Democratic Socialists Make History – New Haven Independent
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Posted to: Hamden, Politics, WNHH Radio, Campaign 2021, Dateline Hamden
More than sixty years since Bridgeport ousted their last socialist administration, the state’s first slate of candidates running on a democratic socialist platform is taking office in Hamden.
The three candidates — Justin Farmer, Abdul-Razak Osmanu, and Mariam Khan (dubbed “JAM” based on their initials) — will be sworn into office on Nov. 28.
They bring myriad firsts to Hamden’s government:
• The three Democrats were elected to local office while endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America and campaigning as a DSA slate: Farmer to a third term on the Legislative Council, Osmanu to a first term on the Council; Khan to a first term as a full voting member on the Board of Education. (She previously served as a nonvoting student member while at Hamden High.) This is the first DSA-backed team (as opposed to individual candidates) to run and win as a group in a Connecticut municipal election.
• At 19, Hamden homegrowns and Osmanu and Khan are the two youngest leaders to serve on Hamden’s Council and Board of Education (Osmanu is a junior at Southern and Khan a sophomore at Yale).
• They’re also the first Muslim officials to serve in local elected office.
“It’s not just that they’re young, it’s not even just that they’re Democratic Socialists,” Central Connecticut DSA Co-Chair Alex Kolokotronis said of JAM. “What they’re communicating and what their campaign has shown and what our operation in endorsing them has shown is that we have a theory of change that works, that excites people and that brings people together.”
That’s also how the trio of “activist elected officials” define the meaning of democratic socialism: Like other candidates, they operate from a broader political philosophy, but their primary focus at the local level is to promote a form of governance closer to pure democracy, in which the public assumes more direct ownership of and engagement in town politics.
Like the generation of mid-20th century municipal “sewer socialists” that ended with the end of the administration of Bridgeport Mayor Jasper McLevy (famously turned out of office in 1957 for allegedly stating that “God put the snow there. Let Him take it away!” after a 24-year mayoral run), the new DSA members put local issues at the top of their agenda, including calls for fiscal accountability.
The trio said they aim most of all to bring the voices of more people in a town that has grown more diverse, including racially diverse, to the crafting of decisions that impact their lives.
Farmer and Osmanu represent Hamden’s two southernmost and most diverse districts: the fifth and the third, respectively.
Osmanu’s district includes the Keefe Community Center. He said he intends to help obtain funding to make important improvements that will not only deliver space in which the public to congregate for civic events, but also create room for other activities, like a full kitchen to facilitate the distribution of fresh, free food to a community marked by food insecurity. (Right now, he said, the Keefe’s center’s got “two rooms,” and one is a “gymnasium that leaks.”)
In his district, Farmer is focusing on turning Olin Powder Farm, a privately owned piece of land, into a regional, cultural park in order to establish accessible open space for southern Hamden.
At 27 years old, Farmer will actually become the longest-serving Democrat on the council in his next term, his third. He promises to advocate for deeper, structural changes across town, such as changing zoning regulations to allow for the construction of more affordable housing in wealthier, closed-off neighborhoods.
Khan is returning to the Board of Ed in her elected capacity after serving in the nonvoting student capacity. During her time on the board in 2020, she succeeded in pushing high school administration to construct a more compassionate grading policy (lessening the weight of students’ grades obtained in the later quarters of the pandemic year) while remaining critical of the obfuscated systems of power she navigated to effect that change. Read more about that here.
Khan also attempted to make Eid a school holiday, though her strong efforts ultimately fell short of swaying Hamden Public Schools to cancel classes. Khan was more often able to successfully impact her peers through independent organizing initiatives than she was as a student BOE member (read more about her high school activist efforts in a Yale Daily News profile here). She said that’s part of why she’s returning — not only to continue her efforts to increase equity and visibility for Hamden’s diverse student populations, but to bring students into the school governing process.
She said she hopes to invest in mental health supports and address disproportionate discipline of Black and brown students, implement a participatory budgeting among a small cohort of older students, enable student members of the BOE to actually vote, and pursue redistricting of the town to combat racial segregation and economic disparities (and reject the use of Hamden’s most diverse schools, like Church Street and Shepherd Glen, as “political pawns.”)
The group also sees their titles as better positioning them to push for changes at the state level that directly impact their local community. They helped organize a win on a right to counsel bill across the state. They plan to push for Hamden to follow in New Haven’s steps and pass a nonbinding resolution calling for Congress to pass a Medicare for All bill, which they believe will help prod U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro to start supporting single-payer healthcare.
