How Labor Beat City Hall

Laurel Leff PhotoGwen Mills was on her way to another precinct when she noticed volunteers lingering in front of Frank Douglass’ home. Polls would close in fewer than four hours, and there was a party machine to defeat.

Mills (pictured in top photo), a 37-year-old union organizer who has quietly developed a reputation as a top campaign strategist, was racing around New Haven keeping tabs on 15 Democratic Party primary elections at once Tuesday. The union she works for—UNITE HERE, whose locals represent Yale’s blue-collar and pink-collar workers, its graduate students and two other unions—had recruited or backed candidates for alderman in all those races in a bid to take on candidates backed by City Hall, and try to shake up New Haven’s strong-mayor one-party government in the process.

The effort wasn’t expected to produce a lot of victories. And now in Dwight’s Ward Two, she didn’t like what she saw.

The volunteers, a mix of union workers, community activists and Yale students, were enjoying a block party atmosphere at the corner of Elm and Orchard. They were supposed to be helping Douglass win the primary for ward aldermen. Instead they gobbled freshly-prepared fried dough (savory with tomato sauce and sweet with sugar and cinnamon) and grooved to a blast of Jill Scott on 94.3 WYBC.

Mills had just been inside Douglass’ second-floor apartment, which served as the campaign’s headquarters, going over a wall-full of lists of people the campaign had targeted to get out to vote. Douglass, a member of Yale’s blue-collar UNITE HERE Local 35, was one of the few union candidates on the 15-member pro-labor slate who had run for office before, four years ago in the same Dwight neighborhood.

“We’re ahead but we need to be more ahead than we are,” his campaign coordinator, Anna Robinson-Sweet, had explained to Mills and other workers crammed into the upstairs apartment. “We can win or lose in the next few hours, so we’ve got to get out there and drag people to the polls.”

Scanning the scene in front of Douglass’ house on her way out, Mill knew that this was crunch time, 4:30. People were beginning to leave work. They needed to be shepherded to the polls. At least those the campaign had meticulously identified as likely Douglass voters.

So Mills dashed back up the stairs and gently suggested to Robinson-Sweet that she get all her volunteers into the field.

Robinson-Sweet immediately headed outside and scooted the loitering volunteers to one of the 17 “turfs”  into which the campaign had carved the ward.

Douglass ended up wining decisively, beating the incumbent and City Hall-backed Doug Bethea 358 to 172.

It was one victory among many Tuesday night that even Mills, political field director in Connecticut for the North American union UNITE HERE, described as “astonishing.” Her team took on entrenched power—and walked away winning a stunning 14 of 15 races, unseating incumbents in the process. Some races weren’t even close. With other pro-union candidates unopposed in the primaries, organized labor suddenly found itself poised to take over majority control of New Haven’s legislative body.

And Mills, who helped Dannel Malloy become governor last year and Barack Obama take Virginia two years earlier, had a lot to do with that. She might not have the title “party chair.” Her allies might not be called a “town committee.” But they assembled a strong team of new faces to run for office. They flooded the streets with workers who identified likely voters and brought them to the polls. They spent enough money to take on a machine that had over $425,000 at its disposal.

And they emerged Tuesday night as an unquestioned force to reckon with in city politics and government, a new machine of their own.

“I don’t think anybody expected it would be this overwhelming,” Mills said late Tuesday night above the din of a raucous victory party at Leon’s restaurant at Long Wharf. She dressed primly in a black skirt and geometric top; only a slight rasp to her voice and the hint of a tattoo on her upper arm suggested a more subversive nature. She admitted that in her best-case scenario, she didn’t expect to win more than half the races and anticipated that many would be tight.

Mills doesn’t like to put herself in the spotlight, partly because of an unassuming personality, partly because she’s not a union spokeswoman or president, partly because union organizers are supposed to put other people out front. But at Tuesday night’s party, Mills was treated as the conquering heroine. One supporter, giving her one of hundreds of embraces, proclaimed her “the mastermind.”

Although a few of the union-backed candidates may have to win general elections in November against independent challengers, Tuesday’s primary victory marks a milestone in union history. Union members have certainly won local elections before. But at least in recent memory, no union has backed such a large slate of candidates, almost all of whom won, and taken effective control of a branch of government.

Before Tuesday’s victory, Mills said she hoped their efforts in New Haven would serve as a model for other cities. After the victory, Mills noted wryly of the leaders of her national union: “I’m sure they’re watching.”

Work, Not Talk

Mills called several factors crucial to the union’s victory.

First, the unions assembled a strong slate of candidates who worked hard—something that New Haven’s long-time state Rep. Pat Dillon noted as she left the victory party Tuesday night.

There were the tangible factors; the union candidates put in the hours necessary canvassing their neighborhoods, talking to voters. “You can’t win aldermanic elections if you don’t do the groundwork as a candidate,” Mills said. “People expect to meet the people they are being asked to vote for for aldermen.”

There were also the intangibles. Many of the union candidates seemed to have a good time on the campaign trail; some of the pro-City Hall incumbents did not.

In Fair Haven’s Ward 14, incumbent Stephanie Bauer seemed grumpy even as a parade of City Hall officials, including Living City Initiative’s Rafael Ramos and the housing authority Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton streamed into her headquarters set up next to the Fair Haven polling place at the Atwater Senior Center.

In contrast, her opponent, 22-year-old Gabriel Santiago, who was endorsed by union officials at the last minute and had the individual support of Yale Local 34 President Laurie Kennington all along, was obviously having fun. Surrounded by his mother, aunt and little brother, Santiago laughed and chatted throughout the long day.

Early in the afternoon, Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield, who lost in Beaver Hills’ Ward 29 in one of the day’s biggest upsets, was accompanied at the Beecher School polling place only by Democratic Town Committee Chair Susie Voight. By evening he was a little less lonely with five or six community supporters there. Even then he couldn’t match the crowd surrounding his opponent, Brian Wingate.

“We’ve never had so many people at the polls,” said Goldfield, who has been through 10 elections. “They’ve got union folks. He’s got a lot of relatives here too.”

Wingate said he had eight relatives with him, including two of his six brothers who had come from Charlottesville, Virginia, to help. Wingate’s supporters were so lively that at one point the candidate instructed his brother-in-law to tell a particularly enthusiastic woman to quiet down.

The hard-working candidates were backed by an equally hard-working organization. On Election Day, Dwight’s Douglass had 20 to 25 volunteers getting out votes for him at any one time.

“None of this stuff is very sexy,” Mills said. “You just need to talk to people.”

The candidates and the organization wouldn’t have mattered much if there wasn’t a deep disquiet in the city around the high murder rate and a sense that city’s economic development hadn’t been reaching into all its communities, Mills said.

“All this stuff has been happening downtown,” Mills said. “In the neighborhoods, people feel a lack of investment and a lack of opportunity.”

Rank-&-File Rumblings

The union effort didn’t start with a grand plan.

Both Mills and Kennington, president of Local 34, said the decision to support candidates running in some of the 30 aldermanic races arose from concerns expressed by union members.

“It was because of the unhappiness among members in their own lives,” Mills said, citing unemployment, violence and the school drop-out rate. “We had close relatives shot and killed.”

Kennington agreed that her members—who had to endorse the plan to field aldermanic candidates as did four other HERE unions’ memberships—were moved by their life experiences. “It’s been a reality check for us,” Kennington said. “We continued to get better and better contracts for our members while their families were suffering. As long as we’re an organization of working people in the city, we have a responsibility to try to do something to improve the every day life of working people.”

The unions had been involved in municipal elections since the late 1990s. City Point’s Dolores Colon of Local 34 has been on the Board of Aldermen for a decade; two other incumbents, Jacqueline James and Claudette Robinson-Thorpe have been sympathetic to the unions and received their endorsements this year.

But the idea of local unions fielding a number of candidates was new, both to New Haven and seemingly other cities. The union leadership asked their members if they would be interested in running. Five union members decided to run, as did a number of other insurgent candidates whom the unions endorsed.

“All of us were surprised at the number of candidates who came forward and the number of races we found ourselves in,” Kennington said. “But what are you going to do, tell people they can’t run?”

The unions knew the candidates would need more than their endorsements; they would need the unions’ resources in terms of money and volunteers.

