As 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.”