The recently renovated Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge in New Haven is in the running for one of the nation’s most prestigious awards for transportation infrastructure.
On Sept. 9, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials announced that the bridge, which carries Interstate 95 over the Quinnipiac River, was among 12 construction projects chosen out of 84 to advance to the Grand Prize competition in the America’s Transportation Award. The award is an annual effort to recognize outstanding engineering feats in the field of highways and transportation and will be announced on Nov. 14.
“The new Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge is a beautiful, welcome new feature in [New Haven]; its pleasing aesthetics are as enjoyable as the undeniable traffic improvements,” Mayor Toni Harp said in a statement to the News. “It’s more evidence of a city moving forward, making New Haven even more attractive to new residents, businesses and visitors.”
The bridge — referred to as the “Q-bridge,” in reference to the river it spans — gained attention among experts in the transportation community in July 2015 after renovations to replace the old six-lane girder bridge with the new, uniquely designed 10-lane bridge were completed. Those renovations, which started in 2008, constituted the biggest project ever undertaken by the Connecticut Department of Transportation to date and employed a modern design new in the U.S., according to the State Department of Transportation project engineer Matthew Briggs, who has worked on the bridge for the past eight years.
On June 7, AASHTO recognized the new bridge for its “best use of innovation” in the competition’s “large project” category. For that earlier award, the bridge was selected from projects in the northeastern U.S., while the final round of awards underway now considers projects from across the country.
This is the ninth year America’s Transportation Award is shining light on transportation projects across the nation. The organization has teamed up with the American Automobile Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a joint effort to highlight the importance of transportation infrastructure.
“The competition was created to showcase those transportation projects that the public never really notices despite the fact that they’re improving safety and making travel safer and more reliable,” AASHTO Manager of Media Relations Tony Dorsey said.
He pointed out that approximately 300 million trips are taken on America’s roadways each day and added that the wellbeing of such infrastructure has implications for the economy and the population’s productivity.
The Q-bridge is now in the running for two final awards from the organization: the People’s Choice Award and Grand Prize. The recipient of the former is decided based on the number of online votes, which can be cast by anyone who wishes to do so, while the recipient of the latter is chosen by a panel of transportation experts and indicates “the best of the best,” according to Dorsey. Both prizes will be awarded alongside a $10,000 grant to be donated to a charity chosen by the respective state’s DOT.
When the old Q-bridge was erected in 1958, it was the also the longest bridge of its kind in the western hemisphere. It could accommodate 40,000 trips per day, which Briggs said was impressive for that era. As traffic volume has risen over time, however, the structure started failing to accommodate the 140,000 vehicles that now rely on its service.
The new bridge boasts four more lanes than its predecessor and can accommodate an estimated 160,000 vehicles per day. Briggs told the News that Connecticut was able to complete the renovations in time and under budget, with the project’s cost totaling about $416.7 million.
“It’s a magnificent bridge,” Briggs said. “We believe it to be the signature bridge of the state of Connecticut and a gateway to southern New England.”
He added that the department is proud to have been recognized for their work but that the nomination only validates what he and his team “knew all along” — that the Q-bridge is a special bridge.
The Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge spans approximately 4,200 feet.
Correction, Oct. 28: Due to an editorial error, a previous version of this article misstated the total cost of the Q-bridge’s renovation.
Earlier this month, John Alston Jr. was appointed as New Haven’s new fire chief, though his position is pending confirmation by the Board of Alders.
Alston has already assumed control of the fire department while the Board of Alders conducts its vetting and deliberation processes on the appointment. Since Oct. 10, Alston has been serving in an “acting capacity” and will maintain that status until he is confirmed by the Board of Alders. Alston’s appointment was not an item of discussion on the BOA’s Monday meeting agenda, the most recent meeting since Mayor Toni Harp announced her choice for the new chief on Sept. 29.
Alston was present to supervise the NHFD’s response to the fire at 1187 Chapel Street last Tuesday afternoon. Battalion Chief William Gould told the News last week that Alston communicated effectively with the other firefighters at the scene. Although there were initially people trapped in the building, according to the NHFD’s Twitter account, no one was injured in the fire.
Alston’s selection comes as the culmination of a national search for a new fire chief following the retirement of former chief Allyn Wright. Wright served as fire chief for a year and eight months before retiring this past January.
Assistant Chief Matt Marcarelli took over as acting chief after Wright’s retirement until former assistant chief of operations Ralph Black came out of retirement in January to serve as interim fire chief.
Mayor Toni Harp selected Alston from a pool of three finalists for the chief position.
Rick Fontana, deputy director of operations for the Department of Emergency Management, said he and Alston have “[collaborated] essentially on a daily basis” since Alston arrived in New Haven and that he is looking forward to Alston’s leadership as well as his dynamic personality.
“I think he will be a great asset here,” said Fontana, who was also a member of the committee that selected Alston as chief.
