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Do you want your news in a nutshell? If so, Elm City Express is the source for you. We are a service of the New Haven Register, but we will provide a slightly different daily dose of New Haven happenings, all wrapped up in the same place. We love to hear from the community and will post your news for you, often in your words! Remember: Local news is our story. Contact us at: hbennettharvey@nhregister.com. We would love to hear from you.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Sista project aims to help prevent AIDS

Anti-AIDS project tells black women to insist on safe sex

By Maria Garriga
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— In an effort to combat skyrocketing HIV infections, AIDS Project New Haven has begun recruiting a new class for its Sista project.
The Sista project, developed by the Centers for Disease Control, is a social skills training program adapted for economically disadvantaged black women about AIDS and how to insist on protected sex.
The acronym stands for Sisters Informing Sisters about Topic on AIDS.
The moderator, Julie Anderson, draws from African tradition to help women feel comfortable talking about a difficult subject and to help them take personal responsibility for safe sex. There are five two-hour training sessions. They also get two follow-up sessions where to evaluate changed behaviors and help trouble shoot problems they may have in talking about safe sex.
Today, black Americans make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, but account for half of all new AIDS cases, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. And, despite medical advances that have sharply reduced HIV-related mortality rates for all racial/ethnic groups, HIV death rates are still significantly higher for Black Americans than other groups, the foundation reports.
Complicating matters, black women with AIDS have a harder time getting access to health care than their white counterparts.
The Sista project focuses attention on issues black women face, such as sexual stereotypes.
Anderson encourages women to look critically at popular culture: they watch music videos to assess how they portray black women (often in a degrading manner) and how those videos influence men who approach them.
Since a disproportionate number of black men have been incarcerated, many black women may be in a relationship with a man who has been in prison, who have a higher risk of HIV infection.
“Men are raped in prison. Men have sex with men. They are in a penal institution where condoms are not provided. They then return to a community that doesn’t talk about men having sex with men,” Anderson said. “By not talking about their past sexual experience, you are putting yourself at risk.”
So far, about 60 women have been through the training, which started in 2005.
Some of the practices include learning about the tradition of elders who sat in the baobab tree. The women take turns as the village elder, who beats on a tribal drum to call the meeting to order and to let participants know when their discussion has wandered off topic.
Anderson also uses African proverbs to teach participants how to draw on African cultural values for their safety.
She spreads cards with an African proverb inscribed on each, and each woman picks a proverb that speaks to her personally.
The proverbs come from all across Africa. They include sayings such as “Spilled water is better than a broken jar,” from Senegal, “Do not mend your neighbor’s fence before looking at your own,” from Tanzania, and “The ruins of a nation begins in the homes of its people,” from the Ashanti nation.
For more information on the program, email Julie Anderson at julie.anderson@apnh.org.

How a death row inmate was guilty until proven innocent

The following is a column by Randall Beach


The first thing I asked Kerry Max Cook was whether he is bitter that he spent 22 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
His answer surprised me.
“I’m not bitter at all,” he said. “I consider myself the luckiest man alive.”
He sounded like the New York Yankees’ Lou Gehrig proclaiming himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” after he was diagnosed with a terminal disease.
But Cook explained: “I have a 7-year-old son (Kerry Justice Cook). When he says, ‘Daddy, I love you,’ it wipes away my memories of death row.”
We were sitting in the cafe of R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, which is about as far away as you can get from being on death row in Texas. Cook was in town last Tuesday night to talk about his experience and promote his book, “Chasing Justice: My Story of Freeing Myself After Two Decades on Death Row for a Crime I Didn’t Commit.”
He noted, “If I’d allowed my anger and bitterness to consume me, I’d have traded one prison for another. What enabled me to be free is the ability to forgive those who wronged me.”
But he was scarred by what he endured, emotionally and physically. He said he was raped repeatedly in prison; his tormentors carved the word “pussy” on his buttocks.
Cook has moved beyond all this. He showed me page 263 of his book, the passage that begins, “It was all or nothing: If I was going to spend my days serving God instead of man and my case, then I had to clean out my closet first.”
In that long paragraph he forgave the police, the prosecutors and the rest of “the cast of players who had conspired to falsely convict me and to kill me.”
Cook’s troubles began in 1977, shortly after University of Texas secretary Linda Jo Edwards, 21, was beaten, stabbed and sexually mutilated in her apartment.
Cook was victimized by testimony from a witness, who was later discredited. One year later, he was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.
That sentence was reversed by an appeals court, leading to a 1992 retrial resulting in a hung jury. But he was convicted again in 1994, got the death sentence again, then had that conviction overturned, too, when a Texas appeals court ruled prosecutors hid evidence. An aborted fourth trial ended in 1999 when Cook agreed to a no-contest plea.
Cook says his case might never have been heard by the appeals courts if it weren’t for efforts by Centurion Ministries (a prisoners’ advocate group) and a reporter for the Dallas Morning News. He might have been executed.
Alluding to who lives or dies on death row, Cook said, “It’s like a lottery.” He said four innocent people were executed while he was there.
But what really cleared Cook was the arrival of DNA testing. A test of the panties Edwards was wearing at the time she was killed showed semen deposits left by another man, who was originally on a list of suspects.
When I asked Cook where the murderer is today, he said, “He’s in Houston, Texas. That’s all I know.”
I remarked it must be upsetting to think about that guy walking around a free man, but Cook just said, “There were a few years when it used to bother me.”
Twice while in prison he tried to kill himself. He became profoundly depressed when his brother was murdered. But he said, “I was brought back from near-death. I came to understand my brother was gone. I didn’t want him to be known as the brother of a murderer. It became about fighting for the family name.”
He said it came down to this: “I could’ve been executed, except I never gave up.”
We left the cafe and he walked into a room of about 70 people, many of them advocates for prisoners’ rights and legal reform.
“I wrote this book not to complain,” he told them, “but to be part of how to fix the justice system.”
He noted, “Prosecutors say you’re guilty and people believe them. You say you’re innocent and no one believes you. It’s Wal-Mart justice for the poor and Saks Fifth Avenue for the rich.”
Recalling those four people executed whom he believed were innocent, Cook said, “Somebody’s got to do something about the death penalty and how it affects poor people.” (He advocates life in prison without parole instead of capital punishment.)
Asked how he had survived, he replied, “My innocence carried me through. I channeled my anger, I self-educated myself.”
“I believed in the goodness of human beings,” he added. “Sooner or later, somebody was going to care. Sooner or later, I would come face-to-face with humanity — and I did.”
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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City settles age, race bias suit with former parks worker

By Jim Shelton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— The city agreed Friday to a $425,000 settlement of a civil lawsuit brought by a former city parks worker who claimed he was turned down for a public works job because he’s white and because he was too old.
City officials had planned to appeal an earlier $500,000 jury verdict awarded to Casper Vollero Jr. of North Haven. But Friday, the day the appeal was scheduled for court, the city and Vollero’s attorney, Diane Polan, reached a settlement.
“My client is thrilled to have the case settled,” Polan said.
Polan said the city could have settled the case months ago for only $60,000, but chose go to court instead.
“As a taxpayer, which I am, I’m appalled the city continues to make terrible decisions in litigation,” Polan said. “They chose not to settle the first time. They rolled the dice and lost.”
City Corporation Counsel John Ward said Friday the city reconsidered its appeal because it was able to negotiate a more favorable arrangement with its insurance company. The city will pay $150,000 and the insurance company will pay the rest.
“If we appeal, we may win or we may lose,” Ward said. “It’s a matter of risk. This is a good deal.”
Vollero, who is in his 60s, had applied for a laborer job with the Department of Public Works in 2003. He was employed then as a grounds worker with the Parks and Recreation Department, cutting tree branches and driving trucks.
According to Vollero’s original suit, Public Works supervisor Richard Christiansen ridiculed Vollero. Christiansen and Public Works supervisor Charles Redd allegedly recommended that Vollero not be hired, the lawsuit claimed.
Vollero filed suit after he was turned down for the job.
In the terms of Friday’s settlement, Ward said, Vollero agreed not to take any further legal action against Christiansen, Redd or former Director of Public Works Richard Miller.
City officials noted that Mayor John DeStefano Jr. was not involved in the negotiations. City spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said the mayor will sign the settlement out of a desire to save the city money.

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.

Forget the high-priced flash; give us those old-time ball games

The following is a column by Randall Beach


They say “Opening Day” has already happened, somewhere in Japan, on a Tuesday in March, at 6:05 in the morning.
I think I missed it. But that’s OK, it was only the Red Sox.
So that was the “kick-off” to what is shaping up to be a strange, disorienting season for Major League Baseball.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my day trip to Yankee Stadium, undertaken to buy tickets to a game in mid-August.
The online and phone ticket “services” weren’t very fan-friendly, so there I was, standing outside “the Shrine” in order to gain admittance later this summer for the final year before wreckers tear down this national monument.
I noted I paid $45 a pop for four seats that could be behind the flag pole.
This drew a phone call from Andy Tosetti, husband of Durham’s Linda Ruth Tosetti, who happens to be the granddaughter of Babe Ruth. (I interviewed her when Barry Bonds, currently unemployed, was about to break Ruth’s home run total.)
The Tosettis were down in St. Petersburg, Fla., when he called. They were enjoying a Yankees spring training game, but even they were worried about how they were going to land tickets to see a game this season in “the House that Ruth Built.”
When Linda got on the phone, she acknowledged the Yankees organization probably will come through with some tickets for her this year, perhaps even for the final regular season game Sept. 21.
“If they invite me, I’ll go,” she said. Noting the jacked-up prices for that game, she added, “I can’t afford a ticket.”
She told me a friend of hers who grew up in New York City can no longer afford the big bucks required to get into the Stadium. “Die-hard fans are being shot down. Who’s going to be sitting in those seats? Stars, advertisers, corporate people.”
My column also elicited a letter from Charles Ryan of East Haven, who said he “flinched” when he read about what I’d had to pay for tickets.
Ryan recalled riding a bus to Yankee Stadium with his pals from the Ansonia YMCA, circa 1947. Joe DiMaggio won the game with a home run.
“The price for our jaunt to the Stadium that day, tickets and bus fare, came to a whopping $1,” Ryan said. “A hot dog and soda and box of Crackerjacks probably brought the grand total up to $2.50, which came out of the earnings from my two paper routes in the Valley.”
Ryan said the “unique, old-time Yankee fans will be replaced by elite wine and cheese socialites who will be the only ones who can afford a game.”
Ryan said in the 1940s, Major League Baseball “seemed to be simpler and more fun.”
This was the theme of an e-mail message from Brian O’Neill of Wallingford.
His field of dreams is Fenway Park in 1983, when he dated a woman who lived near the ballpark.
In those days, fans could see doubleheaders, two games for the price of one, rather than what O’Neill calls “a day-night doubleheader scam.”
“I walked up and bought a general admission ticket for the princely sum of $3.50 and found a seat four rows from the field, where I was 15 feet away from George Brett” of the Kansas City Royals.
O’Neill saw two games for that $3.50. He said he also had a couple of $2 beers.
“This was way before the huge scam known as ‘Red Sox Nation’ was foisted upon the willing participants and going to a Red Sox game was merely watching professional baseball,” he noted.
O’Neill returned to Fenway about five years ago, sitting in “horrible seats way out beyond the bullpens” and paying $6.50 for a bag of peanuts. He won’t go back. He has also stopped going to Yankee Stadium.
O’Neill predicted that some day, “People will get tired of the huge outlay of cash to see the wealthy play baseball, amidst a din of hip-hop music, commercial announcements, the flash of the lights glaring images of stuff. You can’t even hear yourself think, let alone hear the sweet sound of baseball striking a wooden bat.”
I will try to go to the Stadium once a year with my kids. More often I will enjoy listening to games on the radio on my deck, watching other games on TV and heading down to Archie Moore’s or Sullivan’s on Chapel Street for big occasions, such as the real Opening Day, Monday, when the Yanks take the field.
Randall Beach can reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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Rule 1: This is a real family



By Amanda Howe
Special to the Register

The odds were definitely stacked against them.
New Haven brothers Tylore, Nathan and Tavist Dohna have “grown up” in the Department of Children and Families system, and are role models for what children in the system can be, said Renee Hoff, ombudsman at DCF.
Joseph Baxter, the boys’ social worker, said it isn’t hard to see why.
Tylore, 19, and a freshman at the University of Connecticut, is studying pre-med, and plans to become a doctor. He’s at UConn on a full ride through many scholarships. A family member who asked to be identified only by first her name, Trianna, said the scholarships were awarded to Tylore as a result of his academic achievements and because he is active in the community. He also scored a 1450 on his SAT.
Nathan, 17, is a junior at Career High School and says he has never wanted to be anything but an FBI agent. Nathan has already taken part in New Haven’s Board of Young Adult Police Commissioners and hopes to attend the University of New Haven for its criminal justice program.
Tavist, 15, a freshman at High School in the Community in New Haven, said he dreams of becoming an actor. He said he knew since the fifth grade that acting was for him. The second half of his school day is spent at Educational Center for the Arts.
Tavist has starred in plays at school such as “The Crucible,” in which he played main character, John Proctor, and “Romeo and Juliet,” for which he played Father Laurence (he chose not to play Romeo). Also, Tavist said he is helping to write a play that will compile all of the plays that have been done so far this year at ECA.
Life has not always been so full of promise for the brothers.
The siblings were placed in foster care when their mother’s rights were terminated and after their father was arrested. They have been in the same foster home since 2001.
But, if you ask the boys, or Trianna, they all will tell you that they do not live in a foster home: They live with their family.
Trianna said when she and her mother picked up the boys, one thing was evident.
“We didn’t consider this their foster family,” Trianna said. “At the end of the day, we are all family.”
The secret to the boys academic success and the success of a close-knit family is simple, they said: Support.
The brothers said some nights the entire family will stay in and play a board game, such as Monopoly. One a recent day, they all laughed as Trianna explained how everyone also must attend Tavist’s plays.
Trianna said that when the boys came through the front door, they were given two rules to live by.
“Don’t steal, and don’t lie,” Trianna said.
Tylore and his brothers laughed as he said that those two really are only the title of the rule book as there have been many more rules since then.
But, Tavist said, besides rules and the family support, another driving force behind doing well in school is the friendly competition that arises between the brothers.
“It’s a positive influence when you see someone get good grades on their report card,” Tavist said. “You see them get all of this praise and then you want that.”
Marie Cornigans, foster mother to the boys and many other children, and who recently earned her doctorate, said she would leave her grades on the table as they were mailed to her from Albertus Magnus College.
“I work, run a household, volunteer at church and went to school and was still able to earn mostly As. I don’t make the boys work because I earn the money. They earn the grades,” Cornigans said.
Hoff said she was amazed at how well the brothers have done, pointing out how easy it would have been to harbor angry feelings about their past and to have headed down the wrong path.
Trianna said she and her mother enforce rules about not being able to get out of family events because it is mandatory “that everyone must attend.”
“If they have a date that night, (they) better plan on bringing her,” Trianna said.
Also, the brothers are not permitted to sleep at anyone else’s house overnight, as this helps to keep potential negative influences out of their lives.
Cornigans said this is because she needs to know where the boys are at all times. They also are required to introduce her to the friends with whom they will be spending time.
The key to the boys being so successful and driven is easy, according to Cornigans: Spending time with the boys.
“I think a lot of parents have lost it there,” Cornigans said. “We do everything as a family. Most children won’t admit it, but they want that attention and they want boundaries.”
Hoff said that DCF needs to see more foster parents like the one that nurtures the Dohna brothers.
“They are just outstanding,” Baxter said of the family.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Annual commemoration of Irish Easter Uprising




NEW HAVEN — The 92nd Anniversary commemorating the “1916 Easter Uprising” in Dublin, Ireland will be held on the New Haven Green, beginning with a Mass at 9 a.m. Sunday. Following the Mass, a ceremony to honor the men and woman who fought for Irish independence will take place, organizers said.
The public ceremony, with a group from last year’s event shown at right, is in its 18th year, is “a reminder to all ethnic groups that freedom and liberty carry a high price,” organizers said. Local honorees are recalled in a roll call and the original “Proclamation of Freedom” will be read.
The 1916 Easter Uprising occurred when about 1,000 men and women captured the General Post Office building in Dublin, Ireland in another effort to gain independence for their country, organizers said. It was a key turning point on the road to Irish independence.
Michael V. Lynch, master of ceremonies for the event, said in a statement, “Since its start in 1991, this event has drawn several hundred of Connecticut’s citizens honoring this historic event in Ireland’s history.”
In case of inclement weather: all activities will take place in the basement hall of St. Mary’s Church, 5 Hillhouse Ave.
An Irish breakfast fundraiser will follow the Flag Ceremony, at 10 a.m. at The Playwright Restaurant, 144 Temple St. The breakfast benefits the New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Breakfast is $10 per person in advance and $12 at the door. For more information and reservations call Maura McKeown, (203) 288-1145.

