Harp Takes Aim At Democracy Fund

Under fire for collecting thousands of dollars from special interest groups, mayoral candidate Toni Harp in turn took aim at the city’s clean elections program for allowing “sore losers” to keep running without “clean hands.”

The discussion took place at the end of a two-hour mayoral debate Wednesday at the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale. The event was the last debate before four candidates—Harp, Kermit Carolina, Justin Elicker and Henry Fernandez—face off in a Democratic primary for mayor on Tuesday.

(Click on the play arrow above to watch the exchange.)

The debate, which drew a crowd of over 100 people, was sponsored by the Black Student Alliance at Yale (BSAY), the Yale Divinity School Seminarians for a Democratic Society, and My Brother’s Keeper, a criminal justice group run by Barbara Fair.

Towards the end of the debate, moderator Patricia Okonta of BSAY asked a question from an anonymous person in the audience. The question was addressed to Harp and Fernandez.

She asked how Harp and Fernandez will ensure they’re not beholden to special interests and out-of-towners once in office, given the campaign contributions they’ve received.

Melissa Bailey PhotoHarp and Fernandez fell in the hot seat because they have both opted not to participate in the city’s clean elections program, called the Democracy Fund. Carolina and Elicker are participating in the program, which grants matching public money to candidates who collect 200 donations from New Haven voters; agree to swear off donations from political action committees and companies; and cap individual donations at $370 instead of $1,000.

Campaign finance filings released Tuesday reveal that Harp and Fernandez have raised over three-quarters of their money from outside New Haven; while Elicker and Carolina have received three-quarters of their money from city voters. Click here for a detailed analysis.

Larger donations have helped propel Harp and Fernandez into the fundraising lead: Harp reported raising a total of $287,413; Fernandez, $265,361; Elicker, $170,693; and Carolina has raised $43,110.

Harp received $22,150 from businesses and political action committees in July and August, including contributions from Yale’s unions.

Harp responded to the question by taking aim at the Democracy Fund. She noted that her three opponents have all secured spots to run as independent candidates on the general election ballot in case they lose the Democratic primary.

If they lose the primary, Elicker and Carolina can no longer participate in the Democracy Fund. They’ll be free, then, to accept donations from PACs and to take in donations up to $1,000, as Harp has been doing.

“Frankly I have a problem with that,” Harp said Wednesday. If a “sore loser” candidate uses the Democracy Fund for the primary, then runs in the general election without those clean-elections restrictions, “you muddy the waters and don’t come to the discussion frankly with clean hands.”

Harp cast doubt over whether the Democracy Fund is a good investment for city tax dollars. “We spend over $200,000 on the Democracy Fund, while cutting programs to our young people,” she said. “I am very concerned that when we have these conversations, we haven’t looked at the whole picture.”

“The reality is that the Democracy Fund itself has issues,” she said.

Elicker and Carolina repeated a pledge they made at a debate last week—that they will continue to run “clean” campaigns after the primary. They vowed to stick to the $370-per-person cap, and other restrictions of the Democracy Fund, in the general election, even though they don’t have to.

“Kermit and I have both committed to abiding by the rules of the Democracy Fund as we head into the general election,” Elicker said.

“When you have a mayor that doesn’t participate in the Democracy Fund,” he warned, they will owe favors to the interest groups who supported them, and “you’re going to get an inefficient government.”

Special interest groups and out-of-towners who support Harp or Fernandez “want something back,” Carolina said. “It’s pay to play.” He said he’s proud of the number of New Haven voters who have supported his campaign.

Fernandez, who has financed his campaigns in part with money from contractors and trades unions, said “the critique against me is fair” regarding where his money comes from. He said he supports the Democracy Fund. But he argued that he needs the money to defend himself against Harp.

The Democracy Fund “doesn’t allow you to protect yourself from large special interest groups like city employee unions being able to dump money in to the elections and pay for large mailings to residents of the city, as they’re currently doing on behalf of Senator Harp,” he argued.

Elicker took aim at Harp, citing the law firms and lobbyists she has collected money from who also do business with the city or state.

“I have a record,” Harp replied. “I have run before. The reality is is that no matter who’s funded my campaign, I have been fair. I haven’t given them any favors.”

After the debate, she elaborated on her critique of the Democracy Fund.

“What we heard today” was that Carolina and Elicker would stick to the $370-per-person cap, but voters will have to take their word for it, because it won’t be enforced by the Democracy Fund, Harp argued. “We won’t know that until the [campaign] filings are made.”

She argued that as it’s currently constructed, the Democracy Fund subsidizes candidates “getting their name out” in the primary, only to let them abandon the program’s principals and run traditional campaigns in the November election.

Democracy Fund board Chair Patricia Kane, who was present at the debate, agreed there’s a problem with how the clean-election ordinance is written. She said candidates should be allowed to continue participating in the fund in the general election.


Also Wednesday, Harp drew heat from her opponents for calling for new minority hiring requirements for people doing business with city government.

Harp said she “would require, any time there’s a zoning variance, there be written into it that New Haven residents be employed” by the company applying for the variance.

“That is absolutely illegal and we would get sued,” responded Elicker. The zoning board is supposed to grant zoning relief based on whether an applicant has a hardship, not threaten to withhold zoning based on how many local residents that business employs, he later explained.

“You can require it through conversation, not through law,” Harp later replied, “and that takes leadership.”

“You’ve got to want to do it in the first place” and not “make excuses,” she said.

Fernandez, who noted that he’s “the one person with a law degree,” agreed that her proposal would be illegal.

“It is very clear that you cannot even negotiate on these kind of issues. It would be illegal. It would be seen as strong-arming a developer. I don’t believe that was in any way Senator Harp’s intent. But would be illegal.”

