Tim Tai, Photography Editor

In their time at Yale, nearly all 2024 graduates have known only one New Haven mayor — Justin Elicker SOM ’10 YSE ’10, a Democrat who has been reelected twice in the last four years.

Elicker was first elected in 2019 after a bruising campaign against then-mayor Toni Harp, and he took office on New Year’s Day in 2020 — just months before COVID-19 upended life in the United States. The four and a half years since have seen a shutdown and a rebound for the Elm City, but little change in its political leadership.

Elicker’s most recent reelection, to his third two-year term, came in November when he handily dispatched two challengers with about 80 percent of the vote. The Board of Alders, New Haven’s 30-member legislative body, has remained completely in Democratic hands, and dominated by members and allies of Yale’s UNITE HERE unions.

Elicker, who studied environmental policy as a graduate student at Yale, graduating in 2010, has built strong ties with the powerful unions during his career in New Haven politics, which began with a stint as an alder. 

In late 2021, shortly after defeating a Republican candidate to win his second term, Elicker achieved a major objective by reaching a deal with Yale to increase the University’s voluntary contribution to the city budget. The agreement followed an expansion of Connecticut’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, program, which offsets losses in tax revenue due to nontaxable property.

The added streams of money helped shore up New Haven’s financial footing. Other accomplishments that Elicker touted in his reelection campaign last year include a zoning ordinance that mandates affordable housing units in new developments and an ordinance recognizing a right to form tenants’ unions.

Elicker faced criticism over education policy from his 2023 challenger Tom Goldenberg, a Democrat turned Republican and Independent candidate. By the end of last school year, 36.6 percent of New Haven Public Schools students were chronically absent, meaning they missed over a tenth of school days. In March 2024, the statistic sat at 34.2 percent.

In his State of the City address in February, Elicker lauded NHPS Superintendent Madeline Negrón, who entered the role last summer, for “hitting the ground running” in efforts to reduce absenteeism and boost literacy rates.

But the centerpiece of the speech was affordable housing access, as Elicker discussed plans to ensure that the city’s economic and population growth does not displace longtime residents. Elicker recently hired his onetime political opponent Liam Brennan LAW ’07 as a contracted advisor to help rethink the Livable City Initiative, the city agency that enforces the housing code.

“As we grow — and this is very important — we must grow inclusively, equitably and sustainably,” Elicker said in the speech in February.

The speech was interrupted for 25 chaotic minutes by pro-Palestine protesters who advocated for the Board of Alders to adopt a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Elicker did not support the proposed resolution. On May 6, over five months after receiving the proposal, which split residents, the alders voted to drop the resolution without formally rejecting it.

In a sign of continued stability for New Haven’s political leadership, local Democratic Party leaders in March decisively beat back a slate of candidates attempting to reduce the dominance of UNITE HERE unions among Democratic Town Committee ward co-chairs. The insurgent group’s leader argued that the unions formed a “special interest group” unduly swaying local officials, while the Elicker-backed incumbent slate emphasized unity.

Incumbent officials had also received a boost in November, when, in addition to reelecting Elicker, voters endorsed mayor-backed city charter revisions that will extend the mayor and alders’ terms from two years to four.

The first four-year terms for New Haven leaders will begin on Jan. 1, 2028.

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