At Debate, Fernandez Presses Harp On Keno

Paul Bass PhotoKeno came to the police union hall Monday night—not the electronic betting game itself, but the controversy over whether it should come to New Haven.

That happened during the first-ever mayoral campaign debate organized by Police Union Local 530. Four of the five Democratic mayoral candidates participated in the debate, which took place at the Marchegian Club on Cedar Street. A fifth candidate, Kermit Carolina, boycotted the event.  (Click here for a full story on that, including a response by police union President Lou Cavaliere Jr.)

During the standing-room-only debate, candidate Henry Fernandez several times raised an issue on which he has gained some traction in recent weeks: criticizing his perceived chief rival, Toni Harp, for helping strike a state budget deal that included expansion of Keno to restaurants and bars in cities like New Haven.

Fernandez emphasized the introduction of Keno as a public-safety issue: ” It’s going to increase crime. It’s going to increase poverty,” he said.

Harp responded by calling Fernandez’s attacks “specious.” She said she helped save youth programs through the budget deal; she called those programs “more important than a choice an adult will make about whether to waste their money on Keno.” Fernandez responded that a state budget surplus could have covered those programs without the introduction of Keno.

Harp received an assist from another candidate, Sundiata Keitazulu, who attacked Fernandez for, in his view, manufacturing an irrelevant issue. He never hears about Keno on the campaign trail, Keitazulu said.

The Keno debate continued after the formal debate.

Harp had said during the debate that Fernandez misunderstood the budget process that led to Keno’s approval. She said that restaurants will not be instituting Keno; and she said that Fernandez didn’t realize that the budget decisions were made based on revenue projections that showed a shortfall, not a surplus.

Asked after the debate to elaborate, Harp said that at first Keno will be coming mainly to off-track betting parlors (like New Haven’s Sports Haven) as well as to outlets that already have Lotto. At those latter venues, Keno will not be offered at the customary public monitor that has led people to get “addicted” to the game, she said; it will work more like lottery, where people submit numbers to wager on, the only difference being that the results come much faster than in the lottery. She said eventually restaurants will have the right to put in Keno machines, but that first regulators must approve them. People will probably have the ability to contest such applications before they’re approved, she said.

Told of Harp’s remarks, Fernandez stuck to his position. He noted that Keno is projected to bring in $3 million in revenue its first year, $27 million the second; that’s such a miniscule portion of a $37 billion two-year budget (“a rounding error”) that even with the projected deficit, lawmakers could and should have found other ways to close that portion of the gap, he argued. As for Harp’s point about the process by which restaurants must obtain licenses, he said, “If the senator wants to rely on regulators to take steps that are not in the law, that is not leadership. She was in the room when the deal was cut.”

Monday night’s debate had two stages with two audiences: the police union members in the hall who were dangling an endorsement (although they seemed outnumbered by civilian supporters of the candidates); and the public at large.

Harp and Fernandez were clearly fighting for the union’s endorsement; and they tangled in the manner of two presumed front-runners who see each other as their main opponents.

Mayoral candidate Justin Elicker, on the other hand, is not expected to win the union endorsement. And as someone participating in the city’s public-financing system, he can’t even accept the union’s political action committee dollars promised to the eventual endorsee. He did say he’d love the union’s endorsement even though he can’t take the money. But he also spoke more to the citywide audience. He told the union what it didn’t want to hear: He declined to commit to maintaining a defined-benefit pension plan for cops. The pension plan is in deep financial trouble, he said; New Haven can’t afford to maintain it safely without changes. Elicker repeatedly presented himself as the candidate who can break free from old-style New Haven “politics”—the kind of politics you hear police complain about often in New Haven, though it’s unclear whether those complaints will factor into how the union executive board decides on an endorsement, which is by nature a political process in itself.

Elicker also played up his command of up-to-date details about police decisions—the kind of new training cops receive (most recently on patrolling by bike), the recent sting of illegal dirt-bikers. He has gotten up to speed on those details by attending weekly Compstat data-sharing meetings at police headquarters as well as by working with officers on issues like the dirt bikes.

Following is a play-by-play account and analysis live blog of the debate.

The event began shortly after 6 p.m. at the Marchegian Club at 226 Cedar. Police union Local 530 is hosting.

6:05 p.m. Opening prayer.

6:06 “This is our first debate. We’re excited about it,” Cavaliere says. He gives “props” to union treasurer Shafiq Abdussabur for doing the organizing work. Next comes the Pledge of Allegiance.

6:07 Looks like about 60 people here. Standing room only.

6:09 “Anyone’s always welcome here in our house,” Abdussabur says after recognizing Kermit Carolina’s decision not to participate in the debate. Former city cop James Howell, a regional AFSCME director, is serving as debate moderator.

6:12 First question: What’s your top priority, and how will you pay for it? Harp: Improving the schools. “We’ve made some changes, but we still have a long way to go.” No microphones; and fans are on. So candidates need to speak loudly. Harp doesn’t address the “how to pay for it” portion of the question.

