Candidates seeking the backing of Connecticut’s most influential local Democratic Party are on notice: They have some policy questions to answer.
Do they support eliminating school suspensions, expulsions, and arrests for all K – 12 students? How will they work towards ending institutionalized racism in the economy? Do they support drastically cutting the military budget and boosting public investment in airports, roads, bridges, and broadband?
The New Haven Democratic Town Committee (DTC) now has an official platform that embraces those positions, providing politicians at all levels of government with a template for the progressive causes that local Democrats support and seek to accomplish.
During its semi-annual meeting held at the Betsy Ross Parish House on Kimberly Avenue in the Hill on Thursday night, the New Haven DTC voted to adopt the first two planks of a prospective four-plank platform. This is the first time that the DTC has ever had an official platform, officials said.
“Dems need to figure out who they are,” DTC chairman Vincent Mauro, Jr. said after the vote, reflecting on the value of writing, debating, and adopting a local party platform. “And in this city, this party knows what it is.”
Westville Ward 25 Democratic Party Co-Chair Janis Underwood, who helms the 18-member Platform Committee, presented the details of the Education and Economic Justice planks of the platform to the several dozen party leaders in attendance. She said that the committee has been working non-stop since October 2016 to define in detail what the local political party stands for. She said she plans to distribute language for the platform’s second two planks, on Environmental Priorities and Racial Justice, at a future meeting.
“This document is not carved in stone,” Underwood told the group. “We intend it to be something that grows and changes as we do. It is a document that we can give to candidates who will be coming to us and asking for our endorsement. If they have this document, then they know who we are.”
The different planks of the platform are divided into a handful of high-level principles, followed by a series of specific policy prescriptions. According to its preamble, the document seeks to “create a platform that represents our shared values and our policy priorities as a Town Committee. We do not expect every endorsed candidate to agree with us on every issue, but we hope that they will support our platform as much as possible.”
Some of the policies outlined in the Education and Economic Justice sections of the platform include:
• Supporting equitable funding of public education through the expansion of Title I funding for schools that serve large numbers of students or have high concentrations of children in poverty.
• Investing in after school and summer learning programs to help eliminate opportunity gaps, particularly for low-income students, students of color, and English Language Learners.
• Breaking the school-to-prison pipeline through the use of restorative justice techniques and the elimination of exclusionary discipline in schools.
• Demanding transparency and community accountability from charter schools, and ensuring that their student bodies retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools.
• Making sure that there are no conflicts of interests or perceptions of conflict of interest at any level in the school system, and barring the mayor from acting as the president of the Board of Education.
• Assuring the right of private and public-sector workers to organize and earn a living wage.
• Creating federal and state job programs in sectors of the economy that are high growth and environmentally sustainable.
• Increasing the number of affordable apartments in the city, and building affordable housing that is safe and close to transit and services.
• Giving priority to zoning and development proposals that meet the needs of New Haven residents in low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods that are at risk of being gentrified.
Looney, Lemar Report From Hartford
After the DTC’s vote on the party platform, two New Haven state legislators offered an update on the end less than 24 hours earlier of Connecticut’s regular legislative session.
New Haven State Senator and President Pro Tem Martin Looney described the session as one of the most challenging he’d ever experienced, and looked apprehensively towards the special session that will take place later this month to determine the state’s next two-year budget.
Despite the difficulties of working in a Senate deadlocked between Democrats and Republicans at 18-18 and in a House where Dems hold a slim 79-72 majority, he said that the state legislature managed to pass several bills of particular significance to New Haveners.
He singled out a bail reform bill that precludes judges from imposing cash bonds on low-level, non-violent misdemeanors, with the goal of keeping poor people out of pre-trial detention if they are there only because they cannot afford bail.
“There are nearly 400 people in [Connecticut’s criminal justice] system who are imprisoned primarily because of poverty as opposed to because of the nature of the crime they’ve been charged with,” Looney said. “It’s almost like a Dickensian debtors’ prison in 19th-century London. Because of this bill, we won’t have this kind of thing in our state in the future.”
He also heralded a recently-passed hate crimes bill as one of the strongest in the nation, increasing penalties for people who commit crimes out of racial, gender, or religious bigotry or bias. He then gestured with pride towards a bipartisan, healthcare consumer protection bill that prevents pharmacy benefit managers from putting a gag order on pharmacists so they may not recommend that a patient buy a less-expensive generic instead of going through their insurance. “That practice is going to be banned under the new law,” he said.
New Haven State Rep. Roland Lemar followed Looney with a description of the conveyance bill that ensures that the city will retain control over Union Station for the near future and purchase 15 neglected state-owned lots. He also underscored the importance for New Haven of next year’s statewide elections, pivoting to the DTC’s recent vote on its party platform as an example of exactly what Connecticut Democrats need to be doing.
“I’ve been contacted on a near-daily basis about candidates for office who want to come here and introduce themselves as they gear up for 2018,” he said. “I implore you: hold them to that platform. Democrats [in Connecticut] are nervous. Do we act more like the growing Republican minority, or do we act more like the Democrats we are? This city has always set the tone for the rest of the state as to the values and turnout of the Democratic party. I think the New Haven Democratic Town platform should be the state of Connecticut’s Democratic Party platform.”