Democrats go head to head at first debate

The six Democrats faced off for their first New Haven debate on Thursday.
The six Democrats faced off for their first New Haven debate on Thursday. Photo by Alon Harish.

At the first 2010 gubernatorial debate in New Haven, the six Democratic candidates present — including Ned Lamont SOM ’80 and Yale mom Mary Glassman — agreed on many issues: job growth, education reform and balancing the state budget. But issue they were split about was “Ban the Box.”

Although Lamont and two other candidates said they support the legislation, Glassman, Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura and Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy said they are not sure whether “Ban the Box” — which would prevent the state and certain organizations with which it works from asking candidates for their criminal histories before employing them — should be passed in its current form. Although all three of these candidates said the state provides inadequate job support for ex-convicts, Glassman and Jarjura said they would hesitate to ban making such information a requirement, especially for positions that would bring employees in close contact with children. Malloy said he has concerns about the bill’s constitutionality.

Although Glassman, Jarjura and Malloy said they have qualms with the bill, New Haven already passed a similar bill in February 2009. Earlier this week, New Haven community activist groups joined together at a press conference to express support for the state bill, which State Reps. Tim O’Brien, of New Britain, Conn., and Ernest Hewett, of New London, Conn., brought before the assembly last month.

Otherwise, Thursday’s nearly two-hour debate — which was hosted by New Haven’s Democratic Town Committee at Wilbur Cross High School and featured an audience of about 70 — focused heavily on what candidates did agree on: ensuring economic recovery and fixing urban problems.

Faced with how they would square the state’s multi-billion-dollar budget deficit, the candidates said the state will soon reach the limit of how much spending it can cut and now must seek additional sources of revenue.

“We still have some belt-tightening to do, but we need to look at our revenues — including income taxes,” Jarjura said to loud applause.

The candidates also agreed that the state has failed to secure adequate federal funding for infrastructure and transportation projects, putting cities at a disadvantage. All candidates promised they would sign legislation giving cities greater power to impose local sales taxes to raise revenue. (And one candidate, Rudy Marconi, the first selectman of Ridgefield, Conn., advocated for levying tolls on the state’s highways, which he said could bring the state $1 billion in revenue.)

Controversial issues such as the racial achievement gap in education and immigration policy were also discussed for much of the debate. The candidates unanimously supported New Haven Mayor John Destefano Jr.’s efforts to reform the city’s public school system and the city’s Elm City Resident Card program, which makes identification and access to city services available to all residents regardless of immigration status.

In their closing statements, some candidates, including Juan Figueroa, the president of non-profit University Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, focused on the inequalities, both geographic and ethnic, in Connecticut, the richest state in the nation. Figueroa added that the gubernatorial election is a chance to redefine what the state is “all about.”

“Connecticut can’t be about disparities anymore,” Figueroa said. “This is an opportunity to set a new direction.”

New Haven’s Democratic Town Committee has the largest bloc of delegates to the state Democratic convention: 81. The convention will take place on the weekend of May 21 in Hartford.

Correction: March 26, 2010

An earlier version of the caption for the photograph accompanying this article misreported that Thursday’s debate was the first gubernatorial debate for the 2010 election; in fact, the debate was the first in New Haven for the 2010 election.

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