NB Politicus

Four Ways to Fight Racism in Your Town

Posted in city government, civil rights, Diversity, Racism, Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on June 24, 2020

Commentary courtesy of Otherwords.org

Spontaneous, peaceful protests have been occurring in New Britain over the murder of George Floyd and systemic police violence.  A rare 15 to 0 Common Council vote declared “racism is a public health crisis.” The movement is ramping up the pressure for a Civilian Review Board and changes in city government that would emphasize more community policing and de-escalation tactics in law enforcement and more funding to education and neighborhood services. 

This commentary by Gloria Oladipo, a Cornell University student, discusses activities to keep the momentum going.

By Gloria Oladipo June 24, 2020

For weeks since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests have erupted across the globe. While demonstrations in larger cities have drawn the most attention in the U.S., smaller communities can be — and are — involved in the fight for racial justice.

From Medford, Oregon to Meridian, Mississippi, and many places beyond, peaceful protests have attracted hundreds. Even those in conservative, majority-white towns — some with active KKK chapters — have gathered to reject racism and violence.

It’s an encouraging sign. But not all communities have been able to hold gatherings, especially at the height of COVID-19. Thankfully, there are other ways to contribute to the fight for racial justice, even if protests have not reached your area.

1. Educate yourself.

The first step to being an effective ally is to educate yourself on racism, both structurally and in your community. A number of books are a great starting point. I recommend Freedom Is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis and So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.

If you prefer watching to reading, Netflix has a number of documentaries to help understand racism and its role in the United States, including 13th and When They See Us.

Don’t forget to learn about racism and police brutality in your own community. Despite the media’s depiction of police brutality as an issue impacting mainly cities, many rural communities and suburbs also suffer from disturbing examples of police brutality.

Keep track of events in the local news. Meet with your local sheriff and ask about police accountability measures. You have a right to live in a town where the police aren’t a threat to you and others. 

2. Talk about racism at home.

One of the most impactful things that allies can do in the face of anti-Blackness is to discuss these topics at home, especially with racist people in your inner circles. Challenging racism inter-personally can help change the ideology of family and friends — or at least introduce a different perspective.

Educating your family and friends is the first step to creating new allies and fostering a more tolerant culture in your community.

3. Support racial justice organizations.

Organizations need resources to support activists on the ground, bail out protestors, and pay their bills. Funding is especially important for local organizations who may not have the same bandwidth as national organizations to raise money. For these small local groups, every dollar counts.

A simple Google search can produce thousands of results for local, smaller organizations in your area. If the internet is not accessible in your area, check local community boards. Often, groups will post flyers about events, opportunities for you to learn more about the work they do, and ways to donate to their efforts. 

4. Support struggling people.

Many Black people are exhausted and vulnerable. Many need financial help. Whether suffering from COVID-19, job loss, the death of family members, or marginalization on account of their race or gender identity, direct donations can change their lives.

Finding people in need isn’t difficult. GoFundMe has hundreds of thousands of people asking for help with basic needs. Twitter houses similar campaigns, including threads with women looking for donations to escape abusive situations or in need of general financial help.

Or, go through your local church. Ask your pastor or church board members if they are currently looking for donations to help marginalized people. Your dollars can and will change lives.

Don’t let Black Lives Matter be a passing, catchy slogan. Wherever you live, be an active ally who challenges racism at every opportunity. Everyone is responsible to fight against racism, now and always.

Stuck in the 18th Century: State Constitution Impedes Voting By Mail, Early Voting

Posted in 2020 Election, polling, state government, state politics, Voting, Voting Rights by nbpoliticus on June 11, 2020

By John McNamara

Pandemic Prompts Legislation To Allow Absentee Voting Option For All In November But Ballot Reforms Shouldn’t Stop There

Our license plates proudly proclaim Connecticut the “Constitution State” because the state constitution was one of the colonial documents that guided the Founders of the nation when they wrote the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

While a score of other states have ballot access via vote by mail and periods of early voting before Election Day, Connecticut is stuck in another century because of its storied Constitution and a restrictive absentee voting statute.