6:13 Fernandez interjects: You promised us opening statements. Howell agrees to a “do-over.” Now come two-minute opening statements.

6:15 Fernandez calls crime-reduction a top priority for him. “It’s also important that we understand the role the police are playing. ... I want to commit to Local 530 and the officers at all ranks in this department that another top priority for me is making sure you have the resources, you have the training, you have the backing of a mayor such that you can be sure we are getting you home safely to your families every night.

6:16 Hard to hear Keitazulu. Only one mic; moderator has it. Keitazulu “back[s] Mr. Esserman 100 percent” in “giving the police department the resources it needs.” “Police are doing a great job.” He speaks of how in Newhallville he sees “for the first time” the police building relationships with people and getting help from citizens. That’s a cornerstone of community policing.

6:18 Elicker: “Today is my 10th debate. It’s a marathon running for mayor.” He says that’s good for the city, having public debate. He talks about how his mom was a Republican and his dad a Democrat. He learned as a result how to work “honestly” with people who have different views. “If we don’t respect one another, we will not be able to get things done in the city.” Fernandez spoke seated; Keitazulu stood up. Elicker, by contrast, stands up and walks to the front of the table to address the crowd up close, a tactic he has used at other debates.

6:20 Harp now is standing, in place. “I’m running for mayor so little children in our community don’t have to worry about bullets flying through their bedroom when they go to sleep at night. I’m running for mayor so when children graduate from high schools” they then don’t have to do two years of remedial education at junior colleges before ascending to college. “I’m running for mayor so the people in this community have hope in their future, so that their children have hope. I’m running for mayor so the police don’t have to work so hard, so that communities are engaged in their own safety.” She gets the biggest applause for talking about how police can’t do it alone.

6:22 Back to the question. Elicker speaks of building on community policing, creating more jobs, holding the Board of Education accountable, boosting early childhood education. Those are his priorities, he says. Says he would push economic growth to pay for it, saying he can’t raise taxes or cut as a solution.

6:24 Keitazulu: Jobs are number-one priority. He says he’ll ask “for the whole school board to put in their resignation.” Brings up his proposals for new vo-tech schools. He praises Project Longevity, the new federally funded gang-targeting anti-violence initiative. “Let the thugs know, if you commit a crime ... we’re going to enforce the law on you. We’re not going to take any more nonsense.”

6:26 Turns out candidates do have mics. They’re using them now.

Fernandez’s priorities: Cut crime. Improve schools. Economic development, to pay for it. He talks about growth coming from changes in the medical industry. What doesn’t get discussed at these debates: It takes an estimated $6 million a year in new tax revenue to drop taxes a single mil. That’s huge, far, far more development than we’ve seen in any one year.

Now Fernandez turns to his perceived top rival for the job: Toni Harp. He asks her a question: “Given the amount of crime, the problems we have in this city with regard to broken families, with regard to children and poverty, how it is you could support bringing Keno gambling into our neighborhoods? It’s going to increase crime. It’s going to increase poverty. Why did you think that’s appropriate?”

This is the main event. Fernandez has gotten traction, in New Haven and statewide, attacking Harp for joining legislators in approving an expansion of Keno games in cities like New Haven to balance the state budget.

These “attacks” by Fernandez “underscore the difference between the experience of someone who has worked for the state and someone who hasn’t,” Harp responds. She gets applause. She speaks about how funding for young people and after-school programs had been eliminated in the original version of the state budget. “You have to make tough choices as a leader. I thought those programs were more important than a choice a adult will make about whether to waste their money on Keno.”

It’s interesting that Fernandez is pitching this issue in a public safety context here. Both he and Harp drew positive reactions in private appearances before the police union; I wonder how officers will view the Keno issue, if it will be a factor.

6:33 Fernandez responds to a question asking about the “biggest challenge” of the campaign. He returns to Keno: “The biggest challenge in this campaign has been the size of the field. As it’s shrinking, it’s easier to have a debate where we have time to talk through the issues. I’m going to come back to this issue of Keno…”

“Oh no,” Harp supporters groan.

Fernandez proceeds. “It’s going to expose children in New Haven restaurants to adults gambling. I’m sorry; that’s wrong. There’s a budget surplus. All the things the senator talked about cutting ... we didn’t actually need Keno. We have hundreds of millions of dollars [in a] budget surplus. ... Adding gambling to my neighborhood will increase crime. It will put children at risk.” His supporters clap.

6:35 Harp describes her “biggest challenge” as a candidate: “You’re perceived to be the frontrunner. You become a target. Specious issues like Keno and ‘ruining people’s lives’ are brought out ... [Keno] isn’t even being brought to restaurants.” Also: “People no longer believe government can work for them. We’ve got to turn that around.”