JAM now joins a handful of Democratic Socialists of America members who have served individually in town positions around Connecticut, like New Haven Alder Charles Decker, Hartford State Rep. Edwin Vargas; Greenwich Town Meeting member Hale McSharry; Middletown Common Council member Dannell Ford; and Wallingford Town Council member Gina Morgenstein.
All three of JAM’s members grew up in Hamden and are pursuing higher education within their communities. Osmanu, a junior at Southern Connecticut University, is studying political science. Khan is still on the pre-med track during her second year at Yale; she has lived off campus with her family in Hamden throughout the pandemic.
Meanwhile, from his early days in Hamden High’s reptile club, Farmer has always wanted to be a marine biologist. Now he’s finishing his SCSU degree after taking years to focus on crafting environmental initiatives on the council, like establishing the state’s most comprehensive plastic bag ban within Hamden.
Farmer got involved in local politics after designing his own campaign as a college course requirement. As high schoolers, Khan and Osmanu (who was inspired by democratic socialist Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign) volunteered on his first council campaign, also through an opportunity granted to them by Hamden High.
When Farmer first made it on the council, he was the only Black man serving. Four years later, JAM was part of a broader, racially balanced Democratic slate.
The three-member JAM are among 19 Democrats who were elected to town offices this year as a progressive slate that crushed centrist Democrats in a Sept. 14 primary.
JAM is the only group of candidates who have explicitly expressed interest in ultimately undoing and replacing capitalism and policing. But, at a local level, they identify with returning leaders like Cory O’Brien and Lauren Garrett, who focused on fiscal and governmental transparency while on the council. The socialists also joined forces with the “Row A” Democrats in this year’s elections to out an “old boys network” of “families that are connected to each other, whose kids and grandkids got involved” and maintained power over the town for generations.
“We’re seeing that taper off,” Farmer said, and allowing “new people to get in,” including immigrant families like his own.
The national DSA writes on its website: “We want a democracy powered by everyday people.
“As we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow, DSA fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people” through policies that “empower ordinary people in workplaces and the economy” and “restructure gender and cultural relationships to be more equitable.”
Ninth District council rep Marjorie Bonadies, the sole elected Republican to beat a Democratic opponent for any municipal seat this November, has been one of the most outspoken voices against the new socialists, arguing that the three candidates represent all 19 elected Democrats.
Bonadies, who ran against Democratic newcomer Nancy Hill, had the second-highest turnout after Farmer — 26.32 percent of eligible voters in the West Woods district area turned out to vote for Bonadies.
Bonadies has remained the leading voice for conservatives and Independent voters in Hamden who seek to lessen government intervention in town — like those who push against mask mandates or advocate for greater “parental rights” in schools.
The day after the Nov. 2 election, Bonadies wrote on Facebook: “For the next two years there will be a Democratic Socialist administration. The council will have 12 extreme progressives and 3 Republicans. Hamden will get one voice, one party, and no interest in bipartisanship. I will do my best to fight harder, and articulate the reasons why socialism has never worked even if you put the word Democratic before to make it sound better.”
In a message to the Independent, Bonadies texted: “I’m politically opposed to socialism in every way. Socialism is an equalization of the populace, redistribution of wealth and misery, it’s a series of disincentives until there is no more personal drive to work hard and go ahead. The ruling class are the only ones who live well and have enough to eat. I don’t know what the election of three young socialists means to Hamden at this point. I just hope they’re ready to get to work and are able to govern in a more centrist way.”
In another Facebook post, she shared an image of the Americas with superimposed words reading, “If Capitalism is evil and Socialism is the answer. Why is the caravan not heading to Venezuela? It’s less than half the distance. Liberals feel free to answer my question.”
Osmanu first came in contact with the idea of “socialism” as a freshman in high school when then septuagenarian Bernie Sanders was organizing his first run for the presidency. Following 22-year-old Justin Farmer’s first foray into local politics as a Hamden Legislative Council candidate that same year — and working with Mariam Khan on Farmer’s campaign — led Osmanu to begin identifying as an active Democratic Socialist himself.
“What makes me a socialist is my core belief that workers make the wealth in our society,” Osmanu stated when the JAM trio appeared last week on WNHH FM’s “Dateline Hamden” program.“We live in such a hierarchical society, where we often times put put heaps of praise on the richest and most powerful people in the world, but often times that comes with forgetting and not really looking at the fact of who’s making that wealth… who’s making sure your roads are paved, who’s putting in the real labor to make sure the social fabric of our society is functioning.”