Amid the public health threat of pandemic the absentee voting statute is expected to change at a special session of the General Assembly in July. Governor Lamont, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and Democratic legislative leaders are on board to extend absentee voting to every voter this year. As Merrill said to Meriden’s “Drinking Liberally” Zoom political forum on June 9th: “The last thing we want is to have people make a choice between their health and their vote.”

Opposition can be expected from Republican Party leaders intent on restricting voter access as much as possible. CT Republican Chair J.R. Romano is hard at work parroting the discredited assertions of voter fraud.

The need to add a public health emergency option to the absentee voting law would have been moot had a 2014 constitutional amendment referendum been approved in that year’s gubernatorial election. To the question “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to remove restrictions concerning absentee ballots and to permit a person to vote without appearing at a polling place on the day of an election?” a majority (52%) voted no. Proponents blamed an underfunded “Yes” campaign and the wording of the question for its defeat. A contributing factor was the fact that almost 150,000 more voters chose a Governor but never made it to the question at the bottom of the ballot. The amendment lost by 38,000. Approval would have empowered the legislature to enact “no excuse” absentee voting and paved the way for early voting that accounts for an increasing percentage of turnout in other states.

Connecticut law limits use of absentee balloting to those who will be out of town on election day, members of the armed forces, for an illness or physical disability, religious beliefs and for serving as an election official other than at a place than where you vote. It’s likely this summer’s legislation will extend the right to vote by mail when an illness-causing public health emergency exists to stay within the bounds of the constitution.

Secretary of the State Merrill says she is working with local registrars to open all polling places on November 3rd with any required social distancing that’s needed. A statewide secure mailing operation will be used to support voting by mail for any voter who wants to do so as long as the Legislature revises the absentee voting law. Her office has a $5 million COVID 19 federal grant to meet election costs but could probably use more. According to Merrill, election officials at the local and state level face a daunting task to ensure full voter access but that steps are being taken now “to make this a smooth election.”

One of the unintended consequences of COVID-19 may be to accelerate the movement to adopt post-pandemic statutory and constitutional changes allowing no excuse absentee voting and early voting in Connecticut.

In April the New Britain Democratic Town Committee (DTC) adopted a resolution to extend absentee voting to all this year and called for a new campaign to change the constitution. The DTC also endorsed the federal Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 now before Congress that would extend voter access and provide states with new funding for election security.

The nonpartisan CT-SAM Task Force, led by former Metro Hartford Alliance CEO and gubernatorial candidate Oz Griebel, is primarily pushing ranked-choice voting, term limits and open primaries but its platform also includes “removing obstacles to legal voter registration and….early voting, vote-at-home options, and/or by making election day a national holiday.”

Beyond this pandemic a broad-based and well supported coalition will be needed to make the permanent changes in the Constitution in a 2022 referendum. “It’s very difficult to change a constitution,” notes Secretary Merrill. “This situation has laid bare the limitations in Connecticut.” The hope is we can keep our venerable Constitution but tweak it enough to allow full voting access in the 21st century.

Looking Ahead: Stanley Quarter Park Makeover, New Playground Take Shape For Spring

Posted in CCSU, environment, New Britain history, Parks and Recreation by nbpoliticus on March 15, 2020

The early days of Spring require all of us to practice social distancing and avoid gatherings in public places in the effort to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic.  But there are things to look forward to with warm weather ahead including a visit to the city’s parks when it is safe to do so.  Stanley Quarter Park, one of the city’s gems, will be be even better in 2020.  Improvements to the city’s popular Stanley Quarter Park at Blake Road and Stanley Street near the Central CT State University campus are nearing completion in time for spring and warm weather months.

The $1.2 million Parks & Recreation Project, approved by the Common Council in August 2019,  adds family and child friendly features: a new picnic area with grills, waterside exercise equipment and games and a gazebo overlooking the park.

