Yesterday afternoon was quiet at the Tibwin Grill, as owner Richter Elser ’81 stood behind the bar, working while a few patrons lunched. A little more than an hour later, however, he stood before a larger and louder group at the Omni New Haven Hotel and announced his candidacy for Congress.
Elser, running as a Republican, became the second Yale graduate to enter this year’s race for Connecticut’s 3rd District seat in the House of Representatives. He joins the Green Party’s Charles Pillsbury ’72 and incumbent Democrat Rosa DeLauro.
Elser said his decision to run was based on his desire to bring economic growth back into central Connecticut, something he said DeLauro has failed to do. He also criticized DeLauro’s inability to represent her constituents.
“In general she has not worked in concert with local and state officials,” he said. “She has not been an advocate for the district.”
Elser, who has been involved in numerous community ventures, including the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals, AIDS Project New Haven and as a Yale freshman crew coach, stressed the importance of community involvement.
“I have a dramatically different background. I’m more rooted in the community,” said Elser, who has lived in New Haven since arriving at Yale in the fall of 1977. “I expect to maintain my ties to this community.”
Elser said his platform focuses on transportation, technology and taxes. He added that he wants to improve transportation to bring more technology to the region, thereby improving the tax base in local communities.
Although Elser said Yale did not influence his politics, he said the University taught him valuable lessons.
“Yale teaches you to recognize opportunity,” Elser said. “I could never have imagined standing in my room in Branford College and imagining doing any of the things I’ve done since then. I can’t imagine having told my roommates I would open a bar, a restaurant, be a rowing coach and run for Congress.”
Elser said he is not sure he would focus on Yale’s role in the community if elected.
“Yale and New Haven have a good relationship now,” he said. “Too many politicians butt in for no reason other than publicity.”
Elser said Yale students, faculty, staff and affiliates should support his campaign because they are residents of the region, not because they are Yalies.
But Pillsbury said he thinks he has a better chance of election representing the Green Party than Elser does as a Republican.
“I think I have a better chance than Mr. Elser because the way the district was redistricted resulted in the district losing Republican towns and picking up Democratic towns,” he said. “Most voters in this district are unaffiliated, independent votes.”
In addition, the 3rd District has traditionally been a predominantly Democratic district, with about twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans as of October 2000. But Elser believes he has a legitimate chance.
“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t genuinely think I could do this successfully,” he said. “If given a quality choice, people are willing to vote Republican.”
Elser cited statistics from Connecticut’s 1998 gubernatorial race. In the 25 towns that now make up the third district, Republican John Rowland received 64 percent of the vote. DeLauro, however, won her last three congressional races with more than 70 percent of the vote.
Still, Elser seems to relish the challenge.
“One last reminder from history,” Elser said. “Goliath lost.”