Union-Backed Candidates Team Up

Melissa Bailey PhotoAs a Yale union launched a political action committee to support aldermanic candidates, three of them talked for the first time about their common goal of creating “a better New Haven.”

They addressed a question that has surfaced around town: What does labor want from this fall’s local elections? The question has accompanied the roll-out of announcement of candidacies backed by UNITE HERE, the parent of Yale’s unions, some of whose members are taking visible roles in the campaign.

UNITE HERE Local 35, which represents 1,300 blue-collar workers at Yale, has formed Local 35 PAC to support aldermanic candidates in a busy election year. The union and its members are already seeding the ground with contributions to six candidates.

The Local 35 executive board and its membership have so far voted to endorse six candidates in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary: Brian Wingate, Tyisha Walker and Frank Douglass, Jr. (pictured above, from left), who all belong to Local 35, as well as Beaver Hills Ward 28 Alderwoman Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, Ward 27 candidate Angela Russell, and Jeanette Morrison, a state employees union steward running in Dixwell’s Ward 22.

Wingate is seeking to topple aldermanic President Carl Goldfield in Beaver Hills’ Ward 29. Walker is challenging Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah. And Douglass is making a run for an open seat in Dwight’s Ward 2.

The question—What does labor want?—is an old one in America’s political culture. At times it has meant the creation of social security, say, or universal health care. The most famous response came in the late 19th century from AFL-CIO President Samuel Gompers: “We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful, and childhood more happy and bright.”

On Monday, repeatedly asked the same question, candidates Wingate, Walker and Douglass and Local 35 President Bob Proto offered a variety of answers. They met Monday at union headquarters in the basement of the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church at 425 College St. to discuss their common goals with the Independent.

“We’re urging folks in these neighborhoods to support these people,” Proto said. Proto said the union will reach out to the “hundreds” of union members eligible to vote—85 percent of the 1,300 workers live in New Haven—to get them on board with the new candidates.

“People believe the city is going in the wrong direction,” Proto said.

“It’s time for a change,” declared Wingate, spreading his hands on the table to emphasize his point.

What does that change entail?

He said his neighborhood has been hit hard with violence, with two homicides in Beaver Hills at the end of June. He said people in his ward need more jobs.

Walker and Douglass hit the same two themes: Crime and jobs.

“People are losing hope,” Walker said. “We’re tired of losing our children” to gun violence. “I want my community to rise up, to have access to jobs, to stop the senseless violence.”

Asked what they’d do differently from incumbents as aldermen, they focused on leadership style rather than policy goals. They didn’t cite any specific positions on votes that came before the Board of Aldermen or legislative proposals.

“I want to be accessible,” Wingate said. “That’s my big thing.” He also said he’d work to end an “imbalance” in city resources between upper and lower Beaver Hills.

Walker also said she’d be more “accessible” to her constituents, bringing back information so they had a better idea of what’s going on.

“I’d like to bring hope back to our community,” Douglass said. He said he’ll push for more community centers to be open to youth.

Douglass said aldermen need to be more “independent” of the mayor. Asked to give an example, he cited how Alderwoman Gina Calder delayed her resignation to allow the mayor to pick her replacement.

Douglass also said he’d work to “hold employers accountable” for providing good wages and jobs and hiring more New Haven residents. Asked how he’d do that as alderman, he said, “I don’t know exactly, but that’s where it’s going to start.”

Wingate said he would use his problem-solving skills to create more “positive options” for kids.

“Action” & “Faith”

The candidates, all union stewards or on the executive board of Local 35, said they are united by their “commitment,” their “passion” to help others.

The six union-backed candidates have paired off into three political action committees (PACs) for the purposes of the election.

Walker and Wingate have joined together under the name Democrats In Action. Their PAC has received $3,976.11 in in-kind contributions from Local 35 PAC and UNITE HERE, according to the latest campaign finance filings.

Douglass and Robinson-Thorpe are raising money together under a PAC called Faith In New Haven, which has raised $2,453.04, with contributions from Proto and other UNITE HERE staffers.

The Committee to Restore New Haven, a PAC for Morrison and Russell, has received $205 in in-kind donations so-far.

The candidates were asked what the union hopes to achieve in getting these candidates into office: A piece of legislation, such as the living wage bill? A change in aldermanic leadership?

“What does the union want?” Walker responded. “The union didn’t come to me and say, ‘I want you.’ It has nothing to do with the union.”

Walker declined to specify any decision on which she would differ with the current alderman or mayor. She said the race isn’t about the current mayor or aldermen—the three candidates are simply working towards “a better New Haven.”

Why are so many union-affiliated candidates emerging this year?

Douglass posed a theory: “When I ran in ‘07”—and fell just 28 votes shy of victory—“I inspired a lot of people.”

“Now we’re coming together” to make a renewed effort to revitalize neighborhoods, Douglass said.

Proto was asked if the union has specific goals in supporting the candidates.

