Today, New Haven residents will make a choice between two candidates with storied careers in the Elm City: three-term incumbent Mayor Toni Harp and former alder and nonprofit executive and Democratic nominee Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10.
The general election marks the end of a race that has been characterized by bitter rhetoric and contentious public debate. In September, Elicker, despite squaring off with a Democratic Town Committee-endorsed incumbent, proved his strong base of Democratic support with a 16-point margin of victory. New Haven is a Democratic stronghold where the most heated battles are often fought in the primaries. As such, Elicker’s September win seemed all but the end for Harp and her six-year tenure. Indeed, Harp publicly suspended her campaign just over a week after her defeat.
But later in the fall, Harp renewed her candidacy, this time as a candidate for the Working Families Party — a progressive, pro-labor organization. She relaunched her effort just over two weeks ago and credited this decision, in part, to the People’s Campaign — a Facebook group turned PAC that serves as the locus for a grassroots effort in support of the mayor. The People’s Campaign has levied heavy charges against the Elicker campaign, accusing the Democratic nominee of lying about Harp’s record and engaging in questionable campaign finance practices. For his part, Elicker has disparaged the negative campaign rhetoric that has marked this race since its beginning. Unlike he did in the primary season, he no longer criticizes Harp on the stump and has called for unity among Democrats and New Haveners more generally. Politicians at all levels of government have echoed this call, with U.S. senators and local legislators rallying for Elicker’s election.
“In the last couple weeks, there’s been some pretty inappropriate rhetoric from a very small group of people,” Elicker said at a fundraiser last Tuesday. “The success of our campaign in the Democratic primary — around the city — shows that that kind of rhetoric does not make us a strong city. People don’t want us to resort to, a lot of times, what we’re seeing at the national level.”
On both sides, most of the campaign rhetoric has focused on the candidate platforms and backgrounds. But on Saturday, the People’s Campaign and Harp herself took their criticisms beyond Elicker and addressed the entire Democratic Party. The campaign said that the establishment abandoned Harp, a lifelong party member, and no longer represents the voice of the people.
The hallmark of Elicker’s campaign has been his concept of two New Havens: a prosperous downtown area that enjoys significant investment, and lower-income areas of the city that, in stark contrast, scarcely benefit from urban development.
As mayor, he hopes to bridge this disparity with a slew of policies on a range of issues. To improve job access and the Elm City’s economy, Elicker plans to combat gentrification, bolster job training programs and renegotiate Yale’s voluntary contribution — as a constitutionally tax-exempt institution, Yale pays the city $11.5 million in lieu of the approximately $125 million it would pay if fully taxed. As for education, Elicker plans to focus on early childhood education and school board accountability.
The school board has been a subject of controversy in the Harp administration. In addition to charges of corruption, the board faced a transportation debacle earlier this year as the city closed over 4,000 student bus stops. This incident and others led Elicker to charge Harp with mismanagement, adding to his accusations of corruption and opacity in City Hall.
Harp, however, has consistently defended her record, touting administrative achievements such as recent work on infrastructure developments like the Downtown Crossing Project, which aims to connect residents of the Hill to New Haven’s downtown, and her first act as mayor — removing a fence that once separated the Elm City from neighboring Hamden.
Throughout the campaign, she emphasized the fall of crime rates under her administration and successful programs like the Gateway to College high school completion program and Youth Stat, which seeks to reduce young people’s interaction with the justice system via school-based interventions.
Harp levied her own accusations against Elicker. During the primary campaign, she issued a controversial series of attack ads likening Elicker to Trump and suggesting that he would use drones to spy on Elm City residents. Harp has also accused Elicker’s wife, an assistant U.S. attorney based out of New Haven, of using her position to initiate an FBI probe into her administration. She has also criticized Elicker as inexperienced and disparaged his tenure at the New Haven Land Trust.
“I don’t know Justin Elicker’s body of work. I do know that he works for an organization that probably has a budget of less than a million dollars. I know that he says that there are 10 people that he supervised,” Harp said in a debate on Aug. 30. “I know it’s a part-time job. I know, in fact, that if he ran this city he would be in charge of thousands of employees … Even on the Board of Alders, I can’t point to one thing that he’s achieved.”
Elicker represented Ward 10 on the Board of Alders for four years before assuming the role of executive director of the New Haven Land Trust. He took over after the organization faced an embezzlement scandal and financial deficit due to poor leadership. Elicker’s campaign website touts the trust’s milestones under his leadership, such as a quadrupled revenue and programs that address “systematic injustices in New Haven.”
Today’s vote will mark the second general election contest between Elicker and Harp. The two first faced off in the Democratic mayoral primary in 2013. After losing in the Democratic primary, Elicker ran unaffiliated in the general election, ultimately losing to Harp by a margin of about 2,000 ballots. Harp won 55 percent of the vote. Now, the roles have reversed, with Elicker as the Democratic nominee and Harp as the Working Families Party candidate.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters who did not register prior to election day can do so at the Registrar of Voters, located at 200 Orange St.
Mackenzie Hawkins | firstname.lastname@example.org
Clarification, Nov. 5: This article has been updated to better reflect the circumstances surrounding Harp’s suspension of her candidacy and campaign renewal.