“It’s very difficult for one person to run against the organization that exists in Democratic Party,” Kennington said.

The unions ended up spending about $200,000 and organizing about 400 volunteers in the 15 races. (A primary was expected in Ward 23 for union-backed Tyisha Walker, but City Hall-backed incumbent Yusuf Shah dropped out in the face of strong neighborhood support for Walker. He may run again as an independent in November.)

The unions approached the races like any other organizing drive, which is how Mills said she has approached her position as political field director all along. “What I brought to that position was not a background as a political operative, but a background in organizing,” Mills said.

New Haven Bred

Mills has been organizing for a decade.

She grew up in East Rock a few houses from where she now lives. Her father, who was raised in upstate New York, attended Yale on a scholarship in the 1960s, met her mother in New Haven, and stayed.

Mills said she didn’t come from a union household; both her parents were small business people.

Mills went to Cornell University. At a university known for its school of labor relations, Mills put together an interdisciplinary major, mostly in the sciences. She graduated in 1997.

Only upon returning to New Haven did Mills become interested in labor issues. After holding a series of unremarkable jobs, she became in 2000 an organizer for the Connecticut Center for New Economy (CCNE), a not-for-profit labor affiliated organization devoted to urban issues. CCNE is affiliated with UNITE HERE.

CCNE’s medical debt campaign dominated her six years there and shaped her political outlook, Mills said. After workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital complained that the hospital had put liens on their houses when they couldn’t pay their medical bills, CCNE launched an investigation and political campaign. The drive took five years; it resulted in the lifting of the liens and a new state law that reins in hospital’s aggressive collection practices and requires better access to charity care.

“I saw that when people get together they can make significant change,” Mills said. She said it also taught her the “the courage and integrity of people facing an issue in their lives and taking action.”

When UNITE HERE’s political director left in 2007, Mills assumed that position.

She became more deeply involved in electoral politics in 2008. At the behest of the union, Mills joined 45 other union officials and members registering voters in southern and western Virginia on behalf of the Obama campaign. Mills said her areas of the state had been so resistant to integration that rather than desegregate, some communities had shut down their public schools entirely for as long as seven years.

“We were registering a population that had been left illiterate because they literally didn’t have schools to go to,” Mills said.

On Election Day, Mills watched as thousands of newly-registered African-Americans came to the polls before they opened.

“I have never experienced anything like that,” she said. “Usually the voting starts out slow and goes up and up and up. In 2008, nobody was there at the end of the day because everyone had voted at the beginning.”

Obama won Virginia, the first Democrat to take that state since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Mills was also instrumental in the unions’ efforts on behalf of Dan Malloy’s successful gubernatorial campaign in 2010.

“If you want to intervene and change things elections are just one way to do it,” Mills said, “but it’s a pretty powerful way.”

Brushfire Patrol

Tuesday’s New Haven primary election day found Mills zipping from ward to ward in her white Chevy Flex van, or standing on street corners with a cell phone glued to her ear. She was mostly putting out brush fires. With 15 candidates, there were conflagrations in rapid succession.

West River’s Ward 23 didn’t open until 6:30 a.m., a half hour late. In the Hill’s Ward 5, the translator’s child suffered a seizure, so there was no one to help the ward’s Spanish-speaking voters. Several voters in Fair Haven’s Ward 14 were told they had to show photo IDs in order to vote. In Ward 28, four or five voters were told they weren’t registered even though they had copies of their registration cards.

Mills offered advice and dispatched a lawyer, a volunteer from the National Lawyers Guild, to various locations. Mills’ ramped-up handling of what proved to be minuscule problems spoke to both her expectations for the race and her intensity as a person.

“I’m just running around dealing with problems, and problems suck,” Mills declared right after the incident in front of Frank Douglass’ house. She then insisted that the comment be off the record and asked a reporter to stop following her for the rest of the day.

Later, in the flush of victory, Mills said there weren’t any major problems, just a multitude of small ones that stressed her out.

During the day, she seemed happiest talking to candidates and voters. Around 10:30 a.m., Mills visited the Ward 27 polling place at Mitchell Library on Westville’s Harrison Street. Union candidate Angela Russell, a home day-care operator, had set up an umbrella on one side of the polling place’s entrance to shield her four or five volunteers from the sun. Her party-endorsed opponent, Stan Kontogiannis, set up on the other side.

“This is bigger than one person,” Russell told Mills, noting that it was great to see so many of people she had canvassed actually vote. “They are excited about coming out do what they do best.”

Russell added, “It’s a peaceful, serene environment” between the two sides.

“You’re setting the tone,” Mills responded.

In what proved to be the biggest margin of the day, Russell defeated Kontogiannis 426 to 123.

Although she handled the many strategic decisions with aplomb, Mills clearly would have rather been out in the field like two of the hundreds of teams she sent to get out the vote.

In The Hill’s Ward 6, three women were trying to get voters out for incumbent alderwoman and Local 34 member Colon in the Church Street South housing complex, a privately owned complex of 301 federally subsidized apartments across from Union Station. The volunteers were Lisa Bergmann, like Mills a former CCNE organizer; Esther Martinez, who has lived in Church Street South for six years; and Jissette Chona. “I’ve lived here since I was 17,” Chona, 37, said. “I got married and moved out. I got separated and moved back in.”

Chona now lives there with her three daughters, 12, 7 and 4. She is on the resident’s committee meeting with representatives of the complex’s owner, Northland Investment Corporation of Boston, which is planning a mixed-income development on the desirable location.

According to Bergmann, Alderwoman Colon had been instrumental in pushing for residents’ participation in the plans for the complex and in trying to assure that current residents will have a chance to live in the new buildings. That made Church Street South a critical site for Tuesday’s get-out-the-vote drive.

“There are 100 people we want to pull out of here today so we need to hunker down and focus,” Bergmann said to Martinez and Chona as they tromped through the dingy cinder-block complex painted in various ugly shades of tan. Only a few straggly trees interrupted the blacktop pathways. Chona’s smiling 4-year-old daughter was in tow.

By noon, the women hadn’t had much luck. They had a list of supporters who needed rides to the polls. As they went door to door, they found people were not home, or not ready, or they had already voted, or they wanted to vote later or they had decided not to vote at all. The three women kept at it.

It was obviously enough. Colon had 265 votes to beat the party-endorsed Norma Rodriguez-Reyes’ 157 votes. (Note: Rodriguez-Reyes is publisher of the newspaper La Voz Hispana. She also volunteers as chair of the board of the not-for-profit Online Journalism Project, which publishes the Independent.)

Across town, in the Edgewood neighborhood, Max Fraser and Raquiem Hosten formed another of Mills’ teams. They were getting out the vote for Evette Hamilton in Ward 24, who pulled off another of the day’s big upsets, against incumbent Alderman Marcus Paca.

Hosten, 24, became involved in the campaign because of his relationship with Hamilton’s daughter. “Running into this family was like a godsend to me,” Hosten said. “If not for Evette I’d be in New York doing God knows what.” He works at the Au Bon Pain across from Yale.

Hosten teamed with Max Fraser, 26, who is in a Ph.D. program in the Yale history department. Fraser, whose interest is American labor history, previously wrote about labor issues for the Nation magazine.

Hamilton was a late entrant in the race against party-endorsed Paca. “Paca came in two years ago as a young up-and-comer,” Fraser said. Fraser said that from talking to voters he had concluded that they “feel as if once he was elected he went downtown and they never saw him again.”

Hosten added: “They don’t know what he’s done; they don’t know him.”

Fraser and Hosten were returning to streets they had already been to at least twice, searching out people they had already talked to. They didn’t find many voters home in the early afternoon.

On Brownell Street, they may have struck pay dirt. They spoke to a young man cleaning his house. The man said the entire block was filled with his relatives: grandmother, uncle, sister, brother, and more, living in adjacent homes. He said he would be sure to vote himself, once he was done cleaning, and would tell all his relatives to vote for Hamilton too.

Hamilton won by 84, with a total of 312 votes. A stunned Paca said Tuesday night that he might ask for a recount.

Jigs Up

All those individual votes the unions “pulled” added up to an “amazing” victory—the word of the night—and a loud party at Leon’s restaurant that drew hundreds of ecstatic supporters. Almost no one uttered a greeting without throwing their arms around one another. Spontaneous cheers erupted and echoed even above the loud band.

