Ethan Wolin, Contributing Photographer

On Tuesday, 259 New Haveners cast ballots in Connecticut’s Republican presidential primary. Nearly three-quarters of the votes, or 194, went to Donald Trump.

The lopsided tally helped deliver all of the state’s delegates to the former president, who had already clinched the Republican nomination. But it does not tell the full story of Republicans in overwhelmingly Democratic New Haven.

Although no Republican has held elected office in the city since 2011, when the party’s sole alder stepped down, the Republican Town Committee regularly puts forward candidates in local races. It holds monthly meetings and operates X, Facebook and TikTok accounts, sometimes criticizing the city’s Democratic politicians.

The RTC did not, however, take an active role in Tuesday’s primary election. Chair John Carlson, who was reelected last month, told the News that the group’s 30 ward co-chairs have a variety of policy interests and views of the national party’s direction.

“Our primary focus is our local candidates,” Carlson, the 2021 Republican mayoral candidate, said. “We just don’t have the numbers to do much more than that.”

New Haven has 2,871 registered Republicans, compared to 34,133 registered Democrats and 16,609 voters affiliated with neither major party. Joe Biden won 84 percent of the city’s votes in the 2020 general election and will almost certainly win Connecticut’s seven Electoral College votes come November.

Carlson said the RTC has grown considerably in the past decade, from about a dozen co-chairs to 24 two years ago and now 30, still only half of the 60 slots available if each ward had two. The chair added that Trump’s rise led some members to quit while inspiring others to join.

The biggest change for New Haven Republicans, in Carlson’s view, has been increased activity for local causes and candidates. Despite their bleak electoral prospects here, Republicans continue to offer alternatives to the city’s elected Democrats.

In municipal elections in the fall, the Republican who came closest to winning a seat on the Board of Alders was Lisa Milone, in Morris Cove’s Ward 18. She garnered 28 percent of the vote in a three-way race. The Republican-endorsed mayoral candidate, Tom Goldenberg, who had previously run in the Democratic primary, won 18 percent of the vote.

Two candidates have so far announced that they are running for the Republican nomination to challenge Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who for 33 years has represented Connecticut’s New Haven–centered third congressional district.

Michael Massey, one of the Republican congressional candidates, who owns a corner store in New Haven and previously served time in federal prison for robbing a bank, told the News that he was inspired to enter politics by Trump’s ascent as a businessman outsider.

“Trump has taken over this party,” Massey said. “Every Republican I talk to, for the most part, is very pro-Trump. And a lot of Black people that I talk to that normally didn’t vote are very pro-Trump.”

Massey, who is Black, hopes to start what he called an “urban Republican movement.”

Beyond campaigns, the RTC’s email bulletin typically advertises apolitical events and initiatives, such as a drive — organized by Ward 17 co-chair and past alder candidate AnneMarie Rivera-Berrios — collecting Mother’s Day gifts for mothers in neonatal intensive care. For Black History Month, Carlson organized a group visit to an African-American history museum in Stratford.

A newsletter last month urged Republicans to attend public meetings about Mayor Justin Elicker’s proposed budget and express concern with its tax increases. The newsletters often encourage recipients to apply for positions on New Haven boards and commissions, which are required by Connecticut law to include minority-party members.

RTC messages in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s primary did not mention the major national contest — until, at 3:45 p.m. on primary day, Carlson released one saying, “Primary Tuesday is here, go VOTE!”

The Republicans who voted, comprising nine percent of registered New Haven Republicans and under two percent of the city’s population, shared their mixed political allegiances in interviews with the News.

Mike Rastelli, an engineer in Ward 25, which covers Westville, said that he voted “uncommitted” as a protest against Trump’s hold on the Republican Party. Rastelli said he favored alternative candidates, such as former Vice President Mike Pence, earlier in the primary process but now plans to vote for Biden in the general election.

Also in Ward 25, Rabbi David Avigdor and his wife Susanne felt differently. They sang Trump’s praises, citing the country’s economic outlook during his administration, his border policy and his approach to Israel.

“The Democratic candidate for president is either asleep or unfortunately lost his mind, or just completely without energy,” Rabbi Avigdor, who served a local synagogue before retiring, said of Biden. “Our enemies are laughing at us.”

As for New Haven politics, Avigdor said he supports Elicker, the incumbent Democratic mayor.

The city’s last Republican mayor, William Celentano, served from 1945 to 1953.

ETHAN WOLIN
Ethan Wolin covers City Hall and local politics. He is a first year in Silliman College from Washington, D.C.