2 Candidates Might Step Back From Ed Board

Mayoral candidates Justin Elicker and Gary Holder-Winfield say they believe so strongly in the ideal of an independent school board that, were they get elected, they may not even sit on it.

Elicker, an East Rock alderman, made that statement during a campaign fundraiser at BAR restaurant on Crown Street. Contacted by phone, Holder-Winfield, a Newhallville state representative, subsequently said he wouldn’t sit on the Board of Ed as mayor.

New Haven’s mayor appoints the Board of Ed and has a set on it—and has played a central role in a school reform initiative.

Elicker is, as he joked on Wednesday, “one of 35 candidates for mayor.” He is running to replace Mayor John DeStefano, who will step down at the end of this year after two decades in office.

He and Holder-Winfield are two of four Democratic candidates who have officially declared their candidacy. They and others who are likely to join the race face off in a Sept. 10 party primary and perhaps in a general election in November.

Another declared candidate, former city development chief Henry Fernandez, said he would sit on the Board of Ed as mayor.

While Elicker and Holder-Winfield said the mayor should give the school board room to act independently, Fernandez said a mayor needs to take a more active role, to be accountable for public schools through service on the board.

At the fundraiser last week in the back room at BAR, Elicker (pictured) mingled among about 60 people drinking and eating pizza. Shortly after 6 p.m., Elicker gave a speech and took a few questions, one of which took him by surprise.

A woman mentioned Elicker’s support of a “hybrid” Board of Ed, one that’s partially elected and partially appointed by the mayor. The woman asked if, as mayor, Elicker would sit on the Board of Ed.

“I haven’t thought about it,” Elicker said. “Which means it’s not a priority for me to sit on the board. … The short answer is no.”

The Board of Ed needs to be independent, he said. “it’s important to have separate bodies.”

Asked later about his answer, Elicker said he hasn’t made a final decision about if he would sit on the Board of Ed as mayor. “My instinct is probably not.”

Elicker said he needs to do some research about the idea. The New Haven Charter requires the mayor to join the Board of Ed. In fact, the mayor is required to sit on all boards and commissions except the civil service board. In practice however, the mayor has not always taken his seat on the school board.

Asked if he would sit on the Board of Ed as mayor, Holder-Winfield said, “No, I would not.”

A mayor can lead without having to have “his finger on everything that happens,” Holder-Winfield said. The mayor’s responsibility is to “set forth a vision.”

Taking a seat on the board might lead to “undue influence,” Holder-Winfield said. If appointees are sitting next to the man who appointed them, that “may not always allow them to use their expertise,” he argued.

Holder-Winfield said he favors a hybrid, partially appointed Board of Ed, which would still allow the mayor to have a role in shaping education in New Haven.

Proponents of a mayoral presence on the board argue that the mayor needs to take responsibility for and have a strong hand in shaping the city’s schools. Mayoral candidate Fernandez falls into that camp.

A mayor needs to be an essential partner with the superintendent of schools, Fernandez said. As mayor, he would “take a leadership position with regard to the Board of Ed,” Fernandez said. In other words, he would “absolutely” sit on the school board.

“We elect our mayor to be accountable,” he said. “I am more than willing to be held accountable for high-quality schools.”

Fernandez said a fully appointed Board of Ed “makes the most sense.” In successful school reform efforts around the country, the “role of the mayor is essential,” he said. A fully or mostly appointed school board allows the mayor to be held fully accountable for public schools.

Slogan Debuts

Wednesday night’s fundraising event marked the debut of new Elicker campaign buttons, reading “Just Elicker.” Chris Ozyck, one of the hosts of the event, came up with the slogan and had the buttons printed in a union shop in Arizona.

The phrase is a play on Elicker’s first name, incorporating other cultural references, like Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan.

When he introduced Elicker to the crowd, Ozyck said he had always favored the phrase “a just man.” He later learned that it came from the Bible, where it says that a just man will fall seven times and rise again, while a wicked man will fall once, into mischief.

Ozyck described Elicker as a man of “character, intelligence, and unbridled energy.”