After the debate, Harp said she would look into the legal aspect. But she said her intent would be that “anyone who got any kind of benefit from the city” would be required to hire New Haveners.

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posted by: anonymous on September 5, 2013  8:32am

Suburban PACs and Harp are threatened because the Democracy Fund (non-special interest PAC) candidates have raised nearly four times more contributions than Harp did from among New Haven residents.  As a result, Harp has changed her tune on the Democracy Fund from “I don’t need it” to “let’s make sure that PAC money from my suburban elites can drown out any public debate.”

posted by: HewNaven on September 5, 2013  8:36am

I can imagine Senator Harp, at some other point in history, perhaps “taking aim” at Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights, Social Security, or any other progressive cause. She’s an establishment Democrat, beholden to big business and special interest. That’s why she has no interest in social/political progress like the Democracy Fund.

posted by: Paul Wessel on September 5, 2013  8:48am

Great video summary of the candidates’ positions on the Democracy Fund.

posted by: state st on September 5, 2013  8:55am

As always Harp puts her foot into her mouth.not knowing or understanding what she is taking about.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on September 5, 2013  9:05am

Senator Harp is absolutely correct on this issue.  The purpose of the Democracy Fund (DF) is to allow access, not to clean up perceived corruption.  There are anti-corruption laws on the books for that.  Moreover, the DF does a horrible job of prohibiting favoritism or the return of favors.

Indeed, I once wrote that there are bundlers who might raise significant funds through the DF on behalf of candidates.  To date, a certain aldermanic candidate and his wife and kids have each donated the allowable maximum to Mr. Elicker.  Is it possible that this attorney’s firm might get future benefits from Mr. Elicker should he win?  Yes.  But I think those donations are sincere and from the heart, an implication could arise.  Similarly, Mr. Elicker’s donations come primarily from East Rock, is it possible that East Rock could see more work done than other neighborhoods or more community policing, yes.

Likewise, Mr. Carolina’s base or donors could also see outsized returns. 

We should be clear on what the DF can actually do, which is ensure access to participation in our representative democracy.  It can ensure candidates a legitimate opportunity to be heard.  That’s it.

posted by: HhE on September 5, 2013  9:15am

Sen. Harp’s argument equates too “They are just as guilty as me because they could become just as guilty as me.  Even through they have pledged not to, we will not know until they file their donor records, which they will have to.” 

That is even weaker than, “I could not participate in the Democracy Fund because Sen. Harp had not entered the race yet.” 

So Sen. Harp makes a policy statement, and everybody else is able to say, “that is illegal.”  So now, she will look into it.  Does she ever do her homework?

posted by: anonymous on September 5, 2013  9:36am

Aside from one of the candidate’s disgusting attack on public finance law, the best moment last night was when one of Harp’s supporters in the audience attempted to shout down Henry Fernandez’s points about Renaissance Management and state laws that Harp has been involved in (Renaissance is Harp’s family business, which has donated $3,800 to Harp despite being one of Connecticut’s worst slumlords and largest tax debtors). Seemed similar to how they shouted down questions about Harp at the Nica’s press conference, and how they are now trying to shout down the public by eliminating public finance.

posted by: robn on September 5, 2013  9:38am

So Sen Harp would prefer that other candidates drop out of the race while she accepts as many large out of town donations that she can possibly suck up? Please!

posted by: robn on September 5, 2013  9:42am

Sounds like Harp is following in the footsteps of Alderperson Jessica Holmes’s Star Supply argument, cluelessly trying to extort economic benefits through the zoning variance process. That’s completely inappropriate and illegal.

posted by: Noteworthy on September 5, 2013  9:48am

Democracy Demon Notes:

1. The reason Toni Harp is running in the Democratic Primary this year is because of the Democracy Fund that was used to challenge John DeStefano in the last election.

2. The promise to adhere to the DF rules even in the general is in keeping with a philosophy of clean elections, that special interests not control elections. Either you believe in clean elections or not.

3. Toni Harp doesn’t believe in clean elections or limiting special interests and big out of town money. She says she has to win and fight other challengers. Mini-me Fernandez says the same thing. So did John DeStefano when he raised $760K to win the last time. John, Toni and Henry - all believed in the DF until they didn’t believe in it.

4. This year, Harp voted to gut clean elections at the state level overturning campaign finance reform put in place after the Rowland saga. As one editorial noted, the “culture of corruption” is now open for sanctioned bribery.

5. It is offensive for Toni Harp to call general election candidates “sore losers.”  There is nothing in the rules that say you can’t run if you use the DF. That both Carolina and Elicker have said they will abide by the same rules, speaks volumes. Harp makes it even worse, by questioning their integrity. She is the last person to be doing that given her family’s repeated court losses in the tax case, the compliance to taxes by force, and the refusal to this day to make good on the million dollar debt. That instead of paying the bill once litigated, the Harps decision was to buy the country estate, and complete the million dollar home and to construct complicated estate planning to frustrate anybody’s ability to enforce mortgage payments, judgements and liens.

