Abe Giles, Longtime Politician and Advocate For Hartford's Poor, Dies At 84
North End Power Broker Served 8 Terms As State Representative
By JENNA CARLESSO
March 27, 2011
HARTFORD —— Abraham L. Giles, an eight-term state representative and North End power broker hailed by his supporters as a tireless advocate for the city's impoverished, died Saturday. He was 84.
"He was a hard worker and he loved the community," said rJo Winch, city council president and a friend of Giles'. "He was loving and caring. Even when people wronged him, he never tried to get the person back. He just let it go. He tried to help people whenever he could."
Giles died at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center early Saturday, said John Kardaras, his attorney. Giles was admitted to the hospital on Monday with pneumonia, according to family members. He stopped breathing Tuesday morning but was resuscitated.
Giles had been in and out of the hospital in recent years, including a long stay in 2007 for colon and heart problems.
To many, Giles was a man who took good care of his constituents.
Others saw him as a deal-maker who always seemed to be in the news for the wrong reasons. He was one of the key figures in the corruption investigation that ensnared former Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez.
"While much is made about Giles' political [scandal], he was a remarkable man," said Kardaras, who had been Giles' friend for the past 12 years. "He was always working, always thinking. He was a giant in Hartford politics. His kind just doesn't exist anymore."
Giles was born in 1926 and raised in a working-class section of Savannah, Ga. He moved to Hartford in 1956 in search of work, landing a job in the stock room of a local typewriter factory and later as a laborer with a construction company.
Throughout his life he held a variety of jobs, including hotel clerk, deputy sheriff, supermarket owner, state marshal, bowling alley manager, real estate broker and cook. But his passion for politics was evident from the beginning.
In 1966, he became a member of the Hartford Democratic Town Committee, representing the 10th District. He won the seat again in 1970.
Two years later, he was elected state representative for the 4th House District — at the time, covering a large portion of the city's North End — after defeating incumbent Leonard G. Frazier by 56 votes in the Democratic primary. He survived subsequent primaries through what some described as old-school ward politics.
His career was tumultuous. Giles won primary victories with a margin as narrow as 36 votes in a three-way race in 1978 and as wide as 370 votes in a 1982 battle against Kenneth P. Green.
While his many supporters remembered him as the politician who stuck up for the little guy, his critics said he wasn't an effective legislator.
From 1976 to 1980, Giles was ranked last in three Connecticut magazine polls of legislators who were asked to rate their colleagues' performance. He was criticized in 1980 for missing a House vote on state aid to education, which his critics claimed cost Hartford millions of dollars.
But Democratic leaders have defended Giles' performance, calling him underrated and driven.
"He really believed in the power of politics to change both economic opportunities and the landscape of America," said John Kennelly, a former city councilman who described Giles as a longtime family friend. "He wore many hats, but his abiding passion throughout his life was politics.
Kennelly said Giles was "an incredibly generous man," who helped him from the time he was a boy.
"I remember being 8 years old and him taking me out and helping me walk my dog down Cumberland Street," Kennelly said. "He was an incredible people person, even with someone who was just 8 years old."
Later in life, he said, Giles assisted him in his 2001 and 2003 runs for city council.
"He was one of my first supporters," Kennelly said. "He taught me a great deal about Hartford politics."
Kardaras said he first met Giles while running for a state Senate seat in 1994.
"I met with him, he looked at me and he wrote me a check," Kardaras said. "You got a sense that when he looked at you it meant something."
Giles, a confident man, was known to go after what he wanted and was not afraid to take risks when it came to politics, Kardaras said.
"One of his favorite quotes was that some people may be smarter than him, some people could outthink him, but no one could outwork him," Kardaras said. "He worked until the end of his life."
In 1984, Carrie Saxon Perry, who would later become mayor of Hartford, told The Courant: "The reason he still hustles and he still has this drive is because he hasn't caught the brass ring yet. That's what propels him along."
Giles was a family man. He and his wife, Juanita, were married for 57 years and had three children and nine grandchildren.
"The man has done a lot for people who needed help," said Janet Appellof, a member of the Hartford Democratic Town Committee. "He was a political activist; he promoted people by going to their events and fundraisers. He was very active in the NAACP.
"He has pushed forward to do good things in the community."
Giles' run in the legislature ended in 1988 when he was defeated by Maria Sanchez. Giles ran again in 1990 after Sanchez died, but lost in a special election to Edna N. Negron.
His final run for office came in 2008, when he challenged Marie Kirkley-Bey for the state's 5th House District seat, but lost.
"Abe Giles was always committed to his community and constituents," Hartford Mayor Pedro E. Segarra said in a statement Saturday. "Our hearts go out to his family and our prayers are with them in this difficult time."
Giles ran into trouble when he was arrested in 2009 and charged with attempted first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny in connection with a city hall corruption investigation.
Prosecutors said that in 2007, then-Mayor Perez attempted to extort money from a private developer for Giles' benefit, and that, in return, Giles would secure votes for Perez, who was running for re-election.
The state contended that Perez exploited Giles' influence in the city's 5th District, steering lucrative no-bid parking lot deals and other business arrangements to Giles in exchange for a promise to deliver votes and ensure Perez the endorsement of the Democratic town committee.
Giles pleaded guilty to attempted fourth-degree larceny by extortion and conspiracy to commit fourth-degree larceny by extortion in December. He received a six-month suspended prison sentence and one year of conditional discharge, meaning no prison time.
Courant staff writer Hillary Federico contributed to this report.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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