Macdowall: ‘Communication’ is key to improve Hamden-Quinnipiac relationship

Chatwan Mongkol, News Editor

As a Quinnipiac University political science alumnus, Hamden Democratic mayoral candidate Brad Macdowall said he is the best person for the job when it comes to improving the working relationship between the town and the university.

The Chronicle interviewed Macdowall on July 21, about his race and his plans for Hamden-Quinnipiac relations if he wins the mayoral office. His responses below were condensed and edited for clarity and grammatical purposes.

Photo contributed by Brad Macdowall

How would you describe the town’s relationship with Quinnipiac?

I think it’s improving, more because of the work that Quinnipiac has done than the work that the town has done. As a student, I have a particularly different viewpoint of this than anyone else who’s running for this office, the council or the board of education. I was a student at Quinnipiac for five years and I’ve been on both sides of the fence. 

The reasons we got here with what I would call poor relations was both because of the town and the university. The town constantly fought Quinnipiac’s growth, which is good for the town. But at the same time, former President John Lahey’s response to different issues also was quite arrogant and ended up exacerbating a lot of the issues in the community. Those tensions just grew for a decade or more. 

I have to say that the new administration has done a phenomenal job, especially Vice President for Strategy and Community Relations and Chief of Staff Bethany Zemba. She has done a phenomenal job at instituting new sorts of protocols for responses to community issues that they have. It’s been amazing. 

We’ve seen an 80% reduction in complaints about student housing issues and parties in the community and those kinds of things. That’s incredible. But I think that there’s more that the town’s administration needs to do.

Incumbent Mayor Curt Leng’s administration has been notorious for canceling meetings and not showing up to President Judy Olian’s inauguration. Things like that are just not beneficial to the relationship. So I think while Quinnipiac has been really extending a lot of olive branches over the past couple of years, Hamden has failed to reach back out. And sometimes, Hamden has failed to acknowledge those olive branches.

As a mayor, how would you enhance the town’s working relationship with Quinnipiac and how could the university contribute to that?

It starts with communication. Right now, it seems like that’s just not there from the current Hamden administration. The reciprocation of those olive branches that Quinnipiac has been really good at extending, the mayor has not reciprocated that. 

Like I said, canceling meetings, not showing up to two important events that he was supposed to show up to, those kinds of things need to stop. I don’t know if Leng’s canceling meetings and doing this stuff, because he’s still harboring resentment or just because it’s not a priority for him, but either way, neither of those things are beneficial. We need to be interested in moving forward and building that better relationship. This is of paramount importance for the growth of both entities, so I think it needs to be a priority. It needs to start with communication.

I’ve already built a pretty good relationship with folks like Zemba. Obviously, the Quinnipiac administration has not weighed in any way to my knowledge of the mayor’s race, but I know that if I won, I could work very well with Zemba and that we would be able to build a plan that works for Hamden.

Hamden is not exactly a college town as students have to go out to North Haven or New Haven for entertainment. As a mayor, do you have any plan to transform Hamden into a college town?

Yes, absolutely. I believe that we need to completely transform that area of Whitney Avenue. We have an interesting opportunity to do something that is great for the town and the university. I’m thinking about a mixed-use district, along with a walkable shopping district, restaurants and shops and even apartments. 

It’s going to build the grand list for Hamden. It’s gonna grow our tax base. That’s going to give residents a reason to stay in Hamden and shop instead of leave. It’s also going to be easy to build a business district that is beneficial for students. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities for different recreational businesses to go in there for students. I’d love to see the nightlife stay right there. It gives students a reason to stay in Hamden instead of bringing their business to other towns.

I also think it’s going to be safer if students are walking and to have access to sidewalks and bike lanes. I think it will reduce the inclination for drunk driving. The bar on Rocky Top is a big piece of that. I think that that’s going to offer students an option that reduces drunk driving. Will it eliminate it? No. But there’s definitely more that we can do about that, but it’s definitely a good public safety move. I would love to see that area turn into a walkable shopping district.

Photo contributed by Brad Macdowall

What are your thoughts on the expansion of Quinnipiac and its 10-year master facilities plan?

I think that the expansion of Quinnipiac is going to be beneficial to Hamden. I think that both Hamden and Quinnipiac are going to grow from each other’s expansion. I think that growth needs to be responsible. I’d like to see us be more thoughtful about the developments we do both from an environmental perspective. So when we think about expansion, caring for the public health and safety of residents of Hamden throughout that process, is paramount.

I will say that expansion, in general, is going to be good for both parties. I know that the master plan also looked at some of the properties on Whitney Avenue, and for the longest time, they have been kept greenspace. I want to say one of the most important things that we can do together over the coming years is to work to adequately develop those areas. Big parcels of land on our main throughway are kept to greenspace. And that’s really stunting the development of what we just talked about, which is a business district that is useful to students, faculty, staff and residents. 

I think that if we can work together to make sure that that land is no longer kept a greenspace, and there’s a comprehensive plan to develop it in a way that is beneficial to all parties, that’s going to be probably one of the most important things we can do. Expansion is important. It’s just that we need to be thoughtful and compassionate with each other’s goals as we expand.

Off-campus housing has been a contentious debate within the Hamden community for decades. As Quinnipiac is implementing a three-year residential mandate starting this fall, what are your thoughts on the university’s policy? As a mayor, what would you do to support this policy?

That’s the decision for the Quinnipiac administration to make. That’s what they do, and what they do for housing for their students is theirs to make, I don’t think that the mayor should be weighing in on that issue as much. I think that’s part of the problem is that we’ve bought into internal Quinnipiac decisions more than we should feel entitled to do. However, I think that it’s great that they’re doing things to combat this issue because as of a few years ago, there were not enough beds for students. Students were getting their housing deposits back last minute.

I don’t know how I would’ve felt if I was a student being mandated to live on campus. I commuted myself being a local. I recognize that there will be carve-outs for folks like me that commuted. But I think that it goes a long way to help those issues and let residents know that the university is working diligently to work within the parameters that they can work within and fix these issues. 

Are you planning to campaign on campus?

I want to be thoughtful about this, that’s a conversation that I’ll have to have with a number of folks. But we’ve reached out to QU Democrats. We’ve been in contact with some Student Government Association officials. We think that civic engagement is critically important on campus.

I know that, as a student, I felt that civic engagement was very low. Maybe it’s different now because I also think students right now are more thoughtful of the communities they’re in. I think students nowadays are more thoughtful than when I graduated five or six years ago.

Civic engagement from university students is critical. I think that if students, faculty and staff are more involved in conversations with the town, and that starts with voting, that is a powerful thing. I think that that would be very valuable in terms of building a better relationship between the university and the town and having the students involved in the sort of decisions that impact them while they’re here in Hamden studying. 

So, yes, I do think we will be campaigning on campus. I think that’ll probably look much more like voter registration. Like I said, I’ve been a student, I’ve spent time on the campus as an elected official, I even spent time on campus before my time as a student as a resident, you know? I think there’s a lot we can do. And civic engagement is a big piece to that.