Even though there is now someone at the helm of the NHFD, Fire Union President Frank Ricci said that the other highest positions in the department remain vacant.
“The Fire department is depleted four deputy chiefs, a chief of administration and a chief of operations,” Ricci said.
He said the highest ranking members of the department besides the chief are the battalion chiefs. Some of these senior NHFD positions, Ricci said, have been vacant for years.
Still, Ricci remains hopeful and said he sees the department moving in a positive direction.
“We are hopeful that labor and management will have a cooperative relationship to move the department forward,” Ricci said.
Director of Communications Grotheer said that after two weeks on the job, Alston has been well-received “across the board.”
Alston previously served as battalion chief in Jersey City, New Jersey before moving to the Elm City for his new job.
“Chief Alston distinguished himself throughout the screening and interview process, and New Haven is fortunate to have his fire safety expertise, experience and training ability,” Harp said in a statement to the News.
Before moving to New Haven, Alston served for 35 years in the Jersey City Fire Department.
Fontada said Alston has a wealth of experience as a fire executive, both in fire management and in homeland security.
“We were very impressed with Chief Alston from the day we met him,” Fontana said.
Justin Elicker is six feet and two inches tall, weighs 160 pounds and has reddish hair. At the intersection of Whalley Ave. and Orchard St. in New Haven, he sticks out. He wore a pair of ill-fitting trousers that bunched up around his ankles, a button-down with light blue stripes and a pair of narrow, well-polished brown oxfords.
Whalley and Orchard meet less than half a mile from the gothic spires of Yale University, yet the intersection is far away in every sense but space.
Elicker and I met and shook hands, turned right and started up Orchard St.
On a frigid night in January a week after Elicker announced his mayoral candidacy for the Elm City, 20-year incumbent Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced his decision not to seek re-election. DeStefano’s departure opened a vacuum in the city’s politics, a vacuum that Justin Elicker believes he is best suited to fill. But DeStefano also opened the door to a host of other questions. Whether the bright parts of New Haven’s future extend to all parts of the city is uncertain. Divided along lines of race and class, the city exhibits not only diversity, but segregation, too. And so as DeStefano exits, mayoral candidates and voters alike have been forced to ask who can unify this city whose unity is itself uncertain.
In September, I asked both candidates to walk through the city with me, hoping they might speak to how they would bridge the divides that for decades have defined New Haven. From Harp I received a polite denial, from Elicker an enthusiastic acceptance.
Elicker began our walk not by talking about the arcs of the city’s history, but rather how he worked with community leaders to keep kids on dirt bikes off the streets of Dixwell. He is about small solutions that add to big results — keeping the pool open at Career High School during the summer to give kids something to do and encouraging the growth of an organization called Solar Youth were two of the first things he talked about as we walked through the streets where policies become realties.
Throughout the campaign, Elicker has sold himself as the wonk, the guy who reads and understands every line in the budget. With his campaign team, he drafted 75 proposals, all listed on his campaign website, that dive deep into how to solve the city’s problems. As we walked from block to block, he jumped from policy to policy, suggesting they are part of a holistic approach to a better New Haven. For urban violence, he suggests creating unemployment in disadvantaged communities, enhancing community policing, better organizing block watches and using technology to improve policing. For economic development, he looks to development the city’s waterfront, improving vocational training, reforming the state’s tax system and stabilizing neighborhood through home ownership. The issues go on and so do the solutions.
“Everything is related,” he said as we walked up Orchard. “How do you push everything forward?”
Elicker has painted himself as the apolitical politician. Finding smarter ways to fix sidewalks, putting property permitting online and reducing waste through information are not ideological. Elicker does not use soaring rhetoric. He is more comfortable in long discussions with one or two people — into which he can throw numbers and studies — than he is shouting a sound byte into a microphone.
Vacancies, houses where the paint chipped from jagged sideboards, lined Orchard St. Several had “No Trespassing” signs. The grass planted between the cracked sidewalk and the street was overgrown and wilted. The crevices in the street left by last winter remained.
Half a mile down the road, as we came to the intersection of Orchard and Henry St, Elicker stopped.
While we stood on the corner, Elicker talked about the importance of the Liveable City Initiative, which works to reduce urban blight throughout New Haven. While Harp wants to defund LCI, Elicker says, he wants to improve its effectiveness by inspecting properties more frequently and following up on property violations. It could even be an important source of funds for the revenue-starved city, he said.
It wasn’t until we had started walking again that Elicker turned and said, “By the way, this is one of the most dangerous intersections in the city.”
Elicker then commented that focusing cops’ attention on locations instead of individuals, recognizing that “you don’t just need a perpetrator, you need a victim” and projects like the Beulah Heights Church Home Ownership Program — which provides affordable housing a block from Orchard and Henry — can lessen the city’s needless deaths.
We kept walking up Orchard for another block until we bore left on Dixwell Ave. and entered Newhallville.