Over the course of the summer and early fall, the Farmer, Osmanu and Khan often campaigned independently from Row A through “JAM sessions,” even though Khan was the only one of the three to face any opposition in the primary or general elections.
Before the Democratic primary, they organized a “Jamboree,” bringing over 60 people together to send volunteers to the door and distribute election literature. Before the general election, they hosted a legislative forum in which they publicly defined their goals for office and reaped public input.
Despite not having a competitor for his Fifth District seat, Farmer delivered the best district turnout in Nov. 2’s race out of any candidate: 26.82 percent of eligible voters in his district went to the polls and chose his name that Tuesday; The average turnout across districts was 20.61 percent.
JAM ran as Democrats rather than a third party, but their membership in DSA has provided them with a unique source of power and meaning. Farmer is one of the earliest members of Central CT DSA chapter and was among their first batches of endorsed candidates; Connecticut’s three democratic socialist chapters were started around Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential run.
The socialist slate has received national press attention since Nov. 2.
“We recognize that one tool in the toolbox for driving social change is electoral work,” Kolokotronis said, reflecting on the meaning of JAM’s success. “It’s work that elected officials can do in office — whether it is legislating, whether it is creating more transparency around what government does as well as frankly creating more of a profile around socialism and what that means, what that looks like, and what an alternative can be.”
Paul Bass contributed reporting.
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I applaud young people’s involvement in politics and their passion but it is worth mentioning that their main achievement was to be endorsed by the Hamden Town Committee to run on Row A. None of them faced a primary against any other Democratic candidate.
These three young people owe a huge amount to the well-organized Garrett campaign, which was unified behind her and Row A. Moreover, I would suggest that there was a lot more to the big turnout in the Fifth District than is mentioned in the article.
I don’t think that residents of Hamden need worry that Hamden will turn into Venezuela. There are 12 Democrats on the Council and a two-thirds majority can be achieved with only ten of their votes, limiting the pressure that can be exerted by the JA of JAM.
We used to say that if one is not a Communist before one is 30 one has no heart – and if one is a Communist after 30, one has no head.
I hope these three young people will focus on the possible and not waste a lot of their colleagues time by trying to persuade them of the impossible.
Ann M. Altman
Ms. Bonadies – If Capitalism is so great, why aren’t people rushing to the Congo or Bangaladesh?? (See how stupid that sounds)
Democratic Socialism is NOT Socialism like in Venezuela, which is a dictatorship as well as socialist country.
There are many Democratic Socialism countries in Europe that are also capitalist free market countries. We should examine and emulate some of the European Democratic Socialism Capitalist countries programs that have great social support safety net programs and universal government paid healthcare.
For more information about democratic socialism capitalist countries that are successful and what each country’s government systems socially supportive programs are see link below-
I think that it’s really tiresome to keep equating Democratic Socialism with Communism or Socialist Dictatorship governments, when instead we should be looking at true Democratic Socialism governments which have Capitalist free markets and great social support programs and social safety nets that make those countries some of the very best when it comes to the standards of living and rank highest for the number of residents who are happiest in their country.
I’m glad our local Democratic Socialist elected officials are focusing on improving the Keefe Community Center so it can help provide services to the homeless, the poor and the hungry in the area. I’m glad they will be trying to get the Olin Powder Farm turned into a park. I’m glad they are fighting to have mental health supports made available for residents and to improve diversity and inclusion and equity in their district.
These are all worthy causes that will benefit their constituents that they represent.
I wish them success in their terms of service as elected officials.
Rather than rail against the alleged evils of the incoming Hamden administration as so many have done across social media perhaps the Hamden Republican Committee might take this time to reflect on the outcome of the recent election. Reflect on what they could have done better and the steps they might take to attain a different outcome in the next election. Specifically the lack of Republican council candidates for the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th districts. Hamden has 9 districts. It’s not hard to do the math. Republicans did not field candidates in 4 of the 9 districts in a heavily and historically Democratic town. Expecting to become the majority party under these circumstances is at best unrealistic.
Hamden will soon have a new administration. How about we let them get sworn in and give them a chance before prematurely relegating them to failure before they’ve taken their seats? There will be another election in two years.
Was it British PM Margaret Thatcher, or NHI’s Hamden Town Debt, that famously said:
The problem with socialism is that you eventually……..(fill-in-the-blank.)