6. Furthermore, when Toni Harp promises “transparency” and then participates in secret meetings to craft legislation in secret that passes KENO, guts clean elections and FOIA - it is the value of her word that’s in question. Her criticism is disgraceful.

posted by: David S Baker on September 5, 2013  9:57am

The Democracy Fund is, at this point in history, an experiment/opportunity to determine if New Haven voters feel local elections should be a sword fight,  rather than a tank battle.  If the voters determine in the primary that they prefer a tank battle, Democracy fund advocates would be foolish to arrive with a sword.  And neither of the Democracy fund candidates ignore the wishes of the constituency (that’s the point of leadership).  Nor are they foolish enough to use phrases like “clean hands” while using loopholes to avoid paying millions in back taxes.

posted by: kcgalo on September 5, 2013  10:02am

It speaks volumes that Harp is threatened by the Democracy Fund.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on September 5, 2013  10:05am

“If a “sore loser” candidate uses the Democracy Fund for the primary, then runs in the general election without those clean-elections restrictions, ‘you muddy the waters and don’t come to the discussion frankly with clean hands.’”
-Toni Harp

So someone who runs their entire campaign without those clean-election restrictions must have very dirty hands - excellent point, Toni!

posted by: Patricia Kane on September 5, 2013  10:18am

The Board of the Democracy Fund and its Administrator look forward to meeting with all the candidates post-election to elicit their opinion as to how the New Haven Democracy Fund currently works from the candidates’point of view and their suggestions to improve and/or expand it.
This is the most significant mayoral campaign with the largest number of candidates in 20 years. It’s an exciting opportunity for public campaign financing to be tested.
Hartford recently approved a Democracy Fund to be established in its Charter and thus will be permanent. The NHDF exists only as an Ordinance.
The Board of Aldermen have expressed an interest in expanding the NHDF to their elections and some preliminary research has been done on that.
The continuing role of the NHDF in local elections will reflect the will of the residents of New Haven.

posted by: Walt on September 5, 2013  10:23am

I moved from New Haven eons ago and now recognize few of the contributors on your lists.

Four that I did recognize on Senator Harp’s money list gave me the feeling that if I were still a New Haven voter I’d lean toward anyone else rather than get those guys back in power in City affairs due to her election

posted by: anonymous on September 5, 2013  10:37am

JH: Exactly. 

PW: Harp said in April that she would consider using the Democracy Fund in the future.  Now she thinks it is dangerous.

AS: You overlook the fact that the amount of money (in $370 increments) contributed by Stratton’s family to Elicker is dwarfed by the amount given by Renaissance Management and its attorneys to Harp (in $1,000 increments). And that’s just one example of a case where we are all aware of the implications of this firm donating.  You forget that the program matches city resident contributions, which helps explain why Harp has raised about four times fewer contributions from city residents than her DF opponents have.  Without public financing, large special interest groups from outside New Haven can easily control everything by donating what they have donated to the Harp campaign this year.

posted by: Mike Slattery on September 5, 2013  10:58am

In more than one of these debates, enforced hiring of locals is raised, and then the candidate is reminded that it the practice would be illegal. Is there enough gray area there to bring it up repeatedly?  Can the NHI dig up the relevant law for us?

The point system in civil service hiring looks to be as close as we can come to rewarding residency, and there is risk there too for large judgements against us.  But in that case, the voters can, in some fashion and in advance, decide whether that risk is worth the reward for all of us, and that’s as it should be.

I hope we would all want to organize to try and change a law, rather than enforce unwritten policy, run afoul of the law, and suffer setbacks.  The community has planted some carrots like NHWorks, and the city should tend to those.  We can bring the sticks to Hartford or Washington in full view of the public.

posted by: Amityboy on September 5, 2013  11:04am

Why is there no press coverage of the lie Harp told last night? I was in the room, and she very clearly and explicitly claimed during the DF exchange that, “most of my money comes from New Haven.” This isn’t just a half-truth of the sort we’ve come to expect from politicians, it is a bald-faced, verifiable lie. The Indy itself covered this yesterday. Journalists, get on this one! Politicians cannot be aloud to get away with lying to voters.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on September 5, 2013  11:04am

The DF is not a clean elections law.  It does not and cannot guarantee that a politician will not be corrupt and won’t do favors for her/his supporters or those it likes.  It has only one function: to ensure access to the political process.  In that respect, it is not needed in this race.

Justin has argued countless times that he could raise as much or more than Senator Harp outside the DF.  I believe him.  However, I’m worried that he believes he needs to participate in the DF to keep him from owing back favors.  That is a sign of an incredibly weak backbone.

Moving from there, the DF is to help those who want to be the democratic mayoral candidate.  Anyone who participates in the DF should be held to the mandate of the party.  If they choose to eschew that mandate and run as an independent, they should have an obligation to pay that money back. 

As it stands today, such a candidate can participate in the DF, use those funds to gain name recognition, and then raise unlimited funds in the general election.  That is unfair.

It is disingenuous to act that $370, which is really $420 with matching contributions, or someone who could bundle 10 or 30 $370 contributions won’t have sway over a candidate but that someone who could donate $1,000 would.  There is line in the sand dollar amount at which one might feel beholden. 

Rather, it is about the candidates character.  Not choosing to participate in the merely means that you don’t need public funds to get out your message. 

Senator Harp is on the right side of this issue.  She has a long and distinguished track record and no one has ever been able to accuse her of giving favors in return for donations.  I’m glad that the majority of New Haven will see through this flimsy argument support her on Tuesday and in November.

posted by: Noteworthy on September 5, 2013  11:10am

Earl Grey Tea and Crumpets Notes:

1. Perhaps over breakfast at the mansion while gazing out the expansive glass at the deer prancing through the yard, Toni and her son can discuss the legalities of laying the pipe to developers who would do business with the city and paying among the highest permit fees in the state. Using zoning approval to hire minorities is not just illegal, it is unethical. Remember Perz/DeStefano’s famous fight with YNHH over Smilow and how they prostituted the approval process?

2. That Harp would propose such a law, without first knowing whether it is legal or not is stunning.

3. Since Harp has not studied the city budget or even read it, she also doesn’t know whether youth programs have been cut in order to fund the DF. That in fact, is not true.

