Contributor Note: The following article was written by Paul Bass of the New Haven Independent.
State Senator Chuck Allen was not publicly out during his years in elective office but actually came out to his family at the age of 50 and publicly came out in a 2004 article also hyperlinked in the article below.
He was the ultimate political survivor.
Kidney cancer finally claimed Charles H. "Chuck" Allen III Sunday evening at the age of 54, ending the life of a native New Havener who helped shape public policy — and just as often dissented from it — from the mid-1970s into the 1990s.
Allen represented Newhallville on the Board of Aldermen from 1976 to 1988. Sometimes he was an ally of City Hall in crafting legislation or deciding ward-level issues. Other times he was the board's most outspoken and informed critic of City Hall's complex downtown development deals or neighborhood housing plans. An accountant by training, he provided a level of independent scrutiny rare to this day on New Haven's legislative body.
During that time Allen survived a series of controversies and primary challenges. Several times his career was declared dead, only to have him reemerge as a state senator in the early '90s, then a mayoral aide to the DeStefano administration. He served on a myriad of volunteer boards.
Click here to read Allen's obituary.
Former Alderman Willie Greene was Allen's sometimes co-consipirator, sometimes sparring partner in Newhallville.
"No one will ever fill the shoes of Chuck Allen," Greene said Monday.
The two joined forces in the early '80s when Greene ran a community center in Newhallville. They organized protests against the administration of Mayor Biagio DiLieto, which was cutting funding. The belief was that the center was being punished for Allen's independent politics.
Years later, the DiLieto administration helped Greene run against Allen in a campaign to unseat critics on the Board of Aldermen. (Greene would eventually disappoint City Hall; he won the race, then became just as outspoken a critic of the Democratic machine's plantation politcs in the black community.)
"I remember when I decided I would run against Chuck," Greene said. "I struggled with it. Vinnie Mauro [Mayor's DiLieto's Democratic town chairman and chief political enforcer) had asked me to run. Chuck and I met at the old Hattie's when it was on Fitch Street, before it moved to Science Park.
"I'll never forget it. Chuck reaches across the table. He sticks his finger in my face and says, 'Willie you've been a good director. But you need to leave politics to the big boys. I'm gonna kick your ass on name recognition alone.'
"I had come to say I wasn't running. Instead I said, 'I'm gonna kick your ass.' He walked out and slammed the door.
"My own mother was mad at me when I beat Chuck. She walked around for two days and wouldn't say anything to me.
"Chuck didn't speak to me for six months. Then he called me and said, 'Willie, I'm really proud of you. I really thought that Ben DiLieto had bought you. But you went down there and did some things that even I wouldn't do.' Every two weeks Chuck and I were sitting down, and I was telling him what I was planning to do. It was like sitting down with an instructor. I'd write down my letter. He'd tear it up. He had his index cards. He'd say, 'This is what I want to see when you come back to me.' He was such a brilliant guy."
Out Of The Closet
As a reporter, I always found Allen among the most informed, intelligent, unpredictable, interesting, and just plain fun public figures in town to interview and follow. It's fair to say he served as one of my professors as well in that rarefied academy known as New Haven Politics.
Allen lived by a credo of New Haven's political survivors: If you get slammed on Tuesday, Wednesday is another day. If he disliked an expose that named him in the newspaper one day, he was always ready to participate in discussion about a different story the next. He never ran from a fight.
He continued to surprise — and challenge — us after he moved to New York. In 2004, after surviving nine separate operations that could have claimed his life, Allen gave an interview about his upcoming marriage to Harlem gallery owner Tod Roulette. (Tod introduced Chuck to the beauty of Gregorian chants. Chuck turned Tod on to the Temptations and Diana Ross.)
In the interview, Allen spoke about the life of a gay black politician. He challenged New Haven's black church to apply the same spirit of inclusiveness and compassion to the gay community's struggle that it championed during the civil rights movement a generation earlier.
Click here, here, and here to read the pages of the resulting 2004 New Haven Advocate article, "Out of the Closet & Into The Church."
A memorial service for Chuck Allen will take place Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m at St. Philips Church, 204 W. 134 St., between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. and Frederick Douglass Blvd. in New York City.