Tag Archive: Hartford

  1. Gary Holder-Winfield: Onward and Upward in Hartford

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    You haven’t seen the last of Gary Holder-Winfield. A popular fixture in New Haven politics — and not just because of his lively social media presence — Holder-Winfield was sworn in a week ago today as state senator representing Connecticut’s 10th district. He replaces Mayor Toni Harp, who held the post for nearly 21 years before assuming New Haven’s highest office this January. But Holder-Winfield is no stranger to Hartford. He was a state representative for five years, best known for his leadership on the groundbreaking 2012 repeal of Connecticut’s death penalty. Now Holder-Winfield is helping to lead another charge: increasing the minimum wage, an issue sacred for Democrats nationwide. WEEKEND sat down with Holder-Winfield to talk about workers’ issues, his legislative experience and ambitions and his philosophy of lawmaking, which he says differs from Kevin Spacey’s on the hit Netflix series “House of Cards.”


    Q. You’ve been on the job for a week. How has that been?

     A. It’s been a good week. A lot of acclimating myself to the job: getting myself into my office, getting a new aide. The session is well underway, so I come in a little bit late. I’m the chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, so we’ve been having the minimum wage debate this week. We’re also dealing with hospital conversions and workers’ compensation stuff. What I’ve been doing is poring over research on those issues.

    Q. The committee passed Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy’s minimum wage hike — $10.10 by 2017 — on Tuesday. What are your responsibilities with regard to the bill from here on out?

    A. We voted the bill out of committee on Tuesday. As the chair, when it hits the senate floor, I will be the person who defends that bill. I didn’t get to see President Obama speak in New Britain on Wednesday because I was at the capital instead, doing research to make sure I know the arguments.

    Q. Do you think it will pass?

    A. I think it has a really good shot at passing. If you look at the approval ratings nationally and here in Connecticut, it has something like a 71 percent approval rating in the state. When something has a 71 percent approval rating and you have a Democratic majority, I would say it has a pretty good shot.

    Q. You told me in January you didn’t think the legislature would move on an additional wage increase this session. What changed?

    A. It’s helpful that the President wanted to do it. It changed the conversation from ‘Connecticut is doing this on its own’ to ‘this is something that follows a national trend.’ It’s not just Democrats in Connecticut going off on their own and driving businesses somewhere else, which is what Republicans say. This is part of a movement and should the movement catch fire, we wouldn’t be all by ourselves.

    Q. During your campaign for state senator, you received the backing of numerous labor unions — and spoke about the obligation of politicians to raise awareness about workers’ issues. What are those issues?

    A. I have a lot of concern for working people. It’s certainly one of my main focuses as chair of the Labor Committee. I’m also a person who demonstrated on the death penalty debate that I don’t have an aversion to dealing with controversy. I also work for the professors’ union at Southern Connecticut State University, so I have a real understanding of labor issues. It’s what I’ve done for the last eight years. So my point was that it’s important to have these conversations publicly. We talk a lot about the middle class, but that obscures this group of people who are really more in the working class. The problem is when people start to see themselves as middle class, they stop thinking of themselves as the beneficiaries of policies that benefit primarily the working class.

    Q. Because Mayor Harp served as the state senator for the 10th district for 21 years, people say you have big shoes to fill. Does that affect you — how do you plan on filling those shoes?

     A. I replaced [former State Rep. William] Dyson as representative for the 94th district. He was there for 32 years. He was a legend. When I replaced him, people would say to me, ‘oh sorry that you replaced Bill Dyson; no one will know you for ten years.’ It didn’t turn out that way. I didn’t focus on replacing Bill Dyson — I focused on doing a good job. I’m not focused on how I can come in and do what [Harp] did. I’m focused on, ‘Can I do a good job and work harder than the people around me?’ All of that being said, she was a phenomenal state senator. Anybody who would tell you anything different didn’t know what Toni Harp did. She made sure that the things that are supposed to come back to her district did. It’s something to strive toward.

    Q. Harp initially endorsed you during the mayoral race last year. Then she entered the race, and you ended up dropping out and supporting her. Has that affected your relationship? What’s the dynamic like now?

    A. I just feel it’s business. I don’t get into all of the drama of politics. It’s not good. It doesn’t serve you well. If you do that, you’re not long for this arena. I’m focused on making sure I’m around to do good things; I want to be around for a while. That means staying out of some of the silliness. In that election there were a lot of people who wanted me to come out and go after the mayor for going back on her promise to support me. I wasn’t going to do that. That’s “Real Housewives”-type stuff.

    Q. Speaking of the “drama of politics,” do you watch “House of Cards”?

    A. I have only seen one episode. I haven’t had time. But the first episode was intriguing. I really would like to watch more.

