At Cove Debate, Nemerson Touches The 3rd Rail

“I know I might lose whatever support I have here,” mayoral candidate Matthew Nemerson told Morris Cove Democrats, “but I’m a self-proclaimed airport hawk.”

With that said, Nemerson came out for expanding Tweed-New Haven Airport in order to attract more frequent and bigger commercial flights—and thus, he argued, more business for New Haven.

Nemerson, a mayoral candidate who has tried to present himself as the straight-talker in the field who’s willing to take unpopular positions, came out for the expanison at a mayoral debate Tuesday night hosted by the Democratic Ward Committee in Morris Cove—a neighborhood where airport growth is slightly more popular than funding al-Qaeda.

Six of the seven Democratic mayoