Holder-Winfield: Crime Verdict Not In Yet

Allan Appel PhotoA 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..

Holder-Winfield and East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker have formed exploratory committees potentially to challenge ten-term mayor John DeStefano in this year’s Democratic mayoral primary.

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.

School Reform

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.”

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 14, 2013  8:41am

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.”

So Gary I you for Term LImits on the state Level.

posted by: Wooster Squared on January 14, 2013  9:16am

I really like the fact that Gary does not view the mayor’s office as a lifetime appointment, and that he’s open to a hybrid school board. That being said I do think he’s been very effective at the state level and would rather see him continue his work up there than try his hand at the Mayor’s office after being out of the local game for several years.

When compared the other challenger, alderman Elicker, Gary’s hasn’t had the same level of recent involvement in local issues. I think he would be a better choice than John DeStefano, but ultimately I believe Justin would be a more effective mayor due to his level of experience and hard work on local issues in recent years.

posted by: robn on January 14, 2013  9:46am

If there was a 10, 15, 20, 25% drop I might chalk it up to a statistical anomaly… but 50%? Something good is happening and its a result of Chief Esserman’s changes.

posted by: anonymous on January 14, 2013  10:41am

Finally, a politician who understands high school-level statistics.

A drop from the 10-year average of 3 killings, 50% off the year prior, is not a significant change. The numbers are far too small and the time period too short for DeStefano to make this claim.

If it were a drop of 200 killings, 50% off 400 from each of the years before in a city like Detroit, then it would be significant. But a change of 3 murders -  not by anyone’s wildest stretch of the imagination.  A City like New Haven should be thinking in terms of five year averages.

The current rate of shootings - 17 fatal last year, almost 100 total - is absurdly high, is same as the average, and is no sign of progress. It’s a sign that we needed change years ago.

posted by: anonymous on January 14, 2013  10:44am

See also http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2013/01/14/violent-crime-drops-in-2012-stats-show/

Add a smoothed trend line and you’ll see the reality that everyone, including Mayor DeStefano, is perfectly well aware of: The homicide rate has been growing rapidly since 2000, and continues to climb.

posted by: Noteworthy on January 14, 2013  11:52am

My notes:

1. The drop in murders is statistically important and community policing has something to do with it and the faster pace of clearance too. GHW is left to critique that which is working which would have been ok if he had joined the fight when it was relevant.

2. Management style - GHW says he will listen to the people and others with whom he disagrees. As example, he proffers the death penalty repeal. The GOP offered 11 amendments to his bill - all were rejected; none were included. Only 8 of 52 house republicans voted for repeal of the death penalty and 62% of CT residents wanted to keep the death penalty. The bill that passed kept the death penalty for those on death row and repealed it for future murderers. It was correctly predicted that would lead to appeal which if successful will overturn the death penalty for the Petit murderers along with the others none of whom claim they’re innocent.

posted by: Brutus2011 on January 14, 2013  1:04pm

Mayor DeStefano argues in this article that New Haven is at the front of school reform is a nation-wide model.

He rebuts Rep. Holder-Winfield by stating that school change here began with a collaboration between the local school district administration and the local teacher’s union to increase accountability for the lack of student achievement or the abysmal achievement gap.

This is astounding propaganda and why we desperately need new city leadership.

New Haven is not doing a good job educating our kids—there is too much bullying, too little money reaching the classroom, too little positive moral with those who actually work with our children, too little accountability or transparency to the community about what really transpires in our schools, too many city residents who can’t get their kids into local schools, too much political patronage in using our schools as a jobs program, and too much conflict of interest with the mayor sitting on the board of Achievement First private charter school company.

I know, too much of “too much.”

I agree.

Too much.

posted by: GoodNatured on January 14, 2013  1:38pm

Gary did a really good job building bridges between Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature. 

Gary’s bipartisan expertise at the state level won’t help him out as New Haven’s mayor, though—Republicans are a non-issue in city politics, and keen knowledge of local issues is what we need here. 