Notably the project replaces a poorly landscaped and aging playground near the Boulevard entrance and adds a new parking lot next to existing basketball courts.

 

For decades Stanley Quarter Park has hosted the city’s Great American Boom, a regionally attended July 4th celebration. It has also been a site for CCSU’s men’s and women’s track & field teams. In the 1960s and through the 1970s the city even operated a ski slope along Blake Road with a rope tow and night lighting that made it popular in the winter.

 

A newly-landscaped playground is one of the major improvements at Stanley Quarter Park that will be heavily used by children and families when the playground is completed.

View from a newly constructed gazebo overlooking the pond at Stanley Quarter Park.

by John McNamara

Remembering Emma Pierce: The Life Of The Party

Posted in Accolades, In Memoriam by nbpoliticus on January 30, 2020

By John McNamara

Emma Pierce, matriarch of her family and a leader of  boundless love, energy and spunk for Democrats and her New Britain community, died peacefully at home on Wednesday, January 29th at the age of 91.

For Democrats Emma has been “the life of the party” in so many ways. Having served with Emma on the DTC and as Party Chairman for more than two decades,  I will forever miss her indomitable spirit, good humor and no-nonsense pursuit of winning elections for fairness and justice and in the best interests of her community.  Let that spirit be an inspiration for others to carry on and to honor her memory.

Emma, with her union sister, the late Connie Wilson Collins, often at her side, represented her Church Street neighborhood on the Democratic Town Committee for decades. Many aspiring candidates for local and state offices were always wise to get the nod from Connie and Emma if they wanted to get endorsed and succeed.  Their backing meant the support of a labor, broad-based coalition that was the heart and soul of the local Democratic Party for generations.

Emma Pierce and family as she received Democratic Party award in 2014. F Gerratana photo

Emma Pierce rose up into leadership posts in the Democratic Party: DTC officer, state Central Committeewoman, treasurer of the state Federation of Black Women and eventually state Party Treasurer, taking on titles to match all  the unofficial influence she exerted in the party through the years. In 2009 Emma was the first recipient of the state party’s Ella Grasso Award at the women’s leadership breakfast. In 2014 the William P. O’Neill award was bestowed on Emma at the annual CT Democrats’ dinner.

Married to the late Dallas Pierce, Emma worked and raised her family in New Britain. She is a beloved grandmother and great grandmother and renowned for her cooking at church, the Elks Lodge and Democratic Party events.

Those accolades and service to party sprung from Emma’s activity in the union movement.

In the United Auto Workers (UAW), she served as financial secretary of Local 133. She and her contemporaries carried their union’s commitment to economic and social justice to the workplace, the community and to party politics.

Services for Emma are incomplete at this time and will be announced. (1/30/2020)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning Red To Blue: Charlotte Koskoff’s 2020 Congressional Campaign

Posted in 5th Congressional District, state politics, Voting Rights by nbpoliticus on October 5, 2019

By John McNamara

In 1996, Plainville Attorney Charlotte Koskoff was the upstart nominee for CT’s old 6th Congressional District against New Britain’s Nancy Johnson, the entrenched incumbent considered unbeatable by pundits, consultants and especially national Democratic Party bosses who put only a pittance into the Koskoff campaign.

By a razor-thin margin of 1,587 votes (C-Span at one point said Koskoff had won), Johnson survived amid her evasive handling of an ethics scandal involving House Speaker New Gingrich and the GOP’s vulnerabilities on weakening Medicare and global trade induced job losses.

Koskoff, who won handily in New Britain with her brand of progressive politics, credentials and genuineness, made two other attempts to oust Johnson before another upstart, Chris Murphy, came along in 2006 to end Johnson’s incumbency as one of the last of the “moderate” Republicans. Murphy, by the way, was Koskoff’s 20-something campaign manager in the tight ’96 race, demonstrating his ability to mobilize Democrats and Unaffiliateds across the district that won him the House prize in 2006 and the U.S. Senate in 2012.