Semi Semi-Dekoko, a Westville activist, also introduced Elicker. He praised him for his work on the Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee and his leadership on environmental issues.

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posted by: robn on April 1, 2013  8:50am

Justin and Henry both have catchy slogans so Gary better get into the game….as of now, the “Got Milk” motto is still available.

posted by: robn on April 1, 2013  8:53am

Almost forgot Jack Keyes potential slogan…“Keyes to the City”...

anyone? anyone?

posted by: FrontStreet on April 1, 2013  9:01am

“Fernandez said a fully appointed Board of Ed “makes the most sense.””

Destefano 2.0 strikes again.  Another benevolent dictator (of a small, northeastern city) in the making.  Please, New Haven, have some courage and vote for real change.

posted by: streever on April 1, 2013  9:21am

While Fernandez is right that the Mayor is essential, the Mayor does not have to sit on the Board of Education, nor do the Mayors of every city with successful education reform efforts.

Not sitting on the board and allowing the board to be free of direct control does not make the Mayor less accountable: rather, it frees the Board to make tough decisions without dragging the Mayor into every issue.

The Mayor can set tone, vision, and priorities through the budget, without ever micro-managing the BoE.

What has our Mayor actually done that required him to sit in on meetings? He hired and appointed some very talented people, who would have done a good job without his physical presence, working with the budget he proposed and the priorities they were given.

I think the number 1 reason for the Mayor to sit on the Board is to be able to take credit for the work of others.

posted by: TheWizard on April 1, 2013  9:27am

at Henry F’s next public speaking engagement, look very carefully for strings attached to his arms and jaw.  If you find them, they most definitely will lead you back to the great puppet master, Johnny D

posted by: The Miz on April 1, 2013  9:46am

Anyone feel like getting those statistics on successful school reform and BoE structure? :)

Also, can someone explain to me how the slogan is a play on his nam? The only possibility I see is “Elicker” sounding like “elect…. her.”

posted by: Wooster Squared on April 1, 2013  9:47am

I’ve heard Henry recently changed his slogan:

DeStefano 2.0: Because 20 years just isn’t enough.

posted by: HhE on April 1, 2013  9:54am

Amen FrontStreet, amen.

posted by: Curious on April 1, 2013  10:20am

“Another declared candidate, former city development chief Henry Fernandez, said he would sit on the Board of Ed as mayor.”

Sad, but unsurprising.

Justin got it right by stating he wouldn’t sit on the board, and Gary summed it up perfectly.  A mayor can and should lead by appointing the right people, not by doing everything himself.  That’s why it is an EXECUTIVE role.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on April 1, 2013  10:27am

Still waiting to heard more from Jack Keyes, so far I know, he’s still have until April 13 to field his papers.

Paul Bass, please keep us post from him and the other candidates too. 

So far you post almost any move Justin is making.  I like Justin don’t get me wrong, but We need to know what the other are doing too.

posted by: Fair and Honest on April 1, 2013  10:57am

HI Claudia -

>We need to know what the other are doing too.<

I don’t think they are doing much—at least, so far as campaigning in the city.  I think Gary is busy as State Rep in Hartford. 

And I expect Fernandez is busy shaking down DeStefano’s donors for contributions to his campaign. (They are going to miss that money when it doesn’t buy them the mayoral seat after all.)

posted by: HhE on April 1, 2013  12:52pm

Fair and Honest, one of the things Gary is doing is giving talks at people’s homes.  This gives him a chance to talk (not only at, but) with 10-25 people at a time.  I know because I went to such an event recently.  Let me say, what Gary said was on point, non evasive, and well thought out. 

I think you are right about Mr. Fernandez shaking down contributors.  I hope you are right about how that is not going to work.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on April 1, 2013  12:56pm

Hi, Fair and Honest

Actually that’s my point. WE all need to know more about the candidates to see what is in the other side of the coin and not only what they have to say for themselves.

At least that’s what I think good journalism should be doing, helping us to better this candidates.

posted by: Curious on April 1, 2013  3:51pm

So even if Henry opts out of the Democracy Fund, will he still post his contributions to eCRIS?  Or is he going to do the bare minimum on transparency, too?