April Capone on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven.”
by PAUL BASS | May 1, 2020 2:48 pm
April Capone has a story to tell voters. And she has a story to tell her potential future colleagues in the state legislature.
One story is about a hurricane. The other story is about a town that endured a national controversy over violent, racist policing — and emerged stronger.
April Capone told those two stories on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven,” one day after she announced (via Zoom, from her kitchen) that she is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 34th State Senate District seat being vacated by Len Fasano.
Capone, who works at Yale New Haven Hospital’s Center for Living Organ Donors, served as East Haven’s mayor for four years, through 2011. They were momentous years. The two stories she told reflected themes of her State Senate campaign. (She faces a fellow Democrat, Aili McKeen, for the party’s nomination.)
A group of renegade cops, including the chief, for years were falsely arresting and brutalizing people of color, especially immigrants. They were fabricating evidence and targeting their enemies — who included April Capone, who as the town’s first female mayor, didn’t sit well with the boys. They even arrested her on an invented “interfering” charge she had to get thrown out of court.
The Justice Department sent a team of investigators who, at peril to their lives, exposed the crooked cops, convicted them, and won a consent decree clearing out the department’s ranks and bringing dramatic change.
At one point, a security expert offered Capone advice, given the reason she had to fear for her life, Capone recalled.
“Don’t go anywhere alone,” the expert instructed. “Don’t tell anyone where you’re going. Vary your routine. Don’t make your schedule public.”
Capone promptly rejected all the advice.
“I had a job to do,” she said. “I was the mayor. People depended on me.
“I always knew I was on the right side of history.”
If elected to the state legislature, Capone said, she would like to support the ongoing efforts of New Haven State Rep. Robyn Porter and State Sen. Gary Winfield to increase police accountability and transparency and improve community relations with law enforcement.
“I have a story to tell to other suburban mayors, other suburban legislators,” she said: “Change does happen. It doesn’t happen by itself.”
She also expressed “gratitude” to the town opponents who fought her during her years as mayor: “The people who threaten you and try to intimidate you and bully you — they taught me how to be tough and persevere. I’m grateful ... for those calluses.”
From Irene To Covid-19
Capone’s other story involved 2011’s Hurricane Irene, which hit her coastal town particularly hard.
She recalled visiting Cosey Beach on Saturday, hours before the storm. The sun shone on the water. She had to make a tough decision — ordering an evacuation of the homes near the water. She knew it was a hard sell.
“It’s beautiful,” the neighbors told her that day. “You’re crazy! We’re not going anywhere.” Capone explained her position and held her ground. The evacuations took place. The storm lashed the coastline. No one died. Or got injured.
Her lesson: In tough times a leader needs to make tough decisions in advance, even if they sometimes seem extreme — and then face constituents, explain the decisions. She also spoke about running East Haven in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, helping people access aid to rebuild their lives and the local economy.
Now Covid-19 has confronted Connecticut with its greatest challenge in at least a generation. It needs leaders who can step up and tackle the economic and public-safety challenges, and deliver constituent help, Capone argued. That’s a main reason she decided to return to the campaign arena and seek elective office after a nine-year respite. (The district includes East Haven, Wallingford, and parts of Durham and North Haven, where she now resides.)
Capone is running to be a “lobbyist,” she said. She offered this definition of the term: “A legislator is a lobbyist for the district,” making sure it gets the state aid it needs and making sure individuals can access government’s help.
As an adjunct professor at Gateway Community College, Capone offers her students this take on government: “Government is a vehicle to help us solve together the problems that are too big for any one of us to solve alone.”
Click on the above video to watch the full interview with April Capone on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven.” And click here for a story by CT News Junkie’s Christine Stuart about Capone’s campaign and the broader challenges of seeking office during a pandemic.