Stressing Clout, Holder-Winfield Kicks Off Quest

Thomas MacMillan PhotoWhen Gary Holder-Winfield announced his candidacy for mayor of New Haven Saturday, he was introduced by a state lawmaker from Stamford, who pointed out other lawmakers in the room from Hartford, Norwalk, and Middletown.

That was no coincidence. As he kicks off his campaign to become the next mayor, Holder-Winfield (pictured) highlighted the statewide connections he’s made as a state representative since 2009. He said his experience as a state legislator would help him as mayor with economic development in New Haven, as well as on other issues. New Haven relies heavily on the state for its schools budget and support for pretty much all major building projects.

Holder-Winfield is running to replace Mayor John DeStefano, who announced he will step down at the end of the year, ending a 20-year tenure as mayor. East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker has also declared his candidacy.

Holder-Winfield, who’s 38, made his case in campaign kick-off event at the Greek Olive on Sargent Drive on Saturday afternoon. About 75 people gathered in a back room at the restaurant, a favorite spot with New Haven pols.

No municipal elected officials were in attendance. Holder-Winfield was introduced by Stamford state Rep. Patricia Billie Miller, who pointed out state representatives from three other Connecticut towns who showed up to support Holder-Winfield.

In addition to his experience as a legislator, Holder-Winfield also touted his bonafides as a neighborhood activist in New Haven. He spoke about improvements he’d like to make to education, community policing, economic development, and transparency.

As people mingled and noshed before Holder-Winfield’s speech, they spoke about why they had shown up to the event.

Leslie Blatteau, a high school teacher who ran for mayor in 2005 on the Guilty Party line, said she likes the work Holder-Winfield has done on abolishing the death penalty, working for equality, and addressing the trauma from urban violence, affecting young people. In his rookie year, Holder-Winfield succeeded in convincing suburban legislators to vote to abolish the death penalty. The bill passed, was vetoed—then passed again and was signed into law once Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office.

Elaine Peters (pictured speaking with Holder-Winfield), an activist with Mothers For Justice, said Holder-Winfield is a part of the Newhallville community. “He’s right there and he’s for the people.”

“Gary’s the best candidate who’s declared and the best candidate who’s likely to enter the race,” said Charlie Pillsbury, the co-chair of the New Haven Green Party. He said Holder-Winfield has “the savvy to run a city like New Haven.”

Pillsbury cited Holder-Winfield’s use of Twitter and Facebook: “Today’s mayor has to be comfortable using social media.” Holder-Winfield was cited as the legislator who communicated most often with constituents through social-media sites like Twitter.

Pillsbury also spoke highly of Holder-Winfield’s “guts” and “savvy” to work to organize his colleagues to overturn the death penalty.

Speaking from prepared remarks, Holder-Winfield described growing up in public housing in the Bronx as the child of a single mom. He said he was “surrounded by violence” and had to fight for an education. He knows “how it is to be on the outside,” he said.

“I don’t want anybody to have the starting place that I had,” he said.

Holder-Winfield moved to the city as an engineer, then became an activist. “This is a city moving forward because of activists,” he said.

Holder-Winfield said the city needs to do more to support early-childhood education. He also mentioned curriculum development, smaller classrooms, and parental involvement. He said later that he’s been working for years, on the issue of early-childhood education, taking the lead on a bill on kindergarten to third-grade readiness and working to develop a pilot program. Holder-Winfield has sponsored school-reform bills at the Capitol, including one law that gave parents more say in turning around failing schools (a law New Haven ignored).

Elicker also mentioned early childhood education during his campaign kick-off. Asked about that, Holder-Winfield said, “If you look at the record of people in this race, there’s only one person—me—who’s been working on this for years.”

On crime, Holder-Winfield said the city’s return to community policing could be strengthened. He later said that some of the new walking beat cops aren’t talking to the neighborhoods, aren’t introducing themselves and making connections.

He said later that the city needs to do more to address the mental health impact of urban violence, which creates trauma that can lead to more violence.

On economic development, Holder-Winfield said New Haven is poised to become “the jewel of Connecticut.” He said the city has the advantages of a port, and airport, and easy highway access. The city needs to do more to promote itself based on those assets, Holder-Winfield said.

“We’ve got to go out and sell this city,” he said later. “We haven’t done so good at that.”

To do that, his statewide connections and ties to state government would be useful, Holder-Winfield said. “People from all over the state are in this room,” he said. “The mayor of the city doesn’t’ just sit in the city.”