6:38 “I never knew Keno was an issue until Mr. Fernandez brought it up,” says Keitazulu. “I never heard this as an issue” at any door visits on the campaign trail. “I have three daughters. I would be proud if they turn out like Toni Harp. Stay with the issues, Mr. Fernandez,” he concludes. As usual in these debates, Keitazulu rouses the crowd.

6:41 Candidates have two audiences to address at these debates: the people in the room (as in cases like this one, a group dangling an endorsement) and the city at large. So in a question about community policing, Fernandez makes sure to repeat a commitment to giving cops the “resources” they need to do the job.

6:42 This question about community policing is a softball for Harp—because in 1989 she co-authored the original plan to bring community policing to New Haven. She’s talking about that now, about how at the time in Dwight-Kensington (a neighborhood she represented on the Board of Aldermen) kids were sleeping in bathtubs to avoid bullets flying through the window, how UI couldn’t keep streetlights working because drug dealers kept shooting them out. She notes that at the time murders reached 34 a year before community policing led to a dramatic cut in violence; and how they reached that level again in recent years until the reintroduction of community policing again showed results. She also mentions the need to enlist the fire department, the Livable City Initiative (LCI), and block watches more in making community policing work.

6:45 Elicker says as mayor he’d walk beats with cops and attend block-watch meetings rather than sit in “an ivory tower.”

6:46 Question: What kind of training would you support? Fernandez says he’d require additional training hours for cops in mediation, in dealing with gangs, in “community organizing,” and in working New Haven’s neighborhoods. Harp: Ensure the city pays the bill for officers’ additional training for career advancement. Elicker notes that cops do get paid for extra training, such as a recent round of bicycle training; he learned that by, as he points out, regularly attending weekly “Compstat” data-sharing meetings at police headquarters. He’s indeed a fixture there. Elicker also calls for “sensitivity training” on citizen rights to avoid incidents like cops confiscating cameras. He also talks about how Lt. Holly Wasilewski does such a remarkable job dealing with the public. Elicker closes by proposing moving the police firing range. Keitzaulu: “I’m not a police officer,” so he’d ask cops what they need.

6:54 A test question: Do you support changes to police pension plans? Cops pay more toward their pensions than they used to, thanks to a new contract. The city sought (and won) new terms in that contract and in others in order to keep rising pension and health costs under control—and to keep pension funds from becoming insolvent. Whoever wins this race will face some of those same tough contract negotiations and the need to keep long-term costs under control.

Harp calls it “grossly unfair” to force changes in the pension system, although it’s “fair” to have changes bargained. “I don’t think any union should move away from defined-benefit plans.”

Elicker: “Defined-benefit plans are wonderful. I would love one. The reality is we have a $220 million underfunded liability in our police and fire pension plans. We’re funding what we’re required to fund; we’re assuming we will get an 8.25 percent return on our investment. Who’s getting an 8.25 percent return these days? If you want a pension in the future, we need to make a choice as a city. Because we won’t have enough money in our system. We have to make a choice between changing [from] defined benefit to defined contribution, which is not ideal; or changing the benefit structure. Someone who has 15 years worth of work left in them is not someone a pension is designed for.” Without fixing this, the city won’t have money for any cop’s pensions—let alone libraries. In other words, he’s not telling the police what they want to hear. He gets a single lone clap.

A change to a defined contribution (rather than defined benefit) plans means that the city would have a set amount that it pays into the pension fund, rather than a set amount that it promises to pay out during retirement. A defined contribution plan works like a 401(k).

Fernandez: “I support defined benefit pensions.” He says he also recognizes that “historic underfunding of pensions” means “we’re going to have to sit down and negotiate a system for paying” for those pensions. “The nature of policing is such that we are going to have people who are going to retire because of the stress of the job, the physical demands of the job, before they’re 65 years old. ... That needs to be part of the way we figure out the solution to maintaining defined benefit plans.” The city now has a tiered-benefit program under the new contract; that encourages retirements, “leaving us with significant vacancies.” That has meant the need for more overtime for now because of shortages. The lower tier does not get defined benefits; so they’ll leave after a few years here. “That is a significant risk fo rus, because we’re paying to train them. We need tos it down with the union, sit down with thepolice chief. We need to restructure this to save money and maintain dignity in retirement.”

7:15 p.m. Harp defends her record as a leading state senator. She says she was able to allocate money for New Haven as a state senator, but wants to be mayor so she can make sure it’s spent well.

Fernandez asks to rebut. He offers an interesting two-part argument.

First he praises Harp—for bringing money to New Haven. Having her become mayor, he said, would make New Haven lose important clout in Hartford. (Harp co-chairs the legislature’s Appropriations Committee.)

Then he takes on her argument that she needs to become mayor to make sure money’s spent right. Fernandez argues that a state senator chairing a major committee has lots of opportunity to ensure state money gets spent well. “Becoming mayor won’t make that money well-spent. It’s important to be accountable in all the jobs we hold, not just the jobs we want to hold.”

7:18 Well more than 70 people are here now.

