Two major New Haven names lent their support to the Elm City’s mayoral candidates on Friday and Saturday.
For Toni Harp ARC ’78, the endorsement came in the form of Sergio Rodriguez, an alderman and former candidate for city clerk. Elicker, a day later, brought in the endorsement of former Congressman Bruce Morrison ’73. While Morrison’s endorsement carried the weight of having served in the House of Representatives, he has lived away from New Haven since leaving his seat in 1991. Rodriguez, meanwhile, remains an active member of the New Haven community.
Whether New Haven voters will deem either supporter’s opinion significant enough to change the name they check on the polls on Nov. 5, though, remains unclear. Both endorsements were attended almost entirely by supporters of one candidate or the other, meaning that few attendees were likely to base their votes on the events.
Harp was the first to pick up an endorsement this weekend, with Rodriguez throwing his support behind her at Orangeside Luncheonette, at which Harp campaign staff frequently have breakfast. Rodriguez emphasized Harp’s record in the state senate and Board of Aldermen, as well as her commitment to the underrepresented as reasons for his support.
On Saturday morning, Elicker drew Morrison’s endorsement, whose son Drew Morrison ’14 leads Yale for Elicker, the campaign’s on-campus branch. The younger Morrison introduced both his father and Elicker as “rabble rousers” standing up to the democratic establishment. The elder Morrison, who began his involvement in the city as a legal aide, based his endorsement on Elicker’s work on housing, public safety and education. Beyond speaking to the issues though, Morrison took on the dynamics of the race, in which the establishment-backed Harp has long held the frontrunner’s seat.
“This election is not decided,” Morrison told the crowd. “This election is being decided each and every day up until election day.”
Rodriguez’s endorsement came a week after he conceded defeat in his bid to become the next city clerk, a part-time position few New Haven residents have heard of. He is currently the Ward 26 Alderman, although he chose not to run for re-election in order to run for clerk. As alderman, he served on the aldermanic affairs, human services and tax abatement committees.
“We need strong, seasoned leadership,” Rodriguez said to a small group of Harp supporters and restaurant patrons alike, adding that Harp would help “the most vulnerable […] the homeless, the immigrants, the mentally ill, and those suffering from addiction.”
One day later, Morrison spoke at Dixwell Plaza in favor of Elicker’s candidacy to a group of approximately 50 people. The plaza is where he first began his political involvement as a legal aide while at Yale Law School, and sits across from what is now a mixed-income housing development filled with neatly kept homes. In the 1970s, though, Morrison said the area was fundamentally different, with a series of crime-ridden high-rises and other housing projects.
In endorsing Elicker, Morrison stressed the Ward 10 alderman’s focus on improving the quality of affordable housing. Morrison worked extensively as chair of the Federal Housing Finance Board, which he joined in 1995, four years after leaving Congress.
“If [New Haven] is going to compete, it has to become a more attractive place,” Morrison said, pointing to the development across the street as an example of success.
He said that Elicker was the right person to bring high-income jobs into the city and in turn the people to fill those jobs, many of which will require college degrees.
While at Yale as a member of the Law School class of 1973, Morrison developed a continuing friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton, both LAW ’73, and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal Law ’73. Morrison returned to New Haven this weekend partly for the endorsement and partly to attend his class’s 40th reunion.
However, after over 20 years in Washington, D.C., the extent of Morrison’s continuing name recognition in the Elm City is unclear. While two people interviewed at the endorsement remembered him from their time living in the city while he was in Congress, others present — including Elicker — moved to the city long after Morrison left. Asked if anyone in New Haven remembered him, Morrison maintained that he was not entirely forgotten in the Elm City.
“Some of the people here remember me,” he told the News. “Some people have introduced themselves as the children of people I worked with.”
Beyond Morrison’s support, though, some of the most fundamental tensions of this year’s mayoral race were on display.
Standing behind Elicker and both Morrisons through their speeches was Kermit Carolina, the Hillhouse High School principal and former mayoral candidate who endorsed Elicker in mid-September. Carolina, who is black, has been heavily criticized for not endorsing Harp, who is also black.
Yale Professor and New Haven historian Douglas Rae said that Dixwell is the most historically black neighborhood in the city, dating back to the Civil War. Despite Carolina’s endorsement and Elicker’s efforts here, though, he suggested that it would not be easy for Elicker to sway black voters given the dynamics of the election, which he described as “black versus white.”
Despite the fact that only six of the attendees were black, Carolina was slightly more optimistic about support for Elicker amongst blacks.
“Although supporting Harp seems like a popular decision in the community, the fact that I’m opposing her has forced people to stop and think,” he said.
Also present at Morrison’s endorsement was organized labor — a rare sight at Elicker. Two members of Laborers Local 455, who have endorsed Elicker, stood in the crowd wearing union sweatshirts and hats. The union consists of primarily construction workers. Throughout the election, Harp has capitalized on her extensive support from the city’s most influential labor unions, most notably Yale’s Local 34 and Local 35 and American Federation of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees.
The Nov. 5 general election will allow approximately 20,000 independents and republicans to participate than the Sept. 10 democratic primary.