Report examines quality of life for Hispanics

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
HARTFORD
— A wide array of indicators point to a declining quality of life and standard of living for Hispanics in Connecticut, according to a new report.
The latest survey by the Center for Research and Public Policy measured views on housing, employment, educational and judicial systems, as well as the economic status of the state’s largest and fastest growing minority group.
The 800-person sample found affordable housing dropped significantly from 74.5 percent to 51.5 percent in five years, while respondents reporting they were better off today financially than two years ago declined from 68.1 percent in 2002 to 50.1 percent in 2007.
The report included 50 in-person, in-depth interviews with Hispanic youths, a survey of 200 Hispanic leaders, as well as a focus groups of individuals in three cities.
The material was commissioned and released by the state office of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission.
Fernando Betancourt, executive director of the commission, said his biggest concerns were affordable housing, the cost of health care and the disconnect between the educational goals of students and the dropout reality.
Of students interviewed, 88 percent said they were very interested in attending college, but one-quarter of them suggested this goal was unaffordable.
Betancourt said statewide only 53 percent of Latina female high school students graduate, while 48 percent of their male counterparts obtain a diploma.
While some answers pointed to the success of education programs around health issues, such as a decline in smoking, a boost in mammograms and blood cholesterol checks, other indicators pointed to systemic problems, Betancourt said.
A total of 89 percent reported having a primary care physician, but 18.4 percent also said in the last year when they needed medication, they could not afford it. Betancourt said other findings indicate 40 percent of Latinos don’t have health insurance.
Less than half of the adults interviewed, 41.5 percent, gave the state’s judicial system a positive rating. While this was low, it was a big jump from the 22.4 percent who had a positive reaction in 2002.
Betancourt attributed this in part to the addition of translators in courts, but New Haven public defender Joseph Lopez said the bigger picture remains disturbing.
He said he sees many black and Hispanic inmates, but few Hispanic representatives among attorneys and judges. “I don’t see a lot of progress,” Lopez said.
Betancourt labeled the report “a call to action. By 2020, the majority of workers will be Hispanic. This is the time to invest in education, to make housing affordable.”

Face off!


By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— As police officers and firefighters lace up skates for their annual grudge match hockey game Saturday, some grudges will go back longer than others.
In high school, firefighter John Twohill could barely set foot off campus because he played for rival Notre Dame of West Haven.
“He was the most hated man in West Haven,” said Detective Herbie Johnson, a Blue Devils player in the late 1980s and one-time archenemy. “Me and him were bitter rivals. Whenever I would see him, we would get into it.”
“I was a marked man,” acknowledged Twohill.
Improbably, a decade later, they would wear the same hockey sweater for a police/fire tournament in Long Island.
“I never thought, after all these years, that I’d be playing against some of the same guys I played against in high school,” said Johnson, a detective, father and 10-year member of the force.
The Police and Fire departments’ hockey teams will face off Saturday at Yale’s Ingalls Rink and decades-old rivalries will take the ice with them along with a collection of state championships from high school glory days at some the state’s pre-eminent hockey powerhouses.
Johnson won a state championship with West Haven in 1990. Police Officer Dan Sacco won one in West Haven in 1994. Officer Dennis Mastriano took a state title in 1991 playing for Fairfield Prep. Fire Lt. Rob Celentano was all-state for Hamden.
Twohill starred at Notre Dame and police Officer Mike Torre and Firefighter Jim Fitzgerald skated for North Haven High.
Now, their kids are playing against each other. Missing for the second year is Rob Fumiatti, the city police officer and former West Haven Blue Devil who was shot in a drug raid. After going through extensive therapy and returning to work, he died unexpectedly last year.
The hockey game is the 12th annual between the two squads, and represents a growing trend among police and fire departments in the region. The police departments in West Haven and Hamden both have created teams in the last few years.The NHPD/NHFD hockey game has evolved into a family event over the last decade, organizers said. Adults are asked to make a $20 donation; kids get in free and there is an open skate after the game. Proceeds benefit sick or injured police officers and firefighters or their families.
TThe opening ceremony will feature the New Haven police and fire honor guards and the New Haven Firefighters Emerald Society Pipes and Drum Band.his year, the beneficiaries are police officers Rose Reid and Ted Forbes, a former captain of the West Haven hockey team; Kaycie Begley, the daughter of Milford fire Capt. Bernie Begley, and Laura Kennel, daughter of Guilford Firefighter Keith Kennel.
Face-off is at 1:30 p.m., but the needling already has begun.
Johnson was in the middle of taking a statement in the detective bureau earlier this month when his phone started ringing off the hook, but it wasn’t another shooting coming in.
When he called back, it was Mastriano. Prep had won the state championship a few days earlier.
“He said, ‘I just want to let you know I have a fresh Fairfield Prep state championship jersey in my hands,’” Johnson said. “And he says he doesn’t rub it in.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Service slated for UNH professor



The following is a press release issued by the University of New Haven. Elm City Express shares it here with readers as a service and in memory of Caroline Dinegar.

Former New Haven mayoral candidate, Peace Corps director and noted political ccience professor memorialized

WEST HAVEN — The University of New Haven will hold a memorial service for the late Caroline Dinegar at 2 p.m. April 7 at Dodds Hall Theater. A reception will follow in the Seton Gallery and lobby in Dodds Hall. Dinegar, a well-respected and outspoken professor of political science at UNH, died on Dec. 12. Many former colleagues and students, including President Steve Kaplan and former presidents Larry DeNardis and Phil Kaplan are expected to eulogize Dinegar during the service.
An accomplished scholar, Dinegar, shown above in a photo released by the university received her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, and a master’s degree and Doctor of Philosophy in International Relations and International Law at Columbia University, UNH officials said. She served for 10 years as a Foreign Affairs Officer for the U.S. State Department and as a liaison to the United States Mission to the United Nation in New York and in Paris. Prior to her appointment as professor and chairwoman of the Department of Political Science at the University of New Haven in 1970, she served as assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Connecticut, Associate Professor of International Law and Organization at Cal State in Northridge and as assistant professor in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Government at the University Virginia.
During her tenure at UNH, Dinegar served as chairwoman of the Faculty Senate and also as accreditation officer, as director of the Institute of Law and Public Affairs, associate provost for Government Affairs, as Affirmative Action Office and Director of Equal Opportunity and as acting director of the UNH Library. More recently she served as interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences as well as the director of the School of Hospitality and Tourism.
She served for two years as director of the Peace Corps in Malaysia in the mid 70s, and spent 1980-81 as professor of strategy and politics at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. while on leave from the UNH. She twice ran as a Republican Party candidate for mayor of New Haven, in 1985 and 1987. Dinegar was known as a pioneering expert in terrorism, and became a valuable resource for media. She was the first of the UNH faculty to be awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

Going for the gold...or the bronze

Cyclists seeking honor for city

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— City cycling advocates are seeking to secure national recognition for New Haven as a bicycle-friendly community.
In an effort spearheaded by cycling advocates ElmCityCycling, New Haven recently submitted an application to the League of American Bicyclists, seeking the group’s “Bicycle-Friendly Community” award.
“I think New Haven’s best shot is for a bronze. Even that is pretty hard,” said ElmCityCycling member Hunter Smith. “New Haven is a pretty good bicycle city. The city has taken a lot of steps lately to improve infrastructure and road safety,” said Smith. A bronze is the lowest of four levels granted, and the majority of applicants receive no prize, he said. Winners will be announced later in the spring.
Whether the award is granted or not, Smith said the process has been a learning experience.
“The worst case is that we will get feedback from the League of American Bicyclists, and we’ll know what we need to do to improve. … Even if you do get a bronze, there’s always something to improve. … (LAB) gives specific recommendations with what New Haven has to do better,” he said.
ElmCityCycling already has a few recommendations of its own; in particular, the group would like to see a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator in City Hall.
“The way government works, if one person isn’t assigned, it doesn’t get done,” Smith said.
ElmCityCycling member David Streever bikes several times a day from his home in East Rock, and said he met many of his friends through cycling.
“New Haven is a really small city. If you try to ride from East Rock, or any of the neighborhoods to downtown, you should pretty easily be able to beat any car because of the traffic patterns,” he said.
Still, he’s concerned about safety, “generally the way people drive,” he said, and would like to see increased traffic enforcement. “People are routinely driving 10 to 15 miles over the speed limit, they blow through red lights,” he said. “It just seems like part of the culture around here.”
According to the award application, 1.8 percent of commuters bike to work, the second highest percentage in any major city in the Northeast. However, there are only four miles of bike lanes. While the city eventually plans to add six additional miles of bike lanes, that’s a small percentage of the total 255 miles of city roads, according to the application.
However, the application touts other bike-friendly initiatives, including the Arts & Ideas Festival bike tours, an ElmCityCycling-lead monthly bike-to-work day breakfast, the bike-friendly Farmington Canal Greenway, and youth bicycle safety programs through the city’s Department of Youth Services.
“Increased cycling will also help alleviate parking challenges downtown and at the local train stations,” said Michael Piscitelli, director of Transportation, Traffic and Parking for the city.
City spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said in a statement that, “The city of New Haven and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. are strongly committed to encouraging cycling among residents and commuters.”
“As gas prices rise and concerns about global warming mount, New Haven is proud to be a state-wide leader in working to promote cycling and other forms of non-motorized transportation,” DeStefano said in the release.
ElmCityCycling meets the second Monday of every month at 6 p.m. in City Hall. Meetings are open to all.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

Substance abuse awareness day

April 2 event tackles underage drinking

By Eliza Hallabeck
Special to the Register

As part of a national campaign against underage drinking, youths and adults are invited to the Hill Regional Career High School for a day of awareness April 2.
The Underage Drinking Prevention: Town Hall Meetings are planned in more than 1,600 communities across the country this year for a week, starting Monday.
At the Hill Regional Career High School, 140 Legion Ave., New Haven residents are encouraged to participate the night of enlightenment on the subject in the school cafeteria.
Between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. more than 200 people are expected to attend the event, organizers said.
Door prizes will be given out and a family-style dinner will be served, which will include baked chicken, gravy and vegetables.
“We wanted to get the information out to the community of New Haven,” said Shanna Barton, who works for the Commission of Substance Abuse Policy and Prevention for the city of New Haven.
Barton said most of the statistics that will be shared during the night will be based on a survey of 200 local students done last summer.
According to www.stopalcoholabuse.gov, a Web site backed by multiple federal government agencies, alcohol use among children and adolescents starts early and increases rapidly with age.
“Youth begin drinking at 11 in New Haven,” said Barton. “Nationally, youth begin drinking at 13.”
The local meetings are meant to encourage individuals, families and entire communities to address and help fight the problem of underage drinking.
According to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.
In 2006, among the male drivers between 15 and 20 years old who were involved in car accidents 24 percent had been drinking, also according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The New Haven Commission on Substance Abuse Policy and Prevention, the New Haven Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking, state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is sponsoring the event, in collaboration with the federal Interagency Coordinating for the Prevention of Underage Drinking.
Eliza Hallabeck is a New Haven Register Intern.

