Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, who is running to replace Mayor John DeStefano Jr. this November, received the endorsement of a former opponent Wednesday afternoon.
Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina endorsed Elicker over Connecticut State Sen. Toni Harp ARC ’78 on the steps of City Hall in a notable victory for Elicker, who has struggled to compete against Harp for the city’s black vote. Carolina and former city economic development director Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 dropped out of the race after they placed behind Harp and Elicker in last week’s Democratic primary, with Carolina having received 8 percent of the citywide vote.
“Throughout our campaigns, we’ve shared similar thoughts and opinion on things, the most obvious being a clean and diverse government, one that is fiscally responsible, one that is transparent, and one that is inclusive and representative of all people,” Carolina said to an audience of his and Elicker’s supporters and other onlookers.
Carolina said that after he dropped out of the race, he received phone calls from people asking him whether he would endorse Harp, since she is a “black woman.” He evoked Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and said that Dr. King’s request that people judge others based on their character extended to all races — in this case, that the city’s black population not judge Elicker for being white.
Elicker accepted Carolina’s endorsement, explaining that Carolina “always kept [him] grounded” during debates and adding that choosing to endorse him was a “courageous” decision.
Elicker stressed that while he and Carolina are “from different backgrounds,” both of them have believed in clean elections and expanding power beyond the hands of a few. Both candidates opted into the Democracy Fund, the city’s public finance system that prohibited money from special interests or political action committees, and limited donation sizes to $370. Harp and Fernandez, meanwhile, did not use the Fund — an argument that Elicker has raised against Harp in recent days, accusing her of “pay-to-play” politics after her campaign accepted $9,000 from employees of a suburban business that lost a contract with the city two days prior.
“New Haven deserves a mayor who represents all of New Haven — not based on race, background, political connection or ability to write a check,” Elicker said. “Not based on politics, but based on people.”
While Elicker received less than half of the votes Harp did in the Democratic primary, he has long said he planned to run in the general election as an Independent to give the city’s non-Democrats a voice in the election. Carolina explained that the four-way primary race split votes, and that his endorsement may help change the shape of the general election. With Fernandez and Carolina no longer in the race, Elicker has argued, it is possible for him to prove a potent challenge to Harp when Independent, Republican and unaffiliated voters vote.
“I had a lot of support in the African-American community, Henry Fernandez had a lot of Hispanic support out there … and he drew a lot of that group away. Senator Harp drew a lot of women away. And the only thing left at that point for poor Justin, who was reaching out to everyone, was mostly a lot of whites throughout the city,” Carolina said. “Now with the cards being reshuffled, with no Henry and with me out of the race, people are going to look a lot closer at the difference between Justin and Senator Harp.”
Harp spokesman Patrick Scully said he does not think this endorsement “plays that much into the general election.” He pointed to the fact that Carolina only received 8 percent of the vote in the primary.
“People who voted for Mr. Carolina are Democrats: It was a Democratic primary. There’s a good chance that they’re going to stick with the Democratic nominee,” Scully said. “I think that Mr. Carolina is just taking a shot at the person who’s on top, and that’s Toni Harp. That’s fine: It’s not going to stop us from getting our message out from talking to every voter humanly possible and contrasting the visions and levels of experience [of Harp and Elicker].”
Yale for Elicker head Drew Morrison ’14 said that the endorsement did not come as a surprise because the two candidates agreed on many issues during the debates. Carolina’s endorsement, he added, demonstrates how Elicker is building a more diverse coalition following the primary and has helped to “engage people who otherwise would not be engaged.”
Clementine Salters, a member of Carolina’s campaign, echoed Morrison’s sentiment, explaining that she was not surprised by the endorsement either. She said that the unity between Carolina and Elicker will have a positive effect on the election.
Even though he is out of the race, Carolina said he will continue to campaign for Elicker.
“I will do everything in my power to make sure that Justin is mayor of this city,” he said.
Fernandez has not endorsed a candidate in the general election.