Tim Tai, Contributing Photographer

After a first term interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Justin Elicker is heading into his second with plans to introduce infrastructure bills, expand climate programs and gain more  funding for the city. 

On Election Day earlier this month, Elicker won 84 percent of the vote across New Haven, a margin that he said encourages him that residents are enthusiastic about the work he has done in the city. In the beginning of his second term, a number of projects will be voted on in the Board of Alders and rolled out, including a new agreement with Yale that increases the University’s voluntary contribution to the city by $52 million over the next six years. Affordable housing and infrastructure bills, as well as the allocation of over $100 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding, are also high on the mayor’s agenda. 

Elicker emphasized the economic growth in New Haven that has continued amid the pandemic, and he said he hopes that his administration will both bolster this development and equitably distribute its benefits. 

Path to a Second Term

A Connecticut native, Elicker first moved to New Haven 13 years ago to attend graduate school at Yale. He later served four years on the Board of Alders representing Ward 10, before an unsuccessful first mayoral run in 2013. Previously, he had worked as a foreign service officer for the State Department for five years and taught at elementary and high schools. 

After defeating incumbent Toni Harp in 2019 with 69 percent of the vote, Elicker had just over two months in office before the pandemic hit New Haven. Looking back, he said that he is proud of not only the city’s response to COVID-19, but of the other projects that he helped push across the finish line amid the crisis.

“The last two years have been dominated by COVID-19… and we’re not out of the woods yet,” Elicker said. “But when you think about the other things that we’ve accomplished, they are just quite remarkable during a pandemic. We’ve been able to get many other things done that have been elusive for decades.” 

In his first term, Elicker secured increased state funding for the city by fighting for the expansion of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, program. Passed this summer, this new plan will have New Haven receive $90 million from the state this year, more than double the $41 million it received in 2020. Elicker listed this as one of his proudest accomplishments, along with the recent Yale agreement and the expansion of the leases for both Tweed Airport and Union Station. All four projects are what “mayors have talked about for decades and not been able to see meaningful change on,” he said. 

On Election Day, a number of voters spoke about their approval of Elicker’s response to the pandemic and community needs. Joyce Hsiang, assistant professor at the Yale School of Architecture, said that he is “present and accessible and keeps you updated,” praising his “transparent way of running city hall.”

In her endorsement of Elicker in August, Rep. Rosa DeLauro called him “a steady hand in uncertain times. 

“He rolled up his sleeves,” she said. “He got to work. He made sure no one got left behind.”

Main agenda items: inclusive growth and a more efficient city government

“New Haven is clearly growing, and you see that by the number of new apartment buildings being constructed, the number of new businesses that have opened — just the number of ribbon cuttings that I’ve attended in the last two years is remarkable,” Elicker said. “We have to make sure that growth benefits everyone in the city and not just a small group of people. And we’re working very hard to do that.”

He said that one of his priorities in his next term is to expand opportunities for vocational training, including in traditional areas such as building construction and automotive technical skills. However, this project would also extend to up-and-coming industries in the region “around health care, the digital world, artificial intelligence and robotics.” 

As new apartment developments go up across the city, including luxury projects such as The Audubon, Elicker is collaborating with the Board of Alders on a number of policies that would address the affordable housing crisis. There are currently 800 new affordable units in the pipeline, according to Elicker. His administration has proposed an inclusionary zoning policy that would require all new developments in New Haven to contain a certain proportion of affordable units, which is moving its way through the Board of Alders. 

New Haven’s growth will be supplemented by both an increase in state and federal funding and the additional $52 million from Yale. Along with the increased PILOT payments from the state, the city has also received more than $100 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding, according to Elicker. How to distribute this parcel across city projects is still under debate, but Elicker said that he will recommend to the Board of Alders that a large portion of these funds be directed towards initiatives promoting “inclusive growth,” the first of his two pronged approach to his second term.

He summarized the second part of his agenda as maintaining a “functioning city government.”

“While we have limited resources in the city, and we still face budget challenges, we can …  improve our ability to deliver services to residents,” Elicker said. “That touches on many different parts of the city, the nuts and bolts of what people should expect just by being a resident in the city. Safe and clean neighborhoods … and how we respond to housing blight and absentee landlords that are neglecting properties.”

Using funding from the new federal infrastructure bill, Elicker also hopes to expand broadband internet coverage across New Haven, particularly focusing on the lower income areas in the city that are not served by the private market. 

Elicker also wants to promote two other infrastructure projects. The first is the “major corridors improvement project,” a redesign of the major roads of New Haven such as Whalley, Whitney and Grand avenues to prioritize pedestrian and bicycle safety. The second is the Hill-to-Downtown plan, which will attempt to improve connectivity between the two areas of the city through bridges and new street construction. 

Plans for mask mandates, policing and climate 

Elicker said that although many residents have voiced their dissatisfaction with the city’s mask mandate  — a point that his Republican opponent John Carlson also emphasized during their public debate — he refuses to lift them in response to “political pressure,” and will continue to reevaluate the situation based on public health guidance. In the meantime, he encourages New Haveners to get vaccinated, particularly with the recent expansion of eligibility to children over five. 

Another central issue during the campaign was crime and policing, particularly in response to this year’s spike in gun violence. Elicker shared his optimism about the Community Crisis Response Team program, which will begin its pilot in January. The initiative will enlist social workers, mental health counselors and other community members to respond to certain 911 calls, with the goal of reducing police interventions in  non-violent crisis situations. 

A crackdown on gun violence is another aspect of the city’s crime response, he said. The New Haven Police Department will be focusing on solving homicides and making more gun arrests. Walking and bicycle beats will also increase.

Lastly, Elicker shared his hopes to take more action against climate change through the creation of a new climate office, which will run initiatives to electrify buildings, expand electric vehicle fleets and create more bike and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes. The American Rescue Plan would help finance this office, he said.

Elicker suggested that Yale could also play a role in his climate change agenda.

“Now that we have gotten this agreement across the finish line, it really opens up the door to us having more conversations on collaboration,” Elicker said. “I think there’s a lot of potential on climate. … The expertise of the University, the resources of the University, the interests of both parties are aligned here to potentially do something significant.”

Elicker is the 51st mayor of New Haven.  

SYLVAN LEBRUN
Sylvan Lebrun reports on City Hall. She previously covered nonprofits and social services in the New Haven area. She is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College majoring in English.