There was dancing with and without music.

“I’m so speechless,” Fair Haven’s winning candidate Santiago said. “I’m going to celebrate. Tomorrow is a new day.” He then did a jig.

Chona from Church Street South also said she was speechless. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack when I heard the news,” Chona said.

“We just turned the city upside down,” CCNE’s Shirley A. Lawrence declared to a woman who had dropped by Leon’s for a drink and knew nothing of the reason for the festivities. “I’m so tired it’s unbelievable,” Lawrence said after the women left. “It’s been long hard work but the people have spoken in the city of New Haven. New Haven will never be the same again.”

“Have you ever been to a party like this one?” said CCNE co-founder Rev. Scott Marks, who had to shout to be heard even standing outside Leon’s. “This is what happens when people who have suffered so long get a chance to celebrate.”

To Marks, the city’s murder rate is what, above all else, drove voters to the outsider candidates. Twenty-five people, mostly young black men, have been killed so far in 2011. “How can we not stand together when our kids are dying in the streets? This is what this is about.”

The challenge for the union-backed candidates will be to transform what were fuzzy policy goals into concrete legislation. Although reluctant to be pinned to an agenda, Mills said all the candidates seemed to have two common concerns. One was a return to community policing, having more cops walk a beat to head off violence. The other was assuring that ordinary citizens have a “seat at the table” when development decisions are made in their communities.

What form those goals would take, Mills couldn’t or wouldn’t say. She said she has some ideas about aldermanic initiatives but it’s not her place to make those decisions. As has been the case all along, the unions make the policy decisions and she implements them, she said. And in a totally new posture, the aldermanic candidates, should they all win in November, won’t necessarily have to be guided by the unions.

“Clearly people here are hopeful and excited,” Mills said. “Something was started here that we’re not about to walk away from. But the shape it takes, the specific legislation that comes out of this, will be the result of a process.”

“Keep Organizing”

On Monday evening, before she or anyone knew the scope of the unions’ victory, Mills was asked about her philosophy of organizing. How do community organizers keep from being co-opted when they get involved in electoral politics and their candidates win?

“The trick,” she said, “is to keep organizing. Just because you have a few ordinary people on the Board of Aldermen doesn’t mean organizing in the community should stop.”

On Tuesday night, she offered a version of that approach in explaining how the union candidates might develop a legislative agenda.

“The next step is to continue the process of engaging as many as possible in the city about what they want to see,” Mills said, “and then working with newly elected candidates to come up with an agenda.”

Does that mean sending the troops back into the field to knock on doors?

“We’ve been knocking on doors for years,” Mills said. “We’ll keep knocking on doors.”

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posted by: Cookie Monster on September 15, 2011  7:16am

A correction-  DeStefano’s mayoral campaign raised $425,000 for a contested mayoral campaign that will continue through to November. Paca, Goldfield, Smith, Bauer, et. al did not have anywhere near the kind of money or machine support that the union backed candidates had. They ran neighborhood-based campaigns supported largely by donations and volunteers from their wards. The financial disclosures for every ward paint this picture. Union candidates tapped into seemingly unlimited PAC money and union organized workers, while opponents (incumbents or otherwise) had limited coffers and relied heavily on volunteers and their own efforts knocking on doors and talking one-on-one with voters. I’m not saying what the unions did was wrong, but it’s incorrect to paint this as a $425,000 ward fight. Those candidates just did not spend anywhere near that amount of money.

[Editor: There was extensive coordination between the mayoral campaign and allied aldermanic campaigns in ways that never show up in campaign reports, from joint pulling to city administration volunteers to phone surveys that include aldermanic information. That money was raised primarily to fight mayoral candidates with no chance of winning, but rather to wage the real perceived fight, which was between some unions and the DeStefano administration for control of the Board of Aldermen.]

posted by: robn on September 15, 2011  7:48am

I don’t think the NHI’s assumption that City hall backed alderman had more resources is valid…one could easily argue that the union slate had more volunteers…it was visibly evident from the voluminous door to door campaigning. So that leaves us with money. DeStefano may have “raised” 450,000 but how much did he actually spend on aldermanic races vs the 200,000 spent by the union slate?

P.S. Despite the feel-good portrayal of the union effort, they just behaved exactly like a well-oiled political machine and… even worse, brought a flood of outside labor and money into local races. This is corporatized special interest politics.

posted by: Brian M. on September 15, 2011  7:49am

Good story!

posted by: Cookie Monster on September 15, 2011  7:55am

Paul, I find it interesting that you continue to beat this drum. Yes, some city employees chose to take a day off on election day to help support the mayor and aldermanic candidates. It should not be shocking and it is certainly not inappropriate that individuals who chose to work for a mayor feel a sense of pride and ownership around election time and would chose to volunteer.  I am certain people all across the city (and even in the suburbs) did the same thing to support their candidates. There just aren’t that many City Hall employees that those vacation days are really worth highlighting again and again. Do ten or so employees taking the day off really make a such a dent that its worth reporting that story year after year? How many union members took the day off? How many CCNE employees and union organizers are on the payroll to work these campaigns for months on end, without being reimbursed by the aldermanic candidate receiving that support? There was a well-oiled machine in operation in those ward races Tuesday, and it wasn’t Susie Voigt’s or John DeStefano’s.

So you think Kerekes has no chance of winning? Interesting statement.

posted by: Sunday on September 15, 2011  8:05am

Congratulation to the winners,volunteers,unions
and the people that came out to vote. Remember don’t forget who voted for you and why. Continue to go out into the neighborhoods, at least once a month and talk to your constitutes to see what there concerns are. Don’t do like the previous candidates did, got elected and forgot about the people who voted for them and would only show up on election dates looking for votes. You must continue to be involved with your communities.’‘’‘’’

posted by: Resident Taxpayer Worker on September 15, 2011  8:20am

good reporting from the Indy, lots of details. Elections here look like lefty micromirror of 2010 Tea Party. Well-fueled funded high ideology insurgents do a tiny tsunami over ground where pretty much everyone else sit sidelines so looks huge. The teany numbers of votes it takes to win stand out, and when most people sit it out then the union tea partiers win. The math is interesting: Frank Douglas gets 358 votes (not a big #!!!) - $200K in union cash for 15 races, thats like $13,000 a ward and like $37 per vote for him. 358 votes at $37 is a mandate for revolution?

posted by: what's next? on September 15, 2011  8:34am


“None of this stuff is very sexy,” Mills said. “You just need to talk to people.”

Not complicated. It’s what Wingate, Santiago, Russell, et al did. I wonder who the Mayor, Carl and Susie spend their time talking to?

posted by: streever on September 15, 2011  8:38am

We will see what happens.

While I am excited to see people organizing and winning race after race against the DeStefano machine (honestly, how can anyone be sad to see Bauer or Blango go? I’d vote for a rutabaga), the real loser is neighborhood folks.

When Roland first ran a campaign, it was him knocking every door, photocopying b&ws; (because he had no money). Now, all I see are glitz, high-gloss printed materials (so many that I can’t help but think we’ve butchered a small forest), and ENDLESS door-knockers.

Is this what we want? Months of intensity every 2 years?

I really hope that after the dust settles and the city shake up quiets down, we can see a return to actual neighborhood politics.

Union members compare it to any fellowship—maybe they are right, but you don’t see me organizing 20 elm city cycling members to go out and stump for a candidate. Urban Resources Initiative doesn’t build a machine.

Ultimately, machine politics are machine politics. Union leaders can say that this is just shared values, but if that is truly the case, why were Yale students told they couldn’t speak to the press?

Why were friends of mine in the Yale union blacklisted, endlessly called, pressured in public places, for MONTHS and MONTHS to support union candidates?

The Yale unions have a lot of really good, really great people in them. I respect and like a lot of the people I saw out there, and even some of the candidates. With that said, I do hope they realize that they’ve escalated a system of small neighborhood races into something that definitely goes beyond what it has been, and in doing so, we’ve lost a little bit of what makes New Haven special.