Twenty three years later Charlotte Koskoff isn’t done with Congressional politics, not for herself, but to put progressive Democrats into Congress in districts where Democrats aren’t supposed to win or need a boost to break through.

Koskoff is the co-founder of Save Democracy 2020, an independent organization that targets races around the country where Democratic challengers are making that uphill climb. Save Democracy 2020 is not a political action committee (PAC) doling out donations for its chosen candidates. Instead it shines a light on candidates that need the help to be competitive and directs you to give directly to their campaigns and to help in other ways.  Koskoff formed the group with George Poulin, a labor leader from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) who shares Koskoff’s commitment to social and economic justice. Former State Comptroller Bill Curry, who write commentaries for Salon, The Daily Beast and other publications, is an advisor.

Fundamental to Save Democracy is  a “50-state strategy” for Democrats that says the party needs to have a presence and run in all 435 districts. You may not win everywhere but by being everywhere you broaden the base and make the right wing and GOP expend resources in their “safe” districts. Democratic candidates in red districts are “doing the heavy lifting.” They aren’t preaching to the choir but gaining converts and deserve support that pundits and inside-the-beltway, lobbyist-influenced elements of the Democratic Party ignore.

This strategy was proven right when Howard Dean became Chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2005. Dean was scorned by the likes of corporate Democrat Rahm Emanuel and Clinton’s Carville-Begala team. But in 2006 Nancy Pelosi won her first Speakership as Democrats regained the House majority.

Declares Democracy 2020: “We are The National Coalition for Democratic Congressional Challengers, a small, self-funded, grass-roots group acting on our conviction that the public policy debate and political culture in this country will not fundamentally change until Democrats and progressives have a working presence in each Congressional District After years of hearing national Democratic leaders proclaim that they were now committed to a “50 State Strategy,” but do nothing, 2018 moved the needle. In 2018, we closed the gap, and turned the House Blue, only 3 Republicans ran unopposed”

Last month Save Democracy got an early start on 2020 recommending Democrats in two special elections in North Carolina, a state prone to voter suppression and GOP gerrymandering

In North Carolina’s 9th District Democrat Dan McCready narrowly lost by 1,000 votes in a district marred by the GOP campaign’s voter fraud in the 2018 general election and with district lines stacked against him.

For 2020  Save Democracy plans to choose ten candidates to promote among non-targeted Democratic Congressional challengers and campaigns. “In choosing our races we consider personal strengths of the candidates and the vibrancy of their campaigns, says Koskoff. “We are especially drawn to strong challengers from rural and agricultural districts. Family farmers and their communities have been struggling for years, and right now their crises are acute. Our strong, rural Congressional challengers tell their stories with credibility and eloquence. If elected, they could be catalysts and leaders for meaningful change in national farm policy. And they could win. Their districts used to be full of Democratic voters. It’s time to bring them back. We also look at the power, far-right activity, and rhetoric of the Republican incumbent/challenger. With regard to some of them, it’s a moral imperative, as well as a tactical one, to mount strong electoral challenges.”

In 1996 Charlotte Koskoff was a candidate with “personal strengths” and a “vibrant” campaign that came up short because she wasn’t one of the “targeted” races when a modest boost from her party’s Congressional campaign committee and the DNC would have toppled the “unbeatable” Johnson.  Groups like Save Democracy had they been around then could have been the margin of victory. Koskoff remembers. Through her grassroots, national organization, she and her associates will help 2020 challengers as they push the Democratic Party to leave no district behind in turning red to blue.

Rosemary Klotz To Be Recognized With Award at Democratic Party Women’s Leadership Brunch September 22nd

Posted in Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on September 11, 2019

Rosemary Klotz, an executive aide to two mayors and a volunteer for Democratic campaigns in New Britain for more than 30 years, will be honored September 22nd at the state Democratic Party’s annual Women’s Leadership Brunch.