He said there’s growing discontent with the city’s direction, especially as people attend funerals of young men slain by gun violence. There’s a growing feeling that “nobody’s doing anything” and that “nobody knows their alderman,” Proto said.

He said his three members are running “to give neighborhoods a voice.” He said they all want “engaged neighborhoods” where people are “included in the decision-making process.”

“It’s a natural thing,” he said of the three campaigns. “It’s part of the union being engaged in a positive way in New Haven.”

Supporting the trio from Local 35 was an easy decision, said Michael Boyd, treasurer of Local 35 PAC, given their motivation and problem-solving work within the union.

John Martin (pictured), the chair of Local 35 PAC, said he’s already walked the campaign trail with Wingate and plans to continue working for the three.

“I’ve know these people for a long time,” he said.

“It’s less about the union, and more about people who live in the communities” being represented by candidates with shared values, added Gwen Mills, an organizer for UNITE HERE.

“There’s nothing behind the curtain except for their desire” to improve their neighborhoods, Proto said. “There’s no union motivation. There is union support.”

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posted by: finally on July 12, 2011  7:39am

I couldn’t agree more that New Haven residents are feeling hopeless…all the violence is horrifying.  Having some people who really CARE about their neighbors and are able to put the time in would be an improvement.  So what if they belong to a union?

posted by: streever on July 12, 2011  7:46am

I don’t know the other folks, but have been impressed by Mr Douglass in the past—I have seen him at a huge number of city meetings when the issue concerned his neighborhood—and I think he is going to be a strong voice of support for his neighbors.

posted by: JAK on July 12, 2011  8:03am

I don’t know which is scarier, the lack of any substantive thoughts, opinions, ideas on city policies or what may be a very clever campaign to win seats without having to publicly state an agenda.

The current alders need to debate these people and get them to commit to policy positions.

posted by: Your Neighbor on July 12, 2011  8:06am

I am glad to see that Local 35 backs its members when they step up. The leadership seems to understand that strong communities and a strong union go hand in hand.

posted by: TaxExemptChurchUnionPartisanCampaign on July 12, 2011  8:24am

Nice to see a church generate income unrelated to its mission by renting its property for tens of thousands a year to unions and keep tax exempt status while partisan election campaigns are organized & paid for from those tax exempt premises. Hopefully, if elected, these union candidates will make sure even more nonprofits can generate unrelated business income free from property taxes & also promote more partisan electoral activity from churches and nonprofits. Too few churches & nonprofits seem to know that this is possible.

posted by: Sunday on July 12, 2011  8:30am

I wish them all well,but that’s what they all say when they want a vote. What are there long term goals to help eliminate community violence’s? So far it’s been just words and people preaching on the corner when a kid get killed. It’s obvious not the answer because it’s been going on for the pass 20 years.Those little churches that sit in between every block need to be more engaged with the people who live on those streets. With lots of dialogs and communication I belive the problem can be eliminated.

posted by: Shaking in My Boots on July 12, 2011  9:01am

These 6 are only the camel’s nose in the tent ... Look for more Union sponsored candidates in their attempt to take-over the BoA. I can’t say that we don’t need MAJOR CHANGE in how things run, but ...... Union control of the City purse strings makes me REAL NERVOUS. I gotta see more of where this is heading, and who these people really are.

posted by: 50 Mills or Bust on July 12, 2011  9:59am

Everyone note these are the same union leaders that eagerly vilified Mayor DeStefano during this spring’s budget crisis, going so far as to pretend he was the equivalent of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. (This when the Mayor stubbornly refused to raise our already stratospheric mill rate.)

Now Proto and his buddies are responding with this slate of candidates, hoping to show the Mayor, and the rest of us, that they should wear the pants when it comes to New Haven’s finances.

God help your average middle-class New Haven homeowner if the Unions do succeed in grabbing control of the BoA. Because union leadership does not care how high the mill rate goes in New Haven. Heck, most of them don’t even pay New Haven taxes. I mean if Proto actually lives in New Haven, he’s one of the few.

posted by: SB on July 12, 2011  11:18am

One sure outcome of these candidates’ winning is higher taxes. And lots of folks fleeing the city, us included.

posted by: Noteworthy on July 12, 2011  11:55am

If any of these candidates win, and a byproduct of that win, is a more open dialogue with residents, it is a win for New Haven. If they keep an open mind and listen, and turn that listening into positive action, rather than lip service and rubberstamping, it is a win for New Haven.

What actually might happen, is that some sense of priorities and a check on mayoral dictatorship might take place. We are clearly heading in the wrong direction as a city.

Murders every other week, some being assassinated by appointment, drug dealing violence and prostitution are all results of poor education and no jobs for New Haveners.

The mayor can talk about his high tech jobs - they are not the ones for which New Haveners are qualified. They get the temp jobs, the call center jobs, maybe a secretarial position. Their best hope is to join the city payroll which is why we have 5,000 employees. We are broke, our debts are sky high, our promises to employees are not even close to being funded And too many of our schools are drop out factories or graduating students who can barely read or write or do simple math.

