Less than five miles from New Haven — yet seemingly a world away from Yale — another Haven is locked in a contested mayoral race to be decided in less than a week.

Next Tuesday, voters of East Haven, a town of about 29,000 residents, will head to the polls to choose their next mayor. On the ballot are Democrat Joe Carfora, Republican “Big Steve” Tracey, a former WWF wrestler, and a petitioning candidate Oni Sioson who isn’t affiliated with either major party.

The election drama began earlier this year when current Republican mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. announced he wouldn’t seek reelection and opened the gates for East Haven’s first mayoral race without an incumbent candidate in 30 years. In 2017, Maturo won by about 100 votes of over 7,000 cast. Close elections like this are common in the small town, according to former Democratic State Representative James Albis, who beat Tracey in a State House election by 11 votes of 10,001 in 2016. East Haven residents take pride in their brand of small-town, independent politics which often yields these close results.

“Small-town politics is all about hard work, having one-on-one conversations, and getting to know residents,” Albis said in an email to the News. “The people involved in East Haven politics truly care about our community.”

The mayoral race is not the only election on Tuesday. The ballot will also feature a slate of other municipal elections. East Haven is fairly unique in how it elects its town council, a municipal body which functions similarly to New Haven’s Board of Alders. The town is geographically divided into five districts, with each district electing three members to the council. In each region, Republicans and Democrats are allowed to put forward up to three candidates each, which means a typical council ballot has six nominees vying for a seat. On election day, each voter can select up to three candidates, and the top three vote-getters in each district are officially elected.

Although candidates for this office are affiliated with the Democrats or Republicans, many voters don’t vote straight down the ballot, according to Kimberly Glassman, a Democratic candidate in one of the districts. This means that in the small elections, in which winners frequently emerge with fewer than 1,000 votes, both Democrats and Republicans are often elected from the same district.

“East Haven is a very unique community in that voters tend to split the ticket a lot,” Glassman said. “We do have base Democratic and Republican voters, but the greatest number of newly registered voters are unaffiliated voters.” Glassman said that at the municipal level in particular, “folks often look beyond the party to the person.”

In addition to the town council and mayoral elections, candidates for the Board of Education, town clerk and Board of Finance will be on Tuesday’s ballot. Unlike the town council positions, these three races are decided by voters at-large in East Haven and not split into geographical regions.

Tracey won the Republican primary in September and bested his opponent 727–448, while Carfora ran uncontested. Now the two are squaring off in the general election in a race that is unpredictable, yet expected by many to be close, like many recent East Haven elections. After his razor-thin victory in 2016, Albis won the 2018 state house election by over 16 percent before retiring in early 2019 to serve in Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration. In a special election held earlier this year to replace Albis, Republican Joseph Zullo edged out Democrat Josh Balter by 250 votes and is now representing East Haven in Hartford.

Carfora said that he is knocking on many doors to win support in the small town. His campaign is an effort to improve the quality of life for East Haven residents, Carfora said.

“I came here when I was eight months old — I never left, I love this town, I know how to get things done.” he said in an interview with the News. “I want to bring the quality of life back to the residents that for quite a while has been lacking … there’s a lot of issues up here in East Haven.”

Carfora also said he is coordinating closely with Democrats in each of the other campaigns, including Glassman and two other women running in the first district. Tracey did not respond to an attempt made by the News to contact him through his website.

Offering their support for Carfora over Tracey, Albis and Glassman each attacked the current administration and said Tracey would not offer a significant change. Albis said that Maturo has been “mired in scandal, corruption and mismanagement of taxpayer dollars” and that Tracey is surrounded by people who “have enabled this dysfunction.”

Glassman agreed with this sentiment and noted various scandals the administration has been involved in, such as a sexual harassment suit made against Maturo in which the town paid for the $175,000 settlement, among others. In 2012, when asked how he would respond to potential discrimination against Latinos by police in East Haven, Maturo said he “might have tacos” for dinner, according to the New York Times.

In an interview with the News, Glassman stressed her discomfort with Maturo’s behavior.

“As a young progressive woman, I have been disgusted and embarrassed by the current administration’s insensitivty to our growing Hispanic population and to the numerous claims of sexual harassment made against him,” she said. “It has been a consistent, ongoing assault on the voters and taxpayers of our community.”

Municipal elections will be held across the state on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

 

Emmett Shell | emmett.shell@yale.edu