Register Topics Editor
NEW HAVEN — With 22 months to go before the next mayoral election, Darnell Goldson, former City Hall official and fired executive director of the Community Action Agency, has thrown his hat into the ring.
He made his announcement recently on the Jerry Kristafer radio show and has gotten the backing of the Community Watchdog Project, an anti-illegal immigrant group, which has been looking for a mayoral candidate to challenge New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. in 2009.
Watchdog founder Dustin Gold, who lives in North Branford, as do several of the active leaders of the group, said he plans to start a new political organization, the American Freedom Party, and it will endorse Goldson’s run to lead the city.
Goldson was fired as head of CAA in July 2005 after allegations of misuse of a CAA credit card while he was out of state campaigning for a national position among community action agencies; and for driving without a Connecticut driver’s license.
His credit card privileges were suspended in 2001 after his wife used the card for a purchase at Victoria Secret. Goldson said he paid CAA back immediately for his wife’s mistaken use of the card and he denied any other misuse.
Goldson sued CAA and former board chairman Darrell Brooks for breach of contract when he was never given a hearing before his dismissal by CAA. Most of the suit deals with defamation charges against Brooks, a suit the CAA settled this spring for $90,000.
He doesn’t feel his history at CAA will impact a mayoral campaign, nor does Gold.
"We agree with everything he says," Gold said.
A lifelong Democrat, Goldson, 46, said he has no plans to join Gold’s proposed party, although he left the door open to an independent candidacy and accepts their support as long as their projects don’t conflict with his platform.
Like Gold, Goldson is opposed to the Elm City Municipal ID card, which provides entry to the city’s beach and library for all residents, including illegal immigrants, while serving as a piece of identification.
Goldson said the cards are an example of DeStefano’s pledge to practice "progressive activism."
"It means to me he wants to take the taxpayer’s money and have one of these experiments," Goldson said. The ID program however, where cards have been issued to residents since last summer, out of an office with a $237,000 annual budget, is paid for with a grant from the First City Fund Corp.
The city police cooperate in prosecuting illegal immigrants charged with crimes, but do not enforce civil warrants seeking deportation, as this is a federal function. Some 70 cities, counties and states have similar policies.
Goldson said it was unfair not to enforce the law against illegal immigrants, who are here for economic reasons, while young black kids selling drugs on a street corner "go to jail every day because they are trying to improve their economics."
"Why should one group of folks be overlooked and others aren’t?" Goldson asked.
DeStefano took issue with his former legislative assistant, who worked for the city from 1998 to 2001 before leaving for the CAA, and questioned the relevance of cammpaigning this far from an election.
"The fact is divisive talk about the undocumented population of this city, setting one group against another can only bring us all down. It is the kind of talk that is neither constructive or positive for this community," said DeStefano, who recently began his eighth term.
Starting a new party takes the signatures of 25 registered voters, only one of whom needs to be from New Haven, according to Adam Joseph of the Secretary of the State’s office. To get on the ballot, the party would need to collect an estimated 128 signatures of New Haven voters.
Gold said he did not know if he would be chairman of the party, or someone else, and said he plans to move into New Haven.
Goldson said his campaign will focus on cutting taxes and he spoke of the need to reduce overtime in the police and fire departments. "Someone has to put the hatchet down and say, ‘look, we have to cut these things,’" Goldson said.
Asked if he would fill the 51 vacancies in the fire department, more than half of which are entry-level slots, or bring the 407 police officers closer to the 450 level of a few years ago, rather than pay overtime, Goldson said he would have to study it further.
He criticized the city’s decision to put together a street outreach program to intervene before youths, pegged as high-risk of engaging in violent crimes, stir up trouble.
"If you want to do street outreach get a foundation to pay for it. I don’t have a problem with the city facilitating this stuff... but let’s find someone to pay for it," Goldson said.
The program however, is being underwritten by $500,000 in grants from four foundations, Yale University and the state of Connecticut.
Goldson also railed against low Connecticut Academic Performance Test scores in the school system and the dropout rate. Measuring the dropout rate has proved controversial around the country with different methods employed by federal and state rules. Gov. M. Jodi Rell recently signed a regional compact to get at more accurate figures.
"I truly believe that people need a choice and if that means school vouchers, that means school vouchers. Make the school system feel as if it is competing for its customers. People need to be awarded pay based on performance and not based on longevity," he said.
Goldson, who worked forfor awhile the Southeast Region of the American Friends Service Committee in 2006 in Mississippi and at social services agencies in North Carolina from 1993-1996, said he is currently working out of state.
He would not disclose his employer, until he had a chance to inform them of his political ambitions.
The mayor defended his policies and criticized Goldson’s suggestions.
"Frankly, I think in every respect it is absolutely the wrong direction for the city of New Haven," he said.
DeStefano said talk of cutting back police and fire coverage was irresponsible, while he defended the city’s schools.
"Comments about vouchers in public schools only serve to undermine frankly the kind of investments we ought to be making in public schools," he said. "It is a kind of attack politics and a kind of divisive politics that doesn’t serve to move the community forward."
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or email@example.com