Elicker Responds

Contacted after Holder-Winfield’s announcement, Elicker said, “I’m not going to make a comment on Gary’s strengths or weaknesses.”

Eliicker said he’s “glad to hear Gary talking about early childhood development.”

He said he agrees that New Haven “has a lot of unique characteristics that give it great potential” for economic development. Elicker added that such development also depends on “tapping into innovation and entrepreneurship,” which is “a huge potential partnership with Yale.”

“Also, creation of a sense of place is what draws people back to urban centers,” Elicker said. “Particularly in that area I’ve shown a dedication to creating walkable and bikeable neighborhoods.”

Any improvements to the city will cost money and require “implementing a budget that’s within our means,” Elicker said. He said his experience as an alderman would allow him to tackle those challenges well. He said he’s “shown a commitment to long term planning for fiscal spending.”

“The fact that I’ve working with every department on solving neighborhood and citywide issues for the entire time that I’ve been an alderman on a day to day basis shows that I have an understanding of the operations of the city and the city budget,” he said.


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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 16, 2013  9:52pm

A politician is a gent who works up his gums before election and gums up the works afterward.

Carl Sagan

posted by: Fair and Honest on February 16, 2013  10:46pm

Wow - I was willing to give Gary the benefit of the doubt until I read this article. He was introduced by someone from out of town. He was endorsed by someone from out of town. He grew up out of town. He lives out of town.
Gary has done some good things during the (short) time he’s been in Hartford, but as the article shows, he is out of touch with the issues and people of New Haven.  To run a city, you’ve got to know the people and city government inside and out.  Gary’s on the outside.

You’re not qualified to be mayor because you know how to Tweet.

posted by: The Realist on February 17, 2013  7:37am

“When Gary Holder-Winfield announced his candidacy for mayor of New Haven Saturday, he was introduced by a woman from Stamford, who pointed out people in the room from Hartford, Norwalk, and Middletown”

Umm.  I am under the impression that Gary Holder-Winfield is running for Mayor of New Haven, not Hartford, Norwalk or Middletown. 

This is a concerning start to Gary’s run.  If he is focused at the outset on people, issues and contacts external from New Haven, where do you think his focus will be if he became New Haven’s mayor… yep, probably be focused on things outside New Haven.

The reason we elect a mayor is to have them focus on our local issues, local problems and local difficulties.  We rely on our STATE legislators to deal with the larger State issues ... not our Mayors.

“We’ve got to go out and sell this city,” he said later. “We haven’t done so good at that.”

Gary - if your interest is on the wider state issues and ‘selling’ new haven, then run for a State position, and ‘sell’ New Haven from that post.

If you want to represent New Haven, you need to have a better grasp of our local issues and come up with some new and interesting ways to address them with specific workable plans.  We’re not interested in hearing you trot out the bland old chestnuts “local policing” etc. 

I like what you said about early-child education, but New Haven’s abysmal school system is just one of our LOCAL issues.  Excessively high property taxes, inefficient government, cultivating communities, the city’s impending financial implosion, getting a handle on ever-expanding budgets…  the list goes on and on. 

However, that list does not include anything about Stamford, Hartford, Norwalk and Middletown.

posted by: anonymous on February 17, 2013  9:24am

I’m glad that Gary has been so involved at the State level but am a bit concerned about his candidacy, as I haven’t seem him at any important neighborhood meetings or hearings within the City over the past ten years. I’ve been to about 40 public meetings in Dixwell and Newhallville in the past few years. Reps like Dillon and Lemar regularly show up.  That said I look forward to hearing more of his proposals.

posted by: robn on February 17, 2013  2:02pm

Gary’s track record is his own worst enemy. Nobody wants to see such an effective legislator leave Hartford.

posted by: David S Baker on February 17, 2013  3:51pm

I want at least six mayoral DEBATES in different corners of the city for this election.  We need some discussion and a chance to watch these people in action justifying their ideas in a public arena before this turns into a flat out spending war.  I hope by now we have learned that ‘the biggest spenders’ don’t necessarily have the best ideas, leadership ability, or stamina.

Is there a non partisan organization in town who could organize six unbiased debates?  HA HA HA HA!!! Awwww man.  I’m in the ZONE today huh?!  Ha ha ha!!!  So funny.  :D

posted by: Noteworthy on February 17, 2013  5:31pm

Consider the following:

1. Overturning the death penalty ignored clear public opinion to the contrary, used ancient data from other states and had absolutely nothing to do with Connecticut’s current death penalty process, outcome or racial trends. He convinced others to ignore us and his “prospective” adjudication has now jeopardized the sentence in the torture and murder of the Petit family.