Although Dixwell is broader and more heavily trafficked than Orchard, it has a similar feel. Some of the houses are well painted, others are not. Many are enclosed with wire fencing. We walked along Dixwell for a few hundred yards before turning at West Division St.
Newhallville is among the poorest and most dangerous parts of the city. It was once home to a large gun manufacturer, Winchester, but those jobs have since disappeared, leaving little employment for the primarily blue-collar, black work force. For the better part of a century, Newhallville have been on the receiving end of the collapse of blue-collared industrialism. Both Elicker and Harp have said the transformation has left residents with the impression that they are “stepchildren” of the city.
In the not-so-distant past, violent crime was endemic in the neighborhood; drug dealers and gangs abounded. But Newhallville has also made strides forward. Community policing and residents’ efforts have helped clean up the streets.
But Newhallville is still not a safe place to walk late at night. Earlier this year, a Yale Professor Paul Brouard was assaulted while parking to work on a house designed and built by Yale School of Architecture students.
It is also not Elicker’s territory. In the primary, Harp received 530 votes in Ward 20, which covers the neighborhood. Elicker managed 14. Many of the employed in Newhallville are members of unions, which have thrown their full weight behind Harp. Most of the residents in the neighborhood are black.
But many, in particular Harp and her supporters, have criticized Elicker for being unable to understand the plight of Newhallville’s residents.
At a recent mayoral debate, New Haven Independent Editor Paul Bass ’82 asked Elicker how he could expect to govern with “no appreciable support” from blacks and Latin Americans.
Harp said her supporters reflect the diversity of the city in a way Elicker’s simply do not. Under her leadership, Harp says that everyone in the city will get their due. “New Haven’s glass is half full,” she told a crowd recently, “and in November our cup runneth over.”
While Harp speaks of equal distribution, Elicker speaks of equal opportunity. “The mayor’s job is to make sure everyone gets a fair shake,” he said as we walked on West Division. “We don’t have the money to give everyone their due.”
Although the budget is finite, Elicker says, the distribution of resources — of school funding, of snow plows in the winter, of police attention — can be improved through transparency. To Elicker, effective governance is making decisions based on data, meticulously collected and painstakingly analyzed, not emotion. Good governance, he said, is ensuring that citizens have access to that data and can participate in the process of governing.
It was not until long after we had passed out of Newhallville that Elicker acknowledged the anger, telling me, “People in Dixwell and Newhallville feel a level of desperation because of the levels of violence and poverty.” But if he could just talk to them, he said, have a real conversation with them, they would understand his message.
A hard campaigner, he has made every effort to spread that message. Elicker says he responds to every phone call and email he receives. But he’s been in the neighborhoods too. On one recent Sunday, he personally knocked doors in East Shore, Beaver Hills, East Rock and Fair Haven.
The spine of Elicker’s Ward 10, the four-lane Orange St. runs from downtown out to East Rock Park. The park is densely wooded, and at any time joggers and cyclists make their way up it, couples walk through the paths and middle-aged men run their dogs. East Rock Park, Orange St. and the neighborhood they define share little with Newhallville.
As we walked back toward downtown, he saw a lot of familiar faces. Members of the Devil’s Gear Bike Shop cycling team, enjoying post-ride coffees at a table outside of Romeo and Cesare’s Gourmet, a far cry from the corner store at Orchard and Henry, called out to Elicker. We stopped to talk. They exchanged pleasantries and chatted briefly about the previous Friday, which DeStefano had declared “Matthew J. Feiner Day” for the bike shop owner’s contributions to the city.
Not far past Elicker’s house, Elicker waved to the Sunday crowd enjoying sandwiches outside of Nicas Gourmet Market. They waved back, and we paused again to say hi.
It is not surprising that Elicker seems more at ease in East Rock. These are his constituents, the people he emails about street cleanings and for whose kids he negotiates playground building. He has given out his cell phone number here for more than three years. He only started giving it out in Newhallville in January.
After two miles, we turned onto Hillhouse Ave. Both Dickens and Twain called Hillhouse the most beautiful street in America. Its mansions, once inhabitted by industrialists, are relics of a bygone New Haven.
But the city’s future, Elicker is quick to point out, is looking up.
Initiatives like Science Park and the New Haven Grove are encouraging innovation and bringing stable, high-paying jobs. New policing strategies, investments from Yale and pro-economic development policies, among others things, have helped curb urban violence. But, Elicker admits, the improvement has not been universal, leaving a city that can feel divided between have and have-not, safe and dangerous, optimistic and desparate.
Elicker believes his emphasis on transparency is the first step to repairing this divide, and his proposals range from the simple, such as tracking snow plows with GPS systems to the complex, such as basing budget decisions on outputs rather than inputs.By committing to remind all of New Haven’s residents of their equal stake and voice in the city, he said, “government will be working more for people than for politicians.”
But why New Haven? I asked. Elicker does not need to live here — his roots in New Canaan and his lucrative consulting business ensure that he could live in the roomier suburbs.
