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Democratic mayoral candidate Shafiq Abdussabur (above) addresses crowd (below) at Sunday campaign launch event.
A hundred youth workers, former cops, small business owners, and Beaver Hills neighbors thronged a room festooned with balloons, head scarves, knit caps, yarmulkes, and hijabs Sunday to help Shafiq Abdussabur kick off a grassroots mayoral campaign with a promise to heal divisions and unite people across New Haven.
The event took place in a meeting room at the Courtyard Marriott on Whalley Avenue.
Salwa Abdussabur, who is helping dad’s campaign.
“You can look around this room right now, and it looks like the entire world,” Abdussabur told the assembled crowd.
“That’s our community. We are neighborhoods of different people from different backgrounds, from different cultures, from different traditions. We have different mindsets. We have different opinions. But at the end of the day, we’re the same city. We’re the same New Haven.
“I want to bring that back. We’re divided. We don’t look out for each other. We’re so busy and stuck on our own resources that we hold onto. We forget that it’s all of us working together.”
Present and in support (clockwise from top left): Alder and retired police Capt. Gerald Antunes and former City Clerk Sally Brown; Beaver Hills neighbor and businessperson Abe Vail; Stetson Branch Librarian Diane Brown; Koffee? shop owner Duncan Goodall; event speakers youth workers Douglas Bethea and attorneys Makana Ellis and Patricia Kane; retired police Lt. and current Safe Families for Children program coordinator Rebecca Goddard, who emceed.
The crowd consisted largely of people who, like Abdussabur, either grew up or have spent decades living and working in the city — as opposed to more recent residents who tend to be concentrated in higher-voting wards in East Rock, Downtown, and Westville, or in immigrant enclaves of the Hill and Fair Haven.
In conversations and formal speeches, attendees spoke of New Haven-born-and-bred Abdussabur’s decades of work as a now-retired cop who helped form the city’s street outreach worker program and mediated gang truces; community organizer and small-business owner helping young people in trouble find jobs or constructive ways to spend their time; and Beaver Hills neighborhood activist working across racial and ethnic lines. They argued that that experience positions him to tackle New Haven’s educational, public safety, housing, and youth-opportunity challenges.
“We have a good mayor. No hard feelings. But we want a better New Haven,” longtime Dixwell youth worker Douglas Bethea (pictured) said in one of the introductory speeches. That was the only reference all day to two-term Democratic Mayor Justin Elicker, whom Abdussabur seeks to unseat in a Sept. 12 primary.
“I’m not saying our mayor ain’t trying. We need a mayor out on the streets talking to kids, someone they can relate to.”
Bethea spoke of how Abdussabur was present to help after Bethea’s son was shot dead, how he and Bethea worked with other young people who were murdered or who found a way out of street life, how Abdussabur donated money to help kids in Bethea’s Nation Drill Team afford uniforms and took kids camping.
After similar testimonials, Abdussabur entered the room and made his way to the podium, pausing every two steps to hug supporters.
He offered a few specific proposals in his 31-minute 13-second speech: Reviving the Young Adult Board of Police Commissioners. Creating a Young Adult Board of Alders. Targeting city residents to fill hundreds of vacant teacher and police positions. (Watch the speech above.)
For the most part, though, he focused on the broader vision of why he’s running — to unite people, to help struggling young people and seniors and low-income families and immigrants, to bring back the middle class, to improve public education, to boost affordable housing, to “clean up the trash, clean up the leaves, fix the lights, fix the stop signs.” He promised that specific proposals and issue statements would follow beginning this coming week.
Abdussabur spoke of his experience helping individual people find opportunities, as a template for his goals as mayor. For instance, he told the story of taking Curtis Cobb (pictured above at the event) on a camping trip along with other young New Haveners who hung out on Dixwell Avenue.
“Curtis was 12, 13 when I met him. I thought Curtis was being led around by the dudes. But he was the leader of the dudes. Curtis helped me understand as a police officer what community-based policing really meant when we went camping at Rocky Neck State Park …
“Curtis was leaning up against a tree. Curtis said, ‘Man, I love it out here.’ He said, ‘This is better than being on the Av. When I’m on the Av, all we do all day is go to the corner store, buy chips, buy soda. I would rather be out here. …
“Curtis went on to go to school. He graduated from Porter & Chester. Running Jiffy Lubes now. Owns four houses. Bought your mom’s home, didn’t you? Bought the house that his mother was living in.
“That’s community policing. That’s my dude right here. That’s what I’m trying to bring back here,” Abdussabur said.
“I got the blueprint for community policing. That’s why I’m running for mayor.”
DJs Mark Mecca and SW1 keep the beat going at the event.
Reached after the event by phone, Mayor Elicker commented, “I think we should be really proud of how much progress we’ve made as a city in the last three years. People have to understand that you can’t resolve all of the deep challenges that our city faces in an instant. They take time and effort; it’s like turning the Titanic. I get it — people want results yesterday. We’re seeing results. But these things take time. Just changing the mayor is not going to solve these problems. It takes hard work and persistence.”
Elicker has also emphasized on the campaign trail the new teachers’ contract offering 15 percent raises over three years, his administration’s underway-plan to launch nonprofit-run community centers in formerly vacant park buildings, a planned new after-school and summer reading program, a new crisis response team sending social workers on some 911 calls involving people experiencing mental and emotional challenges, and efforts by the police department to work with the community to solve crime.
Abdussabur with campaign supporter Dwight Alder Frank Douglass.
A third Democrat, Tom Goldenberg, has begun a campaign as well for the Democratic mayor nomination. A fourth, Liam Brennan, has formed an exploratory committee. 2021 Republican mayoral candidate John Carlson is considering running again in the November general election; activist Wendy Hamilton has filed papers to pursue an unaffiliated-line mayoral campaign in the November election as well.
Abdussabur ended the event by signing paperwork to participate in the the city’s public-financing Democracy Fund system, in which candidates agree to limit the size of individual contributions and forgo special-interest money in return for public grants. Elicker is also participating in the Democracy Fund, as he has in his three previous mayoral campaigns. Goldenberg is not participating. Brennan said he plans to participate if, as expected, he launches a formal campaign next month.
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