With the bang of the gavel, West River Alder Tyisha Walker stepped into history as the first woman to lead the Board of Alders as president.
And her first official, public act in her new role Thursday night was to honor her predecessor, former long time Hill alder and new state Banking Commissioner Jorge Perez. Perez, a banker by trade, was appointed by Gov. Dan Malloy to lead the state Banking Commission, and was unanimously confirmed by the State Senate in early April. (Read about that here and here.)
Walker said Perez had “worked tirelessly for the citizens of the city for 28 years.”
“We love you and we treasure your leadership,” she said.
Perez first won his seat as an alderman in 1987 (before the term became officially changed to “alder”). He served as board president from 2000 to 2006, then again from 2012 to the present. He is known for asking the most detailed, probing questions on finances, putting city officials on their toes.
He told the crowd, which was gathered for his send-off as well as the Black and Hispanic Caucuses State of the City address, that Walker was making history. He noted that it would be the first time that the president would be addressed as “madam president.”
“I think she will be one of the better presidents of this board,” Perez said during his remarks. While Perez is spending his time in Hartford these days, he reminded everyone that his address in the neighborhood he has represented over the years isn’t changing. “I won’t say goodbye because I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
Perez urged the board to continue to work together and to do something they started three years ago: set an agenda. He said that’s what has made the difference in the board’s pursuit of more jobs for city residents and ways to reduce youth violence.
Mayor Toni Harp was on hand to wish Perez well in his new duties and congratulate Walker on her new position. She said that over Perez’s nearly 30 years as an alder, he became a “master of the process. He mastered the budget and finance process. He mastered the ability to build consensus.” She said he also mastered being a leader in a diverse city and working together with others to move New Haven forward.
Walker, a second-term alder and the board’s president pro tem, ascended to the role of board president under the rules of the city charter. In addition to her duties to the board, when the mayor leaves town, or if the mayor’s office becomes vacant, Walker would be in charge of the city.
Throughout the night she received encouragement from many people, including her fellow alders as she presided over the meeting, which included not only the special presentation for Perez and the address, but also a full board meeting where Yale Alder Sarah Eidelson was unanimously elected as the board’s third officer, which is a leadership position that an alder serves in when there is no minority party represented on the board.
Eidelson (pictured) vowed to continue to work with her colleagues to do what’s best for the city, but also to be a voice for the 50,000 people in the city who are under 25. “When young leaders are at the table, outcomes are better for all of us,” she said.
Walker’s colleagues and fellow board leaders Annex Alder Al Paolillo Jr. and Dixwell Alder Jeanette Morrison also provided a bit of backup and low-key coaching during her first meeting. Morrison told Walker before the meeting got started, “Remember, you’re the chair now.”
Hill Alder Dolores Colon relished in calling Walker “madam president” during her point of personal privilege at the end of Thursday’s meeting. “It sounds so good,” she said.
After it was all over, Walker said she thought her first meeting went well.
“It was good,” she said. “Like anything else, you’ve got to learn, but I had a lot of support out there. They made it easier.”