“I opted into New Haven,” he admits. It is the “sense of place,” he says — the ability to spin a web of interactions on a block, to walk instead of drive, to speak face to face instead of phone to phone, to become a fuller person through the relationships only urban life can engender — that drew and kept him here.
“This city makes me happier because of the environment we live in,” Elicker said. “I’m excited about the person New Haven has helped me become.
If elected, the task Elicker will face is how to ensure that all residents of New Haven, whether they live in East Rock or Newhallville, can feel the same way about their city.
On Sept. 24, at a Wooster Square emptied of market-goers and cherry blossoms, a small crowd stood against the early autumn chill. Some people were holding Toni Harp ARC ’78 campaign signs. Others wore the uniforms of public service workers associated with powerful unions, themselves a declaration of allegiance to Harp. Volunteers in Harp T-shirts walked around with clipboards and pamphlets. Gathered around the DeLauro Family Table—a four-piece granite sculpture meant to mirror the arrangement of a kitchen table—the Harp supporters were waiting for a native daughter, U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D), to take the microphone and declare that she too supported their candidate.
If any place in the city could adequately represent the power of the woman now endorsing Harp, it would be that monument. At the unveiling of the DeLauro Family Table in 2011, Mayor John DeStefano, the man Harp hopes to replace, talked up the sculpture as a tribute to the DeLauros’ generations of service to New Haven, citing both Luisa DeLauro’s 34 years as alderwoman and the political rise of her daughter.
That daughter is no longer a political rookie. She is an important force in her own right. Since she joined the House of Representatives in 1991 to represent Connecticut’s third disrict, Rosa DeLauro has been re-elected ten times, consistently garnering at least 63% of the vote since her initial victory over Republican State Senator Thomas Scott. She represents her district in many ways. DeLauro often speaks of her Italian heritage, her working-class upbringing and her attachment to Wooster Square.
For Harp, who will face a strong rival—Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10—in the mayoral election in November, Rosa’s blessing means a great deal.
DeLauro stood behind the podium wrapped in a colorful scarf, her thin frame inside a purple leather jacket. She told the crowd that she and Harp were “cut from the same mold.” DeLauro said of their respective family upbringings, “We have similarities.” She pointed out Harp is, like her, a female, progressive politician concerned about New Haven and familiar with the struggles of its less fortunate.
As the crowd learned that day, both Harp and DeLauro are also dancers.
After the two concluded speaking, Alicia Keys’ “Girl is on Fire” blared from the stereos. Instead of allowing the crowd to thin out, DeLauro began to sway her hips. Clapping her hands and nodding her head to the tunes of “And she’s not backing down,” DeLauro motioned for the onlookers to join her around the DeLauro table, turning the monument into a dance platform.
What wasn’t mentioned was another, unspoken parallel: spouses whose actions and assocations have cast their wives’ political philosophies into question.
DeLauro’s energy is one that New Haven understands and likes. But as the city prepares for its most serious change in political governance since 1993, how has DeLauro been able to maintain her steadfast, decades-long relationship with the city? What is the shape of her political footprint?
Strong and visible ties to the national Democratic party have a lot to do with DeLauro’s career.
Gary Rose, the chairman of the department of gGovernment and plitics at Sacred Heart University, said DeLauro’s district is very strongly Democratic and appreciates her influence with other top Democrats.
“[Rosa} has worked her way up in Congress—she’s very much a part of the Democratic establishment, [and] that’s admired by third district voters,” Rose said. “People feel that Rosa can deliver the goods when it’s needed.
Rose likened congressmen to “social workers,” adding that DeLauro is “one of the good ones.”
“There’s no end to what the congresspersons are doing for their districts… people who live in the third district, let’s say they have problems with Social Security. People perhaps have Medicaid issues, can’t get access to veteran services. Who do you call when you have these problems? You call your congressperson,” Rose said. “[DeLauro] knows how to run a good staff because she was a former staffer herself.”
Much as DeLauro is a child of New Haven and does, as Rose said, maintain her “local connections,” she is also a product of widely recognized political structures.
Soon after receiving her master’s degree from Columbia University, DeLauro helped found EMILY’s List, a political action committee that seeks to help elect pro-choice Democratic female candidates to political office, and served as the organization’s first executive director.
She is, not unjustifiably, proud of what she was able to accomplish early on. “The organization is an overwhelming success,” DeLauro said. “It changed the face of the House— with more women, and more women of color.” EMILY’s List has elected hundreds of women to state and local office, as well as 101 pro-choice Democratic women to Congress, since its founding.
DeLauro moved from working for female representation to more mainstream Democratic political work with her first job ater EMILY’s List, as the administrative assistant and chief of staff for former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd. DeLauro served as Dodd’s chief of staff in the 80s, and would ultimately back the 30-year senator in his bid for president in 2008.
