Six years of New Haven political history are liable to come to a close on Tuesday as voters assemble for the general election to choose between three-term incumbent Toni Harp, Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 and write-in Seth Poole.
The municipal election, which will determine an assemblage of city officials including New Haven’s mayor for the next two years, marks the second time Elicker and Harp have faced each other. The first, in 2013, was the most hotly contested mayoral election to date in the Elm City, as then-mayor John DeStefano Jr. opted not to run after 20 years in the post. Harp beat out Elicker during the Democratic primary six years ago, forcing Elicker to run independently in the general election, where Harp again triumphed to become the first female and the second African American mayor in the city’s history. Voters turned the tables this year, however, as Elicker sailed through the Democratic primary with 58 percent of the vote.
Elicker, a Connecticut native, has lived in New Haven for 11 years with his wife and two children. On his campaign website, the candidate states that he is “running for Mayor because he] want[s] [his] daughters to grow up in a city that provides everyone the education and opportunities they need to be successful in life.”
The former U.S. State Department foreign service officer began his New Haven political career in representing Ward 10 on the Board of Alders, citing that he “wanted to get involved in a local community that he believed in.” During his time as an alder, Elicker defended renters with predatory landlords, promoted positive police-community interactions and bolstered economic development in Cedar Hill. After two terms on the Board of Alders and a failed bid against Harp, the 43-year-old Democrat moved on to become the executive director of the New Haven Land Trust in 2013. According to his campaign site, he has “consistently chosen a [career] path that prioritizes public good over personal gain.” Under his leadership, the trust has quadrupled in revenue and added new youth programs.
Elicker’s competitor for the city’s highest seat is three-term incumbent Toni Harp, who has served as an elected Democratic official in New Haven and in Hartford, representing the Elm City for 32 consecutive years. Born in San Francisco and raised in Salt Lake City, Harp earned a master’s degree in environmental design at the Yale School of Architecture and served as the Ward 2 Alder for New Haven starting in 1987. After three terms as Alder, Harp spent 21 years in the state senate before winning the city’s mayoral election in 2013.
During her time as mayor over the past six years, the unemployment rate in the city has been cut in half and crime has fallen to a 50-year low. Harp has run her 2019 campaign on the premise of continuing her current work for the city and “creating a culture of innovation and inclusion for New Haven’s future,” according to her campaign website.
Harp’s decisive primary loss to Elicker marked her first electoral defeat in her three-decade-long political career. Following the loss, Harp wavered on whether or not she would continue on to the general election. After Harp originally suspended her campaign two weeks after the election, she resumed her candidacy and is currently running under the Working Families Party ticket.
Six years ago, Elicker and Harp emerged as the favorites in a packed Democratic field. After Harp bested Elicker in the Democratic primary, Elicker ran again in the general unaffiliated. This time around, Elicker, with his primary victory over Harp, enters the general race as the favorite, and has picked up significant support from other elected officials and city leaders since his primary win. In 2013, Elicker lost to Harp by a 2,000-ballot margin, with Harp winning 55 percent of the vote.
While Harp cruised to reelection in 2015 and 2017, her third term was marred by controversy. She implemented an unpopular 11 percent increase in the tax rate last year and saw several fiscal scandals within her administration. In March, Elicker filed a complaint against Harp with the State Elections Enforcement Commission regarding nearly $100,000 of donations in her 2017 campaign coming from undisclosed donors, and he filed a second complaint in August for her repeated failure to release names, this time questioning the source of $5,000 in her 2019 crusade.
The candidates have clashed over the course of the campaign, with Elicker criticizing Harp for her mismanagement of public funds corruption in City Hall and Harp’s campaign ads likening Elicker to President Trump. Harp has also accused Elicker’s wife, an assistant U.S. attorney, of using her status to initiate an FBI probe into Harp’s administration.
This time last year, New Haven experienced significant same-day registration problems, with many voters being told that they might not be able to cast their ballots due to buildup.
Voting stations will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Margaret Hedeman | firstname.lastname@example.org