We now have two machines, when some of us wanted to see zero, and I can’t help but feel like something has gone wrong for our city.

posted by: Ben Berkowitz on September 15, 2011  8:47am

Completely Agree w Rob N.  I hope I am proven wrong but I, for the first time in the last ten years, am greatly concerned for New Haven’s future under this new agenda.

posted by: anon on September 15, 2011  9:30am

“It was because of the unhappiness among members in their own lives.”

And the solution will be to raise taxes (on homeowners and thereby renters) so that even more of our working families’ hard earned dollars can be permanently exported to pay for the SUVs, McMansions and private school tuition of our largely suburban city workforce? 

The opposite of that is what is needed if the strategy is about promoting neighborhood reinvestment.

posted by: The Professor on September 15, 2011  9:42am

Whatever this article is, it doesn’t even approach having an iota of objectivity.  This is a puff piece for the Unions, plain and simple.

The article refers to the unions as taking on “entrenched power.”  But if this power is so entrenched, why did Moti Sandman lose in 2009?  Why is Gary Holder-Winfield in Hartford today?  Why have Jackie James-Evans, Andrea Jackson-Brooks, Jorge Perez, and Dolores Colón run with minimal opposition (zero opposition for Jackson-Brooks and Colón)? 

The majority that the non-union Alders had was a very slim one—something like 16-14 by my count.  While this was certainly a blowout, it’s not as though this came from nowhere.  The Unions are a formidable organizing force.  Painting them as some sort of an underdog simply ignores a lot of material facts and wishes them away in hopes of finding a great storyline that just isn’t there in reality.

The article also fails to in anyway scrutinize the Gwen Mills-pushed money narrative.  Cookie Monster rightly points out that “it’s incorrect to paint this as a $425,000 ward fight” because the aldermanic candidates “just did not spend anywhere near that amount of money.”  And that’s true! 

The editor quite defensively makes the claim that the money was “raised primarily to fight mayoral candidates with no chance of winning, but rather to wage the real perceived fight, which was between some unions and the DeStefano administration for control of the Board of Aldermen.”  The thing is, that’s a factual claim for which zero support is offered.  Moreover, the Independent has happily served as a stenographer for the Kerekes campaign; are we to take this as an official editorial statement that Kerekes has “no chance of winning?”

Additionally, the Editor’s response conveniently skips over the point that, even assuming total collusion among the campaigns, a significant chunk of the money likely goes to the Mayor’s campaign expenditures—indeed, the DeStefano for Mayor bank account simply can’t go and buy up campaign literature, lawn signs, etc. for Aldermanic candidates.  These candidates have their own funding sources (individual or slate bank accounts).  They also have to disclose their finances, so it wouldn’t be difficult for a serious reporter to actually see how much of that $425k found its way into Aldermanic campaigns.

Moreover, there’s a gigantic difference between RAISING and SPENDING money.  Raising $425k is certainly formidable, but if only $200k of that was spent, then it would seek that the fight was pretty even (once again assuming total collusion).  And spending $200k at least invites an inquiry into how much more money could have been spent—DeStefano had $425k at his disposal, but we only know that the unions had AT LEAST $200k at their disposal.  How much more COULD they have spent if they felt they needed to?

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on September 15, 2011  9:43am

“We were registering a population that had been left illiterate because they literally didn’t have schools to go to,” Mills said.”

So how exactly does the new team of alders propose to improve schools in New Haven?

posted by: Ben Berkowitz on September 15, 2011  10:07am

Does anybody know if Gwen Mills is a New Haven resident?

[Editor: Yes. The story says she lives in East Rock.]

posted by: Anderson Scooper on September 15, 2011  10:28am

I fear we’re about to see some nasty property tax increases coming our way, with this October’s re-val serving as cover. Will we then seen repeat of the early 90’s when crime and taxes sent middle class families fleeing to the suburbs?

Will DeStefano roll-over during the next budget battle because, heck, that’s what people voted for?

As a final aside, I’m quite surprised that despite all the great coverage, the NHI failed to pin down the union slate as to where they stood on property taxes and raising the mill rate.

posted by: Mister Jones on September 15, 2011  10:42am

Everything I’m hearing—this article included—is that it was manpower that made the difference, not the money on mailings.  I’d sure like to know how much of that union dough went to pay people to pull votes, etc.

posted by: Stan Kontogiannis on September 15, 2011  10:49am

Even though I was nominated by the Dem Ward cmte for Ward 27, please note that I did not get any funds from the Mayor’s campaign. I had spent close to $300 for the campaign and did personally knock on doors since mid-June. My opponent in the last 3-4 weeks had many volunteers and some extremely good financial support which helped her pay for 4 color mailings mailings and many lawn signs. This was the difference.

posted by: JMS on September 15, 2011  11:19am

Mr. Streever,

“We now have two machines, when some of us wanted to see zero, and I can’t help but feel like something has gone wrong for our city.”

There can be no more accurate summary of this election then this statement. Only time will tell how it all pans out. 


posted by: question on September 15, 2011  11:34am

I was able to talk to some of these union candidates and asked them questions on why they are running etc.  They were not able to give me definitive answers on what they plan to do, they all said the union line about bringing change to the neighborhood.  This is really sad.  I also asked them if they knew who Bob proto was and only 3 did know out of 7 that I spoke with. ...
what a shame! New haven is going downhill

posted by: ignoranceisbliss on September 15, 2011  12:08pm

The Independent’s is either lazy about gathering the facts or intellectually dishonest. 

Any one who fairly observed what actually showed up on the doorsteps and mailboxes of voters knows that the Unions far outspent on its aldermanic candidates what the DeStefano campaign offered its allies.

The fact is that the Unions paid for multiple, high quality mailings to each registered voter, lawn signs, T shirts, door hangers and dropped literature and a get out the vote machine which supported hundreds of canvassers and vote pullers. 

That kind of support was just was not there for the DeStefano allied candidates.

The Unions were not paying for TV commercials, as DeStefano was.  That alone I’d bet consumed a substantial portion of what he raised.

I’m still waiting to hear one specific proposal from Ms. Mills or any of her candidates. I’m also amazed by the Independent’s continued willingness to accept “fuzzy policy goals” and not push any of them to explain exactly how the City of New Haven is going to make life better for the people they claim to represent, the poor and downtrodden.

The truth is that better contracts will continue to be won by the Yale and City workforce the majority of whom live outside New Haven and this election will do nothing to improve the lives of anyone else. I predict the opposite as resources are drained to support unsustainable labor costs.

posted by: Immigrationct on September 15, 2011  12:15pm

Members and the ability and willingness to talk to people are the strength of a grass root union. Building an active membership takes a lot of effort, including a volume and intensity of conversations that most of us don’t want to engage in on an ongoing basis. (The in-kind phone bank usage, modest staff time and colorful leaflets are only support the fundamental conversations.)
The impact of the unions’ campaign is magnified because participation in most wards has historically been so low. The status quo inertia and the 30-ward structure bebenefitedhe machine (patronage and a strong absentee ballot effort was enough to carry elections in many wards) and incumbents.
The unions’ formula takes far more individual effort than commenting online or making campaign contributions, but it is NOT magic and could be applied for lots of uses, including bringing BIXI and cycling infrastructure to New Haven. It would be great if other groups—churches, PTAs, cycling or preservation enthusiasts—took up the same tactics.

posted by: SteveOnAvon on September 15, 2011  12:32pm

It’s wonderful to see Gwen get some publicity and praise for the incredible amount of vision, energy, and hard work that she has put in.

@ BenBerkowitz: I very much respect what you’ve done with SeeClickFix (which I use) and Upper State St. (in my neighborhood). That said, 25 homicides in New Haven this year so far—20 in Newhallville—hasn’t caused you great concern for New Haven’s future?  I’m also surprised you haven’t heard of Gwen Mills until today’s article. I’m sure if you met her it would demystify a lot of the “union agenda” rhetoric of fear that is floating around.

While any large organization is imperfect, I find it a bit frustrating that so many “Democrats” have what appears to me to be an irrational fear of unions, particularly the UNITE HERE Yale unions. Perhaps part of my frustration has to do with the fact that I am from Wisconsin, and I have been gravely concerned for the future of my home state since Scott Walker and the GOP have launched an all-out attack on labor there. The fact of the matter is that without union organization & funding, there is no way CT would have elected Malloy & Blumenthal last November and bucked the national trend toward the right. Foley & McMahon would have absolutely launched a massive assault on labor in this state had they been elected, and the headlines and conversations here in New Haven and CT would look very different.

