Community building to politics, getting to know State Representative Robyn Porter
NEW HAVEN– Sitting inside the corner of Three Brothers Diner State Rep. Robyn Porter (D) of the 94th District reflects on her career and Connecticut’s economy as she looked toward the neighborhood she represents.
“I want to bring about change that will help the middle class instead of strip away the middle class, which is what’s happening right now,” said Porter.
Lack of tax revenue in Connecticut has forced state departments to cut budgets to help with the expected $220 million deficit in the state’s current fiscal year budget. With layoffs of state workers and with wages unable to keep up with the high cost of living Porter said middle class workers may revert to government assistance that won’t be able to help them.
“I just think that there’s an all out war on the middle class,” said Porter. “When they get laid off they’re coming back to these low wage jobs which doesn’t benefit us because they then qualify for earned income credit, SNAP, food stamps, medicaid; we have to subsidize them.”
Three Brothers Diner is located at the heart of Porter’s district. Its diverse neighborhoods range from homes that cost over a million dollars to sections of Newhallville, a neighborhood with the highest unemployment, crime and poverty rates in New Haven. The neighborhood Porter currently resides.
“I didn’t realize what Newhallville was to New Haven,” said Porter. “It was disheartening to see the condition of the neighborhood. We’ve gone from community, to neighborhood, to hood.”
Raised in Queens, New York by her grandmother Porter moved to New Haven in the summer of 2000 with her two children. After seeing gang related violence at a bar near her home Porter said she decided to join an organization that could help the community.
“Taurus Cafe is a spot that needs to be closed. It’s a bar where a lot of negative stuff goes on and it spills out into the street,” said Porter. “So then I got in involved in the Newhallville Community Resilience Team.”
The Newhallville Community Resilience Team is a non-profit organization dedicated to building neighborhood relationships by providing community events that help promote healthier lifestyles, open communications with law enforcement and provide weekend activities for kids.
Porter eventually co-chaired the organization and also worked for the New Haven Community Leadership Program.
“She’s a go-getter and very committed to follow through on helping the community,” said Teresa Smith Hines, co-chairwoman of the Newhallville Resilience Team who co-chaired with Porter. “I remember we held a health fair for the community members and I remember her as a very engaging individual with an uplifting spirit.”
Porter said her upbringing in New York has shown her the importance of a strong community and had influenced her to join both organizations.
“My grandmother raised me and our house was a revolving door. If you needed flour, sugar, five dollars, or a kid got to an argument with his mom and needed to sleep on the couch, we helped. It was that kind of house. The door was never locked,” said Porter.
But her commune-esque childhood didn’t mask the struggles one faces when living in less affluent areas of urban America.
“I’ve seen friends get beat down by police officers for no reason…I’ve had somebody die in my arms, I’ve seen someone I know laid out in the park with his brains blown out,” said Porter.
Her life experiences was god’s way of preparing her for the capitol and her voice is now a medium for the disenfranchised she said.
“As someone who has those experiences I have to be able to convey that in a way that helps [legislators] stop and think about issues in a different way,” Porter said. “What I’ve been through, my perspective, is what I need to bring because you have people sitting in positions of power making decisions for people who they don’t understand, culturally or otherwise.”
Since sworn into the state’s House of Representatives in April 2014 Porter has introduced four bills. Among them was a proposal for a new halfway house for female ex-offenders reentering New Haven County and additional funding for the Juvenile Justice and Policy Oversight Committee. She’s a co-sponsor of five other bills, one of them proposes a mandatory 30 hour work week for maintenance workers.
Recently she was able to help push through the Excessive Force Bill as part of Gov. Malloy’s Second Chance Act. The bill requires police officers to wear body cameras and cases involving a person’s death while in custody must be examined by outside investigators.
“It was really a bill to address the issues we were seeing across the United States with people of color and how they were being brutalized by police,” said Porter. “It was to implement a level of accountability, a way of checks and balances, within the police department.”
With both Republicans and Democrats agreeing to pass the bill Porter said she’s willing to work with anyone for good policy and not personal agendas. But knowing how to debate and negotiate constructively toward mutual agreements while maintaining boundaries is difficult.
“Being there, at the capitol, is not easy,” said Porter. “There’s a lot that goes on there and it’s a process, a system. You have to learn how to operate within the system and still maintain your character and your integrity. That’s a big feat.”
Representative Robyn Porter shares her personal experiences with domestic violence at front of the Judiciary Committee in Connecticut.