7:19 Closing question: Why should we endorse you?

Fernandez touts his experience as a city administrator, including working with the police department. “I will be a champion for community policing. I will be a champion for police officers. I will be a champion for folks in all of our neighborhoods who need this city to be safer.”

Harp: “I pledge to work with you. I pledge to listen to you. I look forward to our success.”

Elicker: “Since I’m participating in public financing, I can’t accept PAC [political action committee] money.” So he’d love their endorsement; he can’t take their money. “I show up. I care. I work as a partner. I have worked as a partner” with cops. He mentions working with Sgt. Vincent Anastasio to address the dirt-bike menace; read about that here.

Keitazulu: “I am the voice of the people. ... It’s not about me. It’s about you the people. What do the people need and want? What do the police need and want to get their job done? ... I will not let the people’s voice be not heard no more.”

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posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on July 8, 2013  6:23pm

Looks like Fernandez wasted not time in selling-out to the debate organizers. Nice to promise the resources Henry, but how do you plan to pay for it.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on July 8, 2013  6:27pm

Harp: “I’m running for mayor so the police don’t have to work so hard.” What does that mean? Let’s face it, most of the time the police are not on urgent or emergency calls. They work hard to be sure, but so do the rest of us and that’s why they get paid well and receive a handsome pension. She should not be worried about how hard the police are working.

posted by: OneCityManyDreams on July 8, 2013  6:34pm

Harp’s comments do not make sense.  Create more problems so we can raise money through gambling to fix them. Does that make sens?

posted by: OneCityManyDreams on July 8, 2013  7:02pm

Wow, Harp and Elicker just gave away about 30 million in future pension obligations in one quick statement. Support defined benefits. Great answer. How about support Taxpayers!

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on July 8, 2013  7:07pm

The cops are City employees, not a constituency. What’s next, the candidates appearing before the school teachers union and then pandering in turn to the Firefighters?

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on July 8, 2013  7:15pm

The City simply can not afford defined benefit plans anymore, and it needs to move to a defined contribution plan. The fact that Harp and Hernandez don’t recognize this fact, tells me the two are either economically/financially incompetent to run the City or unwilling to acknowledge the reality for fear of losing the union vote.

posted by: HhE on July 8, 2013  8:36pm

Instead of dismissing OneCity’s anti Keno stance as “specious,” Sen. Harp ought to addresses it.  She never does, and think it is because she cannot. 

One thought Local 530:  you can endorse someone because they tell you what you want to hear, or you can save your money by endorsing someone who will tell you the truth.  (I think you will do the former, but I would respect you so much more if you do the latter.)

I for one believe that the military, police, firefighters, and teachers ought to get defined benbenefitans.  I do not see how we can incorporate three years of overtime into that—the money is just not there.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on July 8, 2013  8:42pm

OK lets be honest…Elicker had the BALLS to be honest! That to me is the story. Denial is what made the pension get in the place it is. And each of these candidates made comments that are the same as JD’s and that spells disaster for the citizens and the cops in the end. Reality the pension will be empty and the bankrupsy can promise each of the officers half of what they are expecting in penion funds a year…and the union reps know this.  Bravo to Elicker for being the ONE honest candidate who in reality is looking out for the cops not promising something that can not happen. They want to protect there retirements he is the ONLY candidate that will do that…and again another kudo’s to Keitazulu for getting it!

posted by: Amityboy on July 8, 2013  8:59pm

This was a really fascinating debate—I’m glad I went. The one thing that stood out to me was Harp’s response to the question about why she was running for mayor. Her answer was so absurd it was almost obscene. Basically, she said that she’s spent two decades sending money to New Haven, but has little control over how it’s spent, and is unhappy with the spending choices DeStefano has made.

That’s complete BS. Cities in Connecticut have virtually no sovereign rights; they can only do what the state government allows them to do. That means the state can appropriate money for very specific projects, effectively leaving the city powerless to change how money is spent. I want to know what Harp’s real answer to this question is, because that certainly isn’t it…

posted by: anonymous on July 8, 2013  9:08pm

If you live next to a convenience store, it likely has lotto. What will happen when it gets a Keno terminal? Will lines of gamblers form out the door? Will robberies increase in surrounding blocks as the poor spend even more money on the “crack cocaine” of gambling?

Fernandez is absolutely correct to raise this as a public safety issue.

