City | 7:41 pm | March 14, 2013 | By Isaac Stanley-Becker

Mayoral candidates debate for the first time

The three men officially running for mayor of the Elm City squared off Thursday morning in a round-table discussion sponsored and streamed live by the New Haven Register.

Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, Connecticut State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield and Sundiata Keitazulu — all of whom have formally announced their bids for the mayor’s office — met together for the first time to debate the election’s hot-button issues and to present their visions for the city. The candidates each responded to a total of eight questions, three of which were submitted by viewers. The other questions were posed by the Register’s community engagement editor, Shahid Abdul-Karim, who moderated the hourlong discussion.

In his first public appearance as a mayoral candidate, Keitazulu, who runs his own plumbing business, said his focus is on job creation. He pledged to open new vocational schools and to foster job training to give city residents the skills they need to start working.

Elicker and Holder-Winfield responded by explaining the need for “soft skills” programs to help people hold down their jobs. Issues of re-entry and criminal activity, Holder-Winfield emphasized, must be addressed to ensure sustainable job creation.

The three candidates were largely in agreement on questions of education reform, crime and the need for government transparency and accountability. Elicker and Holder-Winfield both praised the School Change Initiative as “a strong step in the right direction,” as Elicker said, but added that they hope to keep turning around failing schools by building upon wraparound services such as Boost!, a partnership between the city’s public schools and local nonprofits designed to address the physical and emotional health of students.

Elicker also cited a renewed focus on early childhood education and a partially elected Board of Education as key to his education platform.

Holder-Winfield said his position differed from Elicker’s because he “would have started with something like Boost!”

“Young people come to these schools with multiple problems. Trauma is one of them,” he added. “My goal would be not to get to failing schools. Boost! would be primary.”

In answer to a viewer’s question about property taxes, Holder-Winfield and Elicker underscored the city’s dire financial situation and said they hope to devise long-term methods of managing the budget to avoid the current sort of budget shortfall that necessitates increased property taxes.

Keitazulu, on the other hand, said the city would be able to lower property taxes by raising revenue and trimming unnecessary spending.

Elicker latched onto the budget question as an opportunity to highlight his record on the Board of Aldermen. Elicker has been adamant that his primary qualification for mayor is his everyday experience with the city’s budget and operations.

“On the Board of Aldermen, I have been the strongest advocate for long-term, smart fiscal spending so our kids, 20 years from now, have enough money to pay for the things that we happen to have enough money to pay for now,” he said.

Holder-Winfield stressed both his deep ties to the city as a community activist and his experience on the state level as a representative of portions of New Haven and Hamden in the Connecticut House in pitching his candidacy to viewers.

The candidates also spoke about Project Longevity, a 2012 initiative aimed at curbing gang violence, and homelessness in New Haven.

Watch the full discussion here.

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