2. Winfield also voted for the largest tax increase in state history - ripping nearly $3 billion out of the family budgets of people statewide and lowering our standard of living.

3. The state budget remains a mess, out of balance and has been since the day Holder-Winfield, the state legislature and Malloy jammed it through with zero bi-partisan support. If you can’t balance the state’s checkbook, how can HW balance the city’s any better? 

4. On the education reform movement - again this was done behind closed doors with zero bi-partisan support and frankly, is of questionable and dubious value.

5. HW is touting clout at the state level. He surrounds himself with fellow legislators. These are the same ones that meet behind closed doors and refuse to work in a bi-partisan manner. This same hapless group can’t balance a budget; can’t cut spending; can’t create jobs or stimulate the state’s economy. In short, they are poor performers. Like Gary, they’re all fellow “deputy majority leaders” and collect thousands of dollars in extra pay doing so.

6. Early childhood education - yawn, everybody is for that issue. Smaller class sizes? Really? Our class sizes are already small, and besides, these $50 million schools have no extra classrooms.

Holder-Winfield has some work to do.

posted by: ElmCityMama on February 17, 2013  8:45pm

First - we don’t need a mayor who sees our City Hall as a stepping stone for his larger ambitions. We need someone who is intellectually and emotionally invested in New Haven.

Second - what a totally disappointing move by Pillsbury. Isn’t he supposed to be a serious champion of all things green?  Can’t get much greener than Elicker. 

Third - Elicker could and should have a better online presence, but that hardly makes him the weaker candidate. He is totally engaged in meeting people face-to-face. This is WAY more impressive that a serial handshaking tweeter.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 17, 2013  9:40pm

posted by: The Realist on February 17, 2013 6:37am

“When Gary Holder-Winfield announced his candidacy for mayor of New Haven Saturday, he was introduced by a woman from Stamford, who pointed out people in the room from Hartford, Norwalk, and Middletown”

Politicians like her are call Carpetbaggers.

posted by: bljenkins on February 17, 2013  10:30pm

We must not allow ourselves to become jaded by who introduced Mr. Holder-Winfield to the citizens of New Haven and where they reside.  It’s the substance of what Mr. Holder-Winfield espouses that gives me great interest.

However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t make mention of the fact that I’m waiting to hear a candidate for mayor talk more about apprenticeship programs for inner-city youth, reducing the size of local government, lowering taxes, the Dixwell QHouse, better facilities and programs for senior citizens, youth afterschool prevention and intervention programs, economic development in the NewHallville Diwell/Fair Haven areas of the city. Just to name a few.

What most intrigues me thus far about this candidate (Holder-Winfield) is his innate understanding of being politically independent.

If the local Union (who is also independent) thinks we’re going to sit around and allow them to dictate to us, in the Black & Hispanic community who the next Mayor  
will be, they’re in for a rude awakening. 
The Unions worked arduously to usher in a host of fantastic new members to the BoA this past local election cycle in New Haven. Unfortunately, (perhaps because of the most recent snow storm Nemo)the taxpayers are yet to see positive results, in their interest.

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

posted by: beyonddiscussion on February 18, 2013  1:28am

Elicker has shown he is a good East Rock Alderman. Holder-Winfield has shown he is a good State Rep. But a Mayor has to connect with and pull together the whole city. Next candidate please.

posted by: Wooster Squared on February 18, 2013  10:25am

Gary seems like a nice enough guy and he’s done some good things at the state level, but it looks like he sees being mayor as a political stepping stone.

I want a mayor who wants to be there to strengthen and build New Haven, not build his resume. Having a hands-on, energetic and dedicated guy like Justin Elicker at the City helm and an experienced rep like Gary at the State level would be a great combo for New Haven.

If Gary wants to tout his influence at the state level and sell the city at the state level, he should do that work at the state level. There is a governor’s race next year, and we all know Gary isn’t a fan of Dan Malloy. I recall this Holder-Winfield gem from the CT Post:

“The governor’s problem is that he’s an a—hole!”

posted by: Fair and Honest on February 18, 2013  10:41am

>He was endorsed by someone from out of town. He grew up out of town. He lives out of town.<

I apologize -  I jumped to conclusions. I don’t know where Gary lives. I assumed that, because of his job, he spends most of his time in Hartford.