4. What we have evidence of once again, is that Toni Harp is unprepared to be mayor, has not done the hard work associated with being mayor and is simply running on her name recognition and lack of negative and true coverage of her family dynasty. Oh, and her ability to shake the special interest money tree.

posted by: New Haven Nuisance on September 5, 2013  11:18am

Toni Harp: “The reality is that the Democracy Fund itself has issues,”... The reality is that Toni Harp wants to be appointed Mayor of New Haven, because the reality is that Toni Harp has issues with Democracy itself.

posted by: robn on September 5, 2013  11:23am


Read the Zoning regulations in the Code of Ordinances. The Board of Zoning Appeals is empowered to either grant or not grant a variance if a property owner has proven a hardship which isn’t monetary or self imposed and if the variance meets the spirit of the Zoning Regulations . The BZA may request plan modification in return for the variance as long as they meet the spirit of the Regulations. These regulations concern themselves with Form and Use. The BZA has no authority over the business workings of the projects they review. In the case of 360 State, the city was rezoning and essentially giving away the land and therefore (as an effective partner in the business transaction) had a say in the labor structure of the project (as did MEPT, a union backed pension fund).

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on September 5, 2013  11:24am

The Democracy Fund as it’s written, is flawed.  Stipulations should be instituted preventing candidates from sucking up Democratic Primary tax dollars, only to run as Independents should they lose.  These individuals should be penalized and made to return the money if they do so.

I’m curious to know, which part of the public is mandated to fund this farce?  If the answer is all, then the voters should be presented with a referendum outlining such language that supports candidates using their tax dollars to be Independents.

I would ask the BoA and or the local delegation to introduce a bill that requires the same length of time it takes for a Dem. to be a Rep. and vice versa, (three months in New Haven) to do same thing for all political parties.  That would most assuredly prevent this from happening and will also insure fairness for all.

Further, I’m yet to read anything from Justin or Kermit that reads “Outsiders Need Not Apply.” 

Toni is absolutely correct in introducing the argument to outside contractors how relevant it would be to hire locally. 

Elicker said, “When you have a mayor that doesn’t participate in the Democracy Fund,” he warned, they will owe favors to the interest groups who supported them, and “you’re going to get an inefficient government.”

You can’t have it both ways Elicker, on one hand you take your unfounded jabs at Toni because you’re outraised.  On the other hand, you now try and lecture her about fighting for New Haven jobs.  Perhaps had she said jobs for East Rock residents you would have been okay with that.

As you clearly continue fighting for your core group of supporters, Toni continues to fight for all of New Haven, including you.

She’s advancing the argument of what we must do to keep the plight of struggling local contractors at the apex of the discussion. 

The Civil Rights Movement was all about advancing the argument until the goal was realized.

Keep it up Toni, the voters are listening to you.

posted by: TheMadcap on September 5, 2013  11:33am

Hahaha, oh god, Harp is going to kill the Democracy Fund her first year as mayor isn’t she. Best way to ensure the Democratic party machine is never broken in perpetuity and their anointed one is always chosen. There are so many ways she could’ve answered that question in a more pragmatic way. “Look, I don’t think participating in the Democracy Fund actually makes elections any ‘cleaner’ than not being in it. People can attack donations from the suburbs or PACs, but when it comes down to it, whether I have 5 donations from out of town, or 1,000, the voters of New Haven in the end are the only constituency that matters in being elected. Meanwhile PACs are not some monolithic entity of evil, they represent workers, they represent business, they represent a variety of interests I’m trying to bring together.”

There, now how hard was that. I mean I wouldn’t really buy that argument, but it’s at least reasonable. I’m not even a Harp supporter but maybe she should hire me to help her campaign.

posted by: Eddie on September 5, 2013  11:53am

Although it is one issue among many, I admire the decision to participate in the Democracy Fund.  Yet if Carolina or Elicker act on their intention and run as sore losers in the general election, we can no longer consider them Democracy Fund candidates.  Even worse, they will be tarnishing the credibility of the Democracy Fund in at least two ways.

First the Democracy Fund is valuable because it forces politicians to make binding commitments.  The fund is premised on the notion that we cannot trust the promises or pledges from politicians.  If we could, then politicians could just pledge not to do special favors and we wouldn’t have to subsidize them to act honestly.  As Harp observes the pledge to abide by the rules of the Democracy Fund is not binding.  There might be an electoral penalty for violating a pledge in a subsequent election, but this is a far less precise penalty than those specified by the fund.  Ultimately, sore losers are simply asking us to trust them, which undermines the entire premise of the fund.  Their victory would signal that this loophole is a viable way to win elections.

posted by: Noteworthy on September 5, 2013  11:53am

Shrugg-off Notes:
1. The ability of large donors, special interests and corporations to buy an election is well known. Indeed, it was the rationale used by Toni Harp when voting to trash campaign finance reform this year which was heralded by all the special interests and lobbyists.

2. DF doesn’t guarantee there will be no corruption. If it’s going to happen, it usually happens after an election. What DF does do is promote democracy and choice and eliminates special interest money that could lead to special deals and wasteful, if not corrupting expenditures later. Since you seem new to New Haven, I could give you a long list of dubious deals: Start with demanding that the Housing Authority buy a slum from Wendell Harp at 10 times the real valuation, or the requirement to hire NHPD cops at 360 State Street; or the demand to use NH Partitions for sheetrock work; or a last minute change order for a new ceiling at the MBA school - a reported $80K change order, or no bid “emergency” demolitions.

3. You can say that DF candidates should be held to the will of the party, but that’s not in the rules. It may be your philosophy and is certainly the philosophy of the elite insiders of the DTC. But the reality is, running not only in the primary but the general and barely winning, is what forced DeStefano out after 20 years – creating an opportunity for party loyalist at any cost Harp to run when she didn’t have the stones to run against him prior and for the flower of real Democracy to bloom once again.

