Over Yorkside pizza and cake on Saturday, mayoral candidate Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 made his pitch to Yale students for why he should receive their votes in the Democratic primary just over a week away.
Hosted by Yale for Elicker and held in the cavernous Dwight Hall common room, the event allowed Elicker to present both his vision for the entire city and his stance on issues pertinent to Yale. The 19 students present half an hour into the two-hour event comprised both Elicker supporters and undecided voters. In both individual conversations with students and his speech to the entire group of attendees, Elicker emphasized his commitment to public service, dislike of rhetoric and reliance on well-researched policy.
“What makes me feel meaningful is public service and making people’s lives better,” Elicker told the group. “So many politicians are not focused on the solution and are just focused on getting re-elected.”
Elicker began his speech after mingling with small groups for 30 minutes, discussing his personal background, the state of the mayoral race and what distinguishes him as a candidate. He also touched on issues ranging from public finance to the role of the mayor.
In a jab at Toni Harp, who Elicker said he considers his most formidable opponent, the alderman emphasized that 80 percent of his donations come from within New Haven, whereas 70 percent of Harp’s are from beyond the city’s borders. He also suggested that several campaign promises — Harp’s of 10,000 jobs for the city and Henry Fernandez’s of youth centers in every neighborhood — were unrealistic and that he is the most pragmatic candidate in the race.
After speaking, Elicker answered several questions from students. Although most asked questions that allowed the candidate to expound upon his platform, emphasizing issues such as sustainability and continuing positive Yale-New Haven relations, one student, Phil Esterman ’17, who said he came to the event to help decide which candidate to support, adopted a tougher line of questioning, asking Elicker how he has reached out beyond his ward.
“I’m not just the East Rock alderman,” Elicker replied, saying that he had canvassed and phone banked in every neighborhood of the city.
When asked about his question later, Esterman said he found Elicker’s response genuine, and that he appreciated the alderman’s emphasis on policies that “transcend” class and race. Nevertheless, the freshman, who said he would vote for Elicker, added that he still harbors doubts about the candidate’s ability to relate to constituents across the Elm City.
Saturday’s event continued the Elicker campaign’s pattern of maintaining a strong presence on Yale’s campus. Last week, the candidate toured campus, even helping some freshmen move into their dorm rooms. Aside from his personal presence, Elicker has relied upon a small group of students, Yale for Elicker, to promote his candidacy.
But despite his presence on campus, Elicker, like the other three mayoral candidates, has struggled to engage Yale students in significant numbers. Yale for Elicker leader Drew Morrison ’15, however, suggested that more students will vote in the Nov. 5 general election than in the Sept. 10 primary. Elicker has said that if he loses the primary, he will run as an independent in the general election.
Elicker has also had to contend with the strong name recognition of Harp, who is endorsed by aldermen Sarah Eidelson ’12 and Jeanette Morrison, both of whom represent parts of Yale’s campus. Ben Ackerman ’16, who came to Saturday’s event, said that Harp’s endorsements, which also include Sen. Chris Murphy and Gov. Dannel Malloy, comprise most of his knowledge of the campaign.
Elicker was the first contender to enter this year’s mayoral race, declaring his candidacy on Jan. 23.