Welcome to Whalley Terrace



City welcomes supportive housing

By Eliza Hallabeck
Special to the Register

A new option in supportive housing for low income or disabled adults over 62 years old has sprouted on Whalley Avenue, and at its open house on Tuesday the building shined in the spring light.
Twenty-two tenants will call Whalley Terrace home and most have already moved in. But while some have yet to do so, the building was designed to hold exactly 22 housing units and there already is a waiting list, should any of the units go unfilled in the future.
“The point is that folks live here, and they live here affordably,” said Brett Hill, the CEO of HOME, Inc.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr., one of those who turned out for the open house, said “People living in an environment that really supports their needs is good.”
A small ceremony, for which Hill officiated, welcomed visitors to the open house; many were thanked for their contributions in creating Whalley Terrace.
“So many people have to help to pull the same wagon,” Hill said about working on the project for the past several years. “That is a wonderful thing.”
Hill said the endeavor, which HOME, Inc. and Columbus House worked together on, was both wonderful and frustrating.
“It’s frustrating that it takes six years, but it’s worth it,” said Hill.
Whalley Terrace was developed under the state’s Supportive Housing Pilots Initiative, which is a collaborative program designed to create affordable housing and support services for people affected by mental illness or chemical dependency who also are facing homelessness, according to Columbus House.
Columbus House is a nonprofit organization that relies on government grants and contributions; it focuses on providing food and shelter for men and women in need. HOME, Inc. is a non-profit organization that provides quality affordable housing for low-income Connecticut residents.
“It’s just such important work that we do,” said Columbus House Executive Director Alison Cunningham. “To see people living in the community without homes is ridiculous.”
Cunningham said she was pleased to see how Whalley Terrace has turned out, adding there were not a lot of changes from the original design of the building.
“I’m very pleased with how it looks and more importantly with how the tenants feel,” said Cunningham.
Isreal Rosado, 64, said he moved into the building on March 18, and he is pleased with the comfortable and friendly environment.
“This is the best place that I’ve lived in,” said Rosado.
Rosado said he had been living in his uncle’s basement when he heard about Whalley Terrace and applied for housing right away. Rosado said he had been suffering from various problems before he applied for housing.
All of the applications went through HOME, Inc, Cunningham said.
“We started the outreach process in September, and by December we had pinpointed every tenant,” said Hill.
After the welcoming ceremony, donated food and beverages were served for visitors and tenants. “It’s great to see it finally done,” said Cunningham.
Eliza Hallabeck is a New Haven Register Intern.

Police chief picks retirement day


Ortiz’s last day as chief will be April 11

By William Kaempffer and Maria Garriga
Register Staff

NEW HAVEN — Four months after he announced his retirement, Police Chief Francisco Ortiz Jr. announced his retirement again.
Ortiz told his staff Tuesday that his last day leading the 405-person department will be April 11.
Assistant Chief Stephanie Redding will serve as interim chief until Mayor John DeStefano Jr. picks a successor.
“I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work with the great men and women of this Police Department and to serve this exceptional community for nearly 30 years,” said Ortiz. “I am grateful to the residents of New Haven for their support all these years, and to the mayor for allowing me to serve in this position for almost five years.”
Ortiz’s letter Monday to the mayor announcing his retirement was his second. In November, he said he would leave the job in January to accept a security post at Yale University. He delayed his departure, at the mayor’s request, after the unexpected retirement of Assistant Chief Herman Badger, his second-in-command.
DeStefano Tuesday offered kind words for the departing chief and Redding.
“As we continue our search for a new chief, I am fully confident that as interim, Stephanie Redding will provide the leadership the department will need to continue our commitment to high-quality community policing throughout our city,” he said.
Redding was the first female in department history to hold the assistant chief position, and will be the first to occupy the top spot, even if her time as interim chief could be measured in weeks.
The city administration has said it hopes to have a new chief selected by the end of April, and neither Redding, nor anyone else from inside the department, has applied for the job.
She joined the department in 1986 as a patrol officer and, as a lieutenant, was named one of two assistant chiefs in the department in 2006.
Redding’s husband, Patrick, is a captain on the force.
Ortiz will start his new job April 21.
His formal announcement, by coincidence, came a day after the Board of Aldermen approved an ordinance amendment that authorizes the city to pay Ortiz’s successor as much as $160,000.
Ortiz earned $108,000. The city had requested an increased salary range, from $100,000 to $160,000, to make the city more competitive in luring a candidate with national credentials.
Chiefs in many cities in the region earn $10,000 to $50,000 more than New Haven paid its head of public safety.
Aldermen approved the new pay scale 23-4 after intense debate.
Alderman Jorge Perez, D-5, offered an amendment that would lower the ceiling to $150,000 as a concession to already burdened taxpayers.
“We need to do this in a way that doesn’t drive people out of the city because of taxes,” he said.
The amendment failed 16-12.
But supporters argued fiercely over that final $10,000.
“If we gave him $250,000, it wouldn’t stop the shootings,” said Alderman Robert Lee, D-11, an opponent of the new pay range. He said he would be happier with a salary range of $120,000 to $125,000.
Alderman Roland Lemar, D-9, disagreed, saying the new chief, selected in a national search, would have to uproot his or her family, move without those expenses being covered and not be eligible for a pension for 10 years.
“It’s not worth it to quibble over $10,000,” he said.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

SCSU to hold series on genocide

NEW HAVEN — A series of events titled “Genocide: Weeks of Remembrance and Reflection,” set for April at Southern Connecticut State University, will look at issues pertaining to the genocides in Armenia and Cambodia, the Holocaust, genocide and women, and other related topics.
This reflection on genocide seeks to provide a thoughtful basis for bringing the catastrophe in Darfur to an end and for preventing or limiting the future occurrences of such crimes against humanity, organizers said.
‰April 11, at noon, poet and scholar Peter Balakian will speak on “The Armenian Genocide and Modernity,” followed at 1:30 p.m. by a light lunch and at 2 p.m. by a poetry reading. These events will take place in Engleman B121-A & B. Balakian has published two books on the Armenian genocide, “Black Dog of Fate,” winner of the PEN/Albrand Prize for memoir and a New York Times Notable Book, and “The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response,” which received the 2005 Raphael Lemkin Prize and was a New York Times Notable Book and New York Times and national best seller.
‰April 14, from 2-3:30 p.m., in the Adanti Student Center Ballroom, Daniel Mendelsohn, a professor of humanities at Bard College, will discuss his book, “The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million,” which looks at the fates of six of his relatives who died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust. His lecture is on “Finding ‘The Lost’: A Journey into the History, Family, and Judaism.”
‰April 16, from 7:35 to 10:30 p.m., in Engleman A120, the Cinéma du Monde film series will present a screening of “The Killing Fields,” director Roland Joffé’s award-winning British film drama about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. A post-film discussion will be hosted by Jerry Dunklee, SCSU professor of journalism.
‰April 25, four speakers will deliver lectures in Engleman A120, beginning at 1 p.m. Benedict Kiernan, Whitney Griswold Professor of History, professor of international and area studies and director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University, and author of the book “Blood and Soil,” will speak on “A World History of Genocide.”
Claudia Card, Emma Goldman Professor in the philosophy department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a co-editor of the book “Genocide’s Aftermath,” will discuss “The Paradox of Genocidal Rape Aimed at Forced Pregnancy.”
James E. Young, professor of English and Judaic studies and chairman of the department of Judaic and Near Eastern studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, will speak on “Memory, Counter-memory and the Monument after 9/11: From Berlin to New York.” Young is the author of “At Memory’s Edge: After-images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture” (Yale University Press, 2000).
The session will open with remarks by Armen T. Marsoobian, chairman and professor of philosophy at Southern. Marsoobian is the author of articles dealing with moral responsibility and genocide.
The events are free to the public. For more information, call Marsoobian at 392-6788. For information about the film screening or the Mendelsohn lecture, call philosophy professor David Pettigrew at 392-6778.

