After a months-long campaign and a final day of get-out-the-vote efforts, two candidates remain following Tuesday’s Democratic primary election.
State Sen. Toni Harp ARC ’78 took home 49.8 percent of the votes, followed by Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 with 23.2 percent, former city economic development director Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 with 18.9 percent and Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina with 8.1 percent. Shortly after the results were finalized, Fernandez and Carolina announced that, despite being eligible to run as Independent candidates in the general election, they would not run again. Their withdrawals narrow down the field to two aiming to replace retiring Mayor John DeStefano Jr. after 20 years in office.
“My family has taken it on the chin, and I want to thank them for standing tough with me,” Harp said to a crowd of supporters Tuesday night at her victory party. “Each and every one of you gave me your blood, sweat and tears. Each and every one of you want a new New Haven.”
Elicker held his election party at O’Toole’s on Orange Street. He encouraged his supporters to refocus their efforts on the upcoming general election in November.
“I called [Harp] about a half hour ago and congratulated her on her victory tonight … I told Toni that she ran a great campaign, but what I didn’t tell her is that we’ll see her in November,” Elicker said to a cheering crowd.
In addition to the mayoral race, the Elm City saw another citywide election in the race for city clerk between Aldermen Michael Smart and Sergio Rodriguez. Smart came out on top with 52.9 percent to Rodriguez’s 47.1 percent. According to Michael Hayden, a poll worker in Ward 1, about 15 people showed up to vote each hour. Hayden said it was a “pretty slow day,” attributing the pace to the fact that Tuesday was not the general election.
Though Fernandez spokesman Danielle Filson told the News on Sunday that the candidate’s campaign would continue through November regardless of the primary results, Fernandez, alongside Carolina, dropped out of the race Tuesday evening.
“I believe that the people of New Haven deserve a run-off between the top two candidates, and I’m not one of those candidates,” Fernandez told his supporters at Michael’s Trattoria on Court Street at his post-election party. “I wish I had been able to pull it off for you guys. Any shortcomings in this race were mine, not yours … I’ve given this thought, and I won’t be going forward in this election, and I do believe this is a beginning.”
Julie Anistasio, one of Fernandez’s campaign workers, said she was “surprised” that Tuesday’s race was not primarily between Fernandez and Harp, adding that she told Fernandez that he should not pull out of the race. Still, both Fernandez and Carolina took Tuesday’s results as the end of their mayoral prospects this election season.
“The numbers have pretty much spoken for themselves,” Carolina said at his post-election party. “I submit to the will of the people of the city of New Haven.”
Carolina adviser Michael Jefferson said the candidate’s choice to participate in the Democracy Fund, New Haven’s public finance system, put him at a disadvantage. The Fund, in which Elicker also participated, provides public funds in exchange for limiting the size of donations to $370 and requires that participating campaigns not accept donations from political action committees or lobbyists.
When news surfaced that Fernandez and Carolina were dropping out of the race, Elicker election party attendees erupted in cheers and began chanting “Justin” as they waited for Elicker to appear.
“I’m actually surprised [Fernandez and Carolina] dropped out so soon,” Elicker volunteer Laura Snow said. “Someone needed to drop out because a lot of the wards were splitting 200 votes for Harp, 100 for Elicker and for 100 for Fernandez, and all summer long we discussed the risk of splitting wards.”
With two campaigns remaining, each candidate can now focus on the other without having to worry about the calculus of other candidates in the race. Harp, widely considered the frontrunner leading into the primary, has been endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee, many of the University and city’s politically powerful unions, a majority of the Board of Aldermen, Conn. Gov. Dannel Malloy and State Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney. On Tuesday night, Looney and Malloy joined Harp on stage.
“Toni Harp has worked diligently on behalf of the people of New Haven: She has paid her dues and she has come back with the bacon,” Malloy said. “If you believe in a more prosperous New Haven, then Toni Harp is your candidate for mayor.”
In her speech, she pointed to the fact that her campaign gathered 4,000 signatures in four days. Harp spoke to the need to include communities that feel they are underrepresented and the need for improving public education.
“No children in this town should go to bed afraid that a stray bullet goes through their bedroom,” Harp said at her speech on Tuesday night. “The buck stops here. We are taking this city back.”
While Harp points to 20 years in the state legislature as evidence of her political experience, Elicker has often accused Harp of practicing “pay to play” politics due to the large percentage of her fundraising from lobbyists, PACs and non-New Haven residents. Elicker, meanwhile, has worked to define himself as an independent-thinking candidate free from the political chains of machine politics.
Elicker joked to a spirited crowd at Tuesday night’s post-election party that the only endorsement his campaign has received has been that of Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04, calling this is a sign of the Elicker campaign’s departure from typical New Haven politics. He mentioned “folks from West Hartford” who were paid to canvass for Harp when contrasting the two campaigns.
Elicker has said that, despite no longer being bound to the Democracy Fund following the primary, he will still follow the rules of the Fund into the general election.
Although Harp won the Democratic primary by a significant margin — receiving almost 4,000 votes more than her November challenger — Elicker’s hopes for November rest on winning over a significant portion of Fernandez and Carolina’s voters, as well as a majority of the Independents and Republicans who will be eligible to vote in the general election. Elicker said on Tuesday that out of 20,000 registered voters who are not Democrats, he expects about 4,000 of them to vote in November.
“And who do you think these people are going to vote for? Why are they unaffiliated?” Elicker asked his supporters Tuesday night. “Because they are tired of politics as usual: They don’t want to be associated with some political party that’s going to scratch your back if you scratch theirs … Those people are ours.”
Ultimately, 14,723 votes were cast Tuesday for the mayoral candidates, including absentee ballots.
Sarah Bruley, Monica Disare, Michelle Hackman, Lorenzo Ligato, Matthew Lloyd-Thomas, Larry Milstein and Nicole Ng contributed reporting.
Correction: Sept. 11
A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that the 14,723 votes cast for mayoral candidates did not include absentee ballots.