up comment.  I would also add that one challenge is structural—we have too many reps/offices for our a city our size.  With fewer alders, fewer wards, and fewer elected and appointed commissioners and board members we might increase the potency of each position, the competitiveness of each race and the value of each vote.  It’s discouraging to see/read of alder races with just several dozen voters or ward meetings with just a handful of attendees.  Cities many times our size have vigorous elections for legislative bodies much smaller than ours.  I hope this issue becomes part of the next city charter revision process.

posted by: Ben Howell on July 14, 2017  10:18pm

Seems like an interesting & reasonable candidate to represent my neighborhood, though I have many of the same concerns that others do. Why another UNITE HERE alder? We need a diversity of voices amongst our alders & I don’t see that with our current board of alders.

I also agree that I want to know more about Mr. Decker’s commitment to New Haven and the neighborhood. Is a 6th yr PhD student, union member ready to represent the needs & views of families, non-Yalies, long-time residents, etc who live in East Rock?

I also agree that someone needs to run in opposition. We need to push this discussion of UNITE HERE’s stranglehold on the BOA on to the ballot. We need more voices & opinions & priorities represented for the good of the city. Whether it is true or note, there is at least the appearance that the UNITE HERE alders have a couple of issues that they work on (Yale Labor issues & power squabbles w/ the mayor) to the detriment of all the other issues that are affecting our city.

posted by: vpaul on July 14, 2017  11:25pm

3/5 - Places where they have proportional representation have parties organized around particular interests, such as labor, socialism. etc. Here, we don’t do that. So, how would you organize such a thing here?

Maybe the best way is to form a new party (or parties) dedicated to specific principles. It would take several elections, entered by petition before enough public support could be shown to attain regular party status.

We could also try “cumulative voting,” in which each voter has a number of votes, which that voter can distribute among several candidates for the same position or concentrate on one or two favorites.

We should definitely be considering improvements to our tweedle-dum or tweedle-dee system.

posted by: LoveNH on July 15, 2017  12:09am

@markoppenheimer :
Please run. It would be very nice to see a race between Adam Marchand and you. I just did a straw poll, and you’re already narrowly ahead (1-0).

posted by: JCFremont on July 15, 2017  12:44pm

So it seems like the East Rock Ward has become a Graduate Student Finishing School for future Community Activists. Really doesn’t matter the brief moment that anyone over the past 25 years was “The Late” Mike Stratton’s attempt to actually take a real serious adult look at the city’s finances, budget, staffing and actual PILOT funding from the state was met with charges that it was he was a racist and worse in the eyes of New Haven citizens, a Republican. Yes much of Stratton’s demise was his own doing but the subjects he brought up may have been City Hall to straighten itself out and come up with a plane other then what can Yale do for us.

posted by: Bill Saunders on July 15, 2017  8:14pm


I don’t know about nitpickers….

Holmes failure in regard to the CRB was lack of subpoena powers, plain, pure and simple…..

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on July 18, 2017  3:47pm




posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 19, 2017  5:07am

posted by: vpaul on July 14, 2017 11:25pm

3/5 - Places where they have proportional representation have parties organized around particular interests, such as labor, socialism. etc. Here, we don’t do that. So, how would you organize such a thing here?

You have to get the system of proportional representation in first.Then you can work on the parties.

posted by: vpaul on July 19, 2017  4:28pm

Bill - Your comment is exactly what I mean. Where are your constructive suggestions? So now it’s dead.

3/5 - You obviously need the parties first. THEY force the system to give them a voice. Otherwise, “proportional” to nothing. As we have here.