City judge may run for mayor

New Haven Judge Jack Keyes, 63, told the News on Friday that a “life in politics” has pushed him to consider running for mayor.

The probate judge said that he will make his decision on whether to run within the next two weeks, and that he cannot legally discuss his candidacy publicly until he resigns from his position as judge. Keyes, who runs a law practice with State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, has helped establish funds to aid impoverished guardians with taking care of children and has served as board president of Life Haven, a shelter for city women and their newborn children. Keyes said that he has to “wait until everything is lined up properly” to ensure that he complies with all legal rules regarding what he can say in his position as probate judge.

“I don’t like an orange jumpsuit, and I don’t like prison,” Keyes said. “I will decide promptly. I’ve got to search my soul and see if I can find anything.”

Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez also announced last week that he is not planning to run for mayor this November. If he had run, Perez was expected to receive the support of a majority of aldermen as well as the backing of the Democratic Town Committee and the city’s unions, which would have given him a substantial advantage in the election.

“I have never said I am going to run,” Perez said on Friday.

If Keyes resigns and officially files his papers with the city clerk to run for mayor, he will become the fourth official candidate in this November’s race, joining Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, Connecticut State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield and Sundiata Keitazulu, a plumber.

Elicker said that potential new candidates will not change his campaign’s approach to the election.

“We as a campaign are focusing on the fundraising side of things right now, and then in April, we’re going to start switching to field operations where we’re going to get a lot of volunteers going door to door in different neighborhoods throughout the city, identifying more supporters and getting out our message,” Elicker said. “That doesn’t change no matter how many people or who gets in the race.”

Holder-Winfield could not be reached for comment.

Other potential candidates include Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina, former Chamber of Commerce President Matthew Nemerson and former city Economic Development Administrator Henry Fernandez. Carolina said that he is still in the process of deciding whether or not to run for mayor, and that he is “strongly considering” the option.

“I want to assemble a team of diverse residents throughout the city — I’m talking about diversity in terms of race, gender and neighborhood — and I want to sit and listen to them and have the opportunity to gauge the potential of my candidacy and what it could be,” Carolina said.

Both Elicker and Holder-Winfield have said that they are dedicated to using the Democracy Fund, New Haven’s public campaign finance program for mayoral candidates. Keyes, however, said he is still unsure whether he would opt in to the system if he were to run for mayor.

Keyes said that the Citizens United decision, in which the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political contributions from corporations and unions, has had a “huge negative impact” on campaign finance, and that the ability for political action committees to give candidates sums of money is a factor he must consider when making the decision to use public finance.

“You have to see if everyone else [running for mayor] is using [the Democracy Fund], and you have to see if the rules are still effective,” Keyes said. “It’s a great idea, but the real question is, is it real?”

Perez said that this November’s election is going to be a “competitive mayoral race,” and that while he thinks the Democracy Fund has great potential, he will not be able to gauge its success until after the election.

Keyes served as the city clerk from 1980 to 1986.

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