It won’t impact Senator Harp because she lives at the very edge of New Haven, next to the Yale golf course, far away from any convenience store. If she lived in a real part of the city like the other 95% of us she would feel differently about Keno.

posted by: EdgewoodMom on July 8, 2013  9:42pm

This article tells it all about most of the comments/comment sections of articles:

Brief version: Comment sections do not tell the story of how most people feel. Just food for thought.

posted by: TheWizard on July 8, 2013  9:43pm

I suppose these debates do serve a purpose….It’s still difficult to determine whether Harp or Fernandez would destroy the city faster….

posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on July 8, 2013  10:23pm

@Cedarhill- BINGO right on the money.
What is Toni saying with this statement?: “more important than a choice a adult will make about whether to waste their money on Keno.”
So you helped legislate a system to help the people waste their money!?
Wow- thanks Toni you’re a real woman of the people! The more I see and hear from this woman the less I like her.
Elicker shined through AGAIN! Love this guy.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 8, 2013  10:36pm

The pension problem is no problem at all.All you have to do is do look at how New York pension system is run.When you join the Retirement System, you are assigned to a tier based on your date of membership. There are six tiers in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and five in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Your tier determines:
•Your eligibility for benefits,
•The formula used in the calculation of your benefits,
•Death benefit coverage,
•Service crediting,
•Whether you must contribute toward your benefits, and
•Eligibility for loans

Each tier takes care of the people in tier one when they retire there pension are being funded by those who are still working in the tiers.Also the Three-Year Final Average Salary for those in Tier 3, 4, and 5 cannot exceed the average of the previous two years by more than 10 percent. Any amount in excess of this will be excluded.

Read the chart here.

Also members can take out loans on there pension.

This Public Pension System Works.

The 401k is a rip off.The crooked firms that run them make more money from fees that you pay them,Then what you would make.You take the risk,They make the profits.

The Retirement Gamble | FRONTLINE | PBS

posted by: TheMadcap on July 8, 2013  11:13pm

I could type out a longer response, but essentially in the end it’s just going to be “Elicker <3”

posted by: Ex-NHPD on July 8, 2013  11:38pm

If you don’t count the members of the Local 530 Executive Board, I did not count more than 5 current Local 530 Members present at any time. There were just as many, if not more,  retired members there.

If the Rank and File members get together to vote for an endorsement, their best shot to get any insight into the candidates was missed. What will they base their vote on?

If the rank and file does vote to make an endorsement, how many will vote?

If the vote is close, or the turnout is minimal,(or both)  will this be a legitimate endorsement?

Will the E-Board do a separate endorsement?

When I was on the E-Board, I never wanted to make any endorsement, either from the Rank and File or the E-Board.  In the end, the only one who benefits from an endorsement is the Candidate.

It was interesting for me to finally see the Candidates in action.  No major errors made.  Some were more polished than others.  No earth shattering proposals or plans were laid out.  There were definitely more Harp supporters in the audience; they were also more vocal than the other supporters.

posted by: David S Baker on July 9, 2013  7:32am

I get the distinct impression I will NOT be serving Reebok sneaker with hollandaise this week.  This union will not back a candidate who can’t take their money.  The nod will go to Harp.  Safest endorsement in local political history.  A friend in the mayors seat or friend in Hartford.  You money works for you, win or lose.

posted by: Wooster Squared on July 9, 2013  9:08am

Elicker: Let’s be smart and balance the budget.

Harp/Fernandez: That’s too hard, let’s pander and fudge it.

posted by: Curious on July 9, 2013  10:00am

What did the firefighters get for their endorsement of DeStefano?

If I remember correctly, it was diddly-squat.

Ex-NHPD has it right.  As much as I would like to see Elicker get this, an endorsement is only good for the candidate, not the rank and file.

posted by: Noteworthy on July 9, 2013  10:01am

Shop A Cop Notes:

1. The queen of pandering was in full regale at this debate, completely devoid of reality on pensions, the city budget, tax collection and Keno.

2. The CT Lottery is responsible for Keno, not the legislature. How it’s rolled out has not been determined.

3. With pensions in the hole by hundreds of millions, an unrealistic percentage return on the fund and defined benefits richer than our ability to pay, Harp promises more of it. Talk about putting your head in the sand and not seeing the coming storm - just like her famed ignorance of the family business practices of screwing tax collectors and mortgage providers.

4. Tax collection is 98% - how will she better that? Clueless.

Pandering and promises absent substance is what Harp is peddling. The real question is whether she will be the mayor that bankrupts the city?

posted by: plannerman on July 9, 2013  10:39am

My first time at a mayoral debate last night—found out at the last minute and thought, heck, why not? I’m not sure every group should have their own debate, but I suppose it’s good to get the candidates out in the city, off their own turf, and next to each other.

That said, for my first time dipping into the mayor’s race this year, Elicker seemed like the clear winner on substance. Here’s a guy I could actually trust to run the city. He’s honest (on pensions, budget, resources). He was definitely the smartest guy in the room. But humble and clearly a hard worker. I was blown away by the hands-on approach to problem solving (walking with the cops, helping coordinate the anti-dirt bike campaign). He’s everywhere!

In stark contrast, every time Sen. Harp finished speaking I was left wondering whether she had said anything at all. She seemed to only speak in platitudes and cliches. Jeeze, I think nobody up there wants kids hiding from bullets in bath tubs. But what are you actually going to do about it? As the debate wore on, I got worried. How is this person actually going to run a city?