However, I know that Roland Lamar, for example, though he is a state legislator in Hartford, is also a homeowner in New Haven and has a child in the NH public schools for several years.  Maybe Gary also has a family and house in New Haven, and child(ren) in the public schools.

posted by: Curious on February 18, 2013  11:33am

So while all of Holder-Winfield’s accomplishments sound impressive, they make him sound better suited to the job he already has, rather than going into local politics.

If he’s that accomplished at the state level, then he’s been paying a lot of attention to matters at that level, which means he can’t be as well-informed as if he were working at the local level.

Also, if he’s that well-connected, who does he owe favors and markers to already, and how will that affect how he would govern New Haven?

Maybe he could pull in favors at the capitol, but what would he have to trade for them as Mayor of New Haven?

posted by: Leslie Blatteau on February 18, 2013  11:52am

As someone who listened to Gary Holder-Winfield’s speech in person, the lesson on perspective from reading these comments is not lost on me.

I think what is remarkable about Saturday is that Gary took the time to outline and discuss his philosophy of government.  First and foremost, he wants voters and supporters to understand how he approaches the task of political representation.  He wants to change the culture of leadership in our city.  The way he was able to move to New Haven, become a part of the community, listen to and learn from his neighbors and fellow residents and make measurable and historic change at the Capitol in Hartford speaks to his philosophy.

“What’s his platform? What’s he going to do for me?” You can hear them yelling on the internet.

But just listen and get a sense of how much he does believe in people’s participation in government.  He respects New Haven because our city is a place where people, residents and activists, initiate much of the change.  He wants to build on this strength.  As Gary discussed transparency on Saturday, he differentiated between what is merely talked about and what will actually come to be as a result of a purposeful cultural shift. 

As a teacher, I couldn’t help but notice a metaphor when Gary discussed what this kind of government might look like.  He said it might be messier and noisier than what people expect.  And that’s okay.  Messy and noisy means: It’s working.  Similarly, a classroom where children are learning does not have to be silent, orderly, with students in rows; rather, engaged learning, like democracy, can and should be alive, harder to contain and participatory. 

As we watch the campaign unfold in these cold February days and beyond, I hope all of us listen more and judge less.  We are in a great position to get to know people and their ideas and see how we can move local government forward in the Elm City.  Widen the lens.  You might be surprised what you see.

posted by: Curious on February 18, 2013  12:21pm

Leslie, excellent post.

posted by: lawrence st on February 18, 2013  12:48pm

elmcitymama—there is a VERY good reason for the green party not to endorse elicker: the way he came to hold his office. for those of you who weren’t in town then, or didn’t pay attention to the ward 10 election, he ran against a green party incumbent, who was quite popular. part of his campaign message was that by having a green party alderman instead of a democratic party alderman, the ward was not being well represented. elicker may support many of the issues that the green party supports, but he clearly does not support the green party, or any third party.

posted by: ELMCITYPROF on February 18, 2013  1:51pm

To be clear, there are very few politicians now who seek public office without an eye toward seeking higher office down the road.  Very few people who serve on the Board of Aldermen and possess any degree of skill/expertise see that position as their final political stump. DeStefano became Mayor then sought statewide office as Governor. Jodi Rell was a State Rep who later became Lieutenant Governor, then Governor. I’m sure Malloy has his sites on becoming a Senator or Cabinet member some day. Holder-Winfield has simply done the reverse in regard to holding state office while seeking a local office.It’s part of the process. Not sure that should be viewed as a unique knock against Gary.

posted by: robn on February 18, 2013  2:19pm


It was former Ward 10 Alderman Mattison, not Elicker who first spoke logically that a Green can’t get anything done in Dem controlled BOA. In any event, Alderman Brison wasn’t just a victim of Machiavellian politics; the NHI article linked below describes the arrival of Green Party Brison’s 1st independent piece of legislation…3 weeks after he faced opposition from Elicker!

posted by: Curious on February 18, 2013  2:51pm

ELMCITYPROF, Jodi Rell ended up in the Governor’s mansion because Rowland was no longer fit to hold that office.  She steppend down rather than continue as Governor.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on February 18, 2013  3:28pm

I read a few good points, Leslie Blatteau makes a good one.

But I think still wandering I do not see any Latino face or name. I would like to heard Mr. Thomas point of view. Hm-mm, wander, wander.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 18, 2013  3:58pm

posted by: Leslie Blatteau on February 18, 2013 10:52am

As a teacher, I couldn’t help but notice a metaphor when Gary discussed what this kind of government might look like.

