Supporters of Gary Holder-Winfield who gathered at the election results party at the Greek Olive on Tuesday night were hardly surprised when Holder-Winfield was announced the next state senator for the 10th district in Connecticut.
Holder-Winfield, the only Democratic candidate running, won 75 percent of the votes in New Haven, running against lead Republican opponent Steven R. Mullins. The election was held to replace the senate seat that Toni Harp left vacant when she became mayor of New Haven last November.
“One thing that I do know from this election is that honesty and integrity matter,” Holder-Winfield said. “I want young people to see that you can do something different than what’s expected in politics.”
Holder-Winfield’s campaign was characterized by grassroots community efforts. Gary Stewart, a ward co-chair for Ward 24 who volunteered with the campaign said Holder-Winfield spent Tuesday knocking on doors, giving rides to the polls and making phone calls. Workers at the Ward 23 polling station said that around noon, folks from Holder-Winfield’s campaign came by to deliver sandwiches and coffee to polling staffers.
The Yale College Democrats have also had a hand in supporting Holder-Winfield’s campaign. According to Rebecca Ellison, President of the Dems, the Dems have held two phone banks, as well as helping host an event for his campaign.
“This campaign was about shoe leather and shaking hands,” said Nancy Wyman, Conn. Lieutenant Governor. “Gary’s Campaign got a lot of people out that wouldn’t have been out otherwise.”
Still, voter turnout was exceptionally low, Stewart said. At the end of the election, Holder-Winfield had received 3,236 votes, and Mullins had received 1,045. By contrast, 20,769 votes were cast in November’s mayoral election.
While the mayoral election drew around 900 voters in Ward 22, those working at the polling location said they would be surprised if voter turnout for the special election reached 200 — and Holder-Winfield said he expected as much.
“There wasn’t much publicity,” said John Jones, a New Haven resident interviewed at the Ward 23 polling station. Jones said that he only heard about the election last week. Staffers at the Ward 2, Ward 22 and Ward 23 polling stations said that turnout was slow throughout the day. Natasha Comfort, who was working at the Ward 23 polling station, said that although there were the occasional busy moments, at most points during the day “it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop.”
“It’s Februrary, it’s cold outside, people just aren’t motivated,” Stewart said. “People who don’t read the newspaper just might not have known about the election,” he added.
Holder-Winfield’s supporters do not believe Mullins’ final campaign push had much of an effect on the election results.
They cited Holder-Winfield’s background as the reason for his victory.
“You run on your record,” said Charles Blango, former Ward 20 Newhallville Alderman. “And Gary’s record speaks for itself.”
Holder-Winfield said his primary focus in his new position will be to get acquainted with the needs of his constituents. His supporters also said Holder-Winfield’s dedication to community issues will define his term as senator.
Bill Dyson, the former Connecticut representative for the 94th district, said the kinds of issues that Holder-Winfield has supported in the past, such as his work getting rid of the death penalty in Connecticut, reflect issues important to the community. Dyson first endorsed Holder-Winfield in his 2008 campaign for Connecticut State representative after Holder-Winfield interned for him.
Doug Hausladen ’04, New Haven’s transit chief, said Holder-Winfield’s work on transgender issues, school governance councils and in particular, his rally against the death penalty, made him feel confident casting his vote for Holder-Winfield.
Ellison said the Yale Dems were particularly excited about Holder-Winfield’s work on the death penalty, education reform and juvenile justice, among other issues.
He was also praised for his advocacy for the working class by Lindsay Farrell, a volunteer from the Working Families Party.
“We have always sent competent people to the senate, and Gary will add to this delegation.” Harp said. She added that she looks forward to working with Holder-Winfield.
Blango said he will run for Holder-Winfield’s position as state representative, but does not yet know who will run against him.