HARTFORD — A packed field of eight candidates running to succeed Democratic Mayor Luke Bronin offered a broad range of ideas and solutions to a spate of recent shootings and murders in the city that have made statewide news.
Six of the eight candidates spoke at length to CT Examiner and offered a variety of proposals from boosting mental health counseling and community policing to reinstituting the death penalty.
Democrats John Fonfara and Tracy Funnyed did not respond to repeated requests for interviews.
Arunan Arulampalam, the 37-year-old CEO of the Hartford Land Bank and the party-endorsed candidate, told CT Examiner he favors additional mental health resources for youth, creating more safe spaces for young people — keeping school open at night and during the summer for example — and creating an Office of Violence Prevention.
Arulampalam said the new office would coordinate the efforts of nonprofits working on crime prevention toward a unified strategy to “make sure that each person who is at risk of being a victim of crime or perpetrator of crime has the resources they need to be able to prevent crime before it happens.”
Most crime statistics in Hartford declined from July 29, 2022 to July 29, 2023, including murders (22 to 21), robbery, burglary, larceny and aggravated assault. Two categories showed marked increases: rape (from 28 reported to 35 reported) and auto theft (from 345 to 634).
Petitioning candidate Giselle Jacobs, a 59-year-old self-employed contractor, told CT Examiner she supports a gun buyback program, and hiring more diverse candidates and Hartford residents to be police officers in the city. She also says it’s essential for stakeholders to work together to address both actual crime and the perception of crime — that is not happening now, she claims.
“They [social service agencies] are not working in collaboration with each other; everyone is doing their own thing. You must work together and bring the resources together [to address the problem],” said Jacobs, who runs a nonprofit that works on breaking the intergenerational cycle of incarceration.
Petitioning candidate J. Stan McCauley, a 63-year-old freelance television producer, was the only candidate who put the crime woes straight at the feet of the city’s police chief, Jason Thody.
McCauley said getting Thody to resign or – if he is elected – firing him, is a cornerstone of his campaign.
McCauley alleges that Thody has been “soft on crime;” that the city doesn’t respect his leadership and that he’s the wrong leader for the department, which has about 374 officers but is authorized to have as many as 463.
“In order to have law and order, there has to be a culture that sets the tone for the city,” McCauley said. “They [officers] have lost control of the street. He is not a good police chief and he doesn’t have street smarts.”
Thody wasn’t available to respond to McCauley’s comments and repeated attempts over several days to reach the department’s public information officer, Sgt. Tyrell Jenkins, were unsuccessful.
McCauley said he’d support community-oriented policing, not just community policing in the city.
“Community-oriented policing engages the community to partner with the police in the policing process,” he said. McCauley said he’d bring together important city stakeholders – including activists, social services groups, and others – “to be a part of the conversation.”
Marc Greenstein, a 59-year-old West Hartford educator who plans on relocating to Hartford prior to the November elections, is, arguably, the most conservative of the candidates running.
Greenstein, who is running as an Independent, said he’d like to bring the police force up to 700 officers and reinstate the death penalty. He’s the only candidate running who spoke in favor of the death penalty.
“I think somebody who sees they might die might not commit the crime,” said Greenstein, who believes the death penalty is a deterrent.
“The next governor should reopen this [discussion] and appoint judges who will allow the death penalty,” he said.
Greenstein also said Bronin wasn’t “fervent enough” on the issue of crime and punishment and said he’d bring together stakeholders to look for solutions.
“It all starts with awareness,” Greenstein said. He said that, if elected, he’d push for more neighborhood revitalization zone meetings and would attend them on a frequent basis.
Eric Coleman, a 72-year-old former state senator and state Superior Court judge, has lived in Hartford since 1974. He told CT Examiner that he believes poverty is at the core of crime in the city and, he said, a Coleman administration would provide more resources for job training, counseling and mental health to get people “back on the straight and narrow.”
“I have lived experience and it’s very common and very similar to that of most of the poor people who are involved in crime,” Coleman said, “I think the approach of three strikes and you are out and lock away the key law and order approach is the wrong approach to take. It’s not to say that there should not be strict law enforcement and in appropriate circumstances strict punishment, but I think our approach over the years has been short-sighted.”
Nick Lebron, a 44-year-old Democratic mayoral candidate and the director of Catholic Charities for community schools, told CT Examiner that gangs and drugs play a big part of the crime problem in Hartford.
“We are facing an emergency status right now,” Lebron said. “I’d double down on the patrols in the city’s hot spots and have a task force related to gun violence.”
Lebron also said he’d team up with Sen. Chris Murphy, a gun control advocate, to “look at the assault-style weapons we have now on the streets” and look at creative ways to get those types of weapons off the streets.
Almost to a person, the candidates who spoke to CT Examiner, said it’s critically important to employ community policing, where officers spend more time walking the beat in the communities.
“Get to know the community; get to know the people,” Jacobs said of why she supports community policing. “They should focus on getting out of their patrol cars and walk down the block and meet the community.”
Arulampalam said “building community-based policing starts with cops walking a beat and building relationships in the community. The level of trust between the community and the police force just is not where it should be. It creates a more holistic approach to crime prevention.”
The candidates also touched on other issues related to crime and punishment that they said should be examined and addressed.
Jacobs said she believes parents playing more of a role in their children’s lives could lessen crime in the city.
“What I would do, which I believe is quite different from the other candidates, is work to ensure that parents become more involved in their children’s education and realize that education is key,” Jacbos said. She said the youth need more recreational and job opportunities and workforce training programs, something she’d push hard for if elected.
McCauley said it’s vitally important to partner, as mayor, with groups such as Hartford-based Mothers United Against Violence. McCauley said he’s the only candidate addressing the core issue, related to the police chief and his tenure, and that the other candidates want the status quo.
Greenstein said he favors more recreational opportunities and was a sponsor of a skate park in downtown Hartford called Hartford Heaven. “We have kind of shut ourselves down after 8 p.m,” Greenstein said, regarding the fall-out from COVID-19. He said he’d love for there to be things like midnight basketball again.
Coleman said he supports expanding afterschool programs and efforts to get more organizations like churches and places of worship to host such events.