Carolina Fights Back after Clergy Attack

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new haven » Kermit Carolina, in response to criticism of his involvement in politics by a clergy group, said he is considering contacting the Internal Revenue Service about the tax-exempt status of the organization because of its own actions in supporting a candidate.

The Greater New Haven Clergy Association sent a letter to Carolina, principal of James Hillhouse High School, demanding his "complete and unfettered attention to educating our young citizens" at Hillhouse. The letter said the group couldn't understand "how your continued high profile participation in local political activities, including in-your-face attacks of the front running candidate for mayor and the current governor, benefits the students and staff of Hillhouse High."It asked that Carolina "either focus your energy on transforming Hillhouse into a premier school in the region, or resign your position as school leader."

The clergy group in July announced its support for state Sen. Toni Harp, who has since won the four-way Democratic primary for mayor.Several attorneys have said that the rules are clear on churches and religious organizations not participating directly and indirectly in campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to public office candidates, if they want to maintain their tax-exempt status. Carolina, up until the Sept. 10 primary, was one of Harp's opponents, and the letter references his confrontation with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy when Malloy came to New Haven on primary day and Carolina criticized him for weighing in on a New Haven issue.Malloy said he and Harp, as co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, work closely together in Hartford, and he believed she was the best candidate in the sharply contested mayoral primary. The governor benefitted from union support in his 2010 election, the same coalition of labor now backing Harp and a group he will need in a run for a second term.After the primary, Carolina announced his support for Alderman Justin Elicker, who came in second behind Harp, and who now is running for mayor as an independent. He has been out campaigning with Elicker on weekends and in the evening.Carolina said the criticism by the clergy group, whose members are mainly black ministers, is a "thinly veiled political attack against me, which comes about as a result of its questionable alliance with the Toni Harp campaign." The campaign has had no comment on the letter from the clergy group or Carolina's response.Carolina, in his statement, said if the president of the clergy organization, the Rev. James W. Newman III, had real concerns about his political activities, he could have come and discussed them with him. Carolina said other church leaders, who do not belong to the association, "have been strong supporters of Hillhouse High School in a plethora of ways."Newman said he did not want to get involved in a back-and- forth on the letter, when asked for comment Saturday.Carolina also pointed to the "clearly partisan behavior of its former President Boise Kimber," as well as former Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo's open political support for Mayor John DeStefano Jr. …