City government (I’ve worked in a couple) is about administration. It’s the nitty gritty of problem solving, service, budget details, etc. It’s not about rhetorical posturing. Maybe the problem is that she’s been a legislator for the last 20 years? Mind you, having looked up her record she seems like she’s been a great legislator, and I’m happy with her policy stances. But legislation is not the same thing as running the city.

With Elicker—I can trust him to run a city. He’s smart, honest, and fresh. And he’s not from the old political machine. I kept wanting to ask Harp’s supporters, particularly the young ones, why are you supporting her? Is it an image thing? What? I don’t get it. At least at that debate, there was nothing of substance.

It’s impressive when you see them side by side. Elicker all the way. I’ll be turning up to cheer in the future. I hope that you do too.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on July 9, 2013  10:56am

Elicker has been “attending weekly Compstat data-sharing meetings at police headquarters”. You mean the other candidates have NOT attended? Why not? Crime-reduction is not part of other candidates’ agendas? “Fernandez calls crime-reduction a top priority for him”—yet hasn’t attended Compstat meetings? Harp: “I’m running for mayor so little children in our community don’t have to worry about bullets flying through their bedroom”—but also doesn’t attend Compstat meetings? Mantra of all the candidates: Cut crime. Improve schools. Economic development. More jobs. Same old, same old, yawn. They all support community policing: great, but did anyone suggest we soon might be doing away with it? REALITY: it’s not even an issue. Keitzaulu: “’I’m not a police officer’, so he’d ask cops what they need.” And thus Keitzaulu proves you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to help the cops do their job—and the police don’t need disconnected “theorists” to tell them what they “REALLY” need. “Harp calls it ‘grossly unfair’ to force changes in the pension system”. TRANSLATION: therefore she’ll introduce the biggest tax hike in New Haven history—just like she did at the state level. “the city would have a set amount that it pays into the [police] pension fund, rather than a set amount that it promises to pay out”—and this (or a 401 k) is the most common model—for those lucky workers who still even HAVE a pension plan. (Footnote: who cares about being endorsed by the police union, anyway? Most don’t live here—so won’t be voting.)

posted by: anonymous on July 9, 2013  11:19am

“Every time Sen. Harp finished speaking I was left wondering whether she had said anything at all.”

I have had the same observation at every debate.  I find it shocking how incoherent her answers are, having seen her around the Capitol for years.

Given that she has thrown out quite a few terrible ideas in the few weeks she has been running, and justified her vote for Keno by saying that it won’t have any impact on city neighborhoods because people already gamble, perhaps it is no surprise that she seems unwilling to provide any specifics on anything. 

The approach sits well with the UNITE HERE/Bob Proto coalition’s strategy of opposing tons of progressive policies, refusing to advocate for clean elections, making all decisions behind closed doors, and doing nothing tangible for the city other than throwing PR-stunt job pipeline events and vaguely taking credit for hires that DeStefano made months before they purchased the Board of Aldermen.

posted by: Webblog1 on July 9, 2013  11:48am

Harp and Fernandez were pandering to the police union for their endorsement by supporting Defined pension benefits, while the Police Union and several other city unions have already signed multi-year contracts changing their pension plan to defined contribution.

In April/May Moody’s downgraded the city ,citing it’s outstanding pension liabilities a primary contributing source.

Rating Update: Moody’s downgrades new haven to A2

The city has a high burden, based on unfunded liabilities for two defined benefit
retirement The combined annual contribution (ARC) for the was million in fiscal
2012, or of Fund combined net pension liability, under “n”,‘V’1”“”,
methodology for adjusting pension data, is million, or an elevated 1.72 times General Fund revenues. Moody’s uses the adjusted net pension liability to improve comparability of reported pension liabilities.
The adjustments are not intended to replace the city’s reported liability information, but to improve comparability.

Harp calls it “grossly unfair” to force changes in the pension plan.

Fernandez: “I support defined benefit pensions.” He says he also recognizes that “historic underfunding of pensions” means “we’re going to have to sit down and negotiate a system for paying pensions.

Harp and Fernandez would do well to research the issue before taking foolish positions which run contrary to the path the city has been moving towards in order to save the city from continuing to build on long term debt payments it cannot annually meet.

posted by: FrontStreet on July 9, 2013  12:44pm

In terms of budgeting and economic development, seems Harp and Fernandez are primarily concerned with how much money they are able to get (whether through PILOT or Keno) and then spend from the state government.  Which seems to perpetuate the reputation, deserved or not, of New Haven as a “taker” not a “giver”, a burden to be born as opposed to a producer of goods and revenue.

posted by: Bill Saunders on July 9, 2013  12:50pm

Senator Harp could seriously use a better joke writer.

posted by: Razzie on July 9, 2013  1:15pm

I attended the debate and thought this was more instructive than the earlier ones. I offer these observations:

Fernandez—Once perceived as a front-runner, he is losing traction with voters fast. Keno is a “hail Mary” play that probably will not translate into many votes. In the casino capitals of New England, most cities are trying to get MORE gambling revenue, not less.

