Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 officially declared his candidacy for mayor to a crowd of over 100 people Thursday night.
In an event held at Cafe Manjares on Whalley Avenue, Elicker laid out his vision for the Elm City and spoke about the need for education reform, greater fiscal responsibility and the development of neighborhoods beyond downtown. Elicker, whose opponents include 19-year Mayor John DeStefano Jr., emphasized that New Haven residents have expressed a desire for a “new direction” and a “two-way government that listens.”
“I hear from people that they want their next mayor to be someone who hears them out, who respects their ideas and incorporates their input into the plans that they make — someone who brings new energy and excitement to their government,” Elicker said. “I will be that mayor.”
As attendees passed around volunteer sign-up sheets, Elicker spoke about some of the initiatives he hopes to implement as mayor, such as participatory budgeting that would give individual neighborhoods more authority to determine their priorities in the allocation of city funding.
He also stressed that additional education reform is necessary, adding that despite a $1.5 billion investment by the city in New Haven Public Schools over the last 20 years, more work remains to be done. Elicker cited three education improvements that are ready to be implemented immediately: increased transparency and parental involvement in the school district, funding for early childhood education and a new focus on what Elicker described as “technology and life skills.”
The mayoral candidate also stressed the need for an independent school board — as the entire board is currently appointed by the mayor under city charter — and criticized the politicization of development projects.
“Developers need to feel that they don’t have to contribute to political campaigns to play ball in New Haven, and if I am mayor, I will end that practice,” Elicker said to applause. “If you are a developer, you need not give to the DeStefano campaign today because you won’t need to play ball after November of this year.”
Also running for mayor are DeStefano, who after over 19 years in office is currently serving his 10th term, and Sundiata Keitazulu, a plumber and New Haven resident. State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield said he plans on making a decision about whether to run at the end of this month, although he has previously suggested that he will run.
Elicker contrasted his community outreach efforts in the last few months — which included attending the Newhallville toy drive, city park advocacy groups and Hill Community Management Team meetings — with what he said was minimal involvement on the part of the other two candidates.
“Do you know who was not there 99 percent of the time? The two other guys who are talking about running for mayor,” Elicker said.
Also present for Elicker’s mayoral announcement was Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04, who has said that he is officially supporting Elicker for mayor and that he is “proud of him” for using public financing, which limits the total amount of money that candidates can spend. After helping to create the system nearly a decade ago, DeStefano abandoned public financing in 2011 after criticizing the system for failing in its aims of generating new candidates and becoming subsumed in “bureaucratic nonsense.”
After Elicker’s speech, Tim Holahan, a Westville education activist and friend of Elicker, asked supporters to make donations to the campaign. Because Elicker has opted to use public financing, individual contributions may not exceed $370.
Attendees interviewed said they hoped Elicker would use his experience as an alderman to stay in touch with neighborhood issues as mayor. Katha Cox, who has lived in New Haven all her life and volunteers at Fair Haven School, said Elicker was responsible for bringing the East Rock Park back to life. She added that she thinks Elicker has promoted fiscal responsibility on the Board of Aldermen.
Many supporters said they were excited by the prospect of a fresh face in the mayor’s office after DeStefano’s two-decade tenure, a theme that Elicker riffed on in his speech.
“DeStefano’s been in office for 20 years. I’m 37 years old, and I haven’t done anything for 20 years,” Elicker said. “The only thing I really want to do for 20 years straight is to be married to my wife.”
DeStefano, who had said he will not rely on public financing, outspent his previous opponent by a 14-to-1 margin.
Correction: Jan. 28
A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that individual contributions may not exceed $375 in the city’s public campaign financing system.