4. You note that under the DF, there can be bundling. True. In all the years we’ve had it, no challenger to power has done it to any noticeable effect.  Good luck with that specious point.

5. In the end, it is about character. Calling people “sore losers” for exercising their constitutional rights in a free society and not laying down for a coronation or party loyalty in order to provide choice and do what’s right for all New Haveners is bullying not character.

posted by: Eddie on September 5, 2013  11:55am

Second, a sore-loser victory would make the Democracy Fund partisan and severely undermine its credibility. If a sore loser goes on to win the general election, then it is very likely that their participation in the Democratic primary and the Democracy Fund contributed to this victory.  Yet if a sore loser wins the general election, a party will be severely weakened.  Sore losers are using party resources even when they have every intention of subsequently running against the very party that provides these resources.  For example, they use space in ward committee elections, get ward committee advocates, have their name on a Democratic primary ballot, enjoy the Democratic party label, and have a chance of being the nominee.  In effect, a sore loser will have shown that one can use party resources in bad faith and still reap the reward of electoral victory.  Note that already a Democracy Fund administrator and a newspaper have incorrectly characterized the Democratic primary as a runoff.  This characterization suggests to me that the Democracy Fund is already subsidizing behavior that weakens the Democratic party.  I understand that some do not like parties and that is certainly their prerogative.  Still the municipality has no business subsidizing partisan behavior that weakens any particular party.  This is patently unfair to every member of that party and plunges the Democracy Fund into partisan politics.

posted by: Razzie on September 5, 2013  12:08pm

The framers of the Democracy Fund explicitly made it VOLUNTARY for a candidate to use or refuse—without penalty or other consequence. I can respect Elicker’s decision to participate (for whatever reason) and there is nothing sinister in the decision by Harp and Fernandez to ot participate. However, it’s the “holier than thou” attitude of the Elicker East Rock elites who seek to elevate participation in DF as a litmus test of progressive purity. IT IS NOT, and was never intended to serve as that. It’s only purpose is to grant easier ballot access to candidates who otherwise lack the funds and resources to gain a credible presence in the election—candidates like Carolina, who have no prior political or community base from which to launch a campaign. In this campaign, the DF has been successful in granting ballot access. However, as Sen Harp correctly points out, the DF ‘s critical weakness is in it’s inability to prevent Elicker and Carolina from circumventing it’s campaign donation limits and PAC contribution restrictions from being imposed upon the “sore loser” candidates who switch their party allegiance and run in the general election as Independents. Any legislative changes to DF ordinance should clearly prohibit such Lieberman 2-step parties from taking public money under false pretenses (like Elicker who first is, and then is not a Democrat). Why are we paying for Elicker and Carolina to run in the primary and bankroll their private non-DF money for the general election?

posted by: robn on September 5, 2013  12:35pm


Wrong again. The DF wasn’t created to strengthen the party system. It was created to give more candidates a chance at running and to dampen the effects of big donors expecting favors. Cry sore loser all you want but the only sore loser’s are the Harpies who just can’t stand that their White Suburan Union store bought illusion isn’t standing up to local scrutiny.

posted by: Hieronymous on September 5, 2013  12:49pm

Three points coming up:

(1) If a candidate opted into the Democracy Fund and took public money to get his name out, then started taking $1,000 checks as an independent in the general, that would certainly be a problem, but it’s one the political process can probably keep in check. If you run as a D Fund candidate, you run on a platform of clean elections and you run against big money in politics. This has been a signature issue of both the Elicker and Carolina campaigns. It would be political suicide for either one of them to reverse course after the primary and, frankly, neither one would be able to raise enough money from new big donors to make up for the alienation of their bases. (In my view, anyone who donates more than $370 to a municipal candidate is really making an investment, not a donation, and, given their track records, Elicker and Carolina are clearly not wise investments for someone looking to gain influence over city government.)

As has been said better by others here, the problem is not really the Democracy Fund, but the fact that we have a two-party electoral system in a one-party (but not one point-of-view) city. Reform of either the Fund (or, preferably, the primary system) may be in order after the election, but I don’t think there’s anything to get worked up about w/r/t Elicker and Carolina this time around.

posted by: Hieronymous on September 5, 2013  12:51pm

(2) I think Fernandez raised an important point above, which I’d like to learn more about (hint, hint). NHI hasn’t reported on this, but the Register had a story on the money labor has been pouring into aldermanic campaigns, to the tune of (forgive my attempt at math) $24,575, as compared to $4,948 in individual contributions. (It’s not clear whether the story presents a comprehensive look at the aldermanic finance reports or just a sampling; it’s really calling out for the MacMillan treatment.)

I don’t know the intricacies of the local/state/federal campaign laws, but it seems to me that this money (legally) benefits Harp, as the recipients of the largesse (a) vocally support Harp and (b) are largely running unopposed, so actually have more incentive to use the money to support Harp than to support their own campaigns. I also don’t know the extent to which the unions are engaging in post-Citizens United independent expenditures, which can certainly prop up a candidate. Henry says that’s what they’re up to, but I personally haven’t received anything like that.

All of this is just to say that (1) I think this angle is worth exploring and (2) if, as seems likely, Harp benefits not only from the union money poured directly into her campaign, but also from “independent” union expenditures and money funneled through aldermanic candidates, it’s really too much for her to “have a problem with” the financing of anyone else’s campaign.

posted by: Hieronymous on September 5, 2013  12:53pm

(3) If this election were Henry v. Harp, it would be an interesting referendum on the factionalization of Democratic Party, which, I’m only beginning to understand.