Happening in New Haven



Diversity in the workplace

NEW HAVEN - Employment lawyer and author Natalie Holder-Winfield, shown at right, will explore the many ways in which employees can suddenly find themselves in a minority role at work, and how to graciously overcome this obstacle to success, from 5:50 to 7:30 p.m. April 2 at the New Haven Public Library, 133 Elm St. Winfield has worked with such organizations as Time Warner, the NYC Bar, the LA State Bar Association, and CT Regional Water Authority, organizers said. Copies of her book, "Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce: New Rules for a New Generation," will be available for purchase and signing.
There is no charge for the seminar, but registration is required at www.guidezilla.com/nhfpl, or call 946-8835.


When less is more

NEW HAVEN - The New Haven Woman’s Club will hold its spring meeting at 12:30 p.m. April 4 at the Church of The Redeemer on the corner of Whitney Avenue and Cold Spring Street. The featured speaker will be "the well known and loved New Haven Register Columnist Jean Cherni," organizers said. Her topic is “Living with less and loving it." Members are encouraged to bring items for grab bags.
Refreshments will be served. For more information, call 203-588-8753.

Labels:

Westville plan aired

Westville amenable to students moving in UNH makes plea to allow 200 seniors in apartments

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
NEW HAVEN
— After two hours of venting their frustration with the developer of a Westville apartment complex, some 70 neighbors Monday indicated a willingness to let students from a local university fill one of the buildings on the site for a limited lease.
University of New Haven President Steven Kaplan made his case to send 200 UNH seniors to live in one 60-apartment building at the Wintergreen at Westville development starting in August for nine and one-half months to help it meet a housing crunch.
The neighbors of the Westville Village complex have fought for years with Metropolitan Developers whom they accused of misleading them about their plans.
“Wintergreen has lied to us from day one,” one of the neighbors said,
When the city approved Wintergreen in a planned development district it said the complex could not be used for dorms or student housing without a major amendment that would have to go back for approval by the Board of Aldermen.
Kaplan and Wintergreen attorney, Michael Lasso, said they are talking to the city about the possibility of an agreement, short of a new PDD amendment, that would allow the students to move in under UNH control for one year only.
Kaplan and Dean of Students Becky Johnson said the UNH students would be monitored by three resident advisors, plus a resident director, and would be held to its strict code of conduct against disruptive noise and other behavior.
The university would provide a shuttle to transport the students to the UNH campus three miles away.
He said they already have 240 students living in the Forest Hills apartments in West Haven and have not had problems with their neighbors; 60 other students live at the Regency in West Haven with similar outcomes.
Kaplan and three student resident advisors said UNH is not a party school, that the majority of the student body are public safety majors and adhere to the schools rules or face discipline.
“These are very good young people. They are subjected to pretty strict rules,” Kaplan said. “We’re asking you to help us,” he said to the audience.
The president said one of its goals is to teach students how to live in community, “how to live together and interact together,” which is why they would prefer to have the 200 live on one site, where the university could continue to have oversight.
Wintergreen has a total of 350 apartments in five buildings on Blake Street, one-half block from the Westville Village center.
Kaplan said the students are expected to be mainly upperclassmen chosen in a lottery system.
The Wintergreen of Westville Web site shows apartments ranging from $1,060 for one-bedroom units to $2,600 for three-bedroom apartments with two and one-half baths.
Christine Gouizi, marketing director, said they cannot refuse to rent to students and she would prefer to have them all in one building.
Kaplan said if they cannot move their students into Wintergreen, students are likely to rent there without the oversight of the university.
Thea Buxbaum, an activist in Westville, suggested several of the group meet with the developers and UNH as the discussions proceed with the ultimate goal of a limited lease, if that is the consensus.
The major concern of the crowd was setting a precedent that would allow other universities to move in students. Several references were to students from nearby Southern Connecticut State University who had trashed private housing rentals in the area.
“This plan is not terrible,” said Mary Faulkner of the Westville Management Team, “but we are in the vicinity of Southern whose reputation is not the same.”
John Sawyer said his dream is to have a “graduate ghetto” in the Westville Village, like there is in East Rock with Yale University graduate students and this arrangement might be the start of that.
He asked that the hostility to the developers not be the reason to kill the UNH proposal.
UNH did not have answers yet on whether its police force could help patrol students.
Westville resident Bob Bradley told the crowd it should take Carlos Vasquez, the Metropolitan partner, at his word, that the building will fill by October with other tenants, if the UNH proposal is not acceptable.
“I don’t see the economic benefit,” Bradley said of the UNH plan, although others feared the apartments will stay unrented because of the recent market crisis.
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com

More than the three Rs

State gets earful on high school reforms

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— State Department of Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan continued his statewide listening tour on proposed high school reforms Monday, taking comments from teachers, students and parents at the Hill Regional Career High School.
Where state requirements previously mandated 20 credits, the new proposal recommends an additional four, including two in a foreign language, an additional science credit, and a new senior year independent study or internship. Students would be required to pass five state exams in Algebra I and II, chemistry, history and English. However, McQuillan said Monday the state is “looking for safety nets and alternatives” for students “if they persist in not being able to pass.”
Under the proposal, the Department of Education would develop optional curriculum for districts to follow in 11 “critical areas” included in the state’s core curriculum, including English, biology and civics.
The Board of Education has unanimously supported the changes, and McQuillan and Deputy Commissioner George Coleman are touring districts seeking input on the proposal.
They are expected to bring those comments back to Hartford, where the Board of Education and a committee charged with drafting the reforms will incorporate those recommendations. State Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said he expects legislation will be introduced in January 2009.
If approved by the General Assembly, the new requirements would apply to students graduating in 2015.
Student Toddchelle Young said Monday she’s interested in medicine, but that science reform must start as early as elementary school. Curriculum reform must also be backed by books and labs, she said.
With so much money gone into “beautifying” city schools, “There is so much more within the schools that needs focus, like technology. We need new labs, we need new books to be competitive,” she said.
Fellow student Ariane DaSilva urged the state to “boost math, boost sciences, because that’s what’s required of us in college,” rather than elective courses.
New Haven’s kindergarten-12 math supervisor Ken Mathews said he had “serious reservations about requiring Algebra II.”
“Although I do believe in a society where every individual knows Algebra II, I just don’t think it’s well planned enough right now,” he said.
New Haven school board member Frances Padilla asked the state to “flesh out” plans for middle school reform. Board member Ann Levett questioned what was being done to assure qualified teachers will be available to teach the proposed courses.
New Haven already requires at least 24 credits. The district has required two years of a world language for decades.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s proposed budget includes $100,000 for a feasibility study analyzing the reform’s financial burden on the state and local districts.
“This is a proposal that will have implications for spending,” McQuillan acknowledged Monday.
Yet McQuillan made what he called “an urgent statement about how much work we have to do as a state to address the learning achievement gaps we have,” claiming Connecticut has fallen from its place as the nation’s educational leader.
“Too many graduates are leaving high school and going onto community college or college, enrolling and having to take large numbers of remediate courses to be competitive or just to do the work in college,” he said.
“We are in a very important and critical turning point. We haven’t fallen off a cliff so far, but we’re falling at a rate I think will be disastrous in a few years,” he said.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

Planes, trains and automobiles

Transportation woes slowing down U.S., chamber official says

By Ed Stannard
Register Metro Editor
NEW HAVEN
— There’s no getting around it: Fixing the nation’s roads and bridges and improving mass transit will cost money — a lot of money.
And what’s at stake is America’s global standing.
That was the message representatives of business, trades and unions heard Monday at a transportation conference held at the Belvedere Conference Center, sponsored by the Keep Connecticut Moving coalition.
“What’s at stake is simple and stark,” keynote speaker Janet Kavinoky of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told attendees. “If we fail to address our transportation infrastructure challenges, we will lose jobs and industries to other nations.”
She pointed out China spends 9 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure, India 5 percent, while the United States has spent less than 2 percent since 1980.
“If we fail to act, we will pollute our air and destroy the free, mobile way of life we cherish,” Kavinoky said. “Thirty-six percent of America’s major urban highways are congested. Congestion costs drivers $78 billion a year in wasted time and fuel costs. Americans spend 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic. And while their car engines are idling, they are pumping thousands of tons of pollution into the air every day.”
Speaker of the House James A. Amann, D-Milford, master of ceremonies for the event, agreed congestion on Interstate 95 is a growing problem.
“You want tourism? Go to I-95 on a Friday afternoon. You’ll see every stitch of Connecticut as you sit there hour after hour after hour,” he said.
Worse than traffic jams, according to Kavinoky, “poorly maintained roads contribute to a third of all highway fatalities. That’s more than 14,000 deaths every year — a national disgrace.”
In order to bring U.S. roads, ports, airways and rails to an acceptable condition, Kavinoky said all revenue sources have to be considered, including gasoline taxes and public/private partnerships.
This is a critical time, she said, because the massive federal transportation bill, known as SAFETEA-LU, must be reauthorized in 2009.
Despite a slowing economy in a possible recession, Kavinoky believes taxpayers won’t rebel. If people know what they’re getting, they’re willing to pay and they perceive there’s a benefit off of it,” she said afterward.
U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4, one of two congressmen, along with Joe Courtney, D-2, who attended, said a higher gas tax years ago would have paid off with lower prices now.
C“I thought it was misguided that we would choose to reduce the gas tax,” he said.ourtney said he’s invited U.S. Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to visit eastern Connecticut April 18.
“We want him to be as familiar as he possibly can be in terms of what we need in Connecticut,” said Courtney.
Adam Liegeot, spokesman for Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who Liegeot said was not invited to the conference, said afterward Rell has approved $3.5 billion in highway and mass-transit spending since 2004 and “recognizes that we need to continue to make these unprecedented investments in our transportation system if we are to continue to stimulate our economy and grow jobs.”
The state Bond Commission, which Rell controls, is scheduled to approve $75 million in road projects Friday, including a bridge on First Avenue in West Haven and intersection improvements at routes 10 and 22 in Hamden.
EdJohn Bertoli of Urban Engineers Inc. in Hartford, which does contract work for the state Department of Transportation, said one improvement the state can make would be to shorten the timeline from paper to concrete and steel. “I certainly can say that there is a frustration within our profession at the time it takes … from the conceptual state to design and development,” he said. Stannard can be reached at estannard@nhregister.com or 789-5743.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Purim party!










