By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer
HARTFORD – Former Hartford State Representative and North End political boss Abraham “Abe” Giles was buried shortly before noon on Tuesday. His passing marked a watershed moment in Hartford and the nation.
Giles, 84, died of pneumonia on Saturday, March 26 after several days in St. Francis Hospital. And up until his death, the Georgia-native was the staunch political boss every potential politician in the city sought out before a bid for office.
His charisma was unmatched in the community.
“He put all those black politicians in office,” said Thomas Armstrong, a business owner in the city’s Northeast section, Giles stronghold. “He made sure everyone who wanted to run come to him.”
Councilman Kenneth Kennedy agreed.
“Anyone who wanted to run had to go through Abe,” Kennedy said. In 1991 when Kennedy decided to run, he also had to pay a visit. “You could not be elected without Abe. He was the political Bishop of the 5th District.”
Tall, cocoa-skinned Giles was an unassuming man who spoke with a soft southern lilt that belied his political ferocity. From campaign worker in former President Dwight Eisenhower’s election to ward boss during the Black Power Movement in Hartford, Giles outlasted most of his political foes. His rivals included the political icons in the city’s Civil Rights Movement, including former State Reps. Wilbur Smith, Spike Jones and other black icons during the 1950s, 60s and 1970s.
Giles once said of his rivals, “I represent the average man in Hartford,” as he railed against educated Blacks who cornered the political landscape allotted to the black community during the post Civil Rights period. And while others earned a PhD in Southern colleges, Giles earned his Ph.D. in Jim Crow communities North and South.
Born in Jenkins County Georgia, Giles moved to Hartford in 1956 with his wife Juanita. He joined the Democratic Town Committee in 1966 and was appointed deputy sheriff in 1967. In 1973, Giles was elected to serve the 6th District. And he served for 16 years.
“I always felt he belong the people more than to the family,” said Radamas Vazquez, Giles adopted son.
Vazquez spoke of the day Giles visited his orphanage. Giles had showed up to adopt “just one child,” Vazquez said. A six-year old Vazquez began to cry and said he wouldn’t go without his sister and brother, Evelyn and Harry Figueroa. So Giles adopted all three.
Giles tender heart was reserved for family and friends, including his many nieces, nephews and grand children.
“My uncle was the only politician I liked,” said Gile’s niece, Mercredi Giles, 38.
To his political foes, however, he was a politician who “only cared about himself and his family.” And ambitious reporters were only interested in alleged malfeasances.
In December, Giles pleaded guilty to misdemeanor corruption charges in the city hall corruption case that led to former Mayor Eddie Perez resignation. A jury convicted Perez of five felony charges and sentenced to three years in prison. Perez appealed.
Giles plea-bargained to avoid prison and a felony conviction. He was instead sentenced to a six-month suspended term in prison and a one-year conditional discharge.
In the past when confronted with charges of political patronage and self-serving enterprises, Giles said, “I’m not a taker, I’m a giver.”
His friends agreed.
“He lived with us, he cared for us, he provided for us,” said Trude Mero, a long-time community activist, who sometimes finished Giles’ sentences.
Former gubernatorial candidate Bill Curry concurred.
“People came to communities because they love politics,” Curry said. “Abe came to politics because he loved his community.”
His community was in the northeast corner of Hartford, bound by Stowe Village and the Unity Plaza on Barber Street. It is also the poorest section in one of the poorest city in the state.
For some who live on Cleveland Avenue, a tight-nit enclave surrounding Giles home, he was the kind of guy who would give you a ride to the grocery store, or paid someone’s light bills.
He was also among a generation who fought a nation that stubbornly refused them civil rights and equal justice. He was among the spirited who changed not just a nation but also the world.
And he was a committed and lifelong member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said former Mayor Carrie Saxon Perry on Monday at St. Michael’s Church.
She concluded: “I will never speak of him in the past tense because his spirit is with us always.”
Featured Photo Credit: Inquirer News.