Henry is plainly a repackaging of the old guard, a traditional urban, strong-mayor machine. This type of machine is not all bad: it tends to be focused on urban interests and able to get things done. But it’s uniquely susceptible to graft, which, aside from being unethical, leads to inefficient government and urban decline.

Harp represents a marriage of labor those disaffected by the old machine. (This is why we have the phenomenon of 2011 Kerekes boosters backing Harp this time around; if you define yourself politically as anti-JD, you tend to align with Harp, because she’s a known anti-JD quantity.)

I’m not sure which I’d prefer if I had only those two options (i.e., urban-focused but beholden to contractors and therefore susceptible to graft vs. less susceptible to pay-to-play but beholden to labor and, therefore, insufficiently devoted to distinctly urban needs). [Caveat: the argument that union interests are antagonistic to urban interests is not airtight. But it’s fair to ask why a private sector union would want to control city government if not to advance the interests of its membership, the majority of which works here but does not live here.]

But behold! There’s a third way, which has not been tried in New Haven, but has seen great success elsewhere. To coopt Rawls, in an “original position,” Justin’s new urbanism is the winning vision for city government. That’s why he’s attractive to transplants like me, who have *chosen* to live in the city, but are not burdened by decades intraparty sniping. You can dismiss us as the kale demographic or whatever, but I think our point of view is worthwhile precisely because it’s not based on old allegiances or personalities, but objective facts. We don’t support Justin because we know him, or because we owe him; he just makes the most sense.

posted by: Mike Slattery on September 5, 2013  12:54pm

Robn,  Thanks for that example.  If the city is an investor on a given project, then I can see making demands, and any investor would, as we’re talking about funds (or forgiveness) there.  But I have another question: was the makeup of labor at 360 State Street part of the BofA project approval process, or was this all hammered out in the BZA?

posted by: TheMadcap on September 5, 2013  1:08pm

I guess Carolina’s supporters are also holier than thou East Rock elites *shrugs*

The argument against the Democracy Fund being put out here are absurd unless the sore loser unless the same rules apply to people not in participating in the fund. Why should other people running in the Democratic primary get to act like sore losers as well even if they’re entirely privately funded? All this does is elevate the role of larger private donors, union and corporate money in elections over public finance campaigns.

The Democracy Fund doesn’t exist to push party politics. It exists to help shake up the primaries, and yes, serve at litmus test. It shows people whether or not candidates will accept large donations or PAC money, and the whole point of public financing in any regard is to encourage candidates to use it to promote fairer elections. By pulling the ‘sore loser’ card, that’s exactly what people are trying to get it to do. If Harp wins the primary Tuesday with say 38% of the vote, if Elicker wins with 38%, if Fernandez wins with 38%, why in god’s name should the others be attacked as sore losers if they continue on to the general election when it’s actually quite possible they’ll still wind up with a majority of democratic voters come election day given only about 1/5 of Democrats will turn out in the primary. Not to mention, this is a one party town, if you don’t run in the Democratic primary, you’re not running at all. If people are pulling the sore loser card, what they’re really saying is “Why should whoever wins a plurality of 12,000 votes in the primary even have to context the general election?”

posted by: Hieronymous on September 5, 2013  1:39pm

Walt (at 10:23), I presume one of those four is Paul Bass’s favorite punching bag, Sal Brancatti, who donated $500 to Harp, if memory serves. When Matt Nemerson was in the race, he was subjected to some pretty harsh questioning on these pages because of his association with Brancatti. I have not seen any similar scrutiny since Brancatti and Nemerson jumped to Harp. Maybe he’s just a donor like anyone else (he had a formal role in Nemerson’s campaign), but he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who’s content to write a check and put a sign on his yard.

posted by: Eddie on September 5, 2013  2:05pm

Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that the Democracy Fund should strengthen party systems or any particular party.  But the Democracy Fund also should not weaken party systems or any party.  No individual is forced to use party resources in bad faith.  Independents have equal access to the Democracy Fund.  But, individuals who do use party resources in bad faith are undermining an organization that thousands of people have built over many years.  These efforts are enhanced if they are publicly subsidized.  I understand that some see this as a positive development.  Still it is ultimately a partisan issue and the Democracy Fund should not be mired in it.  If the Democracy Fund subsidizes sore losers during any part of their campaigns, it is acting as a partisan institution, which challenges its credibility. 

Already discussing this very issue, a Democracy Fund administrator gave credence to the view that the Democratic primary is a runoff.  This is an incorrect characterization and it is antagonistic to a particular party.  If you value the Democracy Fund, you don’t want its administrators having to jump into partisan politics to defend the program.

posted by: Webblog1 on September 5, 2013  4:07pm

This Democracy fund overview explains
What the Democracy fund is ... and what it is not…. You can save all the conjecture.


posted by: getyourfactstraight on September 5, 2013  4:08pm

I have known Toni a very long time (since we served on the BOA together). I have always liked her and had much respect for her. I am so distraught because listening to her tells me she actually has become a life-time politician. The thing that interests her the most is collecting a war chest to outspend and outdo all the others. Does this not sound very familiar to us New Haven? It really is time for change and setting a tone for clean politics beholding to no one other than the residents of New Haven. Toni and Henry cannot do that. This is just way too familiar for my comfort zone!
This also has just re-enforced my support for Justin Elicker, not that it was needed, but this last debate did speak to whom is the best candidate and the one with the most integrity. That coupled with being smart, young and fresh, innovative, understanding how government should and must be run and being able to work with city residents from all areas…...well that is definitely Justin Elicker and that is why I am supporting him.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on September 5, 2013  5:02pm

The oft repeated argument by some commenters here that one (or in this case two) who participates in the Democracy Fund will somehow violate its spirit if one (they) chose to run as an Independent if one losees the Democratic Primary is simply wrong.

