Yale Daily News

New Haven’s mayoral race sparked in the early summer months, just as hordes of Yalies emptied campus. The temperature shot up. So, too, did the intensity of the Democratic primary.

Karen DuBois-Walton, who became Elicker’s first major challenger in his quest for reelection when she entered the race in March, immediately made a splash in the race. The head of Elm City Communities, New Haven’s Housing Authority, raised an unprecedented sum of donations in her first month of fundraising.

Then, at the New Haven Democratic Town Committee meeting on July 27, DuBois-Walton unexpectedly announced her departure from the race.

“I wanted to run a campaign for equity and justice — a campaign that works to transform what’s possible in New Haven in a way that our forebears here have done so many times,” she said. “It has become evident that the city is not ready for that kind of leadership.”

Earlier in the summer, DuBois-Walton had lost most of the city’s Democratic Town Ward Committee straw polls, picking up only four out of 25.

Minutes after that announcement, Elicker accepted the party’s nomination.

“I’m proud of our city and how we’ve responded to this crisis that none of us have experienced in our lifetime,” the mayor said at the Town Committee. “We’ve done so in a way that follows the science but that invests in equity … I am so grateful that you have given me the opportunity to continue leading the city.”

Elicker faces a vote in the city’s primary election on September 14, which he is primed to win, followed by a general election on Nov. 2. He could face off against one of several Republican candidates.

Summer campaigning

Before DuBois-Walton’s announcement, the hot summer days were filled with door-to-door campaigning.

Elicker centered his campaign around the achievements of his first term, touting a prompt response to the COVID-19 pandemic and his handling of the Elm City’s budget crisis. The mayor took an active role in the fight for a statewide tiered Payment in Lieu of Taxes program. That program, which saw a victory in June and helped ensure that the city could pass Elicker’s proposed “Forward Together” budget without the tax hikes or cuts to city services required by his “Crisis Budget”, ensured the state would provide additional funding to municipalities with high quantities of tax-exempt property.

DuBois-Walton’s campaign called for increased attention to police accountability, an issue which she claimed the Elicker administration neglected. With Elicker in office, DuBois-Walton said, communication between police leadership and the rank and file continued to deteriorate amid a national reckoning on race that placed law enforcement throughout the country under increased scrutiny. She also criticized the administration’s budgeting decisions, in light of Elicker’s unprecedented double budget proposal.

Despite DuBois-Walton’s best attempts to make herself a formidable candidate against a popular mayor, straw polls conducted by ward committees among New Haven Democratic groups consistently leaned in Elicker’s favor.

A Republican challenger

For months, New Haven resident Mayce Torres’ candidacy in the Democratic primary failed to gain traction. But on July 22, as first reported by the Independent, Torres changed her party affiliation to Republican, meaning she could potentially still face off against Elicker in a general election.

However, to qualify for the Republican primary ballot she will have to file a petition with at least 129 signatures from local Republicans.

The more cemented Republican candidate is John Carlson, who earned the support of the New Haven Republican Party. Carlson has focused his campaign around improving poor test scores in the New Haven Public School system, criminal justice and promoting fiscal responsibility in City Hall.

“Unlike the Democrats, I won’t handcuff the cops,” Carlson said at a local Republican convention, according to the Independent. “I’ll let the cops handcuff the criminals.”

Elicker’s team has used the presence of “a serious Republican challenger” in several campaign emails as a motivator for donations.

“We can’t be complacent — we’ve got a serious Republican challenger for the first time in years,” Elicker’s campaign manager Kim Agyekum wrote in an email to supporters. “Raising the funds necessary to defeat our serious Republican challenger requires support from residents just like you,” she wrote in another.

New Haven Republicans will decide who will challenge the Democratic nominee 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.