Obama was elected in 2008 thanks to an incredibly massive on-the-ground organizing effort. Once he was elected, he stopped organizing, and many of his supporters stopped organizing in their neighborhoods and cities. In New Haven, it’s been different. Thanks to Gwen and others, there has been a committed effort to organize in our workplaces & communities. I applaud her for that. Rather than fearing the Tea Party and wringing our hands over the 2012 election on the national level, rather than simply sitting back and nervously laughing at the satirical analyses of The Daily Show, the people of New Haven have gotten out and voted in an election where they know their vote can make a difference. That’s exciting. Really, really exciting.

posted by: JMS on September 15, 2011  12:35pm

“The truth is that better contracts will continue to be won by the Yale and City workforce the majority of whom live outside New Haven and this election will do nothing to improve the lives of anyone else. I predict the oppositeas resources are drained to support unsustainable labor costs.”

That’s two spot-on takes on what just happened with this election (Streever’s and yours). Or at the very least there are three of us who are thinking alike.


posted by: Let's hope on September 15, 2011  1:05pm

The “Mayor’s” aldermen were not important enough for the party machine to protect. Clearly, the dollars are being reserved for the Mayor’s own fight in November. Unions established the Mayor in office a decade ago, and supported his run for Governor. Chances are that the Unions will spend the next few weeks negotiating their circumscribed issues with the Mayor, reestablish the old ruts, and endorse him again. Real change - a balanced and transparent budget, open government, community self-determination - are not values embraced by the unions or the party. The modus operandi is behind-the-door-deals and bogus “community benefits” to put a happy-face on the scam. Could the Union’s big win inspire them to support real democracy? Doubtful. Birds don’t change their feathers. Could the new Aldermen develop into legitimate community leaders? Maybe possible. Let’s hope.

posted by: robn on September 15, 2011  1:28pm

Really Steve; the fundamental stated goal of a union is to protect it’s members. This can’t be accommodated while simultaneously lowering the crushing tax burden that has been and continues to be New Havens number one problem. If you’re not a homeowner and voted for the union slate in a state of idealistic delirium, don’t be surprised when your rent is raised along with the mill rate.

posted by: Thinkaboutthis on September 15, 2011  1:32pm

So, what are people who support Kerekes but are worried about the unions going to say when they find out that the unions that were staying out of the Mayor’s race feel invigorated and decide to help him topple King John?

posted by: streever on September 15, 2011  1:53pm

Thanks JMS.

I do think unions are not evil—and to SteveonAvon’s point, I think part of the problem is that DeStefano has spun this union involvement as being related to city unions (Some of which are seriously not good for us—such as the school administrators union).

I think you have to give non-union affiliated New Haveners a little bit of a break on conflating the different unions—they all use similar language and terminology, and the real marketing/spin by the mayor’s administration has been directed to make unions the enemy.

If these candidates prove themselves to be capable, strong, independent legislators, than perceptions will change—but I wouldn’t expect it to happen quickly. I think it will take a little bit of time.

A lot of citizens—even well-intentioned and informed in other ways (and I myself at times)—have conflated the Yale unions with the city unions, and it is thanks to masterful marketing by the Mayor and his supporters.

It is too soon to tell what some of these alders will bring to the table. In some cases, I think great candidates did lose, but in other cases, we got rid of absolute dead weight, and I am not sorry to see them go.

The only thing I am sad about is the huge level of coordination, money, and time it apparently takes to get a non-DeStefano candidate in to office. Can I blame the unions though, or is it understandable that they would fight fire with fire?

City Hall staffers can wax romantic about how their deep love of the city is what makes them work for it and volunteer, but I suspect it is closer to their deep love for politics. I think some have just had a little too much of the Johnny D Kool-Aid.

posted by: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss on September 15, 2011  1:59pm

This is exactly the scenario that many folks feared. Another machine, this one even more well funded with high paid Political strategists paid by three component units of Unite Here, when added together, someone like Adam Patten or Gwen Mills make about $80k to $100k a year “organizing” middle class workers for a political end with their dues. Seriously, I used to work for 34/35. These guys make a lot of cash from each union, plus their affiliated PAC’s.  When you look at each union and see that Adam Marchand only gets paid 32k a year, you don’t mind. But when you see that he gets paid by multiple different unions,and you add that up?  High paid strategists that only think iin political terms. These guys are the current face of change, which i wanted to see, but they will be the very people we need to defeat in short order.

posted by: anon on September 15, 2011  2:13pm

If unions were seriously concerned about violence, they would slash city union worker salaries and benefits, and use that savings to quadruple the size of our grossly-underfunded “Youth at Work” program.

But, like City Hall, the unions have had the past 30 years to do something about it, and I’ve seen very little concrete action. 

Unfortunately, like City Hall, their focus seems to have been on voting for tax increases and raises in salaries and benefits to support larger homes for city workers who almost exclusively live in the suburbs.  In doing so, this has placed an increasingly crushing burden on low-income renting families, eliminating their ability to afford after school programs, destroying neighborhood businesses, reducing the city’s capacity to promote reinvestment in neighborhoods by forcing our library, youth center, parks and economic development budgets to be slashed, and, most importantly, ensuring that more and more of our workforce moves out of town instead of staying in the city (even though having public safety officers living in our neighborhoods, like almost all did 30 years ago, is one of the only proven ways to reduce violence). 

This is what has directly lead to the current wave of violence—let’s hope the newest slate of Union candidates will see that this can be turned around. They live here, and nobody is forcing them to listen to the interests of the entrenched, suburban Union leadership.

posted by: EastRocker on September 15, 2011  2:26pm

Gwen Mills is a smart, tireless, effective down to earth organizer.  She did an amazing job getting her people elected.

Why is this liberal democratic town so terrified of unions?  Oppose some of the individual abuses of Unite Here, if you will, or rail against the unbudgeted and unplanned for deals DeStefano made with unions back when he was courting their support.  But remember this middle class society we all want to see revived was brought to you by the hard work of unions.  Health benefits, paid vacation and sick days, child labor laws, 40 hour work weeks.  All fought for and won by unions.  Do we really want to see Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s blame the unions game reign in New Haven?

As far as I can see, Gwen Mills is a class act.  Someday she should consider running to become New Haven’s first female Mayor.

posted by: anon on September 15, 2011  2:33pm


It is certainly great that some people have health care and 40 hour weeks.  The Unions should continue to cheer themselves.

The main problem here - unless you are a suburban Union worker - is that a lot of people here, especially young persons, currently have 0 hour weeks.

Connecticut is not Wisconsin.  I don’t think residents appreciate the scare tactics.

posted by: JMS on September 15, 2011  3:01pm

Streever & East Rocker,

Like Streever I am not entirely “anti-union”. I have a good friend who is a teacher fighting the good fight in Wisconsin and so I have been following that mess closely. Like anything in life there are good and bad unions serving different purposes up to and including none at all. I am in this case quite leary of the agenda of any Yale affiliated union based entirely on some exposure to their tactics through friends who are Yale employees.


posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on September 15, 2011  3:18pm

We need to see what the union agenda is. They came in as a highly organized slate and so the fact that no one seems to have any idea what their legislative and political agenda is, is in a word - unsettling. 

Why won’t they discuss what they would like to change in New Haven?

posted by: EastRocker on September 15, 2011  3:54pm

anon:  “...scare tactics”???

What was so frightening about my post?

The thought that a savvy organizer who knows how to win elections might run for mayor?

Pointing out the knee-jerk union bashing prevalent in so many of these posts?

Or is it just the thought of a strong women mayor?

Oh well.

posted by: lesley mills on September 15, 2011  4:33pm

Politics is like housework. People focus only on what is not tidy or sparklingly clean with a pleasant odor. It’s part of the human condition. Although they had the opportunity, New Haven’s voters did not want to replace Mayor DeStefano. They regarded the improvements that have occurred under his watch and acted accordingly. Conversely, in areas where they saw the need for change, they took responsibility for the ground work necessary for action. And yes, it took the maids and the cooks and the caregivers to tackle the work. Who better?

posted by: robn on September 15, 2011  5:11pm


Ahh, the narrative of the oppressed handservant.

