Mayor Toni Harp won the Democratic mayoral primary on Tuesday by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, putting the incumbent candidate one step closer to a third term.
A total of 7,407 votes were cast in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries. Harp’s campaign clinched 5,510 votes, around 74.4 percent, while the remaining 1,897 votes went to challenger Marcus Paca, who received 25.6 percent. The incumbent mayor defeated her opponent in all 30 wards.
“It’s time to come together and focus on what really matters — making sure our communities are thriving,” Harp said Tuesday night, to thunderous applause at her victory party.
The result is the latest chapter in a hotly contested election for the city’s highest office. Harp and Paca, a former city employee whom Harp fired last April, have traded insults throughout the campaign. At the final debate between the two candidates on Sept. 6, Harp accused Paca of running his campaign “on revenge” and being generally unfit for office.
Harp held her results-viewing party in Vanity, a bar and club at 144 Temple St. Under the glow of red mood lights and LED screens that read “Re-elect Mayor Toni Harp,” more than 100 residents, alders, city officials and community leaders celebrated her victory at the club Tuesday evening.
The Paca campaign’s election after-party, which was held at Ah-Beetz New Haven Pizza, was a world different from Harp’s. Only about a dozen supporters came, and, as of 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night, Paca was nowhere to be found.
Paca, who was not available for comment at the rally, told the News two weeks earlier that he would run as an independent candidate in the general election if he were to lose the Democratic nomination.
Harp told the News that she hopes the margin of her victory will make the general election easier and that she hopes she is on her way to two more years as mayor.
Despite the wide margin between the two candidates, Paca supporter Eric Mastroianni was not dissuaded by the primary defeat. Mastroianni, who is running for the governor’s office in 2018, said he firmly believes in Paca’s ties to the New Haven neighborhoods, adding that Paca’s campaign has done a great job putting his name on the map in a short amount of time.
“I believe he is going to gain all the knowledge from tonight and plan his next move,” he said. “I know he is not going to give up. He is not a quitter.”
Joe Riggsbee, a Harp supporter at Vanity Tuesday night, said he was not surprised by Harp’s victory.
He told the News before results came in that he was “100 percent certain” she would prevail. Riggsbee, who called the mayor “an honest, decent and intelligent person,” said he has known the mayor for over 30 years and that he worked on her aldermanic and state senate campaigns.
Throughout the day, voters across 30 wards in the Elm City trickled into their respective polling stations while each campaign continued its canvassing efforts.
Radcliffe Carter, a 17-year-old Paca campaign volunteer, said his role for the primaries is to stake out the New Haven Free Public Library, the polling station for Ward 1. Carter began his shift at 6 a.m. and planned to stay until the polls closed at 8 p.m.
But when the polls officially closed, only 46 Ward 1 votes were cast in Tuesday’s elections, 38 of which were in support of Harp and 8 for Paca. Andria Gieryk, the Ward 1 polling moderator, said turnout at the station this year was lower than she remembered it being during the 2015 Democratic mayoral primary.
All three voters who agreed to speak to the News outside the Ward 1 polling place said they voted for Harp. Yale College Democrats President Josh Hochman ’18 was among those who voted for Harp Tuesday in Ward 1.
“She’s been very strong on implementing more restorative justice practices in schools and she also is a robust defender of immigrant rights in the city,” he said of Harp.
Hochman added that he found the lack of voter turnout in Yale’s ward “concerning,” but said neither candidate had a strong presence on campus during the campaign. He said it is up to both students and candidates to improve student engagement in city elections.
Benjamin Rodwin, who lives near campus, said he cast his ballot for Harp because he believes downtown has improved since he moved to the city four years ago.
Six of Yale’s 14 residential colleges fall under the voting district of Ward 22. Located at the Wexler-Grant Community School, the polling station also saw a lull in voter turnout. Among 1,460 registered Democratic voters in the area, only 204 cast their ballot for a candidate. With no blank ballots, Harp received 148 votes while Paca garnered 56.
Many, like Roselyn Rogers, were turned away by the moderator when they came to vote because they forgot to register as Democratic voters.
Rogers, disappointed that she will have to wait for the November general election to vote, said her ideal candidate is the incumbent mayor, citing her years of experience in the city as the primary reason.
“If she doesn’t know about [New Haven], who else would know the city?” Rogers said.
Harp has been mayor of New Haven since 2014.
Ken Tanaka and Keshav Raghavan contributed reporting.
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