Four days after Mayor John DeStefano offered a sunny view of life in New Haven in his reelection campaign kickoff, former Hill Alderman Tony Dawson (pictured) announced his candidacy with a somber city portrait: “There is no laughter in our parks, only fear. Our streets are like a war zone.” And “the city sits on the brink of financial ruin.”
Dawson offered his impassioned remarks Saturday to a crowd of 40 in front of City Hall. Dawson makes the second black candidate to announce a challenge to the nine-term mayor in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary, which has been tantamount to a general election in one-party New Haven since the early 1950s. The other candidate, Clifton Graves, offered his congratulations. “I'm here out of respect,” he told the New Haven Independent.
Dawson, 52, served 16 years as an alderman. He was introduced by West Rock Alderman Darnell Goldson. One question raised in recent weeks is whether two African-American candidates will split the anti-DeStefano vote, limiting either one's chances of winning. “He's serious, serious, serious,” Goldson said, “and those of us who are supporting him are serious.” Dawson took the stage and described his house and beloved Ann Street in the Hill. He bought the house when he was 16 and fixed it up. The house now anchors a tree-lined street and boasts a park filled with laughter and children playing. But that's not the case for many neighborhoods, Dawson said. “Let there be no doubt, if we do not correct the course now New Haven is well on its way to becoming a city where no one wants to raise children, own a home, or work or do business,” he said.
Asked the single biggest change he would bring to City Hall, Dawson said: “One word: transparency. I would have a more open process in appointing individuals to boards and commissions.” Dawson recalled fighting for community policing during his tenure as an alderman in the 1980s and 1990s. He said today's Elm City police force “stands gutted by the DeStefano administration.”
As mayor, Dawson said, he'd strengthen the workforce of the police and fire departments.
Asked specifically what he would do to improve community policing, Dawson, who is currently a lieutenant in protective services at Yale-New Haven Hospital, replied: “We have to get out of cars and into streets, engage people in conversation. You can't do that riding in vehicles.”
—Allan Appel, who wrote a version of this for the New Haven Independent on May 14