Fair Haven Alder Sarah Miller ’03 is a ‘ray of hope’
Courtesy of Sarah Miller
When Alder Sarah Miller ’03 sat down to sample caldo de pollo and fajitas on a Friday afternoon, she had New Haven history at her fingertips.
In front of her stood Salsa’s authentic Mexican restaurant. The Grand Avenue building in Fair Haven was split between the Italian bakery DiSorbo and the Milan meat market in the 1980s. Miller released a black and white image of the two former stores posted in the Facebook group “Fair Haven Memories “.
Even though Ward 14’s demographics have changed from predominantly Italian and Eastern European to predominantly Latin American, it has retained its identity as an immigrant neighborhood, Miller said.
Born in New Haven in 1980, Miller grew up in the Westville neighborhood. She majored in literature while at Yale and later worked as an acquisitions editor for Yale University Press specializing in Latin American literature. For the past two decades, she has lived in Ward 14 with her husband, who grew up in the neighborhood, and her two children, now ages 6 and 11.
As many, she quit her day job during the pandemic, quitting her job at Yale University Press in the summer of 2020. She couldn’t work from home with “everything going on in the world,” she said Explain.
In her new role as Strategy and Planning Manager for the Clifford Beers Community Care Center, the oldest outpatient mental health clinic in the United States, Miller was able to incorporate her lifelong passion for community advocacy into her day-to-day work.
When her children started attending school at the Family Academy of Multilingual Exploration, or FAME, in 2014, Miller co-founded the group NHPS Advocates, a coalition that aims to improve New Haven’s public schools.
“You walk into schools, you see something wrong,” Miller said. “You’re trying to solve the problem at the school level, you kind of keep going up, looking at systemic issues with the program and how we spend money and just the culture of the district and the way whose decisions are made.”
When the Ward 14 Board of Alders seat became vacant in the spring of 2021, Miller began campaigning for the role, hoping for a chance to tackle some of those larger structural issues she had noticed over the course of his activism work. She was elected and started her new position last January.
Miller has been a familiar figure in the neighborhood for decades, but she had no intention of representing her neighbors at City Hall, referring to herself as “more of a backroom person than a the front room”.
Ward 14 in particular needed a lawyer, and serving on the Alder Council is a particularly difficult job that not everyone wants to take on. The last four Alders in Ward 14 quit mid-term or were largely absent.
Whether it’s answering calls, meeting neighbors, or attending multi-weekly meetings, being an alder requires more than 20 hours of work per week. However, the city pays a salary of just $2,000 a year, Miller told the News.
“You’re asking someone to do a part-time job with no money,” Miller said.
Miller found it “weird” to send out brochures and flyers plastered with her face, she said. But she had gone door-to-door in the neighborhood for several other campaigns, and for her own campaign, she knocked on every door in Ward 14 at least once — or twice.
Dave Weinreb, a Ward 14 resident and former board member of Fair Haven’s community management team, said Miller “put in the time” to do this kind of grassroots work. Miller estimated that she personally interacted with about half of the ward’s 4,000 registered voters.
As an alder, she had to make sure the city’s money got to Ward 14.
First, Miller wanted a portion of New Haven’s $115.8 million in U.S. bailout funds to go toward renovating the neighborhood’s Quinnipiac River Park. Miller also worked on renovation plans for the Strong School, a century-old brick school building that has been a vacant burglary hazard for the district since 2010. The new proposal includes apartments as well as a potential nonprofit community for young people and the arts. shopping center and premises. A developer for the project will be chosen in October, Miller estimates, and then construction will take three to four years.
“It’s going to be a real win,” Miller said.
At Yale University Press, Miller’s work had a clear beginning, middle, and end. She would commission and edit a book manuscript, then publish the final copy. Although her work in Ward 14 is a distinctly different line of work, the world of ideas has shaped how she approaches her work as an Alder in the public sphere.
She combines concrete projects – “things you can do now” – with longer, more complicated projects like the renovation of Strong School that take longer.
Bold geometric posters designed by local artist Daniel Pizarro will soon be displayed on billboards throughout Grand Avenue, depicting sailboats, drums and ladders, among other icons. Miller said the ladder symbolizes how Ward 14 is a place that “kinda helps people get started,” while the sailboats and drums reflect different elements of the neighborhood’s diverse Latino culture.
Public art is just one facet of the Grand Avenue Main Street development project, which is in conjunction with the city’s Economic Development Authority. The plan includes renovating the facades of street-facing properties and installing walkways and more lighting, benches, plants and litter bins.
But Miller’s work is not limited to all artistic projects.
Community engagement is low in the area, and Miller wants to change that. Even though Ward 14 has the highest turnout compared to other districts, the rates are still objectively low, she said. Of some 4,000 registered voters, 400 to 600 will turn out to vote depending on race.
“The people who participate in the community are often the ones who don’t struggle as much,” Miller said. “And so you’re still trying to figure out how you get information from people in trouble. And there is no easy answer to that.
Ward 14 has its fair share of challenges. Martin Torresquintero, co-chairman of the New Haven Democratic Town Committee, said Miller was a “beacon of hope” for the neighborhood, working to address drug trafficking and crime issues in Fair Haven.
But Miller wants to focus on what the neighborhood has to offer. His children feel at home in Ward 14, running to the delicatessen for a snack or going to the barber where “everyone knows each other”.
Two of this year’s former candidates for Connecticut state offices also call Ward 14 home — Karen Dubois-Walton, who lives two blocks from Salsa’s, and Maritza Bond, who lives “across side of the river and up the hill.
“It was great to have two women of color running for public office not just from New Haven, but from our area,” Miller said.
After lunch, Alexis Ramirez, whose mother Juana Ramirez owns Salsa, stopped by the table to ask about a trash cleanup Miller was hosting at Quinnipiac River Park on Oct. 8. He said he had spent a lot of time at the park himself. , and every time he went there, he tried to pick up some trash next to the overflowing trash cans near the water.
“It’s a great example of a staffing issue,” Miller said. “You can only have as many bins as you have the capacity to empty.”
And right now, with the city understaffed, that job isn’t being done.
Ramirez said he would be there during the cleanup.
The Friends of the Quinnipiac River Park meet for their stewardship work every Thursday from 5-7 p.m. during the summer months.
Charlotte Hughes | [email protected]