On June 17th, the East Hartford Black Caucus hosted a debate for the Democratic mayoral candidates. I watched the video recording and found it eye-opening. Here are my responses to the debate questions.
My opening statement
I believe deeply and passionately in the ideals at the heart of American democracy: individual dignity and equality, individual freedom, and individual responsibility to seek the common good. My positions on all political issues are interpreted through the lenses of these fundamental principles.
What do you believe is the role of municipal government in addressing the racial wealth gap, if any; and based on your belief, what will you do specifically as mayor to address it?
The way to solve a wealth gap is to ensure that laws and regulations are as unrestrictive as possible, so that anyone can start a new business, current business owners can offer new, high-paying jobs, and employees are taxed less and can save more.
What resources do you believe are necessary to ensure that small businesses and entrepreneurs have access to necessary information, and how do you plan to use those resources to help the Black and Hispanic communities?
As mayor, I will promote and ensure the continuance of regular, in-person meetings with town business owners. I will invite their input and ideas and respond in tangible ways to their concerns. I will advocate offering incentives for their help in recruiting and coaching business startups.
38.7% of town residents speak another language at home; how will your office work to break the language barrier?
I will ensure each town department has skilled employees who speak languages representative of the whole community, and I will ensure that free English classes are offered and promoted. My administration will always help those who do not speak English, but the best thing we can do for residents long-term is give them the opportunity to become bilingual.
How do you plan to address diversity in Town Hall staff and promote inclusion that ensures competent customer service to residents?
My goal will be that the percentage of minorities working in each town department equals the overall percentage of those minorities in the town of East Hartford. In addition, I will enable them to establish best practices for engaging and communicating with other residents from their culture.
How will you work personally to engage residents to create an inclusive city culture, including joining boards and commissions and being leaders in East Hartford?
A key component of my personal leadership style is what I once heard someone call “life-touching-life.” As mayor, I will look forward to regularly enjoying meals or coffee get-togethers with each department head, and from time-to-time packing a sack lunch and joining town employees on their lunch breaks in their own lunchrooms. Times like these will allow me to hear directly from town employees about their perspectives, ideas, and questions. This will also allow me to brainstorm with them how to best help them be ambassadors for Town Hall to their neighbors from their various locations around town. Additionally, as mayor, I will continue making door-to-door visits, something I enjoy and find fulfilling.
What will you do during your campaign and if you become mayor to encourage citizens to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
During my campaign, I have encouraged all individuals who believe they are high-risk to get vaccinated; as mayor, I would follow the same course. For those who feel compelled in their conscience not to get the vaccine, I believe they have the right to refrain, and that the government should not force them. By choosing not to get vaccinated, a person is choosing to take on the associated risks. To others who have already been vaccinated, an unvaccinated person is of no risk. As for others who choose not to get vaccinated, they, too, have chosen to accept the associated risks. I believe any other position on vaccination would violate the individual liberties of people. I do not have to like other people’s positions on vaccination. But, if freedom of privacy means anything, I do have to respect those positions.
As mayor, what if anything would your administration do to enhance access to adequate healthcare?
For enhanced access to adequate healthcare in any community the ideal is to make healthcare access as local as possible, to make it available in locations people frequent, and to grow the number of providers in a community to decrease wait times. Those are not quick fixes, but they are what provide long-term, sustainable care in a community. In the short-term, we need community relations campaigns to increase awareness of health center locations and services. These can help change people’s thinking about regular healthcare visits, and that, in turn, can reduce the need for emergency care by effectively increasing preventative care.
How would you coordinate resources to ensure that the town resources being used to address systemic racism are all coordinated?
Whenever addressing a town issue this significant it is critical to make informed decisions based on factual data drawn directly from our community. For any problem, if you don’t take the time to gather accurate information, the conclusions you draw will be misguided and the solutions you produce will be ineffective. Regarding racism, this starts with a transparent assessment of all incidents of discrimination that occur. From this information you identify patterns of prejudice that emerge–where, when, how, against whom, and by whom. The answers will reveal areas of focus that have been objectively identified and can then be strategically mitigated using all the available resources at the disposal of the town government.
