Robbie Short

Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 returned to her old stomping grounds Saturday, four days before Connecticut casts its vote in the presidential primary.

Clinton, former secretary of state and current frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, met with a variety of local residents to discuss an issue that strikes at the heart of many in the area: raising the incomes of working families. Clinton’s remarks to the audience, seated inside Orangeside on Temple, focused mostly on the need to raise the minimum wage, mandate paid family leave and strengthen labor unions. The American Dream, Clinton said, is threatened, and the government must act to improve the lives of all citizens.

“I fear that we are losing that dream,” Clinton said. “And there are many reasons for that  there’s a lot of crosscurrents at work. But we need to figure out what to do about it. We can’t just watch it, and pray about it, and worry about it.”

Instead, she said, government must intervene to correct injustices  to make college affordable, to make the quality of elementary education equal across school districts and to work to help working families who cannot afford even to put food on the dinner table.

In a city where labor unions exert a notable hold over the political structure, Clinton argued strong labor unions are crucial to the prosperity of the American class. One healthcare worker told Clinton that her union, SEIU Healthcare 1199 NE, had secured pay increases without which she would be struggling to make ends meet.

“I think it’s important to underscore what each of you have said about how unions have helped you fight for and get more support, more pay, more benefits,” Clinton said.  “I believe strongly that the American labor unit really helped to make the American middle class, and the pressures that are being brought on the unions … are bad not just for the unions, they’re bad for all workers, because they suppress wages on everybody.”

According to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Democrat who represents the New Haven area in Congress, Clinton’s desire to improve the lots of working families is at the “heart and soul” of her campaign — and, moreover, her vision of the nation’s politics. DeLauro is no stranger to Clinton and her campaign; her mother campaigned with Clinton at Sally’s Apizza in Wooster Square during Bill Clinton’s LAW ’73 bid for the presidency in 1992.

New Haven residents raised a variety of concerns with Clinton, all regarding the issue of improving the fortunes of the working class. One resident was Gloria Council, who lives in Westville. After suffering an injury that left her unable to work, Council applied for disability benefits. But those benefits have been late in coming, and now Council faces foreclosure on her house.

Council, who told that same story to the Board of Alders Monday, asked Clinton what her vision was for helping homeowners. Though not seeking a “handout,” Council said, she was looking for fair treatment from the bank that owns her house.

Clinton was sympathetic to Council’s predicament, saying she had been mistreated.

“You’re in a terrible position, because you’re waiting for your benefits, and they’re not willing to wait,” Clinton said. “That is just wrong, and we should either pass a law, or figure out ways to stop them from doing this. The whole foreclosure crisis was, in a large measure, caused by the banks in the first place.”

Local issues were at the forefront of the roundtable discussion, attended only by members of the press corps and roughly twenty participants while a crowd of over a hundred gathered outside the restaurant.

Michael Wishnie ’87 LAW ’93, director of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, told Clinton that wage theft is an enormous problem in the New Haven area. Wishnie praised Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez  a rumored possible vice-presidential pick  for his efforts to improve wage-theft reporting systems, but said more needs to be done.

Clinton agreed, and echoed Wishnie’s praise of Perez. Casting the tipped-wage exemption from the minimum wage as an issue that primarily affects women, she called for the “two-tiered” system to end.

Mayor Toni Harp brought up the issue of affordable housing in New Haven, which has the nation’s lowest vacancy rate. Clinton said affordable housing has become an increasingly prominent issue over the last few years, one she has heard about from residents in markets in the Northeast and in California. Too many issues, like proper maintenance and construction of public and private buildings, have been neglected for years, Clinton said.

As Clinton campaigned in New Haven, Republican candidate Donald Trump spoke in Waterbury, and Clinton rival Sen. Bernie Sanders is scheduled to hold a rally on the New Haven Green Sunday evening.