Dabbing tears from his eyes, Gary Holder-Winfield spoke to his fellow congregants about losing his mother—and about launching a campaign for mayor.
Holder-Winfield covered both subjects, and tied them together, in five minutes of remarks during the worship service at Community Baptist Church Sunday morning.
Holder-WInfield, a state representative, attends the church at Shelton Avenue and Division Street in Newhallville. He said he wanted to explain to his fellow parishioners why he’s about to embark on a quest that they will inevitably hear much about in coming months.
That quest: Running for mayor of New Haven against ten-term incumbent John DeStefano, a fellow Democrat. Holder-Winfield hasn’t officially announced he’s running. But he has formed an “exploratory committee” to do so and to begin collecting contributions.
So has another mayoral hopeful, East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker. (More about that later in this article.)
In his remarks from a lectern before the packed pews at Community Baptist, Holder-Winfield said he views a run for mayor as a logical extension of community work he has done since before his 2008 election to the state legislature. He’d been active in campaigns calling for school reform, death penalty abolition, prison reentry measures. He has involved himself in those issues as a state legislator.
“I wanted to come here this morning to say to you, ‘Thank you for having supported me in all the work that I’ve done. I’m seriously looking at what I can do here closer to home. Because I think that the work that I was doing is better served closer to home than it is at the state level,” he said.
“I think it’s time to come home and make this place where everybody is a part of what’s going on. Where government connects to people. It doesn’t just act upon people. But it acts with people.”
Click on the play arrow to the above video to watch Holder-Winfield deliver his remarks.
In his remarks at Community Baptist, Holder-Winfield spoke of the death of his mother this past July 31. His voice choked up. A congregant brought him a tissue, with which he dabbed his eyes as he spoke of fulfilling a promise at his mother’s funeral. He had promised to sing a song by Rev. Paul Jones called “I Won’t Complain.”
“I sang the beginning of the song. It talked about, ‘When I look around and I think things over.’ I was fine,” Holder-Winfield recalled.
“But then there’s a part of the song where the person singing the song asks, ‘Why so much pain?’ and answers the question. He says, ‘Because He knows what’s best for me.’
“I didn’t make it past that part of the song,” Holder-Winfield remarked, his voice cracking. “I couldn’t understand why my mother who wasn’t even 60 yet” had died.
He thought about his mother telling him, “You’re going to be mayor one day.” He told her that wasn’t his plan. After her death, he said, he thought about how “our history is connected to other people, particularly our parents,” he said.
“When people asked me this year about running for mayor, I couldn’t say no. Because of that history. Because of that connection. Because … of what we’re commanded to.”
Afterwards, Rev. Jason Turner asked men in the hall to come up and huddle around Holder, to put their hands on him, and to pray together. Turner has been promoting male group prayers at Community Baptist recently.
“It’s not easy being a black man in America,” Turner said as they bowed their heads. “It’s not easy to stand for what you believe. And so now God we pray for him, these men who are surrounding him and laying hands on him, for God to support him as a man of God. I pray God you will give the strength to run this race … give him, oh God, the peace of mind not to waste time answering all of his critics. Give him the wisdom he needs to be a man of integrity.”
A Listening Tour Report
Alderman Elicker, meanwhile, said he has been hearing that word—“integrity”—as he makes rounds in his own “exploratory” quest for mayor.
As in: Voters want New Haven’s mayor to have “integrity” and to listen to people.
Elicker said he has heard that message in the many one-on-one meetings with people around town as well as in five or so formal “coffees” he has held about a potential candidacy, in East Rock and on the East Shore and at the Bella Vista elderly housing complex.
He said he has also been hearing a desire for a hybrid (part elected, part appointed) Board of Education; “new leadership at the Board of Education, at the top”; and more “sharing” of “prosperity” at the neighborhood level from downtown development projects. People also would like to see a budget solution this year that looks five to 10 years into the future, not just to plugging another one-time deficit, he said.
Elicker, like Holder-Winfield, has formally filed papers with the City Clerk’s Office forming an “exploratory” campaign committee. That means he can collect contributions.
He said he doesn’t have a target date yet by which he’ll announce whether he’s formally running. (Holder-Winfield said he’ll make a decision by the end of January,) First, Elicker said, he wants to make sure he “talks to as many people as possible about my candidacy.” He also wants to clear up an issue with the city’s Democracy Fund, which oversees the granting of public money to candidates who abide by fund-raising limits. (A background story here.) Elicker said he plans to participate in that system. But he has learned that to do so he must spend all the money his exploratory committee raises—because that committee is viewed as one of the “outside” committees from which a formally declared candidate agrees not to accept contributions.
Click here to read a legal memo on the issue written by the Democracy Fund’s administrator, Ken Krayeske. (It appears at the bottom of the document.) The Fund’s board is scheduled to discuss the issue at a 6 p.m. meeting Wednesday in the mayor’s conference room on the second floor of City Hall.
Candidates who form “exploratory” committees and go on “listening tours” about candidacies usually if not always end up running. If any readers know of any exceptions, please post a comment about it below.