Fernandez leads funding race two months to primary

Mayoral race
Photo by YDN.

With two months left before the Democratic primary election, the five remaining candidates in the race to replace Mayor John DeStefano Jr. are trying make the most of the most recent campaign finance filing report.

Former city economic development director Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 leads the race in total money raised, claiming a total of $177,081 in the period ending July 10. Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, who has the highest number of donations, has raised $127,939, and State Senator Toni Harp followed with $111,341 raised. Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina and plumber Sundiata Keitazulu, who raised  $33,435 and $1,360, respectively, have the highest percentages of donations from within New Haven.

According to campaign filings, Fernandez received 83 donations of $1,000 or above; Harp received 45 such donations. Meanwhile, Elicker, Carolina and Keitazulu have committed to the Democracy Fund, New Haven’s public financing system for mayoral candidates, which prohibits them from accepting any donations above $370.

“There are clearly people who are just writing $1,000 checks. Elicker is interesting because he has so many contributions from so many people, yet Fernandez and Harp have fewer contributions but at much higher dollar numbers and so many from out of the city,” said Gary Doyens, a community activist. “The question is: Do these contributions reflect support in the community?”

Fernandez’s average individual contribution is about $400, according to the New Haven Independent. Based on information provided by the Harp campaign, the average contribution for the state senator is about $223. Elicker reported his average donation to be $87.

The majority of Carolina’s donations have been $10 contributions from people who typically do not donate to campaigns, Carolina said. He added that while other candidates may need to raise money to “buy votes,” the majority of his campaign staff is unpaid and he  has lower expenses than his competition.

Just over 25 percent of Fernandez’s contributions are from New Haven, with support also coming from Washington, D.C and New York City. Similarly, about a third of Harp’s donations are from New Haven, though over 90 percent of her donations are from Connecticut. On the other end of the spectrum, 77 percent of Elicker’s and over 90 percent of Carolina’s and Keitazulu’s donations are from New Haven. Many of Elicker’s donations are from the Cedar Hill and East Rock areas, where he serves as alderman.

“If we’re talking about representing residents of this city, then why shouldn’t campaign money come from New Haven?” Carolina said. “If you’re receiving exorbitant amounts of money from outside the city, these are special interest guys giving money.”

Jason Bartlett, Harp’s campaign manager, attributed part of this difference to the requirements of qualifying for the Democracy Fund: In order to qualify, candidates must gather 200 contributions from New Haven residents. He said that Harp now has more time to fundraise in the city, as  she was busy with her work in the legislature until about three weeks ago.

Though Fernandez could not be reached for comment, community activist and Fernandez supporter Charlie Pillsbury said that voters should evaluate candidates based upon what they have done and not necessarily on their fundraising.

“In the end, I can assure you that whoever is elected is not going to be controlled by donations from Pittsburgh, or wherever the money is coming from, the same way you need to worry when you deal with legislative or congressional races,” Pillsbury said. “Unfortunately, mechanisms for public funding are inadequate. Lots of people ask why Fernandez isn’t using the Democracy Fund, but the question is, why doesn’t the Democracy Fund work for Fernandez?”

Elicker, who cannot accept donations from political action committees due to his participation in the Democracy Fund, admitted that fundraising has been more difficult due to the limitations from the Fund.

“I would be able to raise more money if I were not participating in the Democracy Fund,” Elicker said. “But the Fund is important because it makes sure that we’re focusing on smaller contributions as well, and in the end, if I win, I’m not going to owe things to the people that gave me $1,000 contributions or attack money.”

Still, Elicker said that while participating in the Fund restricts him to lower dollar amounts, he leads the group in number of donations at 1,069 contributions thus far. Harp is next, with 533 donations, Fernandez follows with 413 contributions, and Carolina and Keitazulu close the pack with 265 and 40 donations, respectively. Some donations are from the same person, as people can donate multiple times to a campaign as long as the total is under the legal cap.

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