Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dyson won't run for new term

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
— William Dyson, the “dean” of New Haven’s state legislative delegation, won’t seek another term as a state representative from the 94th District after 32 years on the job.
The longtime former head of the state legislature’s Appropriations Committee, Dyson vowed to continue working for reform of the criminal justice system, an area of special concern to him.
Dyson, 67, of Newhallville, a retired New Haven schoolteacher, told the Democratic Town Committee nomination convention Wednesday he wants to start up a private advocacy group to work on prison reform and he has a commitment from one private source in New Haven and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who is receptive to using Dyson in some capacity on the issue.
“It’s something we started initially talking about, so I intend to pursue it,” said Dyson. “It’s something I have been thinking about for awhile.”
Three people are interested in replacing Dyson, with Newhallville Alderman Charles Blango, D-20, nominated Wednesday with seven Ward committee votes for him, one abstension, and one against, with two people absent.
Former Alderman Willie Greene, D-20, and union advocate, Gary Holder Winfield, a former intern for Dyson, are also interested in the state representative seat, and plan to petition for a party primary.
The other seven members of the delegation were nominated in unanimous votes but Alderwoman Jackie James, D-3, said she plans to primary state Rep. Toni Walker, D-93 for her seat. James didn’t criticize Walker’s efforts in Hartford, but thought she should have more influence on what goes on in city government. “It’s about the administration,” said James, who feels Mayor John DeStefano Jr. is too controlling.
Walker said she has worked closely with James on children’s, health and other neighborhood issues and doesn’t feel she should be caught in the middle of a fight between James and the mayor.
Dyson’s interest in prison reform comes from witnessing the disruption to city neighborhoods when prisoners return with no skills and no jobs.
But, it is also personal, given his son Erick Dyson’s incarceration. The 41-year-old computer worker spent nine years in federal prison on drug conspiracy charges and was in the audience, along with Dyson’s grandchildren, DeShawn and Chandrea, both New Haven high school students,
“The thing that we often forget, for those who go away, there is someone left behind. ... too many do not have someone to nurture them along, to provide them with the support that they need. We need to do more than we do and we ought not use them as political footballs to be kicked around,” Dyson said. “He’s cool,” DeShawn Dyson, said of his grandfather.
“Inmates don’t advocate for themselves, because it is still a closeted issue and the problem gets worse every day,” said the lawmaker of the 3,000 prisoners who return each year to the same neighborhoods in New Haven without hope of employment because of felony records.
“That means we are feeding a system by which we foster hopelessness. And then we wonder why people do what they do. Well, they do what they do, because they can’t do much of anything else,” Dyson said of continuing criminal activity.
Dyson received several standing ovations throughout the evening as other legislators, friends and former students praised him and talked about his contributions to the state. State Sen. Toni Harp, D-10th, said he taught each of them the ropes of how things worked at the Capitol.
Dyson, who is currently the longest serving member of the delegation, advised them not to focus on themselves. “It should be about them (the citizens).”
Dyson said he hasn’t made up his mind about who he will support in the three-way fight for his seat, which he has held since 1976.
An influential lawmaker in Hartford, particularly in his position on the Appropriations Committee, one of Dyson’s biggest disappointments was losing the House speaker position to James Amman, Democrat of Milford.
He has had a tense relationship with New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. over his lack of support for Dyson in that position and from that time on, Dyson said there was a split in a delegation, that was once united.

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