Zoe Berg

Gabriela Campos, a lifelong environmental activist, has joined New Haven’s mayoral race as a write-in candidate, urging residents to vote for “The Land for Mayor” in protest of the city’s response to the Tweed New Haven Airport expansion and other environmental issues.

Campos’ campaign focuses on respect for the environment and New Haven neighborhoods. She proposes “listening circles” in each neighborhood, wherein heads of city departments would meet with community members on a regular basis to hear concerns and confront other issues. Her proposed agenda also emphasizes the need for food forests — similar to robust community gardens — sustainable architecture, pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, ranked-choice voting and a coastal-resiliency plan in New Haven.

“I don’t even want people to vote for me, just to vote in protest,” Campos said. “Write in ‘the land.’ If we care for the land, our needs are met. If there are enough of us who vote for the land, they’ll have to listen.”

Campos grew up in Peru, where her environmental activism began. She remembers scolding a boy in her neighborhood for hurting caterpillars and recalls her family’s emphasis on respecting the earth. Her family immigrated to the United States in the 1980s, first to California and then to Connecticut. 

During her college years at Central Connecticut State University, Campos worked with the Connecticut Citizen Action Group and the Working Families Party. At the time, Campos was a legal resident, not yet a United States citizen. She organized “get out the vote” campaigns, where she met residents who felt that voting had no impact on their daily lives. 

“That’s why elections matter to me so much,” she said. “Staying home is the worst thing you can do. You’re robbing yourself of your own voice.”

For months, Campos and other residents spoke against the proposed Tweed New Haven Airport expansion. Tweed’s expansion recently gained approval from the New Haven Board of Alders in a 43-year lease agreement, which would include a new terminal near East Haven and a longer runway. Though the Federal Aviation Administration has approved the airport’s plan to expand, Tweed is currently in the midst of conducting an environmental assessment process, which will likely be completed in 2022. 

Campos said that she felt that Mayor Justin Elicker and the Board of Alders did not respect community members’ concerns about expanding the airport. Residents pointed out the potential risks of noise pollution, increased greenhouse gas emissions and wetland destruction that could result from the expansion. 

For Campos, the controversy over Tweed’s expansion came to a head at an August climate rally hosted by the New Haven Climate Initiative. At the rally, Campos confronted Elicker about approving the airport expansion. 

“It’s like something inside of me really woke up,” she said. “I was furious. When he had the chance to do something green, he did the opposite.”

When she came home after the rally, she found that her boyfriend wrote “Mom for Mayor” on a whiteboard. Campos laughed at the time, but the joke quickly became reality. 

In the days leading up to the election, Campos will be calling residents, sharing her platform and encouraging New Haveners to vote. 

“I know that write-in campaigns are pretty much impossible, especially starting just weeks before the election,” Campos said. “I’m fully aware of that. But what this campaign allows us to do is have these conversations and hold our government accountable.”

Campos will face off against Democrat Incumbent Mayor Elicker, Republican John A. Carlson, Independent Mayce V. Torres and write-in candidate Roger Uihlein in the mayoral race. Election day in New Haven is Nov. 2.

Anastasia Hufham reports on climate and environmental issues in New Haven. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she is a junior in Saybrook College majoring in Ethics, Politics & Economics.