Sewn Up?

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAfter hearing pitches from four mayoral hopefuls, Democratic Town Committee member Seth Poole said he’s still undecided, despite one candidate’s claim that the fix is in on the committee’s endorsement.

Poole was one of about 100 people who gathered at Hill Regional Career High School on Wednesday evening for “Meet The Candidates Night,” sponsored by the New Haven Democratic Town Committee. He heard stump speeches from four of five Democratic mayoral candidates left in the race, and pitches from the two candidates for city clerk.

Caroline Berson File PhotoThe Democratic committee will meet July 23 to choose which candidate it will officially endorse as the party’s candidate for office. That candidate will earn an automatic spot on the primary ballot; other candidates will have to collect signatures to get their name on it. The primary takes place Sept. 10.

Poole (pictured), a program director at the Boys and Girls Club and co-chair of the Ward 24 Democratic committee, heard from the candidates in alphabetical order.

Poole didn’t get to hear mayoral candidate Kermit Carolina. Carolina, the principal of Hillhouse High, didn’t show up. He, like candidate Henry Fernandez (pictured at the top of the story), said he believes the town committee’s endorsement has already been decided.

The first mayoral candidate Seth Poole heard speak Wednesday night was East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker (pictured), who said New Haveners want a mayor with “strong integrity” not one who will do political favors.

“I will be that mayor,” Elicker promised.

Elicker deployed his “tree” analogy, saying that although the downtown roots of New Haven are strong, the branches—Grand Avenue, Dixwell Avenue, State Street—need strengthening.

Next, Poole heard candidate Fernandez, a former city development director, declare, “Let’s be honest, this endorsement is already done. ... At this time in our city, we have a political machine which has looked to identify a candidate and line up endorsements for that candidate.”

Yale’s labor unions, which have the most election vote-pulling prowess in town, have endorsed state Sen. Toni Harp for mayor. She’s expected to win the backing of the Democratic Town Committee’s majority, as well, although some committee members, like Poole, asserted Wednesday night that they came to the meeting still undecided, eager to hear more. The town committee’s members serve as delegates to the July 23 party convention.

Fernandez said he chose to attend Wednesday night’s affair despite his misgivings because he’s “proud to be a Democrat.”

Fernandez told the committee that he supports labor unions because he was raised by a single mom whose life was saved after she got health benefits from a union job.

“I know I won’t get your endorsement, but I will be the best mayor I can for you,” he said.

After Fernandez, Poole heard state Sen. Harp (pictured) highlight the recent endorsements she has earned from two mayoral candidates who dropped out of the race, Matt Nemerson and State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, the latest of a wave of endorsements she has racked up.

“We are uniting various parts of the community,” she said.

Harp hit a couple of applause lines with talk of bringing more jobs to New Haven, and making every city department “a jobs department.”

Poole then heard Sundiata Keitazulu (pictured), a Newhallville plumber, say New Haven sometimes looks like apartheid South Africa, with crime and poverty on one side, and prosperity on the other. He called for vocational education schools and to stop “giving Yale everything but the kitchen sink,” a line that won him some applause.

The event did not include a formal question-and-answer period. But Democratic Town Chairwoman Jackie James encouraged people to talk to the candidates. “Many of you have not made a decision [on who should be the nominee], despite what folks may be saying,” she said.

After those conversations, after hearing all the speeches, Poole declared himself still undecided. He said he’s looking to see who has the best and most specific ideas.

Poole said he understands why Fernandez might think Harp has the nomination all sewn up, since she’s been racking up endorsements. Poole said he’s been impressed with the endorsements by Harp’s former opponents, by the way she’s assimilated Nemerson and Holder-Winfield’s campaign platforms into her own. He also said Harp “has been most forthcoming” about her ideas for the city.

Other town committee members said they’re for Harp, including Gary Stewart, Poole’s co-chair in Edgewood’s Ward 24. He said he has also been moved by all Harp’s endorsements.

Stewart said Fernandez’s announcement that he knows he won’t get the nomination was “not a good way to approach this.”

“He didn’t win any friends with that statement, for sure,” Stewart said. Many people remain undecided, he said.

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posted by: robn on June 27, 2013  8:56am

I enjoyed Poole’s use of the word “assimilate”.

posted by: S Brown on June 27, 2013  9:05am

Resistance is futile.

posted by: Curious on June 27, 2013  9:54am

Thomas MacMillan, did you decide on your own to refer to Justin as “East Rock alderman…” versus the other wards which you actually name, instead of “Ward 10 alderman”, or did someone make that decision for you?

Don’t you feel the slightest bit a charlatan?

[Editor: It’s my call. Here’s the rationale: Using ward numbers as first reference doesn’t tell readers what part of city is represented. Most people don’t know the ward map. A long explanation of all the neighborhoods and mini-neighborhoods included in a ward detracts from the rest of the story. I know it’s shorthand, and I understand the criticisms. We use “east Rock” because that is the majority of the neigborhoood, and because he lives there. Same with Edgewood (Ward 24), West River (23), Upper Westville (26), Beaver Hills (a whole bunch of wards which also include other areas), etc. We are not against East Rock or for or against any other neighborhood. We don’t consider a person better or worse than someone else because of the neighborhood he or she lives in. We’re trying to offer some relevant information without taking articles off-track.]

posted by: anonymous on June 27, 2013  10:57am

Essentially, Fernandez is saying that the DTC has been hijacked by Big Money outside interests.  That’s true, but endorsements are irrelevant - what matters is people voting.

