Democrats in New Haven and West Haven are working overtime reminding voters of a simple fact: There’s an election in eight days.
If they succeed, Connecticut State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield has a lock on Mayor Toni Harp’s old state senate seat — at least according to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, who came to town Sunday to stump for the Democrat in the race.
“The only real opposition here is complacency,” Blumenthal told more than 50 supporters crowded into Holder-Winfield’s Dixwell campaign office just over a week before the state representative squares off in a Feb. 25 special election for Connecticut’s 10th district state senate seat vacated by Harp when she assumed the mayor’s office in January. Holder-Winfield faces West Haven Republican Steven Mullins.
Party affiliation is strongly in Holder-Winfield’s favor. Both cities are solidly blue, with New Haven not having elected a Republican mayor in 60 years. The district comprises about 42,000 voters in the western half of New Haven and 14,000 in West Haven.
Entreating supporters to sign up for canvassing shifts, Holder-Winfield echoed Blumenthal’s warning. In a special election, he said, turnout is decisive.
“People say ‘Democrat — you’ll probably win.’ Not if they don’t know there’s an election,” Holder-Winfield said. “It’s exactly what Senator Blumenthal said. I don’t believe in complacency … I have to demonstrate that I want to win this race.”
Still, Holder-Winfield offered a confident message: “We should win this. There’s no reason to lose unless we go to sleep.”
Holder-Winfield said he was out traversing the district Sunday, knocking on doors in West Haven and New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood before a soup dinner in Westville. Mullins said he completed a speaking tour at a handful of New Haven churches before making the rounds in West Haven and then heading into Westville. Both candidates said they were undeterred by the winter weather.
Were he to win, Mullins would be the first West Haven resident to represent the 10th district — and he says his street address brings a fresh perspective more valuable than party affiliation. Mullins dismissed Blumenthal’s endorsement as a distraction from the single issue that he said matters in the race: taxes.
“[Holder-Winfield] can have pictures with any politicians he wants,” Mullins said. “The fact of the matter is that people are still leaving Connecticut in droves right now, and my opponent hasn’t made a commitment to oppose any new tax increase.”
Mullins pledged to vote against all tax hikes — specifically condemning any move to impose a statewide property tax.
He said he sees his base as being in West Haven, but that New Haven voters appear amenable to his platform as well. Holder-Winfield parried criticisms that he is out of touch with West Haven residents, saying that the municipal boundary does not create distinct interests.
“My message isn’t different,” Holder-Winfield said. “We always feel like we have very different issues. But when you boil them down to what they really are, they’re about public safety, they’re about education, they’re about jobs, they’re about whether our state is going to have a viable economy. Now that’s true of everybody.”
Blumenthal briefly praised Holder-Winfield’s legislative accomplishments — his leadership on the 2012 repeal of the death penalty and on education reform — before dwelling on the candidate’s character.
Holder-Winfield has two qualities critical to public service, Blumenthal said: integrity and willingness to listen.
“Whether you agree with him or not, you know what [Holder-Winfield] tells you is what he believes,” Blumenthal said. “More than any other quality, integrity matters today. It’s what people prize, what they want … He is someone whose integrity is unquestionable.”
Mullins did not disagree, questioning the integrity of the New Haven City Clerk’s office instead. He cited an incident at the beginning of the month in which one of his volunteers was told he could not pick up 1,000 absentee ballot applications, as the volunteer had requested. It took a consultation with City Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden for City Clerk Michael Smart to hand over the applications, Mullins said.
He cited “corruption” as one of a number of alleged wrongdoings on the part of the clerk’s office which Mullins insisted create grounds for Connecticut’s secretary of the state, Denise Merrill, to intervene. Merill responded to a letter Mullins sent to the secretary’s office, saying she could not preemptively intervene in a local election, he added.
“Of course she’s not going to intervene,” Mullins said. “It’s a political office. And the people I’m talking about are Democrats.”
Both candidates have qualified for public financing and are eligible for a grant of roughly $70,000.