Rose said DeLauro’s work for Dodd gave her “immediate gravitas,” as she was associated with the senator during the peak of his popularity in the state. Many of Dodd’s accomplishments became principal talking-points in DeLauro’s campaign, he added.
The role with Dodd brought DeLauro into contact with top Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi— and the inner workings of D.C.
Both women would ultimately be elected to the House, Pelosi in 1986 and DeLauro in 1990.
“We’ve been friends for a very, very long time,” DeLauro said. “She was deeply encouraging for me to run for office. When the opportunity arose, she picked up the phone and said, ‘you’ve got to do it.’”
Gubernatorial ambitions caused four-term incumbent Democratic U.S. Congressman Bruce Morrison to retire from Connecticut’s 3rd district in 1990. DeLauro stepped up, running for the open seat and winning 52% of the vote to Republican State Sen. Thomas Scott’s 48%.
Ronald Schurin, associate professor of government and politics at the University of Connecticut, said those margins of victory are atypical, even for a strongly Democratic district. Schurin attributed DeLauro’s popularity to her ability to “bridge the gap between the working-class parts of the community” and “Yale and the more academically oriented parts of the community.”
A founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, DeLauro is considered one of the most liberal members of the House, Rose said. Leading in the Democratic state of Connecticut, DeLauro has rallied the state’s left—but at what cost?
In response to a question about DeLauro’s relationship with the Connecticut Republican Party, spokesperson Zak Sanders retorted, “Well, she doesn’t really have one with us.”
“We’ve never heard from her: she’s has made no signs of working with the Republican Party.” Sanders remarked. “Rosa DeLauro is a big fan of the partisan politics going on in Washington, D.C. that has plagued Congress—they’d rather face gridlock than try to work together on our problems.”
FROM FACTORIES TO FEDERAL LEGISLATURE
Joseph Carbone of Fair Haven has known the DeLauro family since the day he was born. Their fathers knew each other from their work for New Haven Public Works, and Carbone noted that DeLauro still recounts the moment she heard, as a ten-year-old, about his birth.
“She said her father came home all excited and told them that my mom had had twin boys,” Carbone chuckled.
Calling Luisa DeLauro and Ted DeLauro “model public servants,” Carbone recalled the way their kitchen table served as a public forum for local residents around Wooster Square. People from all around visited, Carbone remembered, often just to have a few words with the most recognizable political figures in the neighborhood.
Comparing the DeLauros’ dedication to the attitudes of politicians complaining about the “stress and strain of it all,” Carbone said their family “marked in [his mind] an example of what public service is really about.”
“Their home was a mecca for Italian immigrants — their home was their office,” he said. “They worked 24/7, and the door was to open everybody. People felt comfortable and free to walk in.”
Four personal and political acquaintances interviewed pointed to Rosa DeLauro’s working-class upbringing as having had a large influence on her current political values and work ethic. Congressman John Larson, who serves alongside DeLauro in the Connecticut delegation to the U.S., credited much of DeLauro’s passion and energy with her Italian roots and her politically active alderwoman mother.
Her family’s deep roots to their ancestral home of Italy is reflected in DeLauro’s personality, Larson said, describing DeLauro as a mother at heart, one who is concerned with feeding people, caring for people and entertaining people. He remembered sitting at the dinner table with DeLauro and Greenberg. DeLauro had made an Italian meal of eggs, onions and mushrooms with grated cheese, produced from scratch and in front of them.
Larson described the vibrancy of DeLauro’s hostess style.
“If you ever walk into the house, you just get a welcoming color from every single spectrum of the rainbow,” he said. “There’s always something that’s avant-garde and at the same time very homey.”
Carbone, who was as ensconced with the Italian community as DeLauro was as a kid, remembers two things from their childhood: that above all DeLauro was a young activist, and that their “classic blue-collar” neighborhood was home to dozens of small dress shops and storefronts where men and women sat at their sewing machines all day, making clothing. They worked hard, DeLauro remembered, often under the worst of conditions.
Like Carbone, DeLauro had parents who encouraged her to “see all sides of life,” to note the immigrants who were working in near-slave labor conditions around Wooster Square.
“You walked through those factories in Wooster Square, the noise alone would make your ears kind of shatter. You had to watch every step you took or you could fall into a hole in the floor,” Carbone said. “I think it was the sight of all that — the sound of all that — that has shaped her experience. She has emerged as the embodiment of the shepherd of our community to get beyond.”
Carbone pointed to initiatives to expand paid sick leave and to promote the Fair Pay Act as instances where DeLauro has striven to improve working conditions for the Americans she used to see on her walks home.
FROM WILLIAMSBURG TO D.C.
Today, DeLauro has a whole new crop of fans who like her entirely different, entirely non-Wooster Square reasons.