Klotz, a Democratic Town Committee (DTC) Trustee, leads the nomination committee and candidate recruitment for the  town committee.

News of the award for Klotz drew praise from current and former elected officials.

24th State Rep. Rick Lopes said Rosemary Klotz is “a truly deserving resident and citizen of our town and country. She not only brings hard work and passion but also thoughtfulness and clear thinking that always helps advance progressive movements forward.”

“I would say Rosemary always exhibits a high level of professionalism, tempered by compassion and principled decision making,” said former Commissioner and State Senator Don DeFronzo, who worked with Klotz during his mayoral administration from 1989 to 1993. “She is conscientious, thoughtful and considerate of varying opinions. I always valued her advice when mayor and for years after.”

Said Former Mayor and State Representative Tim O’Brien: “Rosemary has passionate and strong progressive values, while also being steadfast and level-headed in the work that needs to be done to win on those values. I was glad to work with her when I was Mayor, and I feel fortunate to have her has a friend.”

Democratic Town Chair Bill Shortell nominated Klotz for the state party’s women’s award.

Klotz follows three other New Britain Democratic women who previously received the state party leadership award, including Harriet Geragosian, Emma Pierce and Shirley Black. In addition to her public service career Klotz has been a workforce development and employment specialist in the New Britain area for the Human Resource Agency and Workforce Investment Act programs.  She is a graduate of Central Connecticut State University.

The Women’s Leadership Brunch will be held Sunday, September 22 at the Aqua Turf Club, 556 Mulberry St, Plantsville.  Doors open at 10:30. Tickets are $65 and may be purchased at the Connecticut Democrats website.  Klotz will be recognized with nine other women from the state’s five congressional districts. Receiving the Governor Ella T. Grasso Leadership Award will be Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.

Rep. Sanchez Makes “Respect” for Early Childhood Educators A Priority As New Chair of Education Committee

Posted in Legislature, public education, state aid, state government by nbpoliticus on January 20, 2019

By John McNamara

State Rep. Robert “Bobby” Sanchez (D-25) is the new House Chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee who brings a strong background in early childhood education to his leadership post in the General Assembly this year.

Sanchez, a former New Britain Board of Education member elected to the House in a 2011 special election, shared his priorities at a League of Women Voters legislative breakfast January 19th at New Britain Public Library.

“Teachers in early childhood education are not respected,” said Sanchez, noting that most early childhood professionals entrusted with the care and development of pre-schoolers are not fairly compensated.  In Connecticut with its high cost of living, child care staff fare much better than the national average of $29,000 ($14 per hour), earning upto $40,150 ($19.30).  Advocates, however, say classroom teachers and aides not covered by union contracts can fall below the average.  On top of pay inequity, Sanchez also points to the requirement that all early child educators will need to hold bachelor’s degrees within a few years to meet accreditation standards. Getting those credentials means education expenses to make the grade as early childhood professionals.

Sanchez, a longtime case manager of early care and education and coordinator of the Fatherhood Initiative at New Britain’s Human Resource Agency,  knows the pay struggles of the people he works with every day.  Rep. Sanchez’ early childhood roots  go back deeper than you may know. “Bobby” is the moniker he uses on election ballots and with friends  — a name he probably latched on to when a teacher called him that at a Head Start classroom in New Britain when he was four years old. It may be that Sanchez is the first Education Chair who’s an alumnus of one of the Great Society’s most enduring programs that launched the movement for quality early childhood education for low-income children in the 1960s.

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State Rep. Bobby Sanchez LWV Legislative Breakfast  (photo courtesy of Frank Gerratana)

Sanchez’ views are in sync with the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance and its Executive Director, New Britain BOE Member Merrill Gay. “Early childhood teachers are among the lowest paid profession in the state,” according to the Alliance in advocating for supporting the child care work force last year.  “Early childhood teachers often rely on Care4Kids, HUSKY, SNAP and fuel assistance to make ends meet.”

To address the issue, the Alliance and legislative allies such as Sanchez are likely to push for “an increase in the full-day, full-year rate to $10,000 per child for School Readiness and state funded Child Development Centers indexed to any increase in the minimum wage, a higher infant toddler rate in recognition of the much lower staff to child ratio, delaying the B.A. degree deadline, and providing a rate bonus to programs that reach the staff qualification goal so they can retain the staff.”

The Education Committee will be addressing a score of major issues in the 2019 session, including school safety, curriculum, the education cost sharing (ECS) formula for school districts and child care subsidies that can nudge the pay for early childhood teachers up a notch.

It may be a tall order to secure adequate school aid and child care subsidies with state government saddled with built-in deficits and the pent up needs of other key services in the state budget this year  But Sanchez and his allies in education are prepared to make the case to Governor Lamont and the General Assembly that better pay for those who care for the very young are smart investments for the state’s future.

Stewart Penalized For Using Taxpayer Mailing To Boost Her 2017 Re-election Campaign

Posted in Campaign Finance, city politics and government, New Britain Republicans by nbpoliticus on December 1, 2018

Mayor Erin Stewart violated state campaign law by promoting her candidacy through an official mailing of tax bills to city residents during the 2017 municipal campaign, according to a ruling by the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC).

The SEEC, at its November 14th meeting, fined Mayor Stewart $500, citing a violation under state law (9-610) that prohibits incumbents “during the three months preceding an election in which (she) is a candidate for reelection or election to another office” from using “public funds to mail or print flyers or other promotional materials intended to bring about his (or her) election or reelection.”

Using her campaign slogan “Leading The Way” in the taxpayer-funded brochure, Stewart cited saving the city from fiscal ruin, good bond ratings, reorganizing city hall departments “to find efficiencies and improve customer service and “a continuous commitment to provide our teachers and our children with the proper tools for learning and exploring.”  The official message was a carbon copy of what could be found at the time on Stewart’s campaign website.  The mailing with the brochure was sent by Tax Collector Cheryl Blogoslawski’s office and paid for by the city. Although the mailer came directly from the Tax Collector’s office, Ms. Blogoslawski was absolved of any wrongdoing by the commission.

During the SEEC inquiry Mayor Stewart, through an attorney, defended her use of the mailing at the height of the municipal election season. “The pamphlet is issued annually and is sent in the same envelope with our property tax bills. Given the lack of a timely issued state budget and the commensurate uncertainty surrounding final municipal aid (and, therefore, our tax rate), New Britain joined many other municipalities across Connecticut in electing to post the property tax bills later than normal this fiscal year,” Stewart argued. She contended that the “message from the Mayor to taxpayers” and “a section discussing progress made by the City in numerous areas” contained “nothing of a political nature.”  The mailing at issue was first reported in September 2017 in an NBPoliticus post  and in a story published by The New Britain Progressive

Rejecting the Mayor’s argument on a complaint brought by Democratic Town Chair Bill Shortell,  the SEEC found that Stewart’s “message from the Mayor” and the citing of New Britain’s accomplishments “are irrelevant to the tax bill and therefore their inclusion in the mailer is violative of 9-610. The Commission finds that the mailer plainly could have been limited to the mill rate and various other information regarding motor vehicle taxes in New Britain, without including favorable references to the budget and past performance  of the Mayor of New Britain and her administration.”

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Brochure advancing Mayor Stewart’s campaign sent with motor vehicle tax bills at the height of the municipal election campaign in 2017. State law bars use of public funds for candidate promotions within three months of elections.

Related Posts

Did Stewart Get A Prohibited Campaign Freebie In Mailing of Car Tax Bills?

Will Erin Stewart Get Another Off The Books Push From An Absentee Landlord in 2017?

 

Former Senator Harper To Be Remembered at CCSU Thursday, June 14th

Posted in Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on June 10, 2018

New Britain Democratic Town Committee

A public tribute to former State Senator Joseph H. Harper, Jr. will be held Thursday, June 14th from 6 to 8 p.m. at Central Connecticut State University’s Founders Hall.

