For many residents casting their vote this November, the issue of racial equality is one that will heavily influence their decision.
With events like the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — two unarmed Black citizens who died at the hands of law enforcement — happening just this year, and with a recent and controversial police accountability law having been passed in Connecticut over the summer, it is undeniable that racial issues will be “on the ballot” for some.
In the election for the 90th State House District, incumbent Republican Craig Fishbein (R-90) found himself in hot water for reposting a meme online earlier this year that many criticized for being racist, which sparked his Democrat challenger Jim Jinks to get into the race.
“I originally had no intention at all to run,” Jinks said. “I was happy with where I was on the Council, and was not thinking about it at all.”
Jinks, who just last year was elected to serve on the Cheshire Town Council, was settling into his new position when Fishbein retweeted a meme of Vice President Joe Biden with the caption “If you aren’t setting fire to buildings, then you ain’t black.” The Tweet eventually led to Fishbein being censured by the Wallingford Town Council, on which Fishbein currently serves in addition to his position as a state representative.
After Jinks saw Fishbein’s retweet, and the subsequent backlash that followed, he decided to challenge the incumbent.
“I started to realize that people who look like me, who are male and white, can choose to ignore racism when they are confronted with it,” Jinks explained. “I ultimately had no choice. I couldn’t just ignore what he did, and I decided to run against him.”
Fishbein has continued to insist that his retweet was not meant with any racist intent, stating that it was instead an “albeit awkward attempt at trying to point out the racial double standard which exists on the left.” While Fishbein admits retweeting the meme with no context or clarification was a mistake, he insists that the purpose of it was not to express racists sentiments.
“If my act was a racist act, which I believe it was not, where are the Cheshire Democrats and Jim Jinks when Vice President Biden says things like this?” he asked. “Jim Jinks and the Cheshire Democrats are quite boisterous when things like this happen. Those on the left like to weaponize racial issues when it suits them.”
Meanwhile Jinks sees this as classic ‘“whataboutism” and is concerned about how Fishbein sees himself.
“Whatever he claims to have been trying to do, his racist retweet was denounced by the Republican Town Committees in both Wallingford and Cheshire,” Jinks added. “Craig seems to be the only one unaware of how his actions were so wrong and hurtful.”
Fishbein also condemned Jinks for focusing on his social faux pas rather than his actual policy.
“I worked on a number of bills this year which addressed racial inequality that Jim and the Democrats don’t seem to want to talk about,” he said. “I worked on a bill which helps minority teachers get hired to elementary positions, as well as a bill which would stop the requirement of people in Connecticut looking to get a marriage license from having to list their race on the paperwork.”
This year, Fishbein says that he and his team have worked tirelessly on addressing the issues that impact his constituents the most, and in 2020 that means helping residents and small businesses navigate the uncharted waters of pandemic relief.
“At the peak, we were fielding over 20 calls a day for residents who were trying to get their paycheck from the Department of Labor,” Fishbein mentioned. “I am dedicated to ensuring that my constituents have the ability to access life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
While Fishbein hopes his record will speak for him at the ballot box, Jinks is determined to get his face out there to as many residents as possible and explain the difference between him and the incumbent.
“Craig has served for a long time, and I no longer think he represents the mindset of the people he is in charge of representing,” Jinks cautioned. “I don’t consider myself to be a very partisan person, I just want to help people get the things they need to live a successful life.”
Jinks, who has a Master’s degree in public policy from Trinity College, is focused on bringing a positive and fresh outlook to the 90th District.
“Craig’s style of governing just doesn’t make people feel inspired by their government anymore,” Jinks added. “I want to change that.”
Fishbein, however, sees Jinks’ lack of experience as a key difference between them, stating that his Democratic challenger is uninformed when it comes to what it takes to represent the 90th District.
“You see, the thing about Jim Jinks is, he doesn’t know anything about Wallingford,” he lamented. “I think my position, and what I know about both towns, is a solace for some Cheshire residents.”
Fishbein pointed to the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias, when thousands of Cheshire residents were without power for days on end while many Wallingford residents had no issue. A big part of that is because Wallingford has its own public power utility, something which Fishbein believes could help Cheshire in the future.
Understanding the unique needs of both towns can help to find common solutions to issues, Fishbein insisted.
Jinks, however, dismissed Fishbein’s criticism, claiming he knows Wallingford a lot better than Fishbein gives him credit for, having spent considerable time in the municipality.
“As a state representative, the job is to serve the people of the entire district. Voters in Wallingford and Cheshire have the same concerns — staying safe and healthy, rebuilding and making progress after COVID, good schools, jobs, seeing their kids grow up and thrive, taxes, lowering the costs of health care, energy, housing and making a middle class life more attainable and sustainable,” Jinks explained. “I spend a lot of time shopping and going to restaurants in Wallingford. I recently bought a car in Wallingford. I have a lot of friends in Wallingford … I could go on and on, but the job is about providing service to voters and I have a strong track record of doing so.”
The one thing that both Fishbein and Jinks do agree on, however, is that whoever wins the 90th District will need to be more accessible than ever to residents who are facing uncertain times in due to the economic downturn caused by the global pandemic.