We are bankrupt in many more ways than just finances. Who is responsible? Look at the alders for rubberstamping mindless decisions and look at the guy who micro-manages the city and has been for 18 long years. Make a choice.

posted by: ignoranceisbliss on July 12, 2011  1:42pm

Proto lives in Milford ...  The white union leaders, like the white cops, firemen, and teachers live outside of the City.

posted by: MoreInformationPlease on July 12, 2011  1:59pm

I am looking forward to the next installment of investigative reporter Melissa Bailey’s 2011 election reporting, where she will dissect contributions to the campaigns of the challenged incumbent alders, and reveal in detail the connections each of these contributors may have to the current administration, the Board of Education, and any of the many contractors currently or recently doing business with City Hall.

posted by: JAK on July 12, 2011  3:50pm

MoreInfoPlease - Yes!  And while Melissa is at it she can also research the money behind the union candidates and find out exactly how many of the union leaders actually live and pay taxes in New Haven. 

We already know that approximately 60-70% of police, fire and teachers live outside of New Haven and feast off of our meager tax base.

posted by: Dirk Mills on July 12, 2011  5:10pm

Residents will see campaigners who reside outside of their ward , and as noted ,live outside of New Haven altogether. They will knock on your door and spew tales of who is the better candidate.They will converse about the Hospital and community agreements.
All empty promises to just get your vote.They are there for themselves,trust.
  The Union Officials,who are on the payroll of Union dues ,have probably spent all of their money and will get a hold of yours next.
  But as we’ve seen even the most honest are bought out one way or another after the election.(most)

posted by: robn on July 12, 2011  5:21pm

Isn’t it likely that the unions have organized a coordinated BOA campaign in order to protect union jobs in the city govt..?..and doesn’t this mean that these candidates have no intention of seriously reducing expenditures and property taxes?

posted by: An Inspired Citizen on July 12, 2011  7:51pm

People often become active in unions because of a broader commitment to social change, equality, and engaged participation in their communities.  It makes perfect sense to me that some of these same folks would also decide to pursue these goals by running for public office.  We’d all be better off if more people lived their beliefs so actively.

posted by: A Reader on July 12, 2011  8:22pm

People in this town constantly kvetch about the mayor’s stranglehold on power.  For some reason though, when a group of people unaffiliated with him comes forward to challenge it, people’s knee-jerk reaction is to flip out.  The unions are not a perfect alternative, but they are an alternative - and the only viable one that’s emerged in a long time.  I’m surprised more people don’t see it as a reasonable first step in the direction we all say we want.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 13, 2011  7:29am

Union or not the problem is the Crooked Two Party system that you all keep voting for.

posted by: Funky Chicken on July 13, 2011  12:46pm

Dear Mr. Wingate:

With regard to your comments:

“I want to be accessible,” Wingate said. Carl is the only Alderman that has both his home and work number published on the City of New Haven website. How specifically do you propose to be more accessible?

“He also said he’d work to end an “imbalance” in city resources between upper and lower Beaver Hills.” Again please point to specific imbalances and what you would do to address them.

Yours, FC

posted by: Fairhaven Dave on July 13, 2011  9:34pm

Standard idealist answers.  No duh, we ALL want that.  HOW are you going to do it?  And WHY is a Union, which is constantly at odds with New Havens largest employer, suddenly showing an interest in city governance thru funding candidates? 

We need LOTS of debates this year to root out the thinkers from the puppets.  LOTS AND LOTS of debates. 

Dig a tad deeper Melissa Bailey.  I get the impression you know what is happening here.

posted by: concerned teenager on July 13, 2011  10:19pm

I wish my birthday was before the election so I could vote.I think its great that in New Haven we union and non-union,tax payers and non tax payers,young and elderly,employed and unemployed finally get a chance to see what democracy is really about.Finally a real New Haven promise that people that care about the community is stepping up.I say good job,keep fighting because its your right.Don’t lose sight of the youth we are the future.Invest in the youth we are not all bad.This is how I feel but who listens to me I am only a kid.

posted by: Hill on July 14, 2011  12:15am

Dear Funky Chicken,

.. The fact that those numbers are listed does not mean Goldfield is more accessible than Aldermen who do not list numbers. ... The fact of the matter is: There are two Beaver Hills and only one of them has an Alderman(Hint!!!). That is where the imbalance lies. Two of the last three homicides occured in Beaver Hills. These victims were slain in undesirable sections of Beaver Hills. I can bore you with sociological perspectives on education and crime but i don’t want to beat a dead horse. The city needs to head in a different direction than it is currently heading. Goldfield will only continue to approve any-and everything Johnny Boy presents to him. Wingate can bring change to Ward 29 and the rest of the city. Wingate can bring change because he has changed. Just listen to his story. Who better to bring about change, than a man who has been through a change in life such as Wingate?

posted by: pop on July 20, 2011  10:28pm

Tyisha has won ward 23 Democratic nomination change is coming .