Courtesy of Liam Brennan

After 15 years prosecuting a former Connecticut governor, a government fraudster and T-Mobile, Liam Brennan LAW ’07 is looking to launch a new career — mayor of New Haven. 

Originally exploring a run in 2019 to challenge incumbent mayor Justin Elicker, Brennan bowed out of the race to take care of his young children. Now, Brennan has formed another exploratory committee for mayor; if he joins the race, he will be the third person up against Elicker in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary. The two other announced candidates are former police sergeant and former Beaver Hills alder Shafiq Abdussabur and former McKinsey executive Tom Goldenberg.

“New Haven can and should do better by its citizens,” Brennan told the News. “Our city needs change, and it needs to work for all of its residents.”

If elected, Brennan plans on ending almost all arrests for drug use, strengthening the Civilian Review Board and making the city a more competitive employer by raising wages for teachers, police officers and city employees. 

He also plans on expanding public housing and redoing the city’s property tax revaluation from earlier this year, alleging that the evaluation unfairly raised values for single-family homes while undervaluing new corporate apartment developments. 

Lastly, he hopes to stabilize the education system through universal Pre-K and smaller class sizes in New Haven Public Schools. 

“There were a lot of concerns about Harp when she left office four years ago but we forget that she presided over some of the lowest homicide rates since the ’70s and education was heading in the right direction,” exploratory committee member and SeeClickFix founder Ben Berkowitz told the News. “All that progress is now crumbling and New Haven deserves a mayor who can keep up, and that is Liam.” 

Brennan at Yale, Hartford and the US Attorney’s Office

Born in Stamford, Brennan came to New Haven in 2004 to attend Yale Law School. While at YLS, Brennan worked at a legal clinic assisting non-profit organizations Junta for Progressive Action and Unidad Latina en Acción. He was part of a team that developed solutions for immigrants to become better integrated into the city and community, including an Elm City ID Card. The ID card system allows for legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants to register for a city ID, with which they can access benefits. 

Graduating law school in 2007, he worked at the Department of Justice for three years before moving back to New Haven to work for Connecticut’s U.S. Attorney’s Office as an assistant U.S. attorney. 

During his time at the US Attorney’s Office, he worked as the director of the Public Corruption Task Force. In this role, Brennan served as the lead counsel prosecuting former governor John Rowland, who served one year in a New Haven prison for campaign finance violations and the falsification of records provided to investigators.

After leaving the US Attorney’s Office in 2018, Brennan joined the New Haven Legal Assistance Association clinic working in community economic development, and he was part of the “A Room for All” coalition providing solutions for affordable housing in New Haven. He also served as the director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center to provide resources to veterans recovering from homelessness, addiction and mental illness. 

Brennan became Hartford’s inaugural inspector general in January of 2022 and is also the chief investigator for Hartford’s Civilian Police Review Board, where he looks into allegations of misconduct. 

“I’ve been able to do one-third of the work I want to do as inspector general working on the cutting edge of criminal justice in Connecticut,” Brennan told the News. “I also want to work on education and housing at the same time, so that’s why I’m now exploring a run for mayor.” 

Ending the War on Drugs in New Haven and “showing love” to  the Civilian Review Board 

If elected, Brennan said he hopes to shift the city’s response to drug use from a police issue to a public health issue. 

“The war on drugs is over,” Brennan told the News. “There’s nothing that obligates the city to continue to enforce an ineffectual war on drugs. And we can pull our police out of that and have them focus on guns and things that really hurt people that aren’t really public health issues.”

Under Brennan, the New Haven Police Department would continue to stop open-air use or sale of drugs, but would be told to no longer make arrests over drug use or confiscate drugs. 

Instead, Brennan said he would encourage the NHPD to focus their time on solving violent crime. With this emphasis on addressing violent crime, Brennan said that if elected he would work to implement municipal gun regulations that would keep tabs on guns involved in criminal investigations and attempt to confiscate guns before use in violent crime.

“I personally know people who use and distribute drugs,” Brennan told the News. “If they’re not going to jail, no one should go to jail for drugs. But, if someone is doing crime, whether it’s doing violence related to drugs or anything else, we should prioritize dealing with that.” 

Brennan also hopes to expand the Elm City Compassionate Allies Serving Our Streets crisis response team, also known as COMPASS, which was launched in November. 

COMPASS responds to certain emergency calls between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day of the week and is composed of six social workers and peer recovery specialists. One of their areas of expertise is drug use. 

“I think that COMPASS should be fully integrated within police dispatch so that it’s the same person thinking about who to deploy,” Brennan told the News. “I’m glad that it’s been launched but don’t think it should have taken two years kind of like the Civilian Review Board where somebody thought that it would be a good publicity hit but didn’t care to put enough attention to it.” 

According to Brennan, the Civilian Review Board is “unloved,” lacking the resources or mandate necessary to help move the needle on criminal justice. Brennan called for the creation of a dedicated inspector general position in the city, who would then be empowered to initiate their own investigations. 

“Asking board members who don’t have the experience as investigators to do the investigations themselves and look into this is not a functional way to do things,” Brennan said. 

Additionally, he promised to integrate the CRB and inspector general into the police structure so that these groups could access confidential police information.

Expanding housing and reevaluating the 2021 property tax revaluation 

New Haven’s 2021 property tax revaluation saw a 32.6 percent reported increase in property values since 2016. To soften the ensuing rise in property taxes, the Board of Alders implemented a two-year phase-in for the increase in taxes. Elicker had recommended a five-year phase-in. 

“There needs to be a whole reassessment of how that’s done because if you look at small buildings which are normally owned by homeowners or Mom and Pop LLCs, they are being valued at much higher rates than some of the larger buildings owned by corporations,” Brennan told the News. “And so that’s shifting too much of the burden onto homeowners and renters. I think, like just the whole reassessment on how we’re valuing the land, the half the value of property is important here.” 

To further add to city revenues, Brennan added that New Haven should consider imposing usage taxes or excise taxes in the city. For example, Brennan believes that the city should explore the levying of taxes on ride-sharing companies and landlords.

Brennan said he also believes that the city should focus on expanding access to public housing and encourage the construction of multifamily homes instead of large apartment complexes. Those complexes often include amenities like pools and gyms, which reduce the amount of liveable space. Brennan said. 

“Liam has great ideas on building more affordable housing, and I think he’s going to be different because of his background advocating for housing,” local housing advocate Kim Hart told the News. “Liam’s plan to narrow streets to increase housing is a new idea that can make a difference.”

The New Haven Democratic primary for mayor is on Sept. 12. 

YASH ROY
Yash Roy covers City Hall and State Politics for the News. He is also a Production & Design editor, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion chair for the News. Originally from Princeton, New Jersey, he is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs.