A one-year 50 percent drop in homicides doesn’t mean New Haven has licked its crime problem, Gary Holder-WInfield said at a mayoral campaign event.
“A single year’s data doesn’t tell me anything. The numbers bounce around and don’t necessarily mean a good job is being done or a problem is on its way to being solved,” Holder-Winfield said at a weekend meet-and-greet at Thamera, a new boutique located at 906 Whalley Ave. in Westville Village.
The event was part of Holder-Winfield’s “exploratory” campaign for mayor.
At the event Saturday, Holder-WInfield, a third-term state representative, sounded more like a mayoral candidate than an “explorer.” He emphasized the need for people in government—not just cops, but the mayor—to listen to people and talk with them.
Over the course of two hours, as he stood under a sign that read “Hurry up and relax,” Holder-Winfield, by turns passionate and professorial, addressed policing, school and charter reform, and styles of governance with some two dozen people..
At Saturday’s event Holder-Winfield in general praised community policing, which has returned to the city in the past year. A former city polcie commissioner, Westvillean Donald McAulay, asked Holder-WInfield his view on residency requirements. The candidate said it would help to have more New Haveners on the force. But no matter where they live, cops must “engage people,” Holder-Winfield said.
Asked about the news reported this week that homicides fell 50 percent and shootings dropped 30 percent in 2012, Holder-Winfield responded, “If I were the mayor or police chief, I’d say we’ve done so and so, but we have a ways to go. [You] can’t draw conclusions,” he said. Click here to read about how the mayor and the police chief characterized the 2012 stats.
Redefining “Executive” Style
Holder-Winfield told the gathering about his community organizing background, his engineering education, and his success as a state representative in twice convincing the legislature to vote to repeal the death penalty. He then fielded this question from community activist Lee Cruz (second from left in the photo): Since the mayor’s job is primarily that of an executive, “Why should someone consider you a serious candidate?”
“That’s a good question, one that will be asked over and over,” Holder-Winfield replied.
He said he would redefine the term “executive” if he wins the election. He would lead from among people, listen to both sides of an issue, think outside of rigid boxes, and address issues brought to him before they grow into full-blown problems, he promised.
“No, I have not been the executive, but a person who moves things forward,” he said.
Listening to both sides, including Republicans, was the key to his signature achievement, leading to death penalty abolition in Connecticut, Holder-WInfield said.
As for school reform, Holder-Winfield said that he and others were pushing the city as early as 2004 to tackle the achievement gap by early reading interventions.
“The proper response should have been: ‘Yes, you’re right,’” let’s discuss the matter, he said.
Instead school reform didn’t start for another four or five years, after new grant opportunities opened up in Washington, he argued.
“The impetus for doing things shouldn’t be money. The impetus should be to help kids, because in my neighborhood the result [of kids turning off education early and never catching up] is they go out and shoot people.”
In the legislature, Holder-Winfield cosponsored a law to require more parental say in turning around failing schools through “governance councils.” New Haven has lagged in following that law.
Told of Holder-Winfield’s remarks Sunday, Mayor John DeStefano defended his administration’s community-policing and school reform initiatives.
“The facts are clear. New Haven is a national leader in both violence reduction and school reform—with a lot more work ahead of it,” DeStefano argued. “Chief [Dean] Esserman, our police and our neighborhoods have done a great job over the last year and, while we have much yet to do, a 50 percent drop in homicides and 30 percent drop in shootings is a great start. And now we need to turn our attention to responsible gun laws.
“School change began when the school district and the New Haven Federation of Teachers entered into a groundbreaking collaborative agreement around accountability and teacher evaluation—in 2008. The state modeled its school reform efforts around New Haven. Gary is making an argument for change for change’s sake. However let’s not confuse that with the incredible work of so many here in New Haven. No other city in Connecticut and few in the country can point to similar results.”
Open To Hybrid Ed Board
At Saturday’s event, he was asked by a questioner what aspects of charter reform particularly engage him. “I’m not sure,” he replied, “I’m not being [intentionally] obscure. It’s important to be honest.”
What about an elected or appointed Board of Education? “A hybrid board would not be terrible,” he said.
On the issue of mayoral term limits, he said, “I don’t think term limits [necessarily or automatically] accomplish civic participation, but I’m not opposed to them; you need to get new people. You can step away after eight or ten years and help the person who comes after you. No matter what happens I respect this mayor’s 20 years of experience.”
Holder-Winfield added that should he become the new mayor he would call on Mayor DeStefano for counsel.
Then he made a promise: “If I get elected I will not be mayor 20 years from now.”
“I Don’t Think I’ll Be Exploring Too Much Longer”
Holder-Winfield’s exploratory committee treasurer, Christine Bartlett-Josie, said fundraising is “going fantastic,” with people like Thamera’s Dawn Bliesener ringing the committee’s phone off the hook asking for meet-and-greets. On Sunday, she said the candidate would be headed to Windsor, where a group of ex-New Haveners would host him.
They can’t vote but they can contribute money, Bartlett-Josie said.
Holder-Winfield concluded by saying that his listening and exploring have resulted in “good” feedback”
Unless he runs into what he described as a “brick wall” within the next few weeks, “I don’t think I’ll be ‘exploring’ too much longer,” he prophesied
He said he’ll make a formal decision whether to proceed into full campaign mode by the end of January or early February.
As he left Thamera’s, Donald McAulay said he had come to check out the potential candidate. He said he remains undecided. So far, he said, “I like what I heard.”