On Thursday, Newhallville ward committee member Robyn Porter won a special election to fill the state representative seat recently vacated by new State Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield.
Porter will represent the 94th assembly district, which includes portions of Hamden and New Haven, in the Connecticut State House of Representatives. She will serve in the House until May 7 when the legislative session ends and will contend with an open field of candidates in the general election in November.
“I think [the victory] was based on good old grass-roots campaigning, knocking on doors, listening to people,” Porter said. “That’s what works.”
Porter won the election with 347 votes, roughly 38 percent of the 904 votes cast Thursday. Hamden resident and at-large city council member Berita Rowe-Lewis came in second with 236 votes. In New Haven, only 7 percent of eligible voters turned out to the polls.
Porter’s platform included a focus on unemployment, gun violence and the achievement gap in local schools. A New Haven local, Porter has strong ties to community activism. She currently works at a labor union, Communication Workers of America, a communications and media labor union, and garnered the endorsements of a variety of other unions during her campaigning.
The bulk of Porter’s support came from Ward 19. Voters for Porter lauded her involvement in her local ward, where she has been a member of the Newhallville Community Resilience team, a grass-roots organization dedicated to strengthening community ties.
“I’m impressed with how she listens to people,” said Ethel Berger, a Ward 19 resident who voted for Porter. “She ran a terrific [Newhallville Community] Resilience team and has a lot of leadership potential.”
Since the 94th district Democratic committee did not endorse a candidate, Thursday’s ballot featured a total of four Democratic candidates facing off against Republican challenger and former 91st assembly district representative Leonard B. Caplan. In addition to Porter and Rowe-Lewis, other Democratic candidates included Hamden resident Reynaud Harp, brother-in-law of Mayor Toni Harp, and New Haven business owner Charles Ashe. A fifth Democratic candidate, Jerome Dunbar, originally campaigned as a write-in candidate, but withdrew his candidacy on Tuesday.
Holder-Winfield, the previous representative for the 94th district, did not publicly endorse any of the candidates prior to the election. He said his successor should keep in mind the diversity of the district. Holder-Winfield cited taxation and youth crime as important issues that his successor should be prepared to address.
In February, Holder-Winfield won a special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by New Haven Mayor Toni Harp. The special election to fill his representative seat was announced on March 9, giving candidates 46 days to declare their candidacy and campaign. Both Porter and Rowe-Lewis said their campaigns were not affected by the decreased preparation time, and Rowe-Lewis said she has her sights set on the representative seat since last year.
“[The campaign] was a great ride,” Porter said. “I really enjoyed what I did.”
Porter said she was disappointed by the turnout in Ward 1, the ward which includes most of Yale. Out of 835 potential voters, four turned out, though low turnout is typical of special elections. Although Berkeley, Calhoun, Silliman, Timothy Dwight and Trumbull Colleges are part of the 94th assembly district, none of the more than a dozen students interviewed were aware of the election.
The Yale College Democrats did not campaign for a single candidate because of the multiple democratic contenders, said Tyler Blackmon ’16, elections coordinator for Yale College Democrats and a staff columnist for the News. Instead, the group encouraged students to vote through emails and social media posts.
“Students should be paying attention to politics because politics is paying attention to them,” Blackmon said.
Porter said she will be running again for the same seat in the fall, while Rowe-Lewis said she has not yet decided whether or not to pursue the position.
Ashe, Caplan and Harp were unavailable for comment Thursday evening.