Participating in ANY primary does not beholden a candidate to that party in the general election if said candidate loses the primary in which they initially ran.  Losing a party’s primary means that the candidate will not be that party’s affiliated candidate in the general election.  It does not mean, nor was it intended to mean, that a candidate sold their soul to the party or gave up their right to excercise their freedom to run as an independent/unaffiliated candidate for office.

Further, the fact that a candidate may gain “name recognition” while running under the terms of the DF is, in a city like NH, more a function of the size of this city than it is a by-product of monies from the DF.  The indisputable proof of this fact is the aborted candidacy of Mr. Sundiata Keitazulu, whose bid for office never really caught fire in terms of financial support, and hence received NO matching funds from the DF, but who can deny that he was as well known as any of the candidates still in the race.  It doesn’t take much to achieve “name recognition” in small-town politics. 

If the Democracy Fund was set up to deny candidates the right to run for office having lost the Democratic Primary but also having gain some recognition, then it would, by that fact, violate the very spirit of democracy it claims to try to protect.

posted by: AJF515 on September 5, 2013  7:14pm

Notice the amount of times Harp’s voice cracks. Is someone getting nervous that a clean campaign will beat her?

posted by: Wilton Davis on September 5, 2013  8:06pm

Not one of the commenters, has called, Mrs Harp on not answering the question of being beholden to her donators.She totally skirted the question,  The moderator did not call her on it either. She (the moderator) totally chastised Justin for going over the time limit.  I am not surprised at her lack of an answer,why would outside donators donate so much ? From the goodness of their hearts ? I think not. Maybe one of you commenters has a nuanced answer?

posted by: accountability on September 5, 2013  10:51pm

Sorry Pastor Ross-Lee but you’re dead wrong.

The Democracy Funders who are running as independents are defrauding me and every other taxpayer in New Haven of tens of thousands of dollars.

Justin’s campaign is accepting enormous sums of tax dollars for the purpose of seeking to win the Democratic nomination for Mayor. He’s registered as a Democrat. So he loses. Then, sore loser that he is, he runs as an independent. Fine. Rebate the Democracy Fund to the city.

He had every right to seek to run as an Independent in the general, and even to use Democracy Funds for that purpose. Instead, he’s really an Independent who falsely registered as a Democratic candidate so that he could get public money, burnish his “Clean Pol” image and then do what he intended to do all along—run as an independent. It’s fraudulent behavior.

And that’s who Justin Elicker is. His entire—very brief—political career has been marked by sudden, dramatic changes in his public persona. The following have all happened in less than four years.

1. Dear Ward 10: Vote for me, not that Green guy! I’m a savvy Democratic machine insider who can bring home city pork because DeStefano will let me suck up to him.

2. Dear city: help, I’m an oppressed outsider! A grassroots movement kicked out the machine that helped me beat the Green guy and now I have no power [and I’m really Green myself!]

3. Dear Democracy Fund: Please deliver shovelfuls of taxpayer cash to me because, you know, I’m a Democrat trying to win the Democratic Party nomination for Mayor.

4. Dear New Haven: forget that stuff about me being a Democrat, I’m really a new urbanist independent thinking, you know, independent who is going to “give voice” to Republicans, Independents and Greens. Vote for me because of the evil machine that has been oppressing me so much for so long. Well, it’s been only 20 months, and Paul Bass says that the Board has been governing in the public interest, but who’s counting?

posted by: TheMadcap on September 5, 2013  11:10pm

Again, as a de facto reality, you can’t run in the general election without having run in the Democratic primary. There’d be no point in having a general election if candidates who ran in the primary weren’t allowed to continue to the general election as an ‘independent’(and if your argument is again specifically with the Democracy Fund, then you’re just perpetuating the holiness of large donors and PAC money over shifting to more public campaigns). Again, the fund doesn’t exist to prop up party establishment politics, if you don’t believe me we can go straight to the Democracy Fund’s website

The purpose of the Democracy Fund is to ensure that all citizens of the City of New Haven have a fair and meaningful opportunity to participate in the election of their Mayor.  Specifically, the ordinance aims to counter the perception that New Haven’s public policy is influenced by campaign contributions; to ensure that meritorious Mayoral candidates are able to raise and spend sufficient funds through public financing of elections to convey their messages to the voters; to reduce the need for ongoing fundraising and to encourage Mayoral candidacies to spend more time communicating with citizens; and to give all citizens an opportunity for a reasonable supporting role in the selection of Mayor by making even small contributions meaningful.

posted by: grounded on September 6, 2013  8:38am

Mike S and robn:

It’s not just a question of violating the local zoning regulations.  It is a federal constitutional issue.  Google “Nollan/Dolan” (the two major cases in the area do, in fact, rhyme) if you want more information.  Nollan/Dolan was extended even further this past term in a case called Koontz.  The operative question is, what sorts of conditions can be placed on a local permit or approval without those conditions rising to the level of a Fifth Amendment takings violation?

I think Elicker supporters have gone too far and have been perhaps a little sexist in denouncing Harp’s intelligence, etc. but even I have to admit that her comment about variances was surprisingly uneducated for someone who has been in government as long as she has been.

posted by: robn on September 6, 2013  9:02am


Agreed. In the end I’m pretty sure there won’t be a majority candidate coming out of the primary and that will make the “DF valid or not” conversation moot. Big question is what will be the plurality delta?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 6, 2013  9:38am

posted by: accountability on September 5, 2013 10:51pm

Justin’s campaign is accepting enormous sums of tax dollars for the purpose of seeking to win the Democratic nomination for Mayor. He’s registered as a Democrat. So he loses. Then, sore loser that he is, he runs as an independent. Fine. Rebate the Democracy Fund to the city.

