By Wayne Jebian
New Haven State Representative Juan Candelaria has informed CTLatinoNews that he will be entering the special election to fill the chair in the Connecticut State Senate vacated by Toni Harp. Harp was sworn in at the beginning of this month as the 50th Mayor of New Haven, replacing the long-serving John DeStefano, who had decided not to seek re-election. The special election to replace Harp will take place on February 25th.
Candelaria’s initial text message simply stated, “I’m running.”
In a follow-up conversation on Sunday morning, Candelaria explained why he decided to run. He outlined some of his legislative priorities, focusing largely on economic issues. “We need the kind of leadership that can really deliver for the district,” he said. “We need to talk about economic development, plus how to tame property taxes. We need to talk about jobs. We haven’t done a great job in ensuring that we bring more corporations into Connecticut, so we have to look at the applicable laws and see how we can fix those to improve our jobs base in Connecticut. New Haven needs to partner with other cities to figure out how to save money so that we can stop increasing taxes.”
He also touched on education, saying, “We’ve done school reform; now we need to empower the families. Give parents the power to reconstitute schools.”
Candelaria, who represents the 95th assembly district covering parts of New Haven and would be the first Latino state senator from New Haven, will be looking to move into the 10th senate district, which covers West Haven and the western half of New Haven, held by Harp from 1993 through 2013. Candelaria has been in the state House of Representatives since 2002, making him currently the longest serving Latino state representative besides Minnie Gonzalez (D-Hartford), who was first elected in 1996.
Candelaria is a Deputy Majority Leader in the house and is a member of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, the Joint Committee on Legislative Management and the Children’s Committee. He is also chair of the General Assembly’s Black and Latino Caucus. He is a former New Haven alderman and a current member of New Haven’s Town Committee. He is perhaps best known for his advocacy of rights for undocumented immigrants, including his efforts to allow them eligibility for drivers’ licenses and in-state tuition at state colleges.
The announcement places Candelaria in an electoral contest with fellow state representative Gary A. Holder-Winfield of the 94th assembly district, which includes parts of Hamden and New Haven. Holder-Winfield was first elected to the General Assembly in 2008 and currently serves as a Deputy Majority Leader in The House. On Friday, the New Haven Register reported that former New Haven alderman Darnell Goldsom had also entered the race, intending to run as an independent Democrat.
“Juan’s filing is a good thing for the people of the district,” said Joseph Rodriguez, chair of the CT Hispanic Democratic Caucus. “He has a proven track record in the state capital, from mental health issues to ensuring access to secondary education. Notably, there has been his work around in-state tuition issues and immigration.”
Rodriguez continued, “We are looking forward as a caucus to sitting down with the candidates to learn more about their vision for this seat, then taking it from there.”
State Senator Andres Ayala (D Bridgeport) said that as someone who has worked closely with Candelaria in the Legislature, he could not think of a more qualified candidate to step up into this moment in New Haven’s history.