Last fall, New Haven voters elected Democratic nominee Justin Elicker SOM ’10 FES ’10 as the city’s 51st mayor, ending Toni Harp’s six-year tenure.
The historic electoral race was characterized by its negative rhetoric, as both candidates took public swipes at the other. Elicker and Harp delivered several charges against each other’s platforms, with Harp accusing Elicker of spreading misinformation just days before the election. Nevertheless, Elicker emerged victorious by a 40-point margin, following his 16-point win from the September primaries. The former alder and nonprofit executive then went on to win 27 wards and increase his vote percentage in all 30 –– flipping 11 wards between the primary and general elections.
In his victory speech, Elicker emphasized his gratitude for his supporters and campaign staff and later went on to thank Harp for her contributions to the city.
“I’m going to be mayor for the supporters of the Elicker campaign, and I will be mayor for the supporters of the Harp campaign,” Elicker said to cheering crowds at his victory party. “I will be mayor no matter what you look like, where you came from, how much money you have, what kind of political connections you have — I will represent you and I pledge that here tonight.”
In his first State of the City address in February, Elicker emphasized the heart of his campaign: increasing equity and overcoming the challenges of underfunding. New Haven has long suffered from budgetary woes — the city has struggled to borrow and spend as its costs increase and revenue declines or remains static.
As mayor, Elicker hopes to improve job access and the city’s economy, fight gentrification, support job training programs, and renegotiate Yale’s voluntary contribution to the city. Because the University is constitutionally tax-exempt, it voluntarily pays New Haven $11.5 million instead of the approximately $125 million it would pay if fully taxed. Additionally, Elicker aims to strengthen childhood education, school board accountability and affordable housing.
“I believe the state of our city is precarious,” Elicker said in February. “We are at an opportunity inflection point, where we could choose to work together, all of us … to take advantage of the growth we are experiencing and harness it for the betterment of all.”
For Harp, this race marked her first defeat in a 32-year career in electoral politics. Shortly after suffering a major loss in the Democratic primary, Harp considered dropping out of the race and even publicly suspended her campaign. However, with the support of the People’s Campaign — a Facebook group which turned into a political action committee to support Harp — she ultimately decided to jump back into the mayoral race as the candidate for the Working Families Party.
Harp’s renewed pro-labor campaign brought heavy disagreements on both sides of the mayoral race. The People’s Campaign accused Elicker of engaging in questionable financial practices as well as lying about Harp’s record in the days leading up to the election. However, unlike in his statements from the primary season, Elicker refused to speak critically of Harp and instead called for unity among Democrats and Elm City residents alike. This message was echoed by U.S. senators and local legislators standing with Elicker.
“In the last couple weeks, there’s been some pretty inappropriate rhetoric from a very small group of people,” Elicker said at a fundraiser leading up to the election. “The success of our campaign in the Democratic primary — around the city — shows that that kind of rhetoric does not make us a strong city. People don’t want us to resort to, a lot of times, what we’re seeing at the national level.”
People’s Campaign organizers Emma Jones and Alex Taubes LAW ’15 claimed that a higher turnout in the general mayoral election would initiate Harp’s victory. However, Harp’s campaign ultimately fell short.
In 2014, Harp became the city’s first black female mayor and represented the city for six years. Throughout her administration, Harp instituted programs like the Gateway to College high school completion program and Youth Stat, which aims to reduce interaction between youths and the justice system via school-based interventions.
With New Haven hit by the COVID-19 pandemic shortly after Elicker’s inauguration, many of his transition goals have been put on hold as the city grapples with the crisis. However, as Elicker is only in the first year of his mayoral debut, he may still have time to pursue his agenda for the city during his remaining time in office.
Elicker was elected mayor Nov. 5, 2019.
Noel Rockwell | email@example.com