Elicker—The candidate from New Canaan (by way of East Rock) is again stressing his independence and East Rock elitism as reasons why he should be elected. Problem is, his independence is also the reason why only 1 of 30 fellow aldermen he has worked with for the past 3 years has voiced any support for his run at Mayor. After being in town a total of only 6 years, Elicker is offering 75 Steps to making New Haveners better people. Unfortunately, we are not in New Canaan.

Keitazulu—An honorable man who is refreshingly down-to-earth and interested in discussing issues and not personal attacks on Harp. He had enough of Henry’s BS about Keno and said so.

Carolina—A no show. Not unusual for an end-runner who has his own performance baggage to carry. If he can ever get the Hillhouse grade scandal fixed, he may become a credible threat. He says he is appealing his conviction, but his own teachers issued statements implicating him. For now, Keitazulu overshadows him in his own voter demographic.

Harp—Her performance was head and shoulders above the others in terms of content and delivery. Her supporters were enthusiastic and come from a broad cross section of the voting public. I like her broad base of support. If elected, she is the only candidate who will have the support of the Aldermen and other stake-holders that is needed to govern effectively. ((Disclaimer: I, like thousands of other New Haveners, am a Toni Harp supporter.)

posted by: Curious on July 9, 2013  1:33pm

Razzie, thanks for the laughs, it really brightened up my day!

posted by: plannerman on July 9, 2013  1:37pm

@Razzie: what “content” are you referring to? Perhaps you could provide some specifics.

Lastly, going ad hominem on Elicker for having grown up somewhere else is illogical and self defeating. Everyone is from somewhere. I didn’t grow up in New Haven either, I suppose Harp wouldn’t want my vote then? New Haven is going to need committed, creative young people, wherever they are from if we are going to get New Haven going again.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 9, 2013  1:42pm

posted by: Razzie on July 9, 2013 1:15pm

Keitazulu—An honorable man who is refreshingly down-to-earth and interested in discussing issues and not personal attacks on Harp. He had enough of Henry’s BS about Keno and said so.

And the people I talk to said they had enough of his B.S.They said he is going no where.

Carolina—A no show. Not unusual for an end-runner who has his own performance baggage to carry. If he can ever get the Hillhouse grade scandal fixed, he may become a credible threat. He says he is appealing his conviction, but his own teachers issued statements implicating him. For now, Keitazulu overshadows him in his own voter demographic.

He is not a credible threat.From what I see he has the streets,Remember Harp Fernandez Elicker did not grow up in New Haven.Carolina did.Now let’s break it down.The Black vote will be split.Harp has Latino Leaders but does not have the latino community.Fernandez has the latino community due to his wife.Elicker has the white community.If Keitazulu stays in he is the credible threat because he will get the protest votes.Also Harp and Fernandez would keep some of king john people on board.You want to bet Karen DuBois-Walton will stay.

posted by: Curious on July 9, 2013  3:10pm

Plannerman, thanks for that.  Elicker may be from New Canaan, but which of the candidates now lives in a home worth $600,000 right near the Yale Golf Course in Westville?

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on July 9, 2013  3:12pm

In the midst of this debate Henry Fernandez claimed that a 100,000,000 dollar budget surplus exists, and this can be used to fund programs such as LEEP. It is odd he never explained the source of this information, and none of the other candidates questioned him on this number. At this time, and since the alteration of the method to keep the state’s books was changed to Standard Accounting Principles by Ben Barnes, there has been no surplus, and a chronic issue has been trying to determine the exact size of the state’s deficit.

Fernandez though was the only realist when he spoke of the issue of the police pension. If the City does not remain competitive with the benefits of other local police departments, officers will do two or three years here and then move onto other departments. At least those of quality, integrity, intelligence, and without personnel files that are blemished will flee first. The remains will most likely be those hired who had their backgrounds, criminal history, drug use, psychological tests, agility and fitness, ignored or altered, so as to hire them as political favors.
    This has been happening since Pastore started his tenure. Hiring those that had convictions for sales of illegal drugs, domestic violence, manslaughter, and a variety of other deficiencies. These same individuals continued on through their training having their failures in the classroom, firing range, and PE, covered up by changing scores and forwarding the altered figures to POST, as if they were true.
    Since that time many have continued to commit crimes, were never held responsible to any standards of organized law enforcement, and then promoted into upper management.
    Seeing that this has become accepted practice at the NHPD over the past 23 years, it can only expand, as the best candidates will flee New Haven, to build a respectable career in a respectable police department.
    Sorry, none of the candidates spoke on this problem.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on July 9, 2013  3:16pm

