Politicians eye Harp’s senate seat

When Toni Harp ARC ’78 is sworn in as New Haven’s 50th mayor on Jan. 1, 2014, she will leave vacant the Connecticut state senate seat she has held since 1993.

As the dust settled from Tuesday’s municipal elections — which confirmed Harp’s ascent to the mayor’s office — a handful of politicians emerged as potential contenders for the mayor-elect’s spot in Hartford. Connecticut State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a former candidate for mayor who ended his campaign to back Harp, said he plans to run for the 10th district state senate seat once the incumbent formally relinquishes the position.

“Senator Harp said she will officially step down from her senate seat on Jan. 2, at which point I intend to seek it,” Holder-Winfield told the News Wednesday evening. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about this since dropping out of the mayor’s race, which is when I began talking to other members of New Haven’s delegation about who was going to take Harp’s spot.”

Both Ward 3 Alderwoman Jackie James, who chairs New Haven’s Democratic Town Committee, and former Ward 24 Alderman Marcus Paca have indicated that they are considering running, though neither has formally declared their candidacy.

James said she is thinking about running but has not made a final decision about her electoral plans. She said will consult with other members of the Board of Aldermen as well as members of the 10th District Democratic Committee, who will endorse a candidate following Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy’s announcement of a special election early next year.

“This is a seat where you need to do consensus building and work as a team player in the district and with the party,” James said. “It’s not my decision alone.”

James said she will not likely make a final decision regarding her potential candidacy for a few months.

Paca could not be reached for comment on Wednesday evening. Speculation also surrounds the intentions of Connecticut State Reps. Toni Walker and Juan Candelaria, though Candelaria told the New Haven Independent on Wednesday that he is comfortable in his current position.

Reached Wednesday evening, Walker did not rule out a run but said the decision is based in part on the collective strategizing of New Haven’s delegation of state legislators, which is headed by Connecticut State Sen. Martin Looney.

“It’s about what we decide is best for the whole delegation,” Walker said. “If we move someone from the house to the senate, then we need to replace the house seat as well.”

Alongside Harp, Walker currently co-chairs the state’s appropriations committee, which oversees Connecticut’s $40-billion budget. Walker said Harp’s replacement would not be guaranteed a powerful committee placement and would need to work his or her way up.

The 10th district comprises the western portion of New Haven as well as a small section of West Haven. Holder-Winfield, who was first elected to the Connecticut legislature in 2008, said the spot requires someone with a proven track record in the general assembly.

“Replacing someone like Toni, who has a lot of experience and positional power, requires someone who has the ability to deliver for New Haven, and for West Haven as well,” he said, adding that his own leadership on the repeal of the death penalty and his work to limit racial profiling stand out as major legislative accomplishments.

Holder-Winfield added that campaigning will not begin until Malloy issues a writ of special election, which must come within 10 days of Harp’s formal resignation. The special election then takes place 40 days after the writ is issued, he said.

For the candidates who ran unsuccessfully in Tuesday’s municipal elections, the future is even more uncertain. Petitioning Independent candidate Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, who will round out his time as Ward 10 Alderman until he is replaced by Anna Festa, who will replace Elicker on the Board of Aldermen in January, said on Wednesday that his plans are uncertain. He said he plans to take a vacation in Vermont before returning to New Haven to figure out what to do next. Elicker said he will remain engaged in the city in some capacity but declined to say whether he would run for political office again.

Republican Ward 1 candidate Paul Chandler ’14, who failed to unseat Democratic Incumbent Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12 yesterday, said he will likely not seek elected office in New Haven in the future. His future engagement in the city will more likely take the form of a potential career in teaching or education policy, he added.

Andy Ross, the unsuccessful Independent candidate for alderman in Ward 8, said he plans to remain involved civically as a member of the city’s development commission and a leader of a community development project in Newhallville. At one point entertaining a run for the mayor’s office, Ross said he is not ruling out the possibility of one day seeking the city’s top spot.

William Wynn, unsuccessful Republican candidate for alderman in Ward 10, said he already has plans to run for mayor — in 2019.

“I will be New Haven’s first black Republican mayor,” Wynn said.

Democrats prevailed in every single one of the city’s contested elections.

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