New London Green Party council candidate says criminal conviction not a secret

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Oct. 30—NEW LONDON — When Eddie Long was asked by members of the New London Green Party if there was something that might hold him back from running for City Council, he said he wanted to be upfront.

Long, 39, whose given name is Leon but appears on Tuesday's municipal election ballot as Eddie Long, took that opportunity with Green Party members to discuss his prior criminal convictions.

Public records show Long's criminal history includes convictions for two Class D felonies: second-degree strangulation and violation of a protective order. He additionally has a conviction for a violation of probation. Class D felonies are punishable by a maximum of five years in prison.

Long said he's never made it a secret but it's not something easily brought up in a conversation.

The domestic violence charge dates back to a July 7, 2013, arrest by Waterford police. Long ultimately received a fully suspended sentence and two years of probation, but spent several months in prison prior to sentencing.

In an interview Friday, Long was emotional and said the charges stemmed from an incident that started with an argument with his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his two children. A witness had reported he had strangled her. His ex-girlfriend was pregnant at the time and, based on court records, there was a protective order in place barring Long from contact with her.

While he did not provide further details, Long claims the incident did not happen as was reported and that his ex-girlfriend supported him in his subsequent attempt to have the charges reduced or dismissed.

The full details of the incident that led to the arrest were not immediately available from the state because of the length of time that has passed since the conviction. The Day filed a request with the state for court records on Friday, shortly after learning about the convictions.

Records show that in 2014, Long pleaded no contest to charges of second-degree strangulation and violation of a protective order and guilty to the violation of probation charge. In a no-contest, or nolo contendere, plea, a defendant agrees to accept a conviction and punishment but does not admit guilt.

By state statute, a person is guilty of second-degree strangulation or suffocation when a "person restrains another person by the neck or throat or obstructs such other person's nose or mouth with the intent to impede the ability of such other person to breathe ..."

"It was a long journey to get from there to here. Now my ex and I get along well, cooperate and coordinate," Long said. "I see my kids every single week. It was really a different time for all of us. I love and care about my children."

The Day became aware of Long's arrest record late Thursday after learning of Long's given name. Long said he is known by many of his friends as Eddie — his father is also Leon Long — and decided to use that name in his campaign run. The choice of names had nothing to do with his convictions, he said.

Long said the convictions were a consideration when he entered the political arena and at times serve as roadblocks to employment. He now works as the continuity director at Cumulus Media New London, is a member of the New London Arts Council and co-chair for Public Art for Racial Justice Education. He is a strong advocate for the arts community in New London.

"We've all made mistakes and some of them are grander than others," Long said. "We all have to support ourselves and work and make up for whatever we did wrong. I do find some salvation in my work but it doesn't change my past. It sucks."

New London Green Party Chairwoman Ronna Stuller said Long disclosed that he had a criminal record, but said party members believed "that his current contributions to the arts community and his ideas for economic development in the city provide a more relevant view of the value he could bring to City Council."

"We stand by that decision," she said.

"The Green Party supports criminal justice reform that focuses on restitution and restorative practices, and believe that past missteps should not prevent anyone from realizing their potential or serving the public good," Stuller said in a statement. "We have always advocated for observing people's struggles and providing the resources to overcome them, and are grateful to have Eddie bring his experiences and skills as he represents us, along with Kris (Wraight) and Keith (Kimball), this year."

Wraight is seeking a council seat and Kimball a spot on the Board of Education.

Daryl Justin Finizio, a lawyer and former New London mayor, said he's known Long for more than a decade and represented him in the past in noncriminal cases. He said he supports Long's run for a council seat, will vote for him and hopes others will, as well.

"He is a very good person that has a lot to offer the community," Finizio said. "I represent people all the time who have made mistakes. They learn from them and grow from them."

New London NAACP Vice President Tamara Lanier, a retired chief probation officer and former criminal justice chair for the state NAACP, said Connecticut has made strides in ensuring people are not discriminated against for having criminal records. The state cannot, for instance, automatically deny a job to an applicant based on a prior criminal conviction.

The state legislature, Lanier said, also has taken measures in recent years to strengthen domestic violence laws.

"None of us are infallible," she said. "I don't know what he's done since the (conviction) in terms of addressing his past issues."

While the charges are "alarming," Lanier said "the voters of New London will ultimately decide."

g.smith@theday.com

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