Just over three weeks before he faces off in a special election for Mayor Toni Harp’s old state senate seat, State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield qualified for public financing Monday, raising $6,000 more than is necessary to win public money.
Holder-Winfield raised a total of $17,532, according to documents filed with the State Elections Enforcement Committee. His donations — which come from 462 people, 315 of them living in New Haven or West Haven — qualify him for a public grant of $71,250.
Holder-Winfield will compete in a Feb. 25 special election for the seat representing Connecticut’s 10th district — half of New Haven and a portion of West Haven — against Steven Mullins, a West Haven justice of the peace and vice-chairman of the city’s planning and zoning commission. Mullins, a Republican, said he hopes to have raised sufficient funds by Tuesday to qualify him for public financing. He said he already has donations from more than 225 residents — one of the requirements of the Citizens Election Program — but has not reached the total requisite fundraising floor of $11,250.
Mullins announced his candidacy in mid-January after two other candidates, both Democrats, bowed out. He said he hopes to be the first West Haven resident to represent the 10th senatorial district, where Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans.
“West Haven has been the ignored stepchild of the district,” Mullins said. “We rarely saw Senator Harp. I feel it’s going to be the same way for Holder-Winfield.”
Holder-Winfield, who has represented the state’s 94th Assembly District for five years, said ability to reach constituents in West Haven will not be hampered by the location of his residence. He said he has learned to balance the interests of diverse neighborhoods within New Haven as a state representative, and that knocking doors and spending time in West Haven will foster connections in the neighboring city as well.
Now that he has qualified for public financing, Holder-Winfield said he will devote his time to connecting with voters. He received the endorsement of the Democratic Town Committee on Jan. 17 and has drawn the support of a broad swath of Democratic leaders in New Haven and across the state.
Holder-Winfield’s donations came from numerous colleagues in Hartford, including State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney and State Reps. Toni Walker and Roland Lemar. A handful of New Haven alders also opened their pocketbooks; Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12 contributed $5. Holder-Winfield also drew financial support from UNITE HERE staffers, including Local 34 President Laurie Kennington ’01 and organizer Gwen Mills.
Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, who ran against Harp for mayor last year, contributed $5. Holder-Winfield, himself a former candidate for mayor, drew donations from prominent supporters of diverse candidates in last year’s mayoral race.
Mullins said the majority of his donors are Democrats who “care more about their pocketbook than party label.” He said he hopes to make the race about a single issue: taxes. He said residents are on the verge of leaving Connecticut to escape cripplingly high taxes, particularly following the record $1.5 billion tax increase in the state’s 2011 budget.
“[Connecticut Gov. Dannel] Malloy does not need another tax-and-spend ally in Hartford,” Mullins said. “That’s what he’ll get with Holder-Winfield. It’s more of the same.”
Mullins said he would work to lower taxes by reducing “unnecessary spending,” adding that he does not “have answers for everything yet.”
Holder-Winfield said it is impossible to talk about spending cuts in the abstract.
“What specifically are you going to cut?” he said. “And what impact will that have on people’s lives?”
Holder-Winfield said providing residents with good jobs is his foremost priority. Ensuring that people have salaries that enable them to buy goods is the best way to boost business, he added.
Richter Elser ’81, chair of New Haven’s Republican Town Committee, said he sees Mullins’ candidacy as a sign that Republicans, despite being outnumbered, are seeking greater involvement in state politics. He said raising awareness that there is a Republican presence in many urban areas will benefit the gubernatorial prospects of Republican Tom Foley, who announced last week that he will seek the governor’s office this fall.
Nicholas Ruickoldt, a Democratic member of the West Haven City Council, said he supports the prospect of a West Haven resident representing the 10th district — but declined to issue an endorsement due to limited knowledge of the race.
Harp, who vacated the seat in January to assume her mayoral duties, had held it since 1993.