Purim, perhaps one of the most spirited Jewish holidays, is a time for costumes, noisemakers and treats, making it a popular Jewish holiday for children everywhere, as they love to put on Purim costumes. That was true at Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy in Ornage, where Purim was celebrated with the reading of the Megillah, which tells the story of Queen Esther and how she saved her people from destruction at the hands of the evil Haman. It is also celebrated with the giving of gift baskets to friends, family and the needy, which is referred to as shalach manos, or literally, sending out portions). A common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen, literally Haman’s pockets. These triangular fruit-filled cookies are supposed to represent Haman’s three-cornered hat.

Troupe builds community




They also get to travel, reveal the real New Haven

By Maria Garriga
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Kneeling on a darkened stage, “Juan” realizes he has been evicted and his mother has abandoned him. In an agony-racked voice, the actor begins a rap soliloquy. Welcome to a new world of community theater brought to you by Bregamos of Fair Haven.
In its most prestigious performance to date, Bregamos will bring the hip-hop musical “Kingdom” to the Netherlands March 25 for an international theater festival. The theater group was one of only two theater companies asked to represent the United States at the International Community Arts Festival in the Netherlands, where they’ll be until Sunday performing the musical.
Rafael Ramos, by day deputy director of the Liveable City Initiative, by night a theater buff, started Bregamos in 2001.
Today, the repertory troupe has about 35 participants, most from Fair Haven. It has its first rehearsal space at Erector Square, 315 Peck St.
Ramos trained many of these amateur actors and stagehands in lighting, sound and carpentry. Local theater professionals volunteer at Bregamos to teach stagecraft.
Ramos became addicted to the excitement generated by theater productions when he helped launch House of Tribes, an experimental community theater, in 1994.
Ramos felt Fair Haveners needed an introduction to drama, not by watching it, but by creating it. Theater could reach them because their own lives had so much drama, but it was a drama distinctly different from plays written by Neil Simon, Eugene O’Neil or George Bernard Shaw.
These were dramas about immigrants coping with gang violence, tremendous poverty and haphazard education. Like all dramas, they showed people facing moral dilemmas, dysfunctional relationships, and the search for hope and meaning.
He found ways to link to drama by selecting plays that drew inspiration from situations that arise in Fair Haven, and by selecting actors and stagehands from the neighborhood with no previous experience in theater.
“It’s medicinal. It makes people question their community and their lifestyles,” said Michael Improta, 16, of North Haven, who plays Juan.
Through the theater, actors learn to inhabit a character, speak in the voice of another and understand lives and perspectives of others.
“This is a community-building exercise. That’s the main goal,” Ramos stressed.
The repertory also gives people from different generations, social strata and communities a chance to interact.
Before he attended Yale University, Gabriel Hernandez, 22, of New Jersey, occasionally played basketball with the Latin Kings. Perhaps that gives him inspiration as he plays Andre, a young gang leader pushing his friend, Juan, to join the gang and kill as a sign of his loyalty.
Hernandez now studies at Yale’s urban education program, which prepares participants for teaching careers in challenging inner-city environments.
The amateurs work alongside a handful of professional actors, such as Vanessa Soto, 25, of New Haven. “Kingdom” offers Bregamos a chance to illuminate its main purpose as a community theater that reflects the reality of its neighborhood to people who inhabit it.
Award-winning playwright Aaron Jafferis, who set “Kingdom” in Fair Haven, where he now lives in the Fair Haven Heights section, is a New Haven native who graduated from Hillhouse High School in 1994.
Since then he has lived in Mexico City; Berkeley, Calif.; and New York before returning here, where he feels most at home.
Jafferis brought hip-hop into the play as a way of drawing a new, younger, more urban audience to theater, but the resulting play brings theater closer to the real world, too.
The gang violence and poverty of classmates from his high school years dominates the play, where mother abandons her child, where women must fight for respect, and where loyalty means pulling a trigger.
Jafferis set the play in his hometown of New Haven because “it has all the problems of a big city, but its small enough that we have solve them.”
Maria Garriga can be reached at mgarriga@nhregister.com or 789-57In the past, the company has staged plays such as “The Metro

It would be sew easy to help these quilters


Quilters find themselves in a bind

By Pamela McLoughlin
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— If it’s true that a stitch in time saves nine, then members of the West River Senior Center Stitching Club could save hours if they had a few donated sewing machines.
The group of about eight seniors has met since autumn to create quilts under the guidance of fashion designer Ruth Herring, owner of Chez’ Li’tle Designs. The quilters have been hand stitching their quilt squares and eventually will get fill and backing before their handiwork is sent off to a charitable organization serving children or other seniors.
But despite the advantage of years of combined sewing practice, the handwork takes a long, long time, especially with arthritic fingers, although some say the hand stitching has been like physical therapy for their arthritis.
The group of mostly women — there is one man — want to produce more items so they can give away more quilts and said with three machines they’d be cranking.
There’s one broken sewing machine at the center, but it’s so old, no one can fix it, clients said. They hope for donations of used sewing machines, as are a similar group that meets with Herring Thursdays at the Dixwell/Newhallvile Senior Center.
For now, production is slow at the West River sewing table Tuesday afternoons, but everyone is in stitches while they sew, because friendship and camaraderie abound.
“This is my outlet,” Delois Conley said. “I can kick up my heels and pick on myself and other people. If you can laugh at yourself and others, it’s better than money.”
Conley said that as a retired nursing assistant, she also has a knack for knowing if someone is troubled and she isn’t shy about offering help.
“I like the sociability of getting together; the friendship,” said Francine Reid, who said hand stitching has improved the flexibility of her arthritic fingers.
Annie Hall, dubbed the comedian of the group, but whose wisecracks were deemed by friends not fit for a family newspaper, said she used to sew all her clothes back in the day and likes the idea that through the stitching group she’ll be helping others.
Patricia DeVore, a seamstress, said they could get a real assembly line going with machines.
Another member, Mary Jane Simmons, said she began sewing in the pre-electric days on a pedal sewing machine, then an electric. She loves the group, but would love to go back to a machine in 2008.
“It’s a nice group and we have fun,” she said.
Senior center Director Michelle Clary-Butler works on a quilt project at the table between phone calls and her other duties, smiling at the obvious contentment of the group.
“Look at them, they’re enjoying it; I think it’s wonderful,” she said.
Herring said anyone who wants to donate a used sewing machine may call the West River Senior Center at 946-8543. The group could also use colorful fabric, scissors, an ironing board and a few irons.

