Asked what it’s like to be a Republican in the Elm City, New Haven Republican Town Committee Chair Jeffrey Weiss responded jokingly: “lonely,” he said.
New Haven has not had a Republican mayor since 1953, and the last Republican alder retired in 2011. But even though every member of the Board of Alders and all of New Haven’s representatives in Hartford are Democrats, the New Haven Republican Town Committee has not backed down.
In this year’s November midterm election, there will be a GOP candidate competing for every state legislative slot. Describing itself as “the Elm City’s alternative choice,” the GOP town is hoping to increase turnout among voters whose ideals skew conservative. Democrats are “phenomenal” with their voter registration drives in the Elm City, Weiss said, while Republicans have done a comparatively “lousy” job. He said the New Haven GOP committee is not only working to increase voter registration but also recruiting fiscally conservative candidates to run for office.
Conservative voters “see no meaningful options on ballot, so they stay home on Election Day,” Weiss said.
Arlene DePino, who served as a Republican Ward 18 alder for more than a decade, noted that New Haven’s demographics have shifted in Democrats’ favor. Although political representation and registration have reflected that change, there has been increased activity at the Republican town committee, she said. DePino credited the increased activity of the New Haven GOP to Weiss and previous New Haven Republican Town Committee Chair Jonathan Wharton.
DePino, who was the last Republican to serve on the Board of Alders, said her time on the board was during “somewhat of a different era,” when Democrats were more open to working with Republicans. At that time, there was more of a willingness to discuss issues openly, DePino said, while now most decisions are made behind closed doors at Democratic caucus meetings.
But DePino said that party divisions do not prevent people from getting involved in government.
“Anyone can go to a hearing and testify on any issue at all,” she said. “Political involvement is not restricted by party membership.”
Wharton, who left the position last year, noted that his strategy as committee chair was vastly different from Weiss’s. While Wharton describes himself as a “policy wonk,” he noted that Weiss is more of a “marketing, communications guy.”
Weiss has been less outspoken in the media than Wharton was as chair, putting out fewer press releases.
But that does not mean Weiss has any shortage of opinions. He told the news that the Republican Town Committee is “building [its] voice at City Hall” and criticized the 11-percent property tax increase enacted by the city and staff pay raises given out by Mayor Toni Harp this summer.
Weiss said his organization has already started looking for Republican aldermanic and mayoral candidates for the 2019 election.
“We are continuing the good work that Jonathan Wharton has done and taking it even further,” Weiss said.
And on the state level, Weiss has also grown more confident.
After the gubernatorial debate in New Haven on Monday night, Weiss said the governor’s race is “looking very good for Republicans,” noting that Bob Stefanowski, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, was on his “A-game” against Democrat Ned Lamont SOM ’80.
Wharton was less certain, saying that “either candidate has a shot,” and that the result will come down to turnout — whether more urban or rural voters come out to cast their ballots.
The New Haven Republican Town Committee holds meetings on the second Thursday of every month at 200 Orange St.
Ashna Gupta | email@example.com
Nathalie Bussemaker | firstname.lastname@example.org