Let’s look at the counternarrative… immersive cash from special interests
illegally posted signage
opponent sign theft
platform of vague platitudes
paid consultants
glossy mailers
and the profoundly un-democratic cherry on top of the pie…out of ward foot soldiers.

posted by: harding on September 15, 2011  6:36pm

Without getting too much into semantics, the accusations of undemocratic practices and machine politics strike me as overblown.  The vast majority of those who worked on the challengers’ campaigns were volunteers who were persuaded by the vision that the candidates have for New Haven.  These volunteers spent their time conversing and persuading voters to support the candidates that they supported.  Neither volunteers nor voters acted under intimidation or to be individually rewarded with any sort of goods.  A vision for a stronger community compelled an extraordinary volunteer effort and won the support of a majority of voters in many wards.  One might find this vision unpersuasive and some criticism of any political leader’s vision is indicative of a healthy polity.  However, the broad engagement of political deliberation that transpired across the city and won so many elections should be praised as deepening democracy not chastised well-oiled political machine.

posted by: SB on September 15, 2011  7:43pm

@lesley, “New Haven’s voters did not want to replace Mayor DeStefano.”. The mayor got less than 50% of the vote. I think the more accurate statement would be that New Haven’s voters DID want to replace the mayor. They just couldn’t agree on who the replacement should be.

posted by: Lou Weeks on September 15, 2011  7:56pm

Congratulations to all. That victory reflects lots of really had work. “99% perspiration and 1% inspiration,” as one New Haven labor leader used to say.

posted by: what's next on September 15, 2011  9:53pm

@JMS: This has to be a spoof: “I have a friend in Wisconsin…..”? Did you actually type that? No, really, I love unions, except, umm, the ones within a thousand miles of me.

This administration is out of ideas. It thinks that the solution to our economic woes is to turn custodian jobs from 20 bucks an hour (sickeningly greedy 40k a year, or even a lavish 50k with overtime) into $9/hour, no benefit jobs stripped of union rights, precisely the Scott Walker solution. Doesn’t matter which party is in power, “shared sacrifice” means the people who actually work for a living have their lives ripped apart.

And there’s really no need for folks to get so terribly “unsettled” about what these candidates stand for. Just ask them—they live right down the street—or better yet, read the NHI.

From reading the NHI, it’s pretty clear that Brenda Jones Barnes stands for working to make the city do a competent job on infrastructure projects—something it has failed pathetically at east of the Quinnipiac, both on the Ferry St. Bridge(6.5 yrs) and the Q Ave redo (18 months and counting. Funny, took about ten minutes to repave a couple of blocks of Chapel St).

Also pretty clear from 8/29 story that Delphine Clyburn, Brenda Foskey-Cyrus and Jeannette Morrison think that companies who get tens of millions of dollars in public money supposedly for creating jobs, should actually create some decent jobs for people who live in the neighborhood.

Most of them seem to talk about returning to community policing and figuring out how to fund youth programs.

Those all sound like pretty good ideas to me.

posted by: Brian M. on September 15, 2011  9:54pm

The anti-union rhetoric posted on here is pretty unbelievable. Indistinguishable from a Fox News comments section.

Union members have a right to organize. Either you support it or you don’t. If you’re going to claim that Yale holds all the cards in one breath, it’s a little disingenuous to then say that its workforce shouldn’t have the right to mobilize in the face of that.

Just look at some of the claims being made here: that people who don’t live in New Haven shouldn’t be allowed to work here, and that people who do live here and work for or with the city or Yale or a union (or a handful of other places) shouldn’t be allowed to vote or hold office, and that people who are a member of any union shouldn’t be allowed to hold office or vote, and that people who live here but go to Yale shouldn’t be allowed to vote here either, and that city residents of shouldn’t even be allowed to volunteer for campaigns in other wards.

What do you call this little political system you’re trying to build? Not a democracy, I hope.

The worst thing is that you’re surprised your guys lost in Democratic primaries! An anti-tax platform that’s anti-union and anti-school construction and wildly hostile to anyone associated with higher ed. You thought that would win? Here. In the northeast. In a city.


It’s almost as if you don’t know anything at all about either big D or small D democratic politics.

posted by: Anymouse on September 15, 2011  10:09pm

Yeah yeah yeah, CONGRATULATIONS… you have three months to ingest the following if you don’t want to make fools out of yourselves. 

City Charter

Parliamentary Procedure

Get reading “winners”.

posted by: Elaine Braffman on September 15, 2011  10:12pm

Let me state something loud and clear. For all who are bashing these candidates that took out half the board…. it was the people that did this, residents, taxpayers, the voters!
Oh and by the way, when a young man came to my door asking for support for John DeStefano and I asked him if he lived in New Haven? He told me no, but he followed politics in our city and one of his friends works as an intern at city hall. Get my point?

posted by: KT on September 16, 2011  12:10am

@ Elaine Braffman.  No, less than 1/3 of registered democrats “did this”.  And those sorry people who didn’t vote were probably too busy putting deposits down on Uhaul trucks to get the heck out of this city.  Makes me want to become a Republican.

posted by: Tom Burns on September 16, 2011  12:21am

Seems like there are a lot of sore losers on this site——-shame on you—-excuses are for losers

Our Union the NHFT always thinks holistically—and we understand taxes are way too high—whether we live in the city or not——that’s why our union has collaborated with the mayor and has saved this city an enormous amount of $$$ when negotiating our contracts—-

I would bet that these newly elected “union” alderman have minds of their own and will do the right thing——-don’t predict higher taxes based on a simplistic view that unions are out for themselves—and although I dont know any of these newly elected alderman—I got a feeling that your taxes wont go up—

I’m betting on my union brothers and sisters—-lets wait and see—

The juvenile thought that Unions are all about themselves is an “OLD” mantra——

I’ll admit some may still be—but not our union—in no way, shape or form——the NHFT is partners with the City of New Havens residents and taxpayers—-

So lets get this right—this time—only together can we make a difference—Tom

posted by: nashstreeter on September 16, 2011  12:57am

Let’s be honest. DeStefano’s forces decided to demonize the unions and declare them to be the cause of the city’s fiscal disaster. Just think about it for a minute; would cutting the salaries and benefits of cafeteria workers, snow plow drivers, school custodians, teachers and librarians by a few bucks an hour even begin to make up for the fact that the huge deficit in New Haven’s resources is caused by Yale and the other educational and hospital properties that pay no taxes? Is anybody squawking about our state reps not doing anything to boost the miserably under-funded PILOT program? New Haven taxpayers subsidize a world-class university, 2 other colleges and 2 hospitals—all utilized by people out of the city and even out of state.
I say that a union that is not afraid to take on Yale (as the mayor seems to be) may be our best hope of equalizing the tax burden New Haveners have disproportionately—and increasingly—shouldered all these years. Makes one wonder why Looney, Dillon, Lemar et al don’t have to take at least a little heat.

posted by: SteveOnAvon on September 16, 2011  7:39am

@ JMS: The Yale unions—Locals 34 & 35—and the city unions have totally different collective bargaining processes, from what I understand. Also, I haven’t seen anyone actually post numbers of where union membership lives in New Haven. For instance, I have a very hard time believing that a majority of Local 35 members do not live in New Haven. I’d like to see some research backing up some of these claims that you believe to be “spot on”.

@ robn: We obviously don’t see eye-to-eye on the work that unions have been doing in this city. I think if you look at the history of the Yale unions, it is absolutely remarkable how much they have maintained a much bigger vision of what “protecting their members” means. The attention paid to issues of social justice and the political landscape of the city is reflected in their affiliation with UNITE HERE, where leaders such as Cleve Jones (of Harvey Milk fame) are working to make the labor movement something bigger than simply protecting its members. One of the specific things that got me interested in local politics was the Living Wage Ordinance, and it was encouraging to see many union members out supporting an ordinance that was not just about them, but about all workers in New Haven.

I’m sorry you think that it was “idealistic delirium” that drove me to vote for Jessica Holmes on Tuesday. I’m not sure if it has to do with the fact that I am “not a homeowner”, but I do know several homeowners that strongly supported Jessica. Were they blinded by a state of “idealistic delirium”? Or perhaps you believe homeowners understand what is at stake better than renters? Were all 455 people who voted for Jessica—60% of Ward 9 primary voters—in a state of “idealistic delirium”? Isn’t that incredibly insulting to the individuals in the neighborhood?