According to the New Haven Register’s account of this debate, Harp stated that she “wants to make sure the city is collecting the taxes that are due”. UPDATE: our tax collection rate is over 98%. One of the biggest scofflaws is her late husband’s estate. Is Toni Harp going to help collect those taxes? Harp also stated “I believe that there needs to be more accountability of how we spend our money”. Yet, after 21 years in the state Senate, with 10 years as co-chairwoman of Appropriations—Harp still hasn’t figured out how to be fiscally accountable—which is why she helped craft the biggest tax hike in state history. Harp (in the NH Register’s account) also stated “We have had enough money coming down here, particularly in education, for us not to have an achievement gap”. Thus, according to Harp, education spending is the key to closing the achievement gap.  UPDATE: we’ve already been doing that—and it doesn’t work. Harp wants to “hold people at the local level accountable to achieve the right outcomes.” TRANSLATION: it’s the teachers’ fault.

posted by: Razzie on July 9, 2013  4:58pm

@ Christopher Schaefer

I think Sen Harp’s concept of accountability is a fairly easy one to grasp. I can explain it better in relation to two of the candidates in this race—Carolina and Fernandez.

Kermit Carolina has presided over the second highest budgeted high school in the NHPS ($8.4M—FY13). Yet its results on nearly all measures of school performance used by the BoE ranks it solidly in last place among its peers. This has been the case for the last 3 years in which HH has been ranked a Tier III (lowest ranking)school and has failed to make adequate yearly progress under federal NCLB standards. Is it the next “turnaround” school to be auctioned off by the BoE to private education consulting companies - a la Roberto Clemente? Despite 6 Assistant Principals and a Principal on Special Assignment, no significant progress has been made in closing the Achievement Gap.

Fernandez—In his tenure as DeStefano’s Economic Development Director and LCI Director, Fernandez presided over the destruction of the lower Hill neighborhood. A perfectly viable community of low - moderate income residents was wiped off the face of New Haven’s map. And nothing but a school building was left to show. when sued, the city was forced to acknowledge that the site was not the only one that could have been used.

These are but 2 examples of local officials failing to preserve and protect the public interest underlying their jobs. I could cite countless others. And no ... Sen. Harp is not blaming teachers. In these instances, its the Principal and the Agency Head that failed.

posted by: plannerman on July 9, 2013  7:48pm

Again - I see your response. But what would Harp herself do? How would she change New Haven’s schools? Give us a specific proposal or even a coherent policy vision or strategy… I was just on her website and I couldn’t find any issues or platform or proposals? I’d like to give her a chance, but I need to be convinced that a candidate can do the job he or she is running for. So far, only Elicker has convinced me he has the understanding to do the job well. But, please help us out here.

posted by: TheMadcap on July 9, 2013  10:12pm


I don’t think it’s fair to criticize the house’s location or value. I mean Elicker lives in East Rock and I’m willing to make an assumption his house is worth a decent sum as most there are. The real question is who was most visible in New Haven before the election began and also, who can actually give real answers at a debate helps. Harp is neither of those people.

posted by: HhE on July 9, 2013  10:50pm

Razzie, do you recall a recent Presidential candidate that a number of people claimed was Conitutionally unfit because they allied he was born in Kenya?  A number of people also opined that he was unfit to be President because he spent many of his years growing up in Indoneasea. 

Where we are born is something we have no control over.  Likewise, where we grow up is out of our hands.  Where we chouse to live as adults is something else altogeather.  Justin Elicker has adopted New Haven as his home.  He has volinteered countless hours here. 

If you are going to object to cheep shots at your candidate, you ought to lay off the New Cannan remarks.  We all know what they are code words for.

posted by: anonymous on July 9, 2013  10:50pm

Razzie, I agree with your points on Henry, but where was Senator Harp when that neighborhood (and many others like it) were destroyed by DeStefano’s disastrous policies and catering to Big Money contractors and other suburban interests? She was in a position to say something, but didn’t.

posted by: HhE on July 10, 2013  9:18am

I belive the coment about Sen. Harp’s dress is a refrence to a Sarong Kebaya, a traditional dress from Singapore.

posted by: nellie bly on July 10, 2013  12:30pm

I want to believe that the intelligence of the commenters here is legion and prevails at the polls to elect Justin Elicker mayor.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on July 10, 2013  1:41pm

Unfortunately, it tends to be the same c. 2 dozen people who comment on NHI articles, and another c. 2 dozen on NH Register, often representing divergent opinions. My pessimistic prediction: La Machine will prevail.

posted by: Bill Saunders on July 10, 2013  2:55pm


I know where Senator Harp was while O’Henry was destroying an urban neighborhood— sitting on the sidelines while her connected architect husband collected a huge payday designing a leaky high school.

I am sure Senator Harp was traumatized by that neighborhood as well.

All political cattle drinks from the same trough.

posted by: Bill Saunders on July 10, 2013  3:37pm

Chris Schaefer,

Thankfully, there are ALOT more people reading the posts, than posting themselves.  I get feedback about my posts all the time, from a divergent group of citizens. 

I will not bet on your horse.

Did you know that “Regret” was the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby?  Last year, it was ” I Will Have Another”.