As a teacher did you know that Gary side it with Dan Malloy and help Destroy Teachers.How come you have never heard Gary speak out about how the state workers and teachers are being attacked.Gary is also for Charter Schools.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on February 18, 2013  4:20pm

lawrence st

dead wrong I was in town during that race and worked it.! Allan was our Alder, I being one of his supporters and campaigners when he ran the first time. And it was THAN that it was said a green party person can not get anything done by..Ed Mattison his opponent! Who was a 7 year incumbent that Allen beat. BUT… Never once was that ever said about Allen by Elicker or his people. Allen had the help of the Unite people Elicker did it all on his own in that race. Elicker won like 900 to 300 with honestly.  It had nothing to do with party.

Leslie I to like what you said. And you being an active community member you meant that for both candidates right? Of course you did :) I can not wait till the debates start and we all can see an honest and fair election in this city!! Very exciting times.
PS always voted the guilty party when it was on the ticket :)

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on February 18, 2013  4:54pm


1. If the legal system in Connecticut were perfect, it would be interesting to have the moral debate about whether or not the public should give the State the right to execute people. However, since the system isn’t perfects, there’s really no debate to be had about the death penalty - its immoral under the current system, therefore public opinion is irrelevant.
2. Is this true if you adjust for inflation?

posted by: robn on February 18, 2013  5:08pm


I second the motion. LB would make a great alder.

posted by: lawrence st on February 18, 2013  6:28pm


I heard that statement during Elicker’s campaign, when I asked why he was running. He said he decided to run as a Democrat for pragmatic reasons, so he could create closer relationships with other Democratic alders.

Note: I have no doubts as to Elicker’s commitments to environmental causes. But he has made it clear in the past he doesn’t want to be a Green party candidate, and the Green Party should not forget that.

posted by: Brutus2011 on February 18, 2013  7:01pm

I don’t get some of the negative comments about Gary.

From my perspective, I think Gary will be an excellent mayor for our city.

He is very intelligent, articulate, and has experience.

I tell you what, if he gets elected and tries to sell out, I will pester him until the cows come home.

I believe he will make a great mayor.

posted by: FrontStreet on February 18, 2013  7:35pm

A big elephant sitting in the middle of this discussion.


The race of the candidates, the race of their base constituencies, and what role that will play in the primary. 

Just wanted to point that out.

posted by: HhE on February 18, 2013  8:44pm

Anon, Gary was there (along with his wife), not that I remember seeing you there.

Fair and Honest, try corner of Winchester and Division.  Yellow house, always well kept. 

beyonddiscussion, beyond belief. 

Brutus2011, me neither.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on February 18, 2013  9:49pm


I know Gary and Justin I think that they are both amazing people that care about this city and its future. I honestly do not see this being about race. In fact many of Gary’s start up supporter for this race are very diverse and same with Justin’s.  Many that support one or the other had a hard time deciding who to back because again both are great candidates in there own ways. That is why we trying to focus on ability’s to be mayor. This is truely an election of elections in my eyes. Two fantastic candidates that will bring it to the people and let them decide. But healthy debate about their Pro’s and Con’s should happen.
  I am supporting Justin but that is not with out alot of thought and back and forth because Gary does have his positives as a candidate to.

Lawrence St. I suppose I was wrong about that. But I have to say one thing I have learned about ward 10 is they vote for the most qualified. Party is not something that stands in the way. Our democratic ward committee made it a point to include green party people because it is all about being fair. I do not think any one is asking for the party to change their support. I have always thought of the green party as an independent minded party. I think it is up to each member. Just as have chosen. PS we all know you have a personal thing going on here…I think it is Hug time.Take a breath.

This race is about having the chance to really decide for the first time in 2 DECADES who will lead the future of this city…that is pretty dam big. One issue is in no way going to decide…ALL the issues are on the table now FINALLY. Get excited about it! Boost about your candidate instead of trashing the other one.
A candidate that gets the vote should be on how great they are…not how hard there supporters trashed the other candidate.

PS Many stopped supporting allen because he was getting forgetful and got caught up in the game. We just did not feel he was effective. Party had not one thing to do with it. But I love the twists you do…you are a great hack.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on February 20, 2013  1:37pm

“Holder-Winfield said the city needs to do more to support early-childhood education.” Here’s an objective analysis of such programs (also touted by Pres. Obama):