What will you do to increase resident engagement and voter participation in East Hartford?
The answer to this problem rises and falls on communication. An issue like this is a good example of a cause around which both political parties can unite and coordinate their efforts. Under my administration as mayor, that is the approach I will take. This issue is both bigger ideologically than any one political party, and too big practically for one party to take on alone. Beyond community communication, a major component of this coordinated effort will be working closely with the Board of Education to make voting a curriculum emphasis even more thoroughly at all levels, particularly high school.
As you see it, what are some of the barriers regarding increasing engagement in East Hartford, and how do you plan to dismantle them?
People eagerly get engaged when they feel like there is a reason to do so. When residents believe that their vote doesn’t matter, they don’t show up at the polls. When residents feel like government leaders are going to do whatever they want regardless of public opinion, residents don’t get involved. When residents sense that political concerns are handcuffing the police, residents draw back. When residents are afraid to voice their opinions for fear of being judged by their community, they remain silent. As mayor, under my administration all of this will change. East Hartford residents will have a new culture of town government that communicates with them, knows them, listens and responds to their concerns, enables town officials to do their jobs without interference, and makes space for divergent opinions.
How will you specifically build trust with the Black community and follow up with your promises?
Let me say to the Black community of East Hartford that I will never make a promise I cannot keep. People are smart: they can tell when you are saying what you feel you have to say, or what you feel people want you to say, or what you believe is the politically expedient thing to say. I will never do this. Political spin nauseates me, and it nauseates most people I know. I do not pander to any group of people to gin-up support as if those people were children to be politely patronized. What you see and hear from me is what I am, and it is what the citizens of East Hartford will get from me as their mayor. You may not agree with me or like a position I take, but you will always know I am being authentic.
How do you plan to engage the community residents when making community-altering decisions?
As mayor, my administration will learn what the community says they need most and will then tailor all major spending decisions around those needs. Social media surveys, phone call surveys, direct mail surveys, and public meeting conversations will all be a part of that process.
How will you ensure that the strong relationship between the East Hartford mayor’s office and the Board of Education continues to build, and how do you intend to work with the Board of Education, the Superintendent, and the Superintendent’s Cabinet?
I believe leadership is a team sport. Working closely with the smart and competent leaders and members of our town’s Board of Education is a privilege I would heartily anticipe as mayor. Steve Jobs talked about the importance of surrounding yourself with highly-skilled people. That is how I feel about the idea of serving alongside our community’s education leaders.
What do the words, “Black Lives Matter,” mean to you?
After many hours listening to Black friends, I hear “Black Lives Matter” as a cry for justice and a lament for precious lives lost. The Black community is rightly demanding to be heard. Our nation’s founders were profoundly right when they asserted that all people are created equal in dignity and God-given rights. They were tragically wrong when they denied that very equality in practice and legislation. Like the personal embodiment of a national conscience, Dr. Martin Luther King called out the contradiction and injustice. When I hear “Black Lives Matter,” I am reminded of King’s vision of a society in which people are judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Every black life matters, and so does the right of every black citizen to pursue his or her own individual path to fulfillment and prosperity.
There is a difference between “equality” and “equity;” what will you do to fight the status quo, and the systemic barriers that exist, in order to create “equity” in East Hartford?
“Equality” means equal opportunity for everyone. “Equity” means equal outcomes for everyone. I think voters should be suspicious when politicians promise equal outcomes. No one has delivered on that promise, and no one can. Equal opportunity is challenging too, but the ideals of American democracy demand that we strive for equal opportunity with all the tools at our disposal. I cannot honestly promise equal outcomes, so I won’t. But as mayor, I will relentlessly strive for, defend, and promote equal opportunity.
Voters sometimes ask me if town elections are important. They’re very important. You may not feel like you have a voice in the national conversation or even in the discussion of Connecticut’s challenges and opportunities. But you can unite with your neighbors, and you can work together to effect real change in your town. The powers of American government were originally designed to be as local as possible for this very reason. I eagerly look forward to being a part of that process if given the honor of being your mayor.