This is why we must get rid of closed primary’s which prevents independents and others from voting,And go with Open Primary’s which allows more people to vote because it opens it up to independents and others.

posted by: Eddie on September 6, 2013  11:08am


I understand that you and others are unhappy with the dominance of the Democratic party in New Haven.  I think it is fair for you to undertake and advocate efforts that advance the interests of unaffiliated voters, the Republican, Green, and/or other parties.  But using the resources of the Democratic party to advance these efforts is dishonest.  Expecting the municipality to subsidize partisan and dishonest behavior is wrong. 

Again this behavior has already compelled a administrator of the Democracy Fund to give credence to the view that the Democratic primary is a runoff.  This view is incorrect, legitimizes disingenuous behavior, is entirely anti-democratic, and is antagonistic towards a particular party.  The administrator implied that viewing the primary as a runoff could justify funding sore losers, which would effectively change electoral laws through the Democracy Fund.  It is behavior that motivates comments such as these that will put the Democracy Fund in jeopardy. 

The Democracy Fund is legitimate if it reduces corruption, which negatively impacts most voters.  It is not legitimate if it directly advances the partial and narrow interests of those who desire the weakening of a particular party.  Given the interests of many in the NHI commentariat it is not surprising that they are cheering this latter use of the fund.  But these cheers are shortsighted, as they are ultimately cheering the corruption of a program designed to prevent corruption. 

You can point to the Democracy Fund’s website, and yet the program is facing a real obstacle with sore losers.  Sore losers receive public subsidies without ultimately being bound by the rules of the Democracy Fund.  Sore losers receive subsidies to become a party’s nominee and then run against that party.  There have now been multiple instances, in which Democracy Fund administrators have acknowledged the ordinances of the fund can change to address the problems that sore losers create.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on September 6, 2013  11:15am

So, since my last attempt at responding was apparently rejected, I’ll try again.
Amid the many statements complaining about the candidates who have used the Democracy Fund and who plan to run as independents if they lose the Democratic Primary there has not been one reference to an actual rule that these candidates are breaking.

For the sake of clarity, would one of you commenters who are desperately arguing against the use of the DF during the primary while planning to run as an Independent please show us the rule whose letter or spirit is being violated by the candidates who are both using the Fund and planning to run as independents.

Mr/Ms Accountability has not done a good job at making that argument.

posted by: robn on September 6, 2013  11:37am


Your characterization of “sore losers” is based upon an incorrect premise…that the Democratic Party in New Haven is still a democratic party. Its not; it’s an extension of White Suburban Union Control.

posted by: Hieronymous on September 6, 2013  1:21pm

Eddie, you’re normally one of the most compelling posters here, even though I often disagree with you. But, in what way are Kerm and Justin “using the resources of the Democratic party to advance these efforts”? Do you fail to perceive a difference between the Democratic Party and the Democracy Fund, or is it me whose missing something? (I ask in earnest, because, as I say, you generally seem to know what you’re talking about.)

From your comments, and accountability’s, it often seems that you value allegiance to the Democratic Party above all else. I think there was a place for that kind of loyalty once upon a time, and it still has some value where relevant opposition parties exist. But in a city like ours, what’s the point, really?  And how do you define the Party? I can see why you’d discount the views of Independents, Greens, and the like, but what about the thousands of registered Democrats who’d like to have a say in who emerges as the winner in the primary, but happen not to sit on the DTC? Should we have just abandoned our previously formed opinions when 52 other registered Democrats decided to endorse Harp? Is that kind of blind allegiance really good for a party?

Finally, given your apparent party loyalty, I’m curious: are you planning to support the winner of the Democratic primary even if it’s not Toni?

posted by: LeeCruz on September 6, 2013  2:42pm

The Democracy Fund is the best investment we can make for our children, our community and our country. If you are undecided about who to vote for in this mayoral election, consider the cost of NOT having “the people” invest in our democratic process. Democracy costs, invest now or our children will pay later.

posted by: Alex Jermaine on September 8, 2013  4:57pm

New Haven’s modest attempt to offset the effects of money on our democracy can serve as a model for our nation. Some candidates have argued New Haven can’t afford it. The citizens of New Haven can’t afford to lose public financing for campaigns. Our current campaign finance system exacerbates inequalities in our economic system, and takes decision-making power out of the hands of voters and places it in the pockets of the wealthy. Take a look at a few of the perversities our current campaign finance system yeilds like multi-national fossil fuel companies that continue to get tax subsidies, and new permits for fracking despite the well documented environmental devastation like drinking water so full of methane that people living nearby have flammable tap water; the biggest banks which continue to receive 85bn per month in bailout money (quantitative easing); despite making record profits and paying out record bonuses to the same people largely responsible for the financial crisis. The banks campaign contributions were too big to fail.  At the very same time we are cutting funding for public education, first responders, infrastructure projects, health care, veteran assistance, and all other discretionary spending by 85bn: “sequestration.”

You might think these things are irrelevant to New Haven’s local elections, but if you allow local candidates to run the type of campaigns and engage in the type of politics that cause these perversities they will undoubtedly continue. New Haven is at the forefront when it comes to campaign finance reform. Toni Harp criticized the system saying the money could be better spent on things like education. Harp couldn’t be more wrong. There is no better way to spend public funds than delivering our democracy back where it belongs, in the hands of the people. Once people have true decision-making power again they’ll chose to fund public schools, adequately care for vets, and divert tax dollars away from buying bombs to building bridges i