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Monday, March 31, 2008

2nd Ward summit draws crowd

Neighborhood concerns raised

By Jim Shelton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— If the president of the United States can do it, so can the leaders of the city’s 2nd Ward.
Certainly, that was the premise behind the neighborhood’s first “State of the Community” address Saturday at Timothy Dwight School. Organized by Alderwoman Gina Calder and Democratic Ward Committee Co-chairman Mark Griffin and Greg Smith, some 80 people attended, including community activists, concerned residents, local politicians, police representatives and Yale University students.
“What we’re attempting to do is show people we all have a role to play in making change happen,” Calder said.
More of an organizing session than an address, the event tapped into deep concerns about the community’s future. Speakers discussed everything from youth violence and the governor’s proposed “three strikes” law to voter registration and the need for a community center.
“Speaking as a student and a member of this community, what I see most is the disparity of resources here,” said Yale student Dorothy Finnigan. “What’s going to connect our needs to resources is people.”
Community activist Barbara Fair suggested that the city open up unused buildings in local neighborhoods to provide additional youth programs. She also decried the flow of guns into the hands of city youth.
State Sen. Toni N. Harp, D-New Haven, state Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and state Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, detailed the challenges involved in giving New Haven’s citizens a voice in passing legislation and allocating state funds.
“Call the governor’s office. Get on the blogs. Get editorials in the newspaper. Build momentum around an idea,” Harp told the crowd. “These are ongoing battles to make these changes.”
Harp also had sharp words for New Haven’s educational system, saying the city isn’t doing enough to provide effective education to children. “Nobody calls this system into accountability,” she said.
As for state funding of local programs, Looney noted that, “We have the same problems as cities anywhere in the country, but we don’t have any cities large enough to compel the state to find solutions.”
Neighborhood resident Ibrahim Shareef said the city should find ways to support successful community activists such as Doug Bethea, leader of the Nation Drill Team.
“I’ve lived, worked and played in New Haven all my life,” Shareef said. “The community is ill and needs to be fixed.”
Another resident, Alan Felder, wanted to see attention paid to injustices within what he called the “prison industrial complex.”
“What I’m hearing so far is good, but it’s one thing to hear lip service and another thing to see human service,” Felder said. “I’m here because I see the condition of my community.”
Calder urged everyone in attendance to become active voters. She noted that in the 2nd Ward, only three in 10 registered voters tend to participate in elections. In Connecticut’s recent presidential primary, that figure rose to five in 10 registered voters.
“We need to think about how we can keep that momentum going,” Calder said.
In addition to increased voter turnout, Calder said the group wants to push for a community center in the Dwight neighborhood and offer recommendations on how the city’s prisoner re-entry program will operate.
Jim Shelton can be reached at 789-5664 or jshelton@nhregister.com.

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