Jessie Cheung, Staff Photographer

For the first time since 2007, a Republican — New Haven Republican Party Chair John Carlson — will be on the ballot for New Haven’s mayoral election this November, challenging incumbent Mayor Justin Elicker.

Elicker announced his bid for reelection in January, touting his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two months later, Karen DuBois-Walton, president of Elm City Communities, launched an exploratory committee and later a full-fledged campaign for the Democratic Party nomination. After months of spirited campaigning, DuBois-Walton dropped out of the race in late July, leaving Elicker to accept the party nomination.

New Haven’s Republican Party nominated Carlson to challenge Elicker at a committee meeting on July 22. Carlson is a 52-year-old public school teacher who has been the party chair since last year. Carlson, like Elicker, has partnered with New Haven Democracy Fund, which provides public financing for candidates who abide by their fundraising guidelines. Carlson had received a total of $29,148 from the Democracy Fund as of the Sept. 15 meeting. In comparison, Elicker had received around $61,000 in grants and matched donations, according to Democracy Fund Administrator Alyson Heimer.

“I feel it’s important to bring two parties — two working parties — back to the city so that we have a true democracy,” Carlson said. “A one-party rule is not good for the city. Almost all of the seats go completely unchallenged, and I want to change that.”

New Haven had its last Republican mayor in 1953.

Carlson’s Platform

Carlson told the News that his original plan was to run for Ward 6 alder, a seat currently held by Carmen Rodriguez, but he then decided that he could “impact change to a much greater extent” by challenging Elicker for mayor. This competition, Carlson said, is already bringing to light certain issues that he believes were previously going unaddressed by Elicker.

In particular, Carlson’s campaign is centered around the recent trends of increasing violent crime in New Haven. He is calling for a greater police presence in the city.

“I would hire more officers, increase patrols, make officers more visible on their patrols and install dash cameras in all NHPD vehicles,” Carlson said. “It’s better for the officers and better for the public if everything the police do will be recorded. …  the good police, the solid majority of police, can be relieved knowing they don’t have to worry about false accusations.” 

On Tuesday, the Board of Alders Public Safety Committee voted to authorize the purchase of 147 new dashboard cameras and 825 new body-worn cameras for NHPD.

In addition to fighting crime, Carlson told the News that he hopes to reform New Haven’s public education system. He said too much money is invested in the Board of Education’s administrative offices, and he believes some of those funds should instead be diverted into making sure that no students are left behind in the classroom.

Carlson also contested the city’s mask mandate in indoor spaces, for which the Elicker administration recently launched a crackdown. Carlson claimed that he would not “force” them unless required by the state or federal government.

In a statement to the News, Elicker pushed back against Carlson’s suggestion.

“It’s important not to politicize masks or other science-backed policies,” he wrote. “We implemented the city mask mandate because the science is clear that masks significantly impair the spread of COVID. And we are seeing results as our cases go down.”

Contributions from the New Haven Democracy Fund

Both Elicker and Carlson have received financing for their campaigns from the New Haven Democracy Fund, the Elm City’s public elections financing program.

According to Heimer, who spoke at the fund’s Sept. 15 meeting, contributions between $10 and $390 from registered New Haven voters are eligible to be matched by the fund. Grants are also awarded based on the fulfillment of specific criteria, including limits on campaign expenditures.

“Carlson submitted 229 names of registered New Haven voters who gave more than $10 and less than $390, the maximum allowed contribution,” Heimer said. “We went through and matched those contributions, according to our guidelines. And because he has raised more than $5,000, and also has received contributions that qualify from over 200 individuals, we are going to give him the grant, which is worth $20,000.”

In addition, Democracy Fund guidelines necessitate that candidates participate in at least one public forum. The fund is in the midst of organizing a debate between Carlson and Elicker, for which Heimer gave the date of Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Shubert-run Co-Op High School Theater.

The mayor told the News that he looks forward to the debate as an opportunity to address questions that are on the minds of New Haveners. He also said that the existence of a serious Republican challenger indicates a positive trend in local democratic participation.

Elicker’s second term agenda items

Elicker’s campaign for reelection has primarily consisted of ongoing door-knocking efforts across the city; similarly, Carlson said that his strategy is to “pound the pavement.”

Like Carlson, addressing gun violence is at the top of Elicker’s platform. However, he disagrees with Carlson’s assertion that increased policing is a fundamental solution to this problem. He told the News that his team is taking a “multi-pronged approach” that includes investing in outreach workers, youth programming, reentry centers and mental health services.

“While we have increased police walking beats and reinstated the shooting task force to solve shootings, it’s important to underscore that these challenges around violence cannot be addressed in the long-term through policing, but must be addressed by confronting the underlying issues stemming from systemic racism and the underfunding of services,” Elicker wrote to the News.

Other agenda items Elicker mentioned include increasing opportunities for affordable housing, addressing the city’s racial wealth gap and appropriating funds from the American Rescue Plan.

 New Haven’s municipal elections will take place on Nov. 2.

Update, Sept. 27: The article has been updated with the date and time of the Mayoral Debate, which was decided after publication. 

Sylvan Lebrun is a Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. She previously served as City Editor, and covered City Hall and nonprofits and social services in the New Haven area. She is a junior in Pauli Murray College majoring in Comparative Literature.