Harper, a six-term 6th district state senator and Deputy State Treasurer, died May 20th at the age of 70.

Senator Harper, the Co-Chair of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee during his senate terms, was instrumental in building state budgets, and bringing millions of dollars back to his hometown of New Britain. A former Alderman and mayoral aide in New Britain, Harper also served two terms in the State House of Representatives After retiring from the Senate, Harper continued public service and advocacy work  as a Deputy State Treasurer, as a Vice President at Central Connecticut State University and most recently as the Vice President of Government Relations at The Hospital for Special Care (HSC). In 2006, Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the…

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Remembering Senator Joe Harper: “One Of A Kind”

Posted in In Memoriam, New Britain history by nbpoliticus on May 23, 2018

By John McNamara

Joe Harper, New Britain’s  former state senator and a local Democratic Party leader for a generation, died May 20th at the age of 69.

Harper’s public service — mayoral aide, state representative, state senator  — is being remembered as “iconic” and legendary by former colleagues and state Capitol observers. Mark Pazniokas in the Connecticut Mirror aptly described Joe Harper as “a Falstaffian, old-school politician who zealously protected his New Britain district as a Democratic state lawmaker.”

That stemmed from Joe’s reputation as a consummate and crafty lawmaker.  His legislative career began as the 24th District State Representative. Reflecting his labor and progressive roots, he was a liberal firebrand in his two terms in the the House at one point calling for a state takeover of public utilities to rein in electric rates.  By the time he reached the Senate he knew how to wield his legislative powers as the Chair of the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee with his House Co-Chair Bill Dyson of New Haven. Working with then Senate President John Larson and Governor O’Neill, Harper’s priorities over six terms usually prevailed to the benefit of his constituents in New Britain.  In that state senate triumvirate  of Larson, Majority Leader Cornelius O’Leary. and Harper, Joe was the strategist who drove the legislative train.  O’Leary and his close friend, Congressman Larson, would be the first to say so.

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Joe Harper at a rally for Democrats in 2010.

For Harper’s political “family” in New Britain Joe became an unofficial patriarch and mentor to contemporaries and those who would follow him into the Legislature and politics over the last 30 years.

Outside of the state capitol the “old school”  politics, going back to Joe’s time as an aide to Mayor Matthew Avitabile, included its share of Town Committee fights and  local contests tinged with the rough and tumble of ethnic politics.  And most of the time Harper won because he brought people together.

Former Town Chair John King recalls his election as Party Chair came in 1984 when Harper teamed up with unlikely allies Don DeFronzo and Mayor William “Billy Mac” McNamara to win 14 district races for town committee.   “Joe was a very good friend and mentor and was responsible for my becoming Chair,” recalls King, an ally of Mayor McNamara. Five years later, in 1989,  Harper was the driving force in the coalition that formed around DeFronzo in his successful bid to unseat the six-term Mayor McNamara.

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30 Years Ago: Joe Harper (back center) led New Britain friends and delegates, including Connie Wilson Collins, Emma Pierce and John McNamara, to the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.  Harper, working  with SANE Freeze and the United Auto Workers, formed the delegation in the old 6th Congressional District in a display of his coalition building skills.

Following his legislative career, Harper’s work continued by serving as a deputy state treasurer, vice president of Central Connecticut State University and a vice president at the Hospital for Special Care (HSC).

In recent years Joe Harper, with care and support from HSC,  took on the disease of  obesity,  displaying extraordinary character and courage to overcome a personal health challenge that would not defeat him and never stopped his public service that leaves a legacy of benefits and accomplishments in New Britain.

To all who worked with him through the years on campaigns and policy making Joe Harper’s  loss is like losing a brother in your own family.

His gregarious nature and good humor brought a joy to politics that is increasingly harder to come by these days.  He was, in the words of 24th State Representative Rick Lopes ” one of a kind.”