What is even more relevant is the analysis of who is contributing to the two “Big Money” campaigns. It will be interesting to see which suburbanites are donating bucketloads $1,000 checks to Harp and Fernandez.  Meanwhile, Carolina and Elicker have clean, public financing and have sworn off PACs. 

With Gary out, for most principled voters who care about the future of democracy, Carolina and Elicker are now the only possible choices.

posted by: Curious on June 27, 2013  11:32am

Paul, then why didn’t you call it the Edgewood Democratic committee, instead of Ward 24, as you do in the main article?  It’s the lack of consistency that makes it look bad.

[Editor: Point well taken. When we mention an alderman in passing, we list the neighborhood. If it’s a story about a committee, we aim to mention the number of the ward committee as well as the neighborhood. We’ll try to be more consistent! Our aim to let readers know what part of town we’re talking about.]

posted by: HenryCT on June 27, 2013  11:09pm

Fernandez provided the audience an impressive record of his accomplishments. He did himself no favors, however, by patronizing the Democratic Town Committee members. He implied that individual members won’t support him because someone is telling them whom to endorse. That they are not capable of evaluating the candidates for themselves. And that they are not allowed to vote based on that evaluation. If he wants DTC member’s votes he should go after them respectfully. If he has evidence that town committee members are ignorant or subservient, let him come forward with it and drop the insinuations.

posted by: Curious on June 28, 2013  9:29am

Maybe “Ward 10 (East Rock+) Alderman” or “Ward 22 (Dixwell) alderman” might work….

posted by: ISR on June 28, 2013  9:43am


If you look at Elicker’s district, 10, geographically, the area east of the Mill River is greater than the East Rock portion, and—although I don’t have the census data at hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if the densely populated English Drive neighborhood means that a majority of thr population lives there, too.

I used to be part of Elicker’s district, but the lines were redrawn, and now I’m in 19. East Rock is a majority of the land in that district, but there’s a big slice of Newhallville. Is my current alder the one from East Rock or Newhallville?

Similar considerations apply to 9, actually all in East Rock, but not the high priced areas iconic of the name, and 7, which raises the question: is south of Hunphrey still East Rock?

It might be correct to say that East Rock constitutes Elicker’s base, but that’s not only voters form East Rock in his district. By calling him the East Rock Alderman, you are applying a political label.

It’s not that hard or inelegant to write it this way: “Elicker, whose district 10 encompasses parts of the East Rock and Englsih Drive neighborhoods…” Or this: “District 19, which straddles East Rock and Newhallville.”

posted by: robn on June 28, 2013  9:50am

I agree with CURIOUS about neighborhood labels possibly creating misperceptions or even confusion. For a number of years I’ve read the NHI calling out neighborhoods I’ve never heard of and have had a hard time identifying (sorry Beaver Hills…didn’t know you existed and still a little fuzzy about its boundaries.)

A more informative way to ID neighborhoods would be to always hotlink to the ward map….like this:

Ward 28 residents threw a block party last night…blah blah blah.

posted by: Curious on June 28, 2013  11:50am

I think ISR and robn have nailed it right here.  The hotlink is a brilliant idea.

Considering how totally twisted the ward map is after the last redistricting, this would be a huge service to the NHI readership, and would help educate people on the wards themselves.

It would also help reduce people using ward language as pejoratives.

posted by: robn on June 28, 2013  12:22pm

The only problem with this is that, apart from the individual ward maps, the overall city maps tend to be very heavy slow downloads because they’re produced from a GIS database and tend to be overloaded with too much information. It would be nice if the city uploaded one entire city map that only color coded streets, ward boundaries, and neighborhood boundaries. Even better if each boundary linked to a more detailed map of the individual ward or neighborhood with more detail (but still light and downloadable.)

Various individual parts can be found here.

posted by: P Christopher Ozyck on June 28, 2013  9:15pm

If the ward committees voted for mayoral endorsement, that would actually mean something. Most ward chairs have already publicly expressed support. going through the motions is democratic kabuki .  Talking about which candidate they support in committee is akin to talking about religion .  An independent or reformed Democratic Party that encourages all voices and choices would be refreshing. I might even join it .

posted by: HewNaven on June 30, 2013  11:49am

If Elicker really wanted to distance himself from East Rock he would actually move to one of those poor neighborhood (e.g. Cedar Hill, Fair Haven) which he represents, but he doesn’t. He chooses to stay safely in the confines of East Rock away from the real problems in those neighborhoods. As far as I’m concerned, he is an alderman who lives in East Rock and that’s pretty much an “East Rock Alderman”.

The only working-class, blue-collar candidate, as far as I can see, is Keiatazulu, and he’s not winning an election anytime soon. So I’ll be voting for the Alderman from East Rock.