Have fun Hamden property owners! At least us New Havenites have Yale to bail us out, while you have Quinnipiac’s Great Hunger Museum to bail you out….errrr..ummm…what is left of it.
These folks are members of DSA, so its fair to use DSA’s definition of “Democratic Socialism” to define their goals:
As one can see, it includes nationalization of major sectors of the economy, such as airlines, and worker co-operatives for business enterprises.
Heather: All those European welfare states have highly restrictive immigration policies. A lot of the US left wants open borders/Emma Lazarus immigration while giving everyone free, unlimited healthcare, etc. Our healthcare system is irrational, but many American left and right would recoil at a UK style system where healthcare is rationally allocated on the basis of quality adjusted life years.
“Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy.”
Bringing failed policies from the failed Third World states to America…. if socialism/communism was so great where it was instituted; why do they come here?????
Our socialist elements are few and that is enough. Get rid of socialism for corporations and our free enterprise system will do the rest on a level playing field.
Am I the only one to see the irony of being a socialist in a town whose union pension plans have pushed it to the brink of bankruptcy?
Hoping our new mayor does not mistake the message of her victory. Hamdenites are tired of riding mill rates . That sentiment largely drove Leng out of office. Not a yearning for a more socialist town governance.
With Justin returning as the senior elected Dem on the council, Abdul getting the most votes in his district, and Mariam getting the most votes out of any candidate in the primaries back in August, I think it’s pretty clear that voters in Hamden have a taste for the socialism that JAM is spreading!
I’m so proud of everyone who has taken a stand together, to fight against greedy landlords evicting our neighbors and build the better world we know is possible.
I hope more people feel inspired by JAM and join DSA today! Find out how at http://www.dsausa.org/join
Just a note about socialism. All the critics and scaremongers should bear in mind that capitalism ain’t doing so great for many Americans. For example,
“Some 40% of Americans would struggle to come up with even $400 to pay for an unexpected bill.
If — or, more likely, when — they’re confronted with such an expense, they’d probably have to sell something or go into debt. The now oft-cited figure comes from the Federal Reserve’s 2018 Survey of Household Economics and Decision Making, in which some 12,000 households were asked about their financial well-being.”
“In America, nearly 11 million children are poor. That’s 1 in 7 kids, who make up almost one-third of all people living in poverty in this country. This number should be unimaginable in one of the world’s wealthiest countries, and yet child poverty has remained stubbornly high for decades Across the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is made up of 37 countries including Denmark, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom, the United States is consistently ranked as one of the worst in child poverty rates.”
Ann M Altman
The Cancer is Hamden is Terminal and spreading faster and faster. $1.2B in Liabilities with $200M in illiquid assets. You think these three are a solid advertisement for economic development or prospective homeowners in the town?
It’s sad that the majority of Americans are so isolated and ill-informed that cold war buzz words like “socialism” or “communism” are considered a complete and legitimate argument. All that is needed is “SOCIALISM destroyed (insert name of foreign government that capitalists worked to undermine and ultimately destroy)!
Yet capitalisms, which is quickly eating itself and everything it touches is seen by many as a refuge for the poor and working class.
A thief may take everything that you have, but a capitalist will work tirelessly to make sure that you never have anything in the first place.
Those arguing “capitalism vs socialism” are missing the point on Hamden. These politicians are either naive or unrealistically optimistic about their future. The truth is Hamden will run out of cash soon (it may have already) and it can’t print money like the federal government. The only thing it can do is refinance (taking on more debt) or increase taxes and neither of those will increase economic development and thus growth.
The state of Connecticut (MARB) will be running Hamden’s finances soon enough – and deservedly so. Hamden has $1.2+ Billion in liabilities and the market value of their assets is probably ~$250M BUT those assets are DECLINING IN VALUE as debt and costs INCREASE. It does not matter what your political, or economic philosophy is when you don’t control your finances! Unfortunately, Connecticut has many of the same long-term issues.
As a state, we MUST lower taxes for the middle-class, lower their cost of living, suspend all anti-growth business mandates and repeal decades of failed economic policy. We need to prioritize the private sector over the needs of the public sector UNTIL we have achieved a much stronger balance sheet. A strong balance sheet attracts private investment and we will need it because places like Hamden (and there are many more) will require decades of state assistance before we dig them out of the mess they created for themselves. Until then all politicians and programs will have to wait unless those programs are sustainable or attract revenue from the private sector.
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