I’d rather have Gary than John DeStefano, but I if we lost Gary in Hartford and the legislative expertise he has built up, New Haven would lose a strong voice at the state level and not have a mayor with the local, detailed, in-the-trenches experience we desperately need here.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 14, 2013  3:16pm

posted by: GoodNatured on January 14, 2013 1:38pm

Gary did a really good job building bridges between Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature

Republicans and Democrats are the same.Both parties are largely backed by the same corporate contributors and interest groups. Both parties believe that voting for a third party is equivalent to throwing away your vote. Both parties use gerrymandering to gain a political advantage through more favorable district boundaries. Also It’s common for Republicans and Democrats to pander to various demographics, attempting to win them over.Left wing,Right wing the bird is the same.

posted by: streever on January 14, 2013  4:04pm

anon: exactly. Although we had a great decrease in murder while Chief Lewis was here, he was clear in every conversation I ever had with him: it was not a direct causal link to his work.

Oftentimes, worse crime is preceded by sharp drops in crime and high clearance rate increases, because the clearances use false confessions and tough tactics. I’m not trying to insinuate that is the case here—but it does happen (it has happened HERE no less), and I think people need to be cautious when dealing with sample sizes of 5 and total percentages in the .004 range.

You can’t look at a .01% sample of the experiences of 120,000 people and draw meaningful conclusions on a few months worth of data. While the Chief may be making great progress, it is too soon to tell.

posted by: cp06 on January 14, 2013  8:40pm

Holder-Winfield said, “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,”

Ummm, the mayor DID say exactly that.

posted by: anonymous on January 15, 2013  6:33pm

Streever, everyone agrees with this point, except the people on City Hall payroll who are hired to spin the information.  It’s refreshing to see politicians call them out on this.

posted by: getyourfactstraight on January 15, 2013  6:40pm

This is going to be a tough one. Gary seems like a nice enough guy, but not sure how he would do as a mayor. If his claim to fame is the death penalty it doesn’t do it for me whether I support that legislation or not. Just not enough to go on and measure him to others. Justin is somewhat promising only because I think in New Haven he is known more than Gary. I don’t think I could vote for John for many reasons.
I think Gary would have done better to find a business in Westville or another area to host this discussion rather than at Thamera as the owner I believe is from the valley and doesn’t pay taxes in this city. Does Donald McAulay still live here? I heard he doesn’t.  If Gary wants a good start this is not the way to go at it.
After saying all this I still am going to keep an open mind on all the candidates including the mayor but with great reservations right now.

posted by: newhavenar on January 15, 2013  8:40pm

New View,
It doesn’t take much more than google to know that Holder-Winfield is known for a lot more than the death penalty. This list is no where near exhaustive. 

National recognition on issues of juvenile justice - http://nhregister.com/articles/2012/10/11/news/doc50775040399c2438696725.txt

Board member of the National Justice Center

Architect of education reform legislation across the state (governance councils, early reading, etc…)- http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/this_is_the_bill/

Key sponsor and mover of the transgender rights bill that had languished for years in the state house - http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/gender_indentity_and_expression_bill_advances/

Brokered the deal that brought more minority judges to the bench in CT - http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/rell_looks_for_racial_ethnic_diversity_in_last_judicial_appointments/

Forced the Issue of Unemployment onto Governor Rell’s agenda when no one else seemed able to -http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/unemployment_improvements_underway/


posted by: newhavenar on January 15, 2013  11:18pm


You do realize that Holder-Winfield was a member of People Against Injustice with Barbara Fair don’t you? That group and he have been critical of the mayors approach to community policing for a long time. That was before he became a state rep.

posted by: getyourfactstraight on January 16, 2013  9:30am

Thanks for the education on Gary. I haven’t really followed his career close enough so this helps get more of an understanding of his goals in the legislative agenda. The mayor is planning or started to build 3-4 more new schools and I do wonder how both candidates feel about the continuance of the school construction program. Although the state does reimburse a large chunk of the cost if built within certain criteria, alot falls upon all of us as taxpayers. My personal take is we just can’t afford anymore building and perhaps things need to be put on hold for a few years at the very least. It seems the taxpayers (which I am also) are carrying an awful burden these days. I understand his excitement but he needs to consider what this is doing to the little guy. Any ideas or opinions?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 16, 2013  11:13am


He also gave us Dan Malloy the teacher and union hater.He is also for Charter Schools.