Comedy writers Travis Helwig and Kirk Larsen were living in Williamsburg when they watched the State of the Union of 2010. Seeing DeLauro appear on the television screen wearing a large scarf and a beautiful, green “thrift store” jacket, Helwig said a thought suddenly occurred to him:
“A lightbulb lit up above me. I thought, I know what you look like — you look like my neighbor!”
When they established the Tumblr page, “Rosa DeLauro is a Fucking Hipster,” Helwig said the conception of DeLauro as an alternative culture icon “resonated with people.” Writing captions of exaggerated hipster slang, the duo have received submissions from both distant fans and members of DeLauro’s inner circle.
Helwig said at one occasion, one of the DeLauro relatives sent them a photo from a private family event. In her interview with the News, DeLauro characterized her fashion choices as less than calculating.
“I wear what I like: I don’t put a lot of thought into what others think, of what they like or what they dislike,” DeLauro remarked. “Someone once asked me why I wear boots. I like boots! I like them, so I buy them and I wear them.”
Those boots are here to stay. Retirement remains a distant future for DeLauro.
“At the moment, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing,” she said. “I’ll continue to do my job until I decide that I’d like to do something else,
A meet-and-greet. A master’s tea. A roundtable. A casual Cross Campus chat.
These events share a goal: They seek to engage Yalies politically. But beyond variations in the cookies served and questions asked, they seem like nothing more than slightly different shades of schmooze.
Elicker. Fernandez. Harp. Carolina. In the all-Democratic New Haven mayoral race, the differences among the four candidates have less to do with policy than personality, so distinct campaigning styles count for a lot. And with a relatively small electorate at play in next Tuesday’s Democratic primary, the hundreds of votes candidates could win from Yale’s campus are nothing to sneeze at.
On Yale’s campus — where few students follow New Haven politics, let alone have strong opinions on local issues, simply because they don’t see the city as crucial for their everyday services — the candidates often find themselves expounding upon abstract “visions” for the city rather than the details of constituents’ concerns.
But those visions are not so different. Each campaign stresses the holy trinity of jobs, education and public safety, and all hope to unify a city divided by race and class.
Jason Bartlett, campaign manager for Toni Harp ARC ’78: “Toni Harp’s message to bring the city together is universal. Her emphasis on education, jobs and the economy is universal.”
Emma Janger ’15, a Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 supporter who runs her candidate’s campaign on campus: “I think from the conversations I’ve seen Henry have with students, his vision still centers on jobs and education and public safety.”
Rafi Bildner ’16, fundraising consultant for the Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 campaign: “The issues are education, safety and developing New Haven as a 21st century city.”
Kristin Horneffer ’14, volunteer for Kermit Carolina: “It’s all about ending the cycle of poverty, which by extension ends crime.”
Each campaign rep said they think their candidate can best tackle those issues.
So with the campaigns stressing skills over substance, whether a candidate chooses to talk to students at a meet-and-greet, a master’s tea, a roundtable or while hanging around on Cross Campus can tell us something about the personalities in this race — and what really separates them.
* * *
Drew Morrison ’14, president of “Yale for Elicker,” thinks word-of-mouth is the best way to sell his candidate around campus. “We have a pretty good contingent of about 20 people in the operation. Having them ask their friends — that’s the most effective conversations.” Morrison sees the ground zero of the campaign as the few Yale students who’ve made some intimate acquaintance with the city, whether through volunteering or because they are local. Their enthusiasm infects others.
“People who have friends who are involved and who see the passion in their friends: that’s the basis of our campaign,” Morrison said.
To the skeptic, Morrison’s analysis might seem to betray a hands-off complacency in Elicker’s campaign strategy. While three of the four mayoral candidates are Yale alumni, Elicker is the most recent graduate. His five-year career as a Foreign Service Officer in the State Department is the kind of experience many Yalies would love to boast at 37. He is the only white candidate in the race. And because Elicker is the alderman for East Rock — a relatively affluent ward home to many Yale graduate students and professors — some suspect that he assumes implicit backing from the privileged institution in the center of, but in sharp contrast to, this poverty-plagued city.
Bildner puts a different spin on his candidate’s natural connection to Yalies. Like them, Bilder said, Elicker is a bit of a nerd.
“I think Yale students respond well to Justin not because of what he looks like, but because when they ask him a question, he gives them a real policy-based response based in facts and figures,” Bildner said. And responding to questions about how Elicker’s privilege may endear him to Yalies, Morrison said he thinks Yale students are the voters most willing to confront Elicker about issues of race and class. “Yale students are willing to ask him, ‘Hey, you’re a middle class white person from a wealthy neighborhood,” he said.
Elicker has the most visible undergraduate campaign operation of all the candidates. Even a likely Fernandez voter like Zunaira Arshad ’17 conceded that the people who signed her up to vote were associated with the Elicker campaign.
That’s something the campaign likes to tout. Bildner said that both at last Saturday’s meet-and-greet in Dwight Hall, and at Elicker’s appearance at Bagel Brunch at the Slifka Center, many students told him Elicker was the first candidate they had seen.