@ streever: I think it’s a good point to cut some slack about the lack of nuance in talking about unions. After all, we are not given almost any information about labor & labor history in our schools or through the media. Almost everything I have learned has been through talking with people and then reading up on the internet and in books. I can understand when people don’t have a detailed understanding of the difference between unions and where their motivations are coming from, but it bothers me that so many people skip the stage of curiosity and immediately embrace a very negative, assume-the-worst perspective.

For those who are inclined to adopt such a perspective, I think you could at least take something away from streever’s point: “It is too soon to tell what some of these alders will bring to the table. In some cases, I think great candidates did lose, but in other cases, we got rid of absolute dead weight, and I am not sorry to see them go.”

posted by: robn on September 16, 2011  8:15am

My problem isn’t about workers organizing so that they don’t get exploited. My problem is special interest outsiders (whether city hall machine or union machine) influencing a neighborhood election from the outside to achieve their own ends. My attitude isn’t Fox news right wing tea partying…its Yankee skepticism (Red Sox fans be calm…I’m stealing the nickname back from thieving New Yorkers)

But the point is moot until the next election. The union coalition now has more juice than any other group ever on the BOA. If taxes stay the same or go up, I’m probably right that the union slate is about protecting their own interests. If they go down, I’m wrong and will freely admit it. I hope it’s the latter but I’m skeptical. Let the experiment begin.

posted by: streever on September 16, 2011  8:22am

Right on Steve—and I am sure it is frustrating to see people skip right over curiosity to fear. Hopefully time will soften feelings and people can work together at least on the issues they have common cause with!

posted by: One Quick Point on September 16, 2011  11:32am

DeStefano is NOT against unions or organized labor. Let’s get that clear. I’ve spoken with him personally on a number of occasions and he’s made that very clear. As many of you have rightly noticed, the battle is with YALE UNIONS who want to protect their interests.

To say they care about the neighborhoods is silly. I, like many of you, have spoken with candidates on both sides. The “city hall” candidates actually had concrete platforms and plans while the “yale union” candidates simply promoted vague change and went negative on their opposition. The union organizers were just as vague when I asked them outright what their agenda was.

However, times are hard and people are angry. Union organizers did a very good job playing on this and hence, the results. And as mentioned, the “city hall” slate had no where near the amount of money that union candidates did.

On a side note, I’m starting to get tired of the Independent’s obvious bias. This is not the “underdog” story you’ve been painting.

posted by: streever on September 16, 2011  12:15pm

One Quick Point
Why did the Mayor lay off 16 brand new cops, knowing we were going to see almost 50 cops retire? Now he wants to hire back all the cops plus more.

Do you know what it costs to train a cop?

How can you say he isn’t opposed to the local unions? He has said horrible things about them, and manipulated the public view of the New Haven unions, claiming they are the enemy.

Also, what is the “special interest” of yale unions? What are they going to do wrong?

posted by: Elizabeth Bingham on September 16, 2011  12:53pm

If taxes stay the same or go up, I’m probably right that the union slate is about protecting their own interests.

Of course it might also have to do with the fiscal health of the state, and whether Hartford goes on honoring commitments to the poorest cities; to whether the federal money that’s been helping with community policing etc. is ever restored or replaced; and to the overall unemployment rate in New Haven. A Yale contract is coming up, and rumor suggests the university might not retain all its full-time workers (many of whom do live in New Haven). All these issues will directly affect property tax revenue and the city’s budget, and lie not only beyond the direct control of the alders but of the mayor.

posted by: Westville Mom on September 16, 2011  1:54pm

I just got around to reading this article and this statement jumped out at me regarding Virginia:

“Mills said her areas of the state had been so resistant to integration that rather than desegregate, some communities had shut down their public schools entirely for as long as seven years.”

I’ve been in VA many times in the last 25 yrs. or so and I’m not suggesting they don’t have any problems, but could Mills possibly offer some proof of the facts behind this accusation?  I googled the subject and all I came up with were schools closed in the 1950s and 60s.

I DID come across the “Brown v. Board of Education” SCHOLARSHIP and a whole bunch of other help for minority students.

This would clearly be against current laws, so I would appreciate some proof, please. Or were you speaking about the 1950s—if so, it would have been a nice touch to add that fact.

Also, regarding the avalanche of black newly registered voters Ms. Mills created—VA, as well as other states like NC have also seen a huge influx of liberal white northerners who all contributed to electing Obama, too.  I personally know ex-northerners there (one of whom is a teacher) who I’m sure did.  2012 will determine the facts on this.

(Btw, this whole article has a bit more “spin” in it than I’m accustomed to seeing in the Indy.  As we enter a presidential election year and Mayor Bloomberg is predicting riots, I think it would be a good idea for news publications to try to avoid inflaming racial tensions—which have been fairly benign in New Haven for decades.)

And as for this election—pish tosh.  These two factions are two sides of the same coin.  It’s as if this town has never even heard of Herman Cain or Allen West.  New Haven—you’re way behind the curve.  1960s liberalism hasn’t produced a creative idea in decades and their old economic ideas are no longer working, if they ever did. Ironically, the few real social successes of liberalism are what have caused it to become obsolete as an ideology.  There is no fresh vision in this election—only factions fighting over which group can claim the mantle of “philanthropism” (a nicer word than “socialism?”)

posted by: anon on September 16, 2011  2:21pm

In other U.S. cities, electric companies are literally pulling streetlights out of the ground because the city can’t afford to pay for the electricity to operate them.  Class sizes are going from 20 students/teacher to 60 students/teacher.  I hope that people here are getting used to the idea of privatization, layoffs, and massive cuts to salaries and benefits.

If Unions want to avoid some of these inevitabilities, they better start thinking about larger scale change, such as property tax reform, smart growth, and not asking New Haven to continue to export its families’ hard-earned dollars to support the massive Westbrook homes, SUVs and private school tuitions of our suburban workforce.

posted by: JMS on September 16, 2011  3:11pm

“@JMS: This has to be a spoof: “I have a friend in Wisconsin…..”? Did you actually type that? No, really, I love unions, except, umm, the ones within a thousand miles of me.”

What’s Next,

Laugh all you want. I actually do have a long time friend (of 25yrs) who has been hunkered down right in the middle of the whole Wisconsin governor vs. the unions mess. Most notably Walker vs. the teachers unions out there. I have been keeping close tabs on the development of that whole situation as she posts comments, first hand news stories and protest photos on Facebook, etc. It has been quite a thing to witness even from afar. And yes I do also actually have additional friends (union and otherwise) who live quite a bit closer… even in the same state… some even in my neighborhood. You’d be amazed. My only purpose in mentioning this one particular friend was that in the context of an online blog conversation about a local election that was essentially just swept up by union backed candidates it might be relevant to make the point that (at least one reader believes) that there are cases where unions serve a very valid purpose within the spirit or within the original mold that they were created. If you already understand this simple fact then please feel free to move along and read the next post. If you are having trouble understanding anything please let me know and I will email Paul @ NHI and see if I can maybe post in a larger font… I am thinking maybe comic sans? Would that help?

Bottom line is that I have serious concerns that the timely outpouring of organization, mobilization and at least the appearance of community interest that helped these union backed candidates win BOA seats will suddenly or quietly all fade away after the election. What we will all be left with are is a BOA that does not really have the interests of the people who just voted them into office (or those didn’t for that matter) at the top of their agenda. I don’t see how anyone can not wonder the same. Maybe it will all work out great. It’s a trust issue and I really don’t have the warm fuzzies yet. We’ll see. But when everyone starts waxing about a grass roots movement to overthrow King John I am sorry but I don’t see it that way. That may be the sales pitch but all I see a union power grab. Show me some real action in the next year or two and I’ll kindly STFU and withdraw my concerns. 


posted by: Henry Lowendorf on September 16, 2011  6:29pm

Voters in Ward 27 are concerned about the violence on our streets. We are concerned about potholes and lack of snow removal, about tree branches that rest on electric wires. We are concerned about speeding traffic that endangers our kids when there are no sidewalks for them to bike on. We are concerned about public schools that do not - for many reasons - attend to the needs of our children. We are concerned about a city government that seems to be focused on downtown development and the developers at the expense of the neighborhoods. And more.