    Q. Do you think it’s an accurate portrayal of politics?

    A. My politics don’t operate that way. My politics aren’t about how do I control everything or how do I game the system. I certainly don’t game the system in the way Kevin Spacey does. There are people who see politics that way, and people who get into politics and see it as a game. Those people probably don’t do so well. Politics are about your relationships. If you’re always about undercutting people or manipulating people, you’re not going to build the relationships that are useful to you.

    Q. You say you want to stick around. Does that mean as a state senator or in another office? Do you plan to run for mayor again — or for federal office?

    A. People bring that up from time to time. I will say this: I’m not looking to run for mayor anytime soon. As for federal office, I’m not thinking about that right now — I’m not thinking about the next race. From the mayor’s race to the state senate election, I’ve been involved in races for about the time it takes to run for president. I’m glad to have a little bit of downtime.

    Q. People have compared you to Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson as a leading black Connecticut politician. Do you think this is a useful comparison, and what is the importance of race or other identity categories in politics?

    A. Scott and myself — yeah, whatever. I’m appreciative of the fact that people think I’m one of those people. All I ever intend to do is figure out how I can learn enough to represent people well. If that makes me someone who’s prominent, great. As for the question of race, I think it’s important to have women, people of color, people with disabilities in elected office. It shows what’s possible. Young people need to see that a woman can be governor, or a black person or a Native American. It’s important for young people to open their doors and see people like that running for office and in positions of power.

    Q. Was it important for you when you were young?

    A. When I was younger, we didn’t have a lot of people like that in office. I can’t think of anyone in particular. Maybe it was just my mom for me. She worked every day to provide for me — working at the post office moving mail. She worked herself into bad health. I was inspired by the fact that she worked so hard. I didn’t have a black president. At the time we had to look backwards and see the people in the civil rights movement. But no one at present. That’s part of the reason I think what I’m doing is important.

  2. Poll shows Connecticut residents support medical weed

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    Connecticut residents support the legalization of medical marijuana but oppose the repeal of the death penalty, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday.

    Sixty-eight percent of the poll’s respondents said they support allowing patients with a chronic illness to obtain small amounts of marijuana with a prescription. Only 27 percent said they oppose medical marijuana. The study found similar numbers in support of capital punishment — 62 percent said they are in favor of keeping the death penalty, and only 31 percent said they want to repeal it.

    The poll was released hours before both of the measures were slated to come to a vote in the state legislature’s judiciary committee. The committee endorsed the marijuana bill Wednesday afternoon.

    Gov. Dannel Malloy is looking better in the poll, with an approval rating of 44 percent — up 3 points since September — and widespread support for his education reform plans. The poll found respondents support Malloy’s plan to reform teacher tenure 54 percent to 35 percent, and approve of making it easier to fire teachers 62 percent to 31 percent.

    Additionally, voters want liquor stores to sell alcoholic beverages on Sunday by a 54 to 42 percent margin. A measure to revise Connecticut’s liquor laws to allow Sunday sales, among other changes, sailed through the state legislature’s General Law Committee Tuesday and looks set to pass the General Assembly.

  3. New bill would protect right to photograph cops

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    The state legislature will hold a public hearing in Hartford next week on a bill to protect citizens’ right to film or photograph police officers on duty.

    Sponsored by State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, a Democrat who represents New Haven, the bill will give citizens a statutory right to sue if they are prevented from recording police officers’ activities. Looney told the New Haven Register he sponsored the bill in response to the 2009 arrest of Father James Manship, who was charged with interfering with an officer after recording police activity in an East Haven convenience store. But Looney said other incidents — including the New Haven Police Department’s October 2010 raid at Elevate Lounge, where officers threatened to arrest Yale students for recording the bust — also prompted the proposed legislation.

    “The police need to be reminded that the public has a right to record what the police are doing,” Looney said.

    This is the second time such a bill has come to the state legislature. Last year, a similar version of the bill made it through the Senate but failed towin passage in the House as some lawmakers objected to how the bill might impact the privacy rights of victims or interfere with police investigations. In this version of the bill proposed this year, a clause was added that permits police officers to prevent individuals from making a recording if it would interfere with an investigation, jeopardize the integrity of a crime scene or endanger the “privacy interests of any person, including a victim of a crime.”

    Still, Douglas Fuchs, the police chief of Redding, Conn., and president of the state’s Police Chiefs Association, told the Register he’s concerned about the impact of the bill on the privacy of people who report crimes to the police.

    “People call us all the time,” he said. “They certainly don’t need to fear that all of a sudden they’re going to be on YouTube.”

    In New Haven, the right to use cell phones and other electronic devices to record officers on duty has been formalized under the NHPD’s “Video Recording of Police Activity by the Public” policy. That policy was implemented in late 2010 after both Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and then-NHPD Chief Frank Limon spoke out against the faulty training that led to officers’ threats to arrest students recording police activity during the Elevate raid.

    Five students — four of them Yalies — were initially arrested in the raid of the Crown Street nightclub, but charges against all five had been dropped by last November.