Elicker’s campus campaign strategy is a one-two punch of visibility and chatter that embodies what Bildner pegs as the alderman’s central promise: “a transparent and open style of government” epitomized by the responsiveness Elicker claims to have demonstrated as alderman and the way he delegates responsibilities on the campaign trail. Bildner, who has worked on previous Democratic campaigns including President Obama’s, said the Elicker campaign was the first time he found himself in a room of volunteers where “each one is working almost as a senior campaign staffer.”
But it looks like there is an inverse formula in this race between political experience in the city and grassroots campaigning. Elicker is young compared to his chief rivals; he has spent fewer years as an elected official. So folksy as it might seem, his being accessible to students exposes Elicker’s limited political currency on the New Haven scene.
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But if Elicker is the new kid on the block and acts that way, his tactics are very different from those of the establishment candidate: Harp. Experience is her catchword — and campus engagement far from a priority.
A 20-year veteran of the Connecticut state legislature who spent 10 years as chairman of the state senate appropriations committee, Harp has won powerful endorsements (like that of Democratic Senator Chris Murphy) and leads the pack in fundraising. Arguing that her work at the state level has qualified her to manage the crumbling city budget, Harp presents herself to Democratic voters as a major-league player. But coupled with her unmatched union support, that state-level experience has painted Harp as a classic machine politician.
At Yale, that’s how Harp is understood. Her marginal contact with university students — largely limited to work with Students Unite Now, an undergraduate ally of the Unite Here unions — is defined by a high-priestly manner students may not find relatable. Though Harp leads Elicker and Fernandez in almost every other institutional aspect, her campaign has no official student presence.
David Steiner ’16, who attended a Labor Day lunch at Timothy Dwight college with Harp and aldermanic candidates Ella Wood ’15, Jeannette Morrison and Sarah Eidelson ’12, said Harp’s appearance with those three aldermanic candidates — along with their four-way endorsement at the event — underscored her SUN and union associations. Steiner said he found Harp detached.
“While her lengthy resume is worth highlighting, she didn’t relate that experience to the audience members’ interests,” he said. Steiner, an undecided voter, said that instead of discussing Yale-related matters, Harp focused on youth issues, including the closure of the Q House in Dixwell.
Just as the candidate did at the Timothy Dwight luncheon, Harp’s campaign tries to win Yalies over by linking her to aldermanic candidates who do — or seek to — represent Yalies. That tactic reeks of chummy establishment politics — something the other three candidates say Harp is guilty of. Renita Heng ’16, a Silliman resident, recalled canvassers coming to her room to first talk up alderwoman Morrison and then Harp. “Experience kept on coming up,” Heng said.
It may be that Harp simply finds Yale’s institutional hulk less intimidating than the other candidates do. She is not as worried about causing offense. While Steiner recalled Harp talking about working with Yale’s president to secure funds for the city, her campaign manager, Bartlett, does not mince his words when speaking about the University. On balancing union concerns with Yale’s, a key issue given Harp’s union backing and what she could gain from Yale votes, Bartlett said, “I don’t know what kind of balancing act Yale expects. Harp’s been pretty clear that Yale has to do more, that we support New Haven Works and we expect Yale to participate in that program. We think that more New Haven residents should get jobs at Yale, both at the university and the hospital.”
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Henry Fernandez has some good friends at Yale. The former economic development administrator for the city and Law School grad was once an associate fellow at Ezra Stiles college. As of Wednesday, he has been hosted at two Master’s teas there. Janger, who founded “Yale for Fernandez” earlier this semester, explained that Ezra Stiles master Stephen Pitti ’91 and his wife, American studies and ethnicity, race and migration professor Alicia Camacho, are good friends with Fernandez and his wife, Kica Matos. Janger said the two couples have worked together at Junta for Progressive Action, a New Haven organization that focuses on immigrant rights where Matos was formerly the executive director.
Pitti said that Ezra Stiles footed the bill for the most recent Fernandez event, which he estimated to be $70. This raises questions about whether that financial cost was an implicit endorsement of Fernandez and then whether Yale and its administrators must remain impartial in New Haven elections. When Elicker hosted his meet-and-greet in Dwight Hall, his supporters distributed flyers noting that the campaign had rented out the space. But in an email to the News, Pitti argued that “as one of the strong candidates for mayor, [Fernandez] deserves the attention of students and others.”
Fernandez has said that the master’s tea was Pitti’s initiative. Regardless of whose plan it was, Fernandez gained a chance to address scores of students.
Fernandez is also rumored to draw support from his alma mater: the law school.
Perhaps those institutional ties explain why Fernandez’s effort on campus has less to do with student-led grassroots organizing than Elicker’s. Instead, Fernandez has made a number of formal appearances on campus, including the two master’s teas and an event last week with actor Danny Glover at the Afro-American Cultural House.
