Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer

Both candidates are fundraising. Mayor Justin Elicker is canvassing. And Karen DuBois-Walton, in a move that might suggest a looming campaign, has just stepped away from her job.

These are the latest moves in a mayoral race that still has only one official candidate: Elicker. The first-term mayor announced he was seeking reelection this January. In March, DuBois-Walton announced the creation of an exploratory committee to determine whether she would launch a formal campaign.

Elicker has said he is “proud of the work we’ve done, excited for the work ahead, and optimistic for the future of our city” in an April 6 message to supporters. DuBois-Walton has touted her focus “on building a team committed to inclusive and equitable leadership, big vision and bold actions to tackle New Haven’s challenges and create opportunities for prosperity for all” in a March press release from her committee’s launch.

DuBois-Walton: Signs point to a campaign

DuBois-Walton announced on March 8 that she would establish an exploratory committee. Soon after, as the current president of Elm City Communities — the city’s housing authority — she boasted $69,652 in 23 days from 433 contributions and 412 contributors, more than either 2019 candidate raised in the first month of their respective campaigns. Despite neglecting to confirm whether she would run in the succeeding weeks, DuBois-Walton announced in a Wednesday press release that she would be stepping down from her current post, a move that could indicate an impending official launch of a campaign.

Will Viederman, DuBois-Walton’s campaign spokesperson, wrote to the News in an email that the campaign expects an announcement regarding her run by the end of April, a date that coincides with her departure from Elm City Communities.

Viederman noted in his email that the decision on where to allocate the funds should DuBois-Walton decide not to run has not been made. He also noted that the money gathered so far is going towards the “infrastructure necessary to set up the events Karen’s holding.” These events, meetings with local community members, are being held on Zoom due to the pandemic.

“It’s been an opportunity to bring together people of very different backgrounds,” DuBois-Walton said in her January announcement of her committee. “To put a team together that is able to work with our residents to really hear what they want.”

DuBois-Walton served as president of ECC for 14 years. Under her leadership, ECC became the only housing authority in the state to cancel rent during the pandemic. She also directed the authority to knock down a 1950s-era fence that separated a New Haven public housing development from a middle-class Hamden neighborhood. During DuBois-Walton’s tenure, ECC constructed 2,000 affordable housing units with more than 40 percent of project funding going towards “minority and women owned businesses,” according to her exploratory committee website.

Prior to her time at ECC, DuBois-Walton worked in City Hall under former Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s administration. There, she coordinated with DeStefano’s policy towards affordable housing projects throughout the city, as chief administrative officer and chief of staff. She has also developed public health policy as a racial equity consultant in the Connecticut State Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. She is currently on the Connecticut State Board of Education.

On April 14, after announcing her exploratory committee, DuBois-Walton also published a 10-minute video calling for investment in police accountability in the city of New Haven. In the video, she noted the importance of investing in “basic economic needs” around the city –– citing housing, jobs and workforce development as some of the areas funds should be redirected towards.

Elicker: Launching canvass efforts, confronting budget frustration

Elicker defeated three-term incumbent Toni Harp in 2019 on his second run for 165 Church St., securing about 60 percent of the vote in the decisive September Democratic primary. During that campaign, Elicker ran on a platform of confronting the differences between “Two New Havens” — a reference to the split in realities common between the Yale-adjacent segments of the city and many of the city’s other communities. 

Like many of his predecessors, Elicker called on Yale to contribute more to the city in an effort to increase the city’s capacity to provide services. Elicker campaigned on and continues to hold that Yale should pay the city $50 million annually. Right now, that figure sits at $13 million, up $1 million from the previous year but still short of the mayor’s goal. Still, Elicker has said he is also “cautiously optimistic” about obtaining funds from Yale based on ongoing negotiations with University officials.

Over the course of his first term, Elicker has publicly called for Yale to pay more to New Haven on several occasions. Most notably, Elicker called out Yale in his March budget proposal, which included an explicitly separate “Crisis Budget” — including cuts to a handful of city services — which would go into effect should the city not receive additional funds from Yale and Connecticut.

New Haven residents have resonated with Elicker’s demands for the University, and at the most recent public budget hearing, Yale’s lack of contribution to the city dominated discussion. 

Elicker has received pushback on aspects of his Crisis Budget proposal, which he has submitted in the case that the city does not receive extra funding from the city or state. On top of resident concerns about funding for climate justice and safety, the Crisis Budget’s proposed closing of the Mitchell Branch Library has drawn particular ire, especially from the Westville residents it serves. Even after the mayor expressed optimism last Wednesday to Westville members that the Crisis Budget likely will not go into effect, community members have continued to lament the potential closure.

“I don’t want to label it as an issue,” Elicker’s campaign manager Kim Agyekum said of the frustration in an interview with the News this week. “I want to make sure that we’re labeling it as a collaborative conversation that we’re having. In terms of how we’re dealing with it, we’re honestly just listening right now. And we’re trying to figure out how we can come up with the proper solution that will cater to the needs of the people that will be affected.”

At this stage in Elicker’s campaign, according to Agyekum, listening has been the most important thing.

She noted that regardless of whether or not DuBois-Walton enters the race with an official candidacy and regardless of whether Elicker has “zero or 50 opponents,” listening will remain at the core of Elicker’s campaign.

“We are really just focused on talking to the people,” Agyekum told the News. “And when we do have an announced opponent, I don’t think that’s really going to change, right. At the end of the day, this campaign is going to be about the people of the city in every single neighborhood. And that’s really all we’re focused on. We’re not focused on anything else.”

In the first quarter of 2021, Elicker’s campaign boasted $123,229 from 724 individual contributions and 631 contributors. Seventy percent of his contributions were from New Haven, a hefty third more than DuBois-Walton’s. Elicker’s list of contributors included several city officials, like Health Director Maritza Bond, Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth, Ward 26 Alder Darryl Brackeen and Transit Director Doug Hausladen.

He has also officially kicked off his canvassing efforts, Agyekum noted. On Saturday, his campaign hosted their first official canvassing event at the Lincoln Bassett School, which she characterized as “very, very small.” The aim of the event was to continue with the campaign’s goals — talking to New Haven residents and figure out what issues matter most to them.

“We want to make sure that everybody here knows that we’re listening, this is going to be a community-based campaign,” Agyekum said of the canvas. “And that the mayor really, really cares.”

The New Haven primary elections will be held on Sept. 14.

Ángela Pérez is City Editor of the YDN. She was a former beat reporter, covering City Hall and Women's Volleyball. She was a former editor and writer for the WKND desk. She is from Puerto Rico and plans to major in Architecture.
Owen Tucker-Smith was managing editor of the Board of 2023. Before that, he covered the mayor as a City Hall reporter.