Who are the police chief candidates? Good luck finding out

You can ask, but nobody is telling

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— And the finalists for the police chief’s job are?
“We’re doing well in the process” was the refrain from city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts when asked where the selection process stood to replace Chief Francisco Ortiz Jr., who is leaving the department to take a job with Yale University.
Has the field of 30-or-so applicants — so far still none from inside the department — been narrowed? Has he interviewed any candidates to date? Any truth to the candidates’ names swirling around the Police Department?
Talk around the department is that a female from the New York Police Department and a male from Washington, D.C.’s, department are strong candidates.
“We’re doing well in the process,” was Smuts’ response.
The city administration has been unusually closemouthed about the effort, saying little about progress or identities of candidates. The target date for appointing the next chief remains at the end April, Smuts said.
The last time around, when Mayor John DeStefano Jr. ultimately chose Ortiz, the city had a more open process, establishing a search committee and publicly naming the six top candidates, four from outside the city. This time, there’s no intention to do that, and even well-placed people in the city say they, at least so far, don’t know who’s in the running.
The Police Executive Research Forum, a national policing organization, is conducting the national search.
“I’ve seen nothing,” said Richard Epstein, chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners, a civilian board that oversees the department. “We hired a firm to do the search. I’m cognizant that it’s difficult to find the right individual and I’m cognizant of the difficultly of finding the right individual who is willing to come to New Haven.
“I would think as we get to the finalists we’ll have some involvement,” he said.
Alderman Alex Rhodeen, D-13, the head of the aldermanic Public Safety Committee, said he feels “pretty clued in about the process” but likewise didn’t know who is in the running.
Like Epstein, he said, “Certainly my expectation is once they’re down to a smaller list that my colleagues and I will be updated on who they’re looking at. At the same time, everyone recognizes that ultimately, this is the mayor’s call.”
Smuts said that he is the only point of contact between the city and PERF and the only person he apprises is his boss, DeStefano.
“There doesn’t seem to be a community component in the hiring process,” said Alderman Alphonse Paolillo Jr., D-17, another member of the Public Safety Committee, with a level of annoyance. “It seems almost as if the process and the information is highly classified at this point. Hopefully, I will get invited to the press conference when the next chief is announced.”
Under the charter, DeStefano has sole discretion of whom to choose, with certain restrictions. The charter, for instance, sets minimum thresholds. To be eligible, a candidate must have earned a bachelor’s degree, have worked in a department with more than 200 employees in a community with a population of more than 100,000 residents, and have at least five years of supervising other police supervisors.
Out of respect to the candidates, the city doesn’t plan to identify anyone except the one who is offered the job, Smuts said. PERF is providing much of the vetting work done in the past by a selection committee.
And Smuts disagreed with the notion that there isn’t one in this case.
“Sure there’s a selection committee,” he said. “The mayor is the selection committee.”
William Kaempffer can be reached at wkaempffer@nhregister.com.

Restructuring ahead for two Catholic schools

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
NEW HAVEN
— Often, news about Catholic schools involves an underused facility closing down.
This time, however, two schools in Westville are restructuring for the coming school year, a move, which if successful, they hope will double enrollment.
The Rev. Thomas Shepard said St. Brendan’s will be converted to a kindergarten through fourth-grade facility, while St. Aedan’s will adopt a grades five-to-eight middle school and also house the prekindergarten class.
Currently, both are kindergarten-to-grade-eight schools.
Given the shortage of priests, the two parishes were linked administratively several years ago, and making the best decisions now for the geographically close schools was the logical next step.
“This has been a year-and-a-half process,” Shepard said of planning by the separate school boards that run the facilities, plus help from the director of Catholic schools for the Hartford Archdiocese and some national assistance.
“It’s a great opportunity. They are really pooling their best resources,” said Regina Haney of the National Catholic Educational Association.
She said the two school boards were willing to come up with a new governance structure, develop a marketing plan and look for outside funding sources.
“Catholic schools historically have not been good at structuring,” said Haney, who works closely with the education department at Boston College in helping schools replicate successful programs from around the country.
Without planning now, Haney said St. Brendan’s and St. Aedan’s could have died “inch by inch” as enrollment dropped. “There wouldn’t have been time to turn things around. There is hope there now,” Haney said.
Shepard said they will also be looking for corporate partners to help the school and said they already serve an ethnically and religiously diverse student population.
“From my perspective, it is a better use of existing facilities,” Shepard said, while Haney felt a separate building and program organized around middle school children will be a good marketing point. “They like to have their own space,” she said of students in that age group.
There are 185 students at St. Aedan’s and 161 at St. Brendan’s, according to Shepard.
Haney is hopeful the restructuring will strengthen both facilities and keep them stable and said she is putting her faith in Shepard to pull it off.
“I’m impressed with Father Shepard, how he thinks, how he works with the people,” Haney said. Perhaps most importantly, “he took advice. Some pastors are threatened by the laity and the school board. He is a collaborator,” she said.
The other surviving Catholic schools in New Haven are St. Francis, St. Rose of Lima and St. Bernadette’s. St. Martin de Porres Academy, a Jesuit model, called a Nativity school, aimed at poor children, has its middle school at the former Sacred Heart/St. Peter’s school in the Hill.
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com.

City firefighter faces charges

Sources say he ‘lost it’ when he saw estranged wife downtown with her lawyer

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— It wasn’t the fight itself that created a spectacle Friday night in the city’s entertainment district.
It was the fact that the aggressor was an on-duty city firefighter, who allegedly jumped out of his fire department ambulance and attacked his wife’s divorce lawyer when he saw the two together downtown.
While he wasn’t immediately arrested, Firefighter Matt Kennedy ultimately spent the night in jail, authorities said, and Fire Chief Michael Grant placed him on administrative leave.
“He’s due in court on Monday, and he’s due in my office immediately after that,” Grant said Saturday.
The incident happened Friday evening at the busy corner of Temple and Crown streets and drew quite a crowd.
Grant said he still didn’t have all the details, but he provided this account as he said he understood it: Kennedy was working on an emergency unit and was returning from a medical call when he saw his estranged wife and a man together. He left the vehicle and confronted the woman and man. By the time the battalion chief arrived, police had them separated and the battalion chief and Kennedy’s partner convinced him to get back in the rig and to the firehouse. There, when Kennedy remained visibly upset, a paramedic recommended he get checked out at the hospital.
He was arrested by police at the hospital for violating a protective or restraining order his wife had against him, Grant said.
“It was confrontational. I’m sure a million people saw it,” he said. “It’s disappointing to me and embarrassing to the department.”
Several sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press, filled out the story a bit. They said Kennedy “lost it” when he saw his estranged wife and her attorney, Tony Wallace, a politically active Westville lawyer, together. Kennedy jumped out of the still-moving ambulance and assaulted Wallace, pushing him and knocking his glasses from his face. It’s not clear if any punches were thrown. Then, after a crowd of spectators had gathered and as police spoke to Wallace, Kennedy allegedly broke free from police and firefighters who were restraining him and went after Wallace again, threatening him.
Some questions were raised when Kennedy was pushed back into his rig and driven off, instead of being arrested at the scene, although charges ultimately were filed.
The nature of Wallace’s relationship with his client was not immediately clear.
A message for Rob Smuts, the city’s chief administrative officer who oversees both the police and fire departments, was not returned. A message left for Wallace at his home and office also was not returned Saturday.
Kennedy and his wife are in the process of a divorce, and last year he was issued a short suspension after being arrested while off duty in Hamden in connection with a domestic disturbance. He also was involved in a firehouse run-in last August with a co-worker and allegedly choked him. Neither pursued the matter and Kennedy was not disciplined.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thieves hit Quinnipiac Avenue corridor



Tools and other equipment among items targeted

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Some brazen and prolific thieves have been targeting garages and sheds along the Quinnipiac Avenue corridor near Route 80, hauling off everything from garden tillers to snowblowers.
“I always figured they would have come at 4 o’clock in the morning,” said one Foxon Street resident whose three-bay garage was looted last Friday.
That was probably the most brazen of the burglaries. According to police, the thief or thieves parked a vehicle, probably a pickup truck or van, in the abutting Taco Bell lot on Route 80, took down a chain-link fence and dragged items from the garage and up a small berm. The heist happened sometime between 8 p.m. and midnight, while the restaurant was open.
According to police, since March 8, burglars have hit at least nine locations in the area since March 8. The modus operandi: break-ins involved detached garages or sheds and, based on the quantity and weight of the stolen loot, the suspects undoubtedly used some type of truck to haul it all away, police said.
No arrests have been made.
“They’ve been going for higher-priced items that they can carry out,” said Lt. Jeff Hoffman, district manager for the area, urging people to take precautions and keep on eye on their — and their neighbors’ — properties. “They’ve been prying open locked doors and windows and cleaning out the garages.”
The Foxon Street resident already contacted his alarm company to install an alarm in his garage, and planned to replace the wooden door with a metal one, but not in time to save his tiller, snowblower, chain saws, leaf blower, hedge trimmer, power washer and sockets sets that were stolen.
He isn’t even sure if that’s the entire inventory.
“You forget what you’ve got until you go and look for something,” he said, declining to give his name.
He said there is not much room in his garage, and the burglar or burglars picked up the equipment, some of which is quite heavy, and dragged it across the roof and trunk of his wife’s Honda. He said he was gone from 8 p.m. until just after midnight and his wife was out of state.
Hoffman said most of the burglaries happened north of Route 80 on upper Quinnipiac Avenue, Weybosset Street, Emily Road and Cranston Street.
The Block Watch around Foxon Street mailed out an alert that came in the mail Thursday.
The phone tree has been alive across Route 80 on Emily Road.
Anthony Serio, of 52 Emily Road, learned about the break-ins from his neighbor, Anna Simeone.
She’s the former ward co-chair and is active with the block watches.
She said she got an e-mail and call from the police department last week and picked up the phone.
“I started calling people that I know and everybody started calling everybody. That’s what you do. You’ve got to take care of your neighbors.”