How do I know?

I walked Ward 27 on behalf of primary candidate Angela Russell 1-3 days a week for 3 months speaking to Democratic voters and independents. I live in Ward 27. I am a volunteer in this campaign -it doesn’t stop with the election - with other residents of the ward, as well as union members who live in New Haven and outside, and friends and relatives of Angela’s and the other volunteers. Most of these volunteers had never been active in a political campaign before. We visited every - repeat every - registered Democrat, and in order to actually find people at home, we had to knock on the same doors many times.

We won big - and Angela is the first to say it was a collective effort and a collective victory - because the candidate listened intently, spoke passionately and connected with each resident she met. We won because the number of volunteer-hours allowed us to reach the whole ward. We won because we asked each potential voter what his or her concerns were for the neighborhood and the city, took notes, compiled those concerns in order to begin dealing with them. We won because we identified problems in the neighborhoods that we could actually fix before the election and did. We won because people are deeply unhappy with the status quo. We won because we told voters that their role was not just to come out on election day but, if they wanted to see positive change, required their active participation between elections.

We won because of a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people over the summer.

I think we would have won without all the costly mailings and the lawn signs. But we didn’t know that. A one-party primary for a seat on the city council - where most of the voters don’t know what the city council does and are at best skeptical of politics, in an off year, where there is no dusk to dawn TV coverage in a town where the major corporate daily newspaper largely ignores the election on election day - needs help in getting attention. We not only had to convince voters to vote for Angela Russell, but we had to convince voters to come out and vote at all.

In my view New Haven’s problems, like similar problems of cities and towns throughout our nation, cannot be solved within the city alone. 58% of federal discretionary spending goes to the military. $84 million from New Haven this year, far more than the red ink that led to layoffs, went just to 2 unnecessary and immoral wars. The super rich are taking a huge proportion of all the wealth created by the many workers in this country. Wealthy corporations are being subsidized instead of paying taxes. Unemployment, poverty, lack of health coverage are a national disgrace. There are a lot of national issues that impact New Haven.

Yet I volunteered my time to fight for one Aldermanic seat in a small northeast city because it is exactly where we as citizens need to start to save a great nation. Angela Russell’s grass-roots campaign - and all the related campaigns in the city backed by union and non-union folks like me - are an essential component of that goal. To succeed we need a lot more people to walk the walk.

The work we started this summer indeed just started.

posted by: SB on September 16, 2011  7:41pm

@SteveonAvon—you hit the nail on the head. I’d love to see some FACTS on how many of 34 and 35 live in vs outside of New Haven. And just who, do you suppose, would have those facts and who is not making them public? It would be very easy for someone like Ms. Mills to put this argument about % of 34 and 35 who are New Haven residents to rest, once and for all, by showing us the facts. But she /they have not. What does that tell you? I know what it tells me.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 16, 2011  9:19pm

For those who don’t understand unions.

How unions influence American politics.

by Can Tran
Created on: May 20, 2007

This is how unions affect American politics, when you get a union on your side, you get plenty of votes in place as well. My experience with the Kerry Campaign in ‘04, unions vote down the line. Meaning, all union workers vote for the same candidate. Since the base of the Democratic Party are African-Americans, we canvassed in mainly African-American neighborhoods. This one guy said he couldn’t vote for Kerry because of the rest of his union members were voting for Bush, so that meant he had to vote for Bush as well.

The unions are known as either trade unions or labor unions. Being part of a union meaning your voice is heard. But you have to pay monthly or yearly membership dues since unions are a non-profit entity as well. They provide benefits such as insurance against unemployment, ill health, old age, funeral expenses, and so forth. You join a union and you’re pretty much covered for professional training, legal advice, and representation. Those are very important benefits to receive when being part of a trade union.

There are number unions such as actors’ unions such as SAG. There are teachers’ unions, farmers’ unions, construction worker unions, machinist unions, and so forth. They can orgnaize strikes or resist lockout to further their goals. In short, they’re like advocacy groups but focused towards workers. Like many advocacy groups, trade unions are very active in politics and can be pretty influential. Trade unions will support candidates who are going to represent them. Meaning, the unions will pursue campaigning, lobbying, and offering fiancial support to candidates running for public office.

The various unions are very active in Washington DC. In the United States, by law the trade unions are recognized as represenatives of the workers in the various trades and industries. One way they influence American politics is the ability to amend the United States labor law. This has happened before because of cliams that employers used anti-union campaigns. They can eliminate the process to vote on the issue of union representation.

The biggest way unions influence American politics is by the term, “union.” Union meaning when people join under one banner. This is pretty much the same case with trade unions. They unionize and use collective bargaining power over things such as wages, benefits, work conditions, sick day, contracts, representation, and so forth.

With unionizing, they can mobilize their own members and coalitions with activists that think like them when it comes to various issues such as trade, health care, living wages, and so forth. At the moment most unions are either aligned with the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Foundation.

In short, unions can organize and use collective bargaining and collective voting. Unions can have hundreds to thousands of people. They can affect who gets elected into local office, state office, and federal office. It’s all about collective power which is why unions are pretty much an important factor especially with Democrats.

posted by: robn on September 16, 2011  9:43pm


Whether or not NH gets outside financial assistance , the BOA approves the budget. If they’re earnest about lowering the fantastic tax burden, they can simply cut spending, irrespective of circumstance. The union coalition owns the next two budgets.

posted by: Elizabeth Bingham on September 18, 2011  2:24pm

Thanks for your response, robn. However, at what cost? You say “irrespective of circumstance,” but New Haven is fortunate that Malloy (unlike many predecessors) takes the state’s responsibility to the cities seriously, and that federal money (cut off now by the 2010 midterm Republican sweep) has been coming into CT.

Like many others I’ve seen my income shrink without (of course) corresponding drop in my property tax, which is now an alarming proportion of my overall tax obligation. I don’t know how long I can hang on, but New Haven can’t just drop responsibilities that in this state rest on property tax; and the re-val has already happened. Nashstreeter is right IMO about “miserably under-funded PILOT” also. And the suburbs have a sweet deal in CT, that’s for sure.

I suppose I’m more hopeful that aldermen who themselves live and pay rent and/or property tax in New Haven aren’t any more oblivious about or unaffected by the issue than anyone else. Yale’s unionized employees aren’t the same as the city’s; they don’t have the same benefits, and those benefits are supported by New Haven’s largest employer, not by New Haven. Within the city, for that matter, the firefighters’ union supported DeStefano. I agreStefanoeveOnAvon, EastRocker, nashstreeter, harding, and some other posters that “union” is more complex than many comments here suggest and that it’s not clear what the future holds. Personally, for me the inexperience of this group of aldermen leaps out more than the conviction that they’re a bloc vote of some kind.

posted by: DavidK on September 19, 2011  10:53am

I hope a lot of the losing alder-manic candidates run as independent. It will give Republicans and Independents someone to vote for in the next election.

posted by: SteveOnAvon on September 19, 2011  12:15pm


Interesting that you assume the majority of Republicans and Unaffiliated voters will vote against the candidates in their wards that were endorsed by the unions. Based on my experience in my ward, I think the margin of victory for the union-endorsed candidate in the primary will likely increase considerably when Unaffiliated, Republican, Green, Working Families, and Independent voters cast their ballots in the general election.

We are not dealing with unthinking people who have been bamboozled by the sneaky unions. We are talking about campaigns where many of these candidates have walked door-to-door speaking directly with voters (and non-voters) in their neighborhoods. In my ward, one of the candidates did that considerably more and better than her opponent, and—surprise, surprise—she won.

posted by: JMS on September 20, 2011  3:39am

Just for the heck of it and because people were wondering I looked for info on Yale union demographics. It’s hard to find… but from this list of Local 34 officers and board members and a little homework with an online phone/address directory I was able to place some of the key officers with New Haven addresses. Well over half of the board and other officers live out of town.

This is not to say that because they live out of town they do not have New Haven’s best intersts at heart but it is just interesting to know.

I will look for additional info and post it when I have a few minutes.


posted by: JMS on September 20, 2011  3:43am

PS. The winner of my recent ward election is listed as a Chief Steward for Local 34 and does live in town.