By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
Cabrera, Farmer seek chance to challenge for 17th Senate District seat
A pair of Hamden Democrats are contending for the opportunity to challenge a two-term incumbent in the 17th Senate District.
Democratic voters in the district will decide between Jorge Cabrera and Justin Farmer at the Aug. 11 primary. The winner will carry the party’s banner into the November election against Republican state Sen. George Logan.
The district represents Beacon Falls, Bethany, Derby, Woodbridge and Ansonia as well as parts of Naugatuck and Hamden.
Cabrera, 46, has been a business representative for United Food and Commercial Worker’s Union Local 919, which represents 7,000 Stop & Shop workers, for 25 years. Cabrera, who’s married and has twin 15-year-old boys, received the Democratic endorsement to run for the seat.
“I’m running because our current state senator really doesn’t represent the values of the district. I’ve spent the last couple of years fighting for working families. Making sure they have health care, living wage jobs, advocating for public schools. It’s very important to me. I feel like I could do a better job than him (Logan) in representing the district and fighting for the things they need,” Cabrera said.
Cabrera ran against Logan in 2018 and lost a tight race after a recount. He said he has a base of support now and believes he’s in the best position to defeat Logan in November.
Although he didn’t receive the party’s endorsement to run, Farmer, 25, gained enough support during the Democratic caucus to earn a spot on the primary ballot.
“The 17th Senate District is diverse economically, racially and geographically, and with all the issues that we’re having, we need someone who is willing to do the hard work in the different communities,” Farmer said.
Farmer, who has Tourette’s syndrome and wears headphones because he’s sensitive to noise, is in his second term on the Hamden Legislative Council. He works with his mother, who owns a rental property. He serves on the board of directors of The Children’s Center of Hamden, a nonprofit behavioral health organization for children, and is a part-time student at Southern Connecticut State University.
Farmer believes there should be greater regionalization between municipalities instead of competing for resources, and more needs to be done to improve affordable housing in the state.
Farmer said a serious conversation needs to be had about zoning laws that push affordable housing to larger, urban cities.
“So, cities like New Haven, Bridgeport, Hamden will have a ton of affordable housing,” he said. “But then you’ll have neighboring communities like Guilford or North Haven fight tooth and nail and be like we don’t want affordable housing.”
Cabrera said the zoning laws that allow for concentrated pockets of poverty around the state make it more difficult to move people out of poverty and need to be looked at.
Both candidates see a housing issue on the horizon when a moratorium on evictions put in place due to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic expires in late August.
Farmer said tens of thousands of people could be without homes if the state doesn’t do more to solidify affordable housing.
Cabrera said he favors extending the moratorium.
“We need to keep people in their homes, that’s so critical. That’s a source of stability for children, that’s a source of stability for workers, many of whom are considered essential and working through this not making enough money to really maintain a family,” Cabrera said.
Cabrera feels the pandemic laid bare the radical income inequality in society. He said the top 1% of taxpayers aren’t paying their fair share.
“We need to make sure that we’re not letting the ultra-wealthy get away with not paying their fair share in taxes through tax gimmicks and other financial vehicles, like off shoring,” he said.
Cabrera said he wants to fight to make sure people can earn a living wage. He feels the minimum wage in Connecticut, which is set to increase to $15 in 2023, needs to be much higher than that, and the state needs to invest more in opportunities for students to get into trade jobs.
“I believe that people should be able to provide for their families with one job,” he said. “I meet too many people that have more than one job or they’re cobbling together part-time jobs to try to make ends meet.”
Farmer feels large technology and pharmaceutical companies need to pay more of their fair share in taxes.
“Our campaign team, we came up with a plan to tax tech giants and pharmaceutical companies,” Farmer said. “We at the state level have different abilities than the federal level.”
Farmer said it’s critical for community and people to come before politics. He feels the district isn’t getting the resources it needs, like funding for a regional fire training school and improvements to the Waterbury branch of Metro-North Railroad. He said state officials need to focus more on economic development in the district, and the key is improving transportation.
“I’m not here to be partisan. I’m here to make sure that my community is represented, so I vote my district and I vote my conscious,” he said.
Farmer said connections need to be made between the communities in the district so the municipalities see themselves as one.
“It’s making sure, one that we have someone on the ground who’s connecting those stories because if we don’t see ourselves in the same struggle, then we’re competing against other,” he said.
Cabrera, who has a degree in political science and formerly worked as legislative aide in Hartford, said the state needs to do a better job of creating a business-friendly climate. He said that means investing in infrastructure and making it easier for small and mid-size businesses to start and thrive.
Cabrera said he believes people deserve an opportunity to succeed. He doesn’t think that’s happening enough in the district or state.
“I lead with my values. I come from a working class family,” Cabrera said. “I truly believe that working families and middle class families deserve the opportunity to succeed and have hope for the future.”