Warnings dismissed, lessons unheeded and the war goes on and on


The following is a column by Randall Beach

WE ARE FIVE YEARS into this awful war and there is no end in sight.
“We’re running in place,” John Kelley, a major in the U.S. Army Reserve, told me Thursday. “And Iraqis and Americans are paying with their lives and their economies and family stability.”
I think back to my last conversation with Kelley, a New Haven-based attorney, in June 2005. He told me then the Bush administration needed to announce a timetable for troop withdrawal.
Kelley’s words at that time: “We should say to the Iraqis: ‘If you want to be a democracy, we’ll help you, but only to a point.’ Otherwise, they might keep letting us do the fighting for them.”
Three years later, we can easily see Kelley was right. But that’s not surprising, given he has two history degrees and has extensively studied the Middle East. He knows a lot more about that region than the guy steering our ship, who jokes he coasted through Yale Univercity with a “C” average. Also on board this ship of fools is our “independent” U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
Kelley was opposed to the U.S. going into Iraq from the beginning because he knew about the ethnic and religious divisions in that country. “Any time you get rid of a dictator in an area with those tensions, you’re opening a Pandora’s box. And that’s what happened. I’m amazed they (Bush and his staff) couldn’t see it.”
Kelley recognized how horrible Saddam Hussein was. After all, Kelley served in Baghdad for six months as Army liaison to the Iraqi Special Tribunal, created to prosecute Iraqis accused of crimes against humanity.
But he noted, “We didn’t have a plan (for waging this war) and we still don’t have a plan. This has to be solved politically, not militarily.”
Kelley added, “The military has done a good job; but how many more deployments will these soldiers have to go through? Reservists and National Guardsmen as well as soldiers on active duty are being ripped from their jobs and families.”
If they make it back home alive, he noted, many are traumatized. “Americans need to address this. These people come home profoundly changed.”
He saw some of them two years ago when he was stationed at the Pentagon for a six-month tour as officer in charge of the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. The severely wounded veterans were transported from their hospital beds to tour the Pentagon.
Kelley ticked off the toll of the dead: almost 4,000 Americans, countless Iraqis. More than 30,000 wounded American soldiers.
Yes, and at what financial cost? “Over half a trillion dollars spent already,” he said. “We were told going into this that it would cost us no more than $60 billion to $80 billion.”
And how does losing that half a trillion bucks, with much more to be lost, affect our economy? “It’s unfortunate, but the connection isn’t being made,” Kelley said.
Americans are so distracted and worried about paying their bills that they aren’t thinking so much about the war anymore. But Kelley said, “These enormous economic problems are arguably tied to the war.”
No, there is no end in sight to this war. Over the past week, I have been leafing through my bulging “Iraq War” folder, seeing clippings of the soldiers I’ve interviewed and their families, the obituaries for other Connecticut soldiers, the anti war protests I’ve covered, the columns written (my column headline from March 12, 2003: “There’s still time before a new roll call of the dead begins.”)
One of the oldest clippings is dated Feb. 19, 2003, the day after I covered a massive protest in New York. More than 100,000 people came together there, as did many others elsewhere, to say to Bush: Don’t do this!
One of the people I met on the train that day, the Rev. Edward Dobihal of Hamden, told me that day, “To begin a war will not solve anything. It will cause more problems, increase terrorism and tie up our military for years.”
It’s too bad the people calling the shots in the White House couldn’t see this.
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

Labels:

Transfer station may bail out city budget

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN — The city is poised to sell or lease its transfer station to plug a $10 million budget shortfall and Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2008-09 hints at similar plans for the New Haven Parking Authority.
This comes about two years after two major New York bond rating agencies downgraded the city’s bond outlook from “stable” to “negative,” citing, among other indicators, an over-reliance on nonrecurring revenue.
“We’re going to have to wean ourselves off it,” city acting budget director Frank A. Altieri acknowledged at that time.
This month, the city maintained an A3 credit rating from Moody’s, and an A- from Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings, placing the city in the upper-medium tier of investment-grade bonds, however the city’s “continued reliance on nonrecurring revenues to balance financial operations,” was noted by Fitch.
“New Haven’s financial flexibility remains limited, evidenced by thin reserve levels, the use of nonrecurring revenues to support operations, and a reliance on state aid as its largest revenue source,” the Fitch report says.
Neither Moody’s nor Standard & Poor’s addressed the issue in their reports, however Moody’s analyst Alexandra Lerma said Thursday use of one-time revenues to offset a budget is “not a conservative way of budgeting.”
City Budget Director Lawrence Rusconi defended such sales as part of an “expansive view designed to promote financial and economic health in our community … such sales reduce the tax burden.”
The city has a two-pronged asset management strategy that includes sale of city-owned tax-exempt properties, and sale of underperforming city assets, such as the transfer station, to generate non-tax revenue and make them more efficient, Rusconi said.
“The goals of this strategy are designed to enhance and diversify the tax base and/or to look for creative solutions to underperforming assets,” he said.
The Board of Aldermen voted in 2005 to form a regional Water Pollution Control Authority, selling $34 million in assets from the city’s local authority.
The city used $7 million from the deal to balance the 2004-05 budget, and has used $27 million to pay down debt service through 2009.
Now, aldermen are poised to make a similar decision, either selling or leasing the transfer station to an independent solid waste management authority. The deal is expected to generate $6 million to help close a $10 million budget gap.
“Running a transfer station is hard, and we’d like to create an authority that would have citizen input, but also allow us to run it better…as well as have any future capital improvements not from the general fund,” said Deputy Chief of Staff Paul Nunez.
And as the city eyes its budget for fiscal year 2008-09, there are already plans for what might go next.
In budget presentations, DeStefano has floated the idea of leasing the New Haven Parking Authority, although how much such a deal might garner has yet to be fully analyzed.
“We have no firm plans, we’re just looking at how this would be an option for New Haven,” said city spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga. “It’s not something we’re saying we’re going to do.”
Mayorga said the city is in the “information gathering” stage, and is looking at how other cities have financed their parking authorities, including public/private partnerships, and sales and leases.
The parking authority operates over 9,000 parking spaces around the city, including the Air Rights, Crown Street, Chapel Square, Temple Street, Temple/George, Granite Square and Union Station garages.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

She will never run out of hugs

Colleagues bid tearful goodbye to caseworker

By Maria Garriga
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— When Sofie Nell Turner, 77, finally decided to retire from her job as a case manager at Christian Community Action, her co-workers cried.
They held a retirement party for her Thursday at Centro Community Center on Sylvan Street.
Once a victim of domestic violence herself, Turner helped found the city’s first agency to help domestic violence victims, raised six children of her own and 12 foster children, and for the past 20 years has worked as a case worker for homeless people at CCA’s office on Sylvan Street.
Turner cut a sleek figure in a stylish black pantsuit, ivory silk shirt, a scarlet and gold scarf and hoop earrings.
“It’s been a pleasure. I love you all. My final words: I am blessed,” she said.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell sent congratulations and the Board of Aldermen issued a citation read by Alderwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks, D-4.
The Rev. Bonita Grubbs, CCA executive director, mournfully noted, “I knew this day would come, she would hang up her caseworker shoes.”
As much as her clients depended on her, her coworkers depended on her even more.
They call her “Ms. Sofie,” but also referred to her as a legend, mother, big sister, mentor.
“She is the finest woman I have ever known,” said John Revina, who has volunteered at the agency for 20 years.
Turner served on boards, tutored children, worked in community service, pulled votes and rang doorbells for the Democrats, and spent countless hours as a volunteer at Immanuel Baptist Church.
“One of the most important parts of being a woman, and being a strong black woman, is going to church. It keeps you grounded,” she said.
Though retired, she plans to stay active in the church, community service and on the board of Home Inc., an agency that promotes affordable housing.
Turner grew up in Greenville, S.C., where she worked in cotton fields and drove the family tractor when her father fell ill. She moved to New Haven in her mid-20s to live with a sister and to leave a bad marriage behind.
The move shaped the course of her life. In New Haven, she worked factory jobs, reared children and joined the fight against domestic violence.
“Domestic violence was my passion. Nine times out of 10, if a woman is homeless, she’s also a battered woman. She doesn’t correlate the two. She just says, ‘He slaps me around sometimes,’ or ‘He just locks me out of the house sometimes.’”
Amy Eppler-Epstein, an attorney with New Haven Legal Services, recalls meeting Turner 25 years ago as a student at Yale Law School. Eppler-Epstein volunteered in a project in which law students helped battered women get restraining orders. Turner helped train students.
“She gave them a view of reality and talked about the importance of supporting a woman no matter how many times it took her to leave the man. She talked about the reality of how hard it is to leave.”After 10 years, Turner left the domestic violence agency she helped start 30 years ago because “it was time to leave.”
But she couldn’t leave her needy clientele behind. In short order, she joined CCA as a case worker helping homeless families. Most people find such work emotionally draining; Turner was no exception.
“I don’t think I could have done it so long if I wasn’t grounded in my faith,” she said. “It takes too much out of you dealing with people who believe in nothing and no one. When you see a needy person, they need support, not rescuing.”
Now Turner said the time has come to leave again. She wants to visit family in South Carolina and take a cruise to Alaska.
“We can still go to the casino,” hollered her friend, Doris Little, 73, who works as a program adviser for the University of Connecticut.
Co-workers said they will miss Turner’s blend of wisdom, compassion and tough love. But mostly, they said, they will miss her hugs. “I want a hug before you run out,” Revina told her as he stood in a line that formed of people waiting for her hugs.
Turned laughed. “I never run out,” she said.