Elicker to head Land Trust

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Photo by Allie Krause.

Three months after coming roughly 2,000 votes short of securing the job of New Haven mayor, former Ward 10 Alder Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 was named the part-time executive director of the New Haven Land Trust.

Elicker, a two-term alder whose good-government campaign promised political renewal for the city, will take the helm of the land conservation and environmental nonprofit starting Feb. 24. He said his new role does not signal a retreat from politics but an effort to make a specific and dedicated contribution to New Haven.

“It was important for me to be involved with an organization that is interested in growing and expanding its impact,” said Elicker, who has also worked as an environmental consultant and in 2010 coordinated the Community Carbon Fund project under the Yale Office of Sustainability. Elicker is also teaching a course at Southern Connecticut State University this semester on education and school reform.

Elicker was first elected to the Board of Alders in 2009. He served constituents in East Rock, Cedar Hill, and slices of Newhallville and Fair Haven for four years before making a bid for the mayor’s office last fall. He was the first candidate to formally declare his intention to run and the only one to do so before former Mayor John DeStefano Jr. publicized his plans to step down. Elicker ended up capturing 9,416 votes — or 45.34 percent — falling in a two-way contest to Mayor Toni Harp.

J.R. Logan, chairman of the Land Trust’s Board of Directors, said Elicker’s mayoral campaign last fall distinguished him among a pool of 53 contenders for the Executive Director position. He praised Elicker’s charisma and said he has a proven ability to bring people together. The Board’s vote to offer Elicker the job was unanimous, Logan said. Elicker will replace interim director Catherine Bradshaw.

Running for mayor made him a more attractive candidate to lead the Land Trust. But when asked if the Land Trust is a stepping-stone to another bid to lead the city in 2015, Elicker kept mum about his political ambitions.

“We’ll see,” Elicker said. “I want to focus on the projects that I’m working on now. But I don’t want to say that I won’t be involved politically. I don’t want to close that door.”

Indeed, Elicker has not shied away from political events. He attended the inaugural public meeting of the breakaway People’s Caucus on the Board of Alders at the end of January and then showed up to his old stomping grounds at the Board’s chambers at City Hall to watch Harp deliver her state of the city address at the beginning of February.

Elicker said he hopes to “help support the efforts of other people who are involved in positive change in politics.” He declined to give further details.

Michael Pinto, an organizer for Elicker’s mayoral campaign, said the job is fitting for the former candidate because it takes advantage of his expertise in environmental and sustainability issues. The Land Trust manages 80 acres of public land and oversees 50 community vegetable gardens in neighborhoods across the city. Elicker will also direct the organization’s volunteer programs and said he hopes to involve more youth in conservation and community building efforts.

According to Pinto, the job squares with Elicker’s skills — and his political profile.

“It’s a good job for him, keeping him in the public eye to some degree but doing good work on a day-to-day basis,” Pinto said. “The Land Trust is the type of job that keeps you involved in the political process without being an elected official.”

Drew Morrison ’14, the director of Yale for Elicker, said he anticipates Elicker redoubling the Land Trust’s service to New Haven, both in the form of ecological benefits and public use.

The Land Trust does more than preserve wildlife and protect natural ecosystems, Elicker said. Community gardens allow city residents to grow their own food — specifically healthier and cheaper food.

“Food security is a major issue in New Haven,” Elicker said. “This empowers people to sustain themselves.”

Both Elicker and Logan said the position may eventually transition into a full-time job. The Board of Directors hired Elicker with the intention of expanding the Trust, Logan said.

Founded in 1982, the Land Trust currently operates on an annual budget of about $130,000.

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