On Tuesday, New Haven voters will pick their Democratic nominee for November’s mayoral election. I am voting for incumbent mayor Justin Elicker. Here’s why.

Elicker has been mayor since 2020, when he beat incumbent mayor Toni Harp ARC ’78 in the Democratic primary in 2019. This year, Elicker — who received degrees from the School of the Environment and School of Management in 2010 — faces Liam Brennan, Hartford’s Inspector General, in the Democratic primary. After graduating from Yale Law School in 2007, Brennan worked in the Department of Justice in the nation’s capital and later as a legal aid attorney in New Haven.

Broadly speaking, Elicker and Brennan agree on the issues. On crime, both candidates agree that officers should only arrest drug dealers and not users, though Brennan claims that under Elicker’s tenure, police have still been making arrests for possession. Both believe that steps should be taken to get illegal guns off the street, with Elicker highlighting his administration’s record and Brennan proposing the use of subpoena power to cut off the “gun pipeline.” 

Both candidates agree that climate change is a pressing issue. At a recent forum hosted by the Yale Law School and Yale College Democrats on Thursday, Brennan argued that the city ought to declare a climate emergency and invoke emergency powers; Elicker responded that such a declaration would be purely symbolic, and that current state laws do not allow for non-COVID-related emergency powers. 

Elicker and Brennan have similar stances on housing and education. I asked both candidates at the forum if they supported loosening zoning laws. Both answered in the affirmative, though Elicker placed more rhetorical emphasis on requiring a high percentage of affordable units in new buildings, while Brennan focused on expanding supply regardless of housing type. I asked what each of them would do to address post-pandemic learning loss, and Elicker talked about his administration’s efforts to expand tutoring and early childhood education to address longer-running learning gaps. Brennan echoed similar sentiments. 

On city finances, both candidates agreed that Yale should contribute higher payments in lieu of taxes to New Haven, and that in the long-run, state laws should be amended to allow towns to charge sales and income taxes, rather than relying on property taxes alone. 

Finally, I asked the two candidates what the biggest difference between the two of them as mayor would be. Elicker said experience arguing that his two terms as mayor make him better prepared to enact his policy agenda, and more cognizant of the political realities that might constrain him. For example, while Elicker supported eliminating regulatory parking minimums, there weren’t enough votes on the Board of Alders for it. Brennan argued that he would be more willing to use the powers of the office to pass his agenda, even if it came at a political cost. 

And that contrast is why I’m voting for Mayor Elicker. Throughout the forum, and over the past few days I’ve spent reading both of their campaign platforms, I’ve found very few substantive differences between the two contenders. The largest gap is attitudinal: Elicker favors a more cautious, incremental, half-a-loaf is better than nothing approach, while Brennan is willing to take greater political risks to advance similar policy goals. But precisely because their policy goals are almost identical, I’m inclined to back the candidate who has more experience dealing with the political realities on the ground to get things done. 

Elicker noted at the forum that should he lose the Democratic nomination he would still run in the general election under the Working Families Party banner. I haven’t been able to find any credible polling on the primary, so I can’t say whether Elicker or Brennan is favored. On paper, the winner of the primary looks like a very strong contender to enter city hall, given that New Haven is overwhelmingly Democratic (Joe Biden won 84 percent of the vote in 2020). A third candidate, Tom Goldenberg, is already running in the general election as an independent, with the backing of the local Republican Party. Should Elicker win the primary, I’ll vote for him over Goldenberg in November. But if Brennan wins and the election becomes a de facto Democratic-vs.-WFP election, I’ll likely still back Elicker, for the same reason I’m voting for him the primary: I believe he’s more likely to actually enact the policies that both he and Brennan favor.

The bottom line is this: the two candidates have extremely similar views on essentially every issue that has come up in the primary — but I believe that Elicker’s experience gives him a greater chance of actually enacting that agenda. Regardless of who you’re for, if you’re registered to vote in New Haven, go and make your voice heard on Tuesday. 

MILAN SINGH is a sophomore in Pierson College. His column, “All politics is national,” runs fortnightly. Contact him at milan.singh@yale.edu 

MILAN SINGH
Milan Singh is a sophomore in Pierson College, and one of the News' Opinion editors for the 2024-2025 school year.