Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 is a registered Democrat — but when voters go to the polls on Nov. 5 to choose between him and Connecticut State Sen. Toni Harp ARC ’78 for mayor of New Haven, they will not find a “D,” for Democrat, next to Elicker’s name.
That’s because the Ward 10 Alderman is running as a petitioning Independent candidate in the general election following his loss in September’s Democratic primary, which precludes him from running as a Democrat in the general election. His status as an Independent has helped lure unaffiliated, Independent and even Republican voters to his campaign. But it has also provoked criticism from Harp, who alleges that she alone stands for progressive ideals in the race for the city’s top spot.
In the wake of the Democratic primary — when he received 3,910 fewer votes than Harp — Elicker rallied, promising to stay in the race and vowing to capture a share of the 4,612 votes that went to the other two primary contestants, both of whom have since dropped out of the race. Equally crucial, he said, would be winning over a large percentage of the 20,000 non-Democratic voters in New Haven unable to cast ballots in the Democratic primary. About 2,000 of those are registered Republicans and 18,000 are unaffiliated.
“Those people are ours,” Elicker told a crowd of supporters at his primary election returns party on Sept. 10.
Elicker said Monday that unaffiliated voters are attracted to his campaign because he presents an alternative to politics as usual, not because of the simple lack of the Democratic label next to his name.
“I don’t put much faith in the title next to my name,” he said. “I think people are voting for a candidate they can believe in. I’ve been talking a lot about more honest government where decisions aren’t based on who contributes to a campaign or which politician has helped them out — that resonates more with people who have opted out of the political machine by not checking a box.”
Harp Campaign Manager Jason Barltett likened Elicker to former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67, who broke ties with the Democratic Party before his retirement in 2012. In running as a petitioning Independent candidate, Bartlett added, Elicker has eschewed principles at the heart of the Democratic Party.
Elicker denied that he has forsaken his allegiance to the Democratic party and said his substantive policy platform has not changed since the primary.
Richter Elser ’81, the chairman of the Republican Town Committee, told the News on Monday that he plans to vote for Elicker. A self-described “just barely right-of-center Republican,” Elser said his decision was not based on party ideology but trust in Elicker’s approach to the issues, which he said overcame the fact that “[Elicker] and I do not see eye-to-eye on every issue.” Elser guessed that other Republicans in the city would think similarly, welcoming a perceived shift in the governance style of city hall.
Ward 8 candidate Andy Ross, an Independent, said he has supported Elicker since early on in the primary, even when he was running as a Democrat. He said he sees Elicker as more moderate than a typical Democrat and added that he is specifically drawn to the candidate because of his stance on fiscal responsibility.
Republican Ward 1 candidate Paul Chandler ’14 declined to say for whom he would be voting in the mayoral race, but said he likes Elicker’s position on education issues. At a meeting last week of the Republican Town Committee, Chandler Campaign Manager Ben Mallet ’16 said he saw Elicker’s success among Ward 1 voters in the Democratic primary as propitious for their own campaign, which hopes to seat a Republican alderman on a Board currently made up entirely of Democrats.
“We see Elicker winning as a positive sign,” Mallet said. “Even the Democrats on campus are moderates.”
Drew Morrison ’14, the director of Yale for Elicker, acknowledged that Elicker is a more moderate candidate than Harp but said the campaign has been able to attract a diversity of supporters on campus, including Chandler devotees as well as supporters of the Democratic incumbent, Sarah Eidelson ’12.
“Being a petitioning Independent gives an ability for some people to vote for [Elicker] who wouldn’t vote for a Democrat,” Morrison said.
Numerous Elicker volunteers — including Morrison, Rachel Miller ’15 and Rafi Bildner ’16 — support Eidelson in Ward 1 despite the fact that Eidelson has endorsed Harp.
Harp has also endorsed Eidelson, throwing her weight behind the incumbent at a September brunch in Timothy Dwight College. At the same event, Harp described herself as the most progressive candidate in the mayoral race, adding that “Justin doesn’t even pretend to be progressive.”
Bartlett reiterated that message on Sunday. He said Elicker has positioned himself as a conservative candidate in order to win over unaffiliated voters.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins more Republicans than we do. It won’t amount to a great percentage of the vote,” Barlett said. “People are going to be upset with Justin for leaving the party and embracing Republicans. He can call himself whatever he wants. All I know is he left the Democratic Party.”
Every mayor of New Haven has been a Democrat since Republican William Celentano left office in 1954.