After Tuesday’s primary saw half of the city’s remaining mayoral candidates drop out of the race, two opponents are left to contest the general election in November — State Sen. Toni Harp ARC ’78 and Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10.
November’s election will now largely depend on which candidate unaffiliated and Republican voters, as well as the supporters of once-mayoral hopefuls Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 and Principal Kermit Carolina, will favor for the Elm City’s top seat. At the primary, Harp recorded 49.8 percent of the vote, while Elicker, Fernandez and Carolina followed with 23.2 percent, 18.9 perecent and 8.1 percent, respectively. For the next two months, Harp and Elicker will fight to capture the remaining votes and advocate their visions for how New Haven should move forward.
“I think that Harp’s candidacy and her career has really been based on becoming adept and proficient at old style party politics, and that’s not necessarily the sort of Democrat that a Republican is likely to cross party lines and vote for,” said Republican Town Committee Chairman Richter Elser ’81. “If the future of Connecticut is going to be changed, then we need a new approach to how the urban areas are run, and someone who has built a successful career in the traditional style of machine politics may not be the best person to bring about that change.”
Harp has received endorsements from key players at both the city and state level: She counts in her camp two-thirds of the Board of Aldermen, many of the major Yale labor unions, the three mayoral candidates who dropped out of the race prior to Tuesday’s primary, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and a number of other key individuals and groups. This support made Tuesday’s numbers unsurprising, though it has opened her to criticism that she represents a continuation of the status quo.
But Jason Bartlett, Harp’s campaign manager, contests the idea that Harp is simply a continuation of old politics. He argued that she is a change from Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who is the longest serving mayor of New Haven.
“The incumbent was there for 20 years, so to say that she is anything but new and fresh is just not being intellectually honest,” Bartlett said. “She’s new and fresh and she’s got great ideas.”
A common theme thus far in Harp’s campaign has been her ability to build relationships and coalitions as a result of her 20 years of service in the state legislature. Bartlett pointed to her position as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee as evidence that she has the ability and experience to fix the city’s budget.
Community activist Gary Doyens said Tuesday’s primary was evidence that over 50 percent of New Haven Democrats sought an alternative to Harp and what they saw as more of the same politics. With Fernandez and Carolina out of the race, 27 percent of the voters will have to choose a new candidate if they vote again in November.
“I think Justin can pull from [Fernandez’s and Carolina’s] voters, because [Fernandez and Carolina] were all about fundamental change in City Hall: real, significant change, and it wasn’t about more of the same,” Doyens said. “I know Harp would disagree with this, but she represents the machine, the special interests, the unions and the people who want to do business with City Hall.”
Elicker described his campaign as an “alternative” to Harp’s campaign, and during his speech Tuesday night at his post-election party at O’Tooles on Orange Street, he said he believes Republican and unaffiliated voters will vote for his message of change from “politics as usual.”
He added on Wednesday that many of the undecided voters he spoke with were choosing between him and Fernandez, meaning Fernandez pulled away some his votes on Tuesday night.
A total of 14,723 votes were cast for the mayoral candidates on Tuesday night. According to Elser, New Haven has 50,243 registered Democrats, 18,315 unaffiliated voters, 2,552 registered Republicans and 343 registered as “Other,” meaning there will be over 21,000 new eligible voters in November.
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