Fernandez’s decision to host that event is a testament to what Danielle Filson, a senior at the University of Connecticut who serves as Fernandez’s communications director, sees as her candidate’s greatest strength: his diversity. The son of an African-American father and white mother, husband to a Puerto Rican woman and father to a Spanish-speaker, Fernandez is a mosaic of the city’s many communities, his supporters believe. “He embodies New Haven,” Filson said.
While Elicker has gone to some lengths to emphasize his independence from Yale — he recently opposed the sale of portions of High and Wall streets to the University — Fernandez and his staff are more secure in balancing their candidate’s University links with his New Haven identity. One proposal Filson was quick to tout was a plan to open a school principal training program at the Yale School of Management.
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There is one more candidate. Kermit Carolina will not win this election. But Kristin Horneffer ’14, who works for his campaign and said she is the only Yalie she knows to be doing so, does not think victory is the point. Carolina is the champion of those who do not vote, she said. “He’s trying,” Horneffer explained, “to mobilize a group that’s known not to have a voice in New Haven politics — the poorer residents of the city, residents of the inner city, including the blocks surrounding Yale.”
That group, Horneffer admitted, “is socially, economically and emotionally really separate from Yale students.”
Yale students are the inverse: New Haven residents who could have a voice but often choose not to. Each campaign must be innovative to win Yale voters who could be valuable to them come Tuesday. “Getting any college student interested in politics on a local level is a challenge,” Harp’s Bartlett said. “I think they’re focused on national politics. To transition to local politics — unless they’re New Haven residents — that takes some work.”
And while Bartlett conceded that some issues, like gun violence, lay at the intersection of national and local politics, the challenge in attracting student voters lies primarily in the fact that this election is circumscribed to Democrats in a very specific geographic area. The national range of opinions does not translate well to city politics. The extreme partisan rhetoric that dominates national politics will have no bearing on this election. If something national will affect the race, Janger said, it will be immigration reform, an issue where Fernandez stands far to the left of other candidates.
And while Janger noted that presidential politics do play a role in one way — many students are already registered to vote from last year’s presidential election — there were many during that season of disillusion who did not register for a party, or who do not remember if they registered as Democrats or independents. That means many student will be ineligible to vote in the decisive Democratic primary.
But Bildner remains optimistic. “Yes,” he admitted, “there’s a small group of students who are really knowledgeable about the issues and are involved in the campaigns, but it’s a very easy pitch in this election because of how important it is … everyone seems to be willing to listen — everyone to whom we say, ‘Listen, this election is huge,’ is willing to at least register.”
If elected, Harp will become the city’s first female mayor. A state senator since 1993, Harp currently co-chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. She is competing against Justin Elicker FES ’08 SOM ’08, Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 and Kermit Carolina to replace current Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
As of July campaign filings, Harp was third in fundraising with $111,341 raised, behind Fernandez’s $177,081 and Elicker’s $127,939. Carolina raised $33,435 by the end of the filing period, placing him fourth.
Harp received the Democratic Town Committee endorsement at the end of July. She has also been endorsed by three former mayoral candidates who have dropped out of the race — State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, Connecticut Technology Council CEO and President Matthew Nemerson and plumber Sundiata Keitazulu, who dropped out of the race at the beginning of August.
Eighteen New Haven aldermen endorsed State Senator and mayoral candidate Toni Harp ARC ’78 over the weekend, throwing their weight behind the most recent contender in the seven-way race to replace retiring Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
Those 18 city lawmakers — who make up a majority of the 30-member Board of Aldermen — signed a written statement of support for Harp’s candidacy before a collection of them formally announced the endorsement at Harp’s campaign headquarters at an event Sunday.
“As members of the Board of Aldermen, we proudly announce our support for Toni Harp for mayor,” the statement reads. “Our board issued a legislative agenda at the beginning of our term that reflected the priorities of our constituents: Jobs, Youth, Public Safety, Constituent Services and Fiscal Responsibility. Toni Harp is the candidate with the track record to deliver on the priorities we have set and the vision to lead our city in bold new directions.”
Among those who announced their support for Harp, an 11-term state senator representing New Haven in Hartford, are Board President and Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez and Ward 1 Alderman Sarah Eidelson ’12. Eidelson said she has been impressed by Harp’s “decades of leadership” in the state senate, particularly her “staunchy advocacy for New Haven’s youth.”
Both Eidelson and Perez, along with 13 other aldermen, were elected in 2011 with the support of Local 34, Yale’s UNITE HERE union representing clerical and technical workers at the University. The union, which has emerged as a powerful vote-pulling organization in city elections, is now expected to endorse Harp. In the past weeks, the union leadership has been in the process of interviewing candidates before making their coveted endorsement.
Accepting the endorsement, Harp promised to work collaboratively with the Board if elected mayor. Prior to her tenure as a state senator, she served as an alderman from 1988 till 1992.
Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, who is also running for mayor, has thus far received the endorsement of just one of his colleagues on the Board: Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04.