As temperatures begin to heat up for the summer, the 2019 mayoral race has similarly intensified.
In preparation for the Democratic primary in September, candidates vying for the city’s top office have ramped up their campaigns. Three-term incumbent Mayor Toni Harp and challengers Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, Wendy Hamilton and Urn Pendragon have now met twice in mayoral forums hosted by coalitions of the city’s Democratic Town Chair co-committees, where they have clashed over the current state of the Elm City and its future direction. Prior to the second forum, on May 22 at the Celentano School, members of Harp’s campaign also passed out flyers with attack ads on Elicker outside of the venue, comparing her opponent — a former Alder turned local nonprofit leader who ran against her and lost narrowly in 2013 — to Donald Trump.
“We are doing better than we’ve ever done before,” Harp said in her closing statement at Thursday’s debate. “We’re doing better than any other city in Connecticut. I would urge that you continue with my administration.”
The city’s first mayoral forum took place on May 15 at the Mauro-Sheridan School. In that forum, Harp implicitly called out Elicker and set the two up for an intense rematch. She cited improvements in the city over the course of her tenure — such as increasing graduation rates and more investment in development — and voiced her commitment to continuing the work she has begun.
Consistent with her rhetoric at fundraisers and events, as well as in the 2019 State of the City address, Harp stressed the city’s good qualities and called New Haven a great place to live, arguing for the status quo in leadership.
Elicker, who also began releasing policy platforms to his supporters and on his website this month, painted a picture of a city in need of change. He characterized the sum that Yale — which is tax exempt thanks to its status as a nonprofit organization — voluntarily pays to the city as too low. He also noted that the city’s financial bind and school systems need improvements to ensure a more equitable community.
Elicker told the News that, although he recognizes that New Haven has seen increased investments and opportunities in recent years, the benefits of those investments have not been felt equally across the city’s various neighborhoods and demographics.
“It’s correct that things are great in New Haven, for some people,” Elicker told the News in an interview after Thursday’s forum. “But the problem is that things are not great for everyone and New Haven is not a place where everyone can thrive.”
To date, Elicker has released two of his policy platforms, one on jobs and the economy and another on education.
Harp has criticized Elicker’s plans and promises before, often calling them unrealistic. On Thursday, her team took that criticism a step farther by releasing attack flyers outside of the forum venue.
On the front side of the flyers, a heading reads “Over Confidence & Incompetence.” Directly under the heading, there are two graphics: The first shows Trump with a speech bubble claiming that he would build a wall and have Mexico pay for it, while the second shows Elicker with a speech bubble saying that if elected mayor, he would make Yale pay $50 million to New Haven. Requesting an increase from the current $11.5 million that the university pays to $50 million is one facet of Elicker’s jobs and economy policy platform.
During Thursday’s forum, mayoral candidate Hamilton called for even more extreme measures, threatening to cut off services to the University as mayor unless Yale pays $250 million. Hamilton described New Haven’s economy and financial situation as a “depression.”
The back of the Harp campaign’s flyer includes a portion of a May 20 New York Times article titled, “Why High Class People Get Away With Incompetence,” with Elicker and Trump flanking the excerpt.
Elicker quickly denounced the tactic in an interview with the News on Friday. Citing New Haven’s, “many challenges with economic and racial inequality” and other issues, he criticized the “divisive” nature of Harp’s campaign in New Haven, especially in light of the divisiveness of national politics and discourse.
Jason Bartlett, the Harp 2019 campaign chairman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A fifth candidate jumped into the pool for the city’s top office earlier this month but was not present at the Democratic forums. Seth Poole, a local labor and health care activist, is running as unaffiliated and will thus forgo vying for the Democratic nomination. The other four candidates are all running for the party nod, although Elicker has committed to running unaffiliated against Harp in the general if he loses to her in the primary.
The Democratic Party will announce its official endorsement for mayor on July 24. The primary election will be held on Sept. 10, while the general election will take place on Nov. 5.
Angela Xiao | firstname.lastname@example.org .