City clerk contest heats up

Two contenders in a heated race for New Haven’s city clerk position, which is to be decided in the Nov. 5 general election.

Following Ward 8 Alderman Michael Smart’s victory over Sergio Rodriguez in the Democratic primary, he will face incumbent city clerk Ron Smith, who is running as an Independent. The city clerk is responsible for a number of tasks, including processing public documents, maintaining records, codifying legislation and overseeing ballot preparation and distribution. The position is a part-time job paying over $46,000 per year.

Incumbent Ron Smith has held the position of city clerk for close to 10 years. In July, New Haven’s Democratic Town Committee voted to endorse Smart over Rodriguez and Smith, in a 30–12–4 vote.

Despite the office’s nonlegislative function, the race for city clerk is a fiercely contested one.

Rodriguez, the alderman for Ward 26, withdrew from the race after losing to Smart in the Democratic primary. Rodriguez said he subsequently endorsed the Democratic ticket of Toni Harp ARC ’78 and Michael Smart. In July, Harp and Smart successfully petitioned to appear near each other on the Democratic primary ballot. As the winners of the Democratic primary, they will appear side-by-side on the November ballot, according to Registrar of Voters Sharon Ferrucci.

Meanwhile, Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 and Ron Smith endorsed one other on Oct. 20. Elicker said he endorsed Smith because he believes Smith is closely connected to the community.

It is important for any city clerk to be connected to the community, Elicker said, adding that this is crucial because the clerk is responsible for absentee balloting.

“Customer service is very important in that office,” Elicker said.

Despite seven calls placed to the city clerk’s office over a three-day period and seven calls placed to his personal phone over a five-day period, Smith could not be reached for comment. In the same five-day period, seven calls were placed to Michael Smart with no response.

Deputy clerk Sally Brown, who is a full-time employee of City Hall, said that she is the person responsible for running the office on a day-to-day basis. Brown served as the city clerk from 1986 to 1995, and has served as the deputy clerk since then.

“The city clerk does oversee the office,” Brown said. “If there are issues here, I talk to them about it. Any decision I make, I run by them.”

Aside from the two New Haven registrars of voters, city clerk is the only elected position in the Elm City that is not an alderperson or the mayor. Members of the Board of Alderman set the city clerk’s salary in the annual budget, said City Hall spokeswoman Anna Mariotti.

According to Brown, who was elected city clerk in 1986, “there used to be a whole underticket. You used to elect the mayor, treasurer, city clerk, tax collector, eight or nine other positions.”

Brown said that candidates running for elected positions would often form a ticket with other candidates running for different positions. This collaboration made the ticket stronger as a whole, she added.

As time went on, the city charter was revised and many of the “underticket” positions were phased out; the only one that remained was city clerk.

When asked how many hours per week the city clerk spends in the office, Brown said she was not sure. Before her election to the position of deputy clerk in 1986, she said, the city clerk “never really came into the office.”

Over the years, Brown said, the city clerk office has undergone significant cuts in personnel. Although 14 people were part of the office in 1986, only five people are currently employed, according to Brown.

“Over the years, we went through attrition, retirement, budget cuts, that kind of thing. Everybody in the city has had to cut back,” Brown said.

She added that new technology has helped the office carry out its functions despite the decrease in employees.

City clerk elections are held every two years.

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