Fifteen days after filing papers to run for mayor, Connecticut State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield kicked off his campaign Saturday with a public event in Long Wharf. Nearly 70 people — including a handful of Holder-Winfield’s colleagues in the Connecticut House and seven Yale students — flocked to the back room of The Greek Olive to greet the candidate and hear about his vision for New Haven.

A state representative for parts of New Haven and Hamden, Holder-Winfield leaned heavily on his experience with state politics in pitching his candidacy to attendees, stressing ties to legislators across Connecticut as his principal qualification for mayor.

“The mayor of the city can’t just sit in the city,” Holder-Winfield said. “You need to go out and sell the city. I have relationships with people all over the state.”

Those relationships were made evident by Connecticut House Rep. Patricia Billie Miller’s introduction of Holder-Winfield, which concluded when Miller noted that state representatives from three other Connecticut cities had come out to support their colleague.

In a 13-minute speech, the candidate explained why he wanted to be mayor and laid out his tentative ideas for a campaign platform, which included education reform, community policing overhaul, economic development and government transparency.

Addressing the issue of failing schools, Holder-Winfield said he would focus on early childhood education because “the problems begin early.” Curricular development, smaller classrooms and greater parental involvement, he added, are necessary components of school reform.

Holder-Winfield cast the importance of opportunity for the city’s youth in a personal light, saying he escaped his impoverished upbringing because of the educational opportunities for which he and his single mother had to fight.

“I grew up in the housing projects in the Bronx,” he said. “I grew up in a place where if you were going to get an education, you had to literally fight to get that education. I want people to have more opportunity than I ever had.”

Turning to the issue of violence in New Haven, Holder-Winfield said the city needs a mayor who recognizes the reality of crime. He said he would put the “community” back into “community policing,” ensuring that police engage all New Haven residents. After his speech, he elaborated, saying “every single one of those cops needs to be talking.”

He also spoke about economic development and government transparency, saying he hoped to “make this city the jewel of Connecticut.” He cited New Haven’s easy access to a highway and a port and its proximity to an airport and a number of universities — including Yale, Southern Connecticut State University and Quinnipiac University — as opportunities for economic advancement.

Transparency, he said, is critical to government effectiveness, adding that decisions that affect residents’ lives must be made by people who “stand among them.”

As attendees milled about before the candidate’s remarks, Leslie Blatteau ’97 GRD ’07, a New Haven Public Schools teacher and 2005 mayoral candidate, said she was inspired by Holder-Winfield’s work on death penalty repeal and gay rights in the State House. She added that she hopes he will continue work on school reform, which she said should mean “avoiding scapegoating the teachers and focusing on the psychological and mental health of students.”

After his speech, Holder-Winfield said what distinguishes him from his main competitor — Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 — is experience, noting specifically his work on education reform.

“I’ve actually been working on it,” he said. “I was the leader of a K-3 reading bill in the State House. I’m the one person who has been working on these issues for years.”

In the past, Elicker has emphasized his attendence at community meetings and events, pointing to his extensive involvement in the city as his main source of experience. In building his campaign, Elicker has also reached out beyond New Haven, he said.

Elicker told the News Sunday that he has been forging relationships on the state level as he continues to meet with people in the governor’s office and the state House, but stressed that knowledge of the city is critical.

“Having a good relationship with the state is important. What’s more important is having a strong understanding of the city’s budget and operations,” Elicker said. “The main job of the mayor is the operation of the city. Making smart decisions starts at home.”

Megan Ifill, who lives in Elicker’s ward, said she has not decided which candidate to support but came to Holder-Winfield’s kickoff to learn more about the political process. Still, she described Elicker as a “phenomenal” alderman, adding that the candidate is involved extensively in the neighborhood, “in the trenches with his sleeves rolled up.”

Elicker said he recently hired Kyle Buda, an expert in field organizing who has been working on Democratic campaigns in Wisconsin, as his campaign manager.

Meanwhile, Holder-Winfield said he is fundraising and starting to build his staff. Before the speech, Christine Bartlett-Josie, his campaign treasurer, handed out contribution forms. Bartlett-Josie said the campaign is slated to raise enough money to qualify for public financing by the end of the month. That will require having received 200 contributions — a threshold Elicker reached late last month — and will make Holder-Winfield eligible for a $19,000 grant and matching funds of up to $125,000 through New Haven’s Democracy Fund.

The event was initially scheduled for Feb. 9 but postponed due to last weekend’s blizzard.