A large map of New Haven, its wards outlined in different colors based on the priorities of mayoral challenger Justin Elicker’s SOM ’10 FES ’10 campaign, adorns the wall of Drew Morrison’s ’14 Branford suite.
Morrison leads Yale for Elicker, the most visible attempt of a mayoral candidate to curry favor of Yale students registered to vote in the Elm City. In the wake of Elicker’s loss to State Sen. Toni Harp ARC ’78 in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary and his subsequent decision to run as an independent in the November general election, the group introduced a new initiative Tuesday, dubbed the Elicker Organizing Fellowship, that is aimed at both denting Harp’s formidable organizational advantage and taking advantage of the large number of independent voters in the city.
“The main difference [between the primary and general elections] is numerical — scale,” Morrison said. “There are going to be a lot more voters.”
The majority of Yale students are unaffiliated with a political party, making them ineligible to participate in the Democratic primary. According to Morrison, Yale for Elicker’s main objective is to bring those students to the polls on Nov. 5.
Harp exhibited a superior get-out-the-vote effort when she won a convincing victory in the primary. With the organizational support of New Haven’s major unions, the state senator drew the support of nearly half the New Haven Democrats who voted. It was Elicker’s disadvantage in the turnout realm, Morrison said, that provided the impetus for the Elicker Organizing Fellowship.
The unpaid fellowship, according to Morrison, currently includes around 10 students, most of them freshmen and sophomores. Each of the fellows will be assigned a piece of turf for which they will be responsible in the seven weeks until the election. They will also be charged with implementing much of the campaign’s social media strategy, in particular managing the Facebook pages of the Elicker Yale contingent and the campaign at large.
Brynne Follman ’17, one of the program’s first recruits, said she joined the program after learning about Elicker’s education policies. On Tuesday night, Follman sat in Morrison’s suite as Morrison elucidated the dynamics of the city’s politics and provided a how-to on local political organizing.
Meanwhile, the Harp campaign plans to continue its work on campus. According to Harp Field Director Michael Harris ’15, several dozens students volunteered for the state senator over the summer and are continuing their efforts on campus. Although there is no Harp equivalent of the Yale for Elicker group, the campaign is working in conjunction with Students Unite Now, an affiliate of Yale’s Unite Here unions, to persuade Yale students to support Harp. The campaign is also working with Ward 1 Alderman Sarah Eidelson’s ’12 campaign to canvass throughout the ward and plans to bring Harp to canvass several more times before the election.
“We’re interested in making sure we involve Yale students as much as possible,” Harris said.
Both candidates face an uphill battle to turn out Yale voters. In the Sept. 10 primary, only 223 residents voted in Ward 1, which is composed mostly of Yale’s Old Campus and eight of its residential colleges. Elicker received 108 of those votes, with only 47 going to Harp. Former candidate Henry Fernandez took 61, while Hillhouse High School principal Kermit Carolina picked up the last seven.
Harris said that the low turnout was no surprise, as municipal primaries have a historically low turnout in Ward 1, largely due to students’ arrival on campus less than three weeks before voters go to the polls. However, a contested aldermanic race and the efforts of the mayoral candidates on campus, Harris said, will increase voter participation in the general election.
Although Elicker has maintained the most visible presence on campus, the candidate sought to distance himself from the notion that he is focusing on Yale more than other neighborhoods. Instead, he said, the on-campus balance between his presence and Harp’s is representative of their efforts throughout the city.
“Toni investing less time in Yale doesn’t mean that I’m focusing more on Yale,” Elicker said. “I just invest more time everywhere.”
Yale Democrats Communications Director Tyler Blackmon ’16 said that despite traditionally low turnout in Ward 1, mayoral candidates have a responsibility to seek the votes of Yale students.
“There are as many votes here as there are in any ward,” Blackmon said. “All the mayoral candidates should be reaching out to all parts of the community, and Yale is part of the community.”
Blackmon said that the Dems will spend the fall registering freshmen and encouraging Yale students to vote. Although the group will not endorse a candidate in the mayoral contest, it has thrown its weight behind Eidelson.
In 2011, 963 Ward 1 residents voted in the election between Eidelson and challenger Vinay Nayak ’14.