Jon Green Leaving For New Job With Working Families Party
Leaving Connecticut, Moving To Role With National Party Organization
By JENNA CARLESSO
February 12, 2012
When the Working Families Party began in Connecticut, it was a one-man operation in a windowless, 10-by-10-foot "cell" in Bridgeport, its executive director, Jon Green, recalled.
A decade later, the fledgling political party has developed its clout, using its endorsement to support politicians it favors and even electing its own candidates to public office, including three members of the Hartford City Council. It has the support of unions that represent about 100,000 families statewide, and has successfully lobbied for legislation mandating paid sick leave in Connecticut.
"When I first moved to the state, I would tell people I'm building a third political party, and people really didn't know how to answer to that," said Green, 38."It was a very outlandish idea. But 10 years later I think most people in the political world think we bring something to the table.
"We're not a major political party in Connecticut, but there's no doubt we've built something that elevates the issues of working people."
Green will leave his post next month to take a job with the national Working Families Party, based in Brooklyn, N.Y. In his new role, he said, he'll work to build similar parties in other Northeast states. Working Families was founded 14 years ago in New York.
State party members say they hope to name a replacement for Green by March 1.
"They've really tried to show working people that they can have a voice in government," said House Speaker Christopher Donovan, who is running for 5th Congressional District seat and has been endorsed by the Working Families Party. "I've been impressed with their work and impressed with Jon."
Working Families has been regarded as less of a party than a coalition of labor unions and community activists who try to persuade politicians that support for their causes can translate to votes. In addition to support from unions, the group also has about 30,000 backers who participate in door-to-door canvassing or support the organization in other ways, Green said.
Green said the group focuses less on party enrollment and more on advocating for the issues. The Secretary of the State's office said there are 162 people registered with the party.
"I don't think the Working Families Party is like a typical third party," Green said. "We are fundamentally about the issues and advancing an agenda that helps working class people."
The party has long practiced fusion politics: cross-endorsing candidates from other parties — sometimes Democrats, sometimes Republicans — who support their causes. More recently, it began running some of its own party members, finding success in Hartford and Bridgeport.
In Hartford, the party has three seats on the city council and two on the board of education. In 2008, Urania Petit became the first third party registrar in the state, in Hartford.
Petit said she first met Green in 2006 when he spoke to her class at the UConn Graduate School of Social Work.
“He gave us hope when even I, at some point, didn’t think it could happen,” Petit said. “Until then, I had only believed in the two-party system. I think without Jon, we couldn’t have achieved the success we did in Connecticut.”
In Bridgeport, the party won two seats on the board of education, but lost them when the state took over the school board in July.
The party also was influential in the 2010 governor's race, Green said, rallying more than 26,000 votes for Dannel P. Malloy.
"He's been pretty smart about inserting himself and the organization into debates in ways that have gained them attention they probably hadn't been getting in the past," said Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy's senior adviser. "He's definitely made the Working Families Party more of a player and raised its profile."
The party's foray into the spotlight wasn't without its missteps. Last fall, Green was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine for lobbying without a badge between January and June. The Office of State Ethics said he failed to wear the required badge when he lobbied state legislators on the paid sick leave bill that passed last year.
But supporters brushed that aside, noting his accomplishments in bringing the party to prominence.
"The Working Families Party as it exists in Hartford would not have happened without Jon Green," Hartford city Councilman Luis Cotto, a party member, said. "I tend to think people appreciate our existence here because it adds a viable third voice to the conversation, and that's only possible because of Jon Green's vision."
Reflecting on the last 10 years, Green said he is proud of his efforts in building up the party.
"While the conservative tide has swept much of the country, Connecticut has really resisted that, and I think the Working Families Party has been no small part of that narrative," he said. "I feel like I'm leaving, at this point, with an organization that is stable and effective. I think we've made a difference."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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