Candidate Tells Church Of “Commandment”

Paul Bass PhotoDabbing 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.

Click here and here for previous stories in which Holder-Winfield and Elicker elaborated on those themes (and DeStefano responded to them).

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

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAlderman 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.

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posted by: anonymous on December 18, 2012  2:16pm

Good luck to Gary and Justin. New Haven needs more listening and more participation.

posted by: Curious on December 18, 2012  2:34pm

I am excited to have both Elicker and Holder-Winfield running!  Please please please run clean and honest and amicable campaigns.

posted by: FromTheHill on December 18, 2012  3:31pm

Elicker has not been an aldermen for too long and how long has he lived in New Haven?  Dose he even own a home in this city?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 18, 2012  5:40pm

Gil Scott Heron’s song was entitle The Revolution Will NOT Be Televised. The Questions are:

1.What is the ideological framework
2.Who will emerge as leaders
3.Are those who emerge as leaders imparting the TRUTH?

Time will tell.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on December 18, 2012  5:45pm


He does own a home here. And prior to being Alderman he was extremely active in the community especially mine. I love both men but for the position of Mayor I would have to stand with Justin. If Gary want to seek higher office in a legislative way I would support him. But for mayor I have to go with Justin.

posted by: Brutus2011 on December 18, 2012  5:47pm

I am excited as well.

I can already hear those who benefit from the current political patronage culture starting to sweat.

It is amazing how what goes around comes around.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on December 18, 2012  5:48pm

And I agree with Curious please keep it clean guys and ask your campaigners to as well. It would be refreshing to actually not have the nastys slid in for once.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 18, 2012  6:15pm

Both are part of the crooked two party system.Vote Sundiata Keitazulu for mayor.

posted by: robn on December 19, 2012  11:36am

How about the 1st Commandment?

“Thou shalt not mix church and state.”

Oh I’m sorry,,, that’s the 1st Amendment.

posted by: cp06 on December 19, 2012  3:57pm

I am curious as to why these men would form exploratory committees, rather than just declare their candidacy and run. Why? What’s the reasoning? What’s the benefit?

posted by: westville man on December 20, 2012  10:07am

Cp06-  to run for mayor requires quite the “war chest” of $. An exploratory committee should help determine if there are potential voters out there in key wards, “boots on the ground” to help a campaign and financial commitments from some key people.  Otherwise, it can be a waste of time and money for a serious candidate.

posted by: Wooster Squared on December 20, 2012  9:41pm

Gary would definitely be an improvement over DeStefano, but I think Justin would be better and is a much stronger potential candidate. 

At any rate it’s a good sign that two of the City’s more popular leaders are stepping up to challenge an administration that’s been in power too long. If two terms was enough for George Washington, then 10 is more than enough for John DeStefano.

posted by: GoodNatured on December 21, 2012  8:48am

Gary has done a good job for us in the State Assembly.

Gary won’t be able to do as much good if he’s confined just to New Haven.

We need him in Hartford. We can’t afford to lose his experience there. We need him as a strong black leader in the State Assembly.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 21, 2012  9:18am

posted by: Wooster Squared on December 20, 2012 8:41pm

At any rate it’s a good sign that two of the City’s more popular leaders are stepping up to challenge an administration that’s been in power too long. If two terms was enough for George Washington, then 10 is more than enough for John DeStefano.

We know what happen last election.We need Term Limits for all.

posted by: HhE on December 25, 2012  4:58pm

It needs to be Gary or Justin.  I favor Justin in part because of all the good that Gary is doing in Hartford.  Whoever proves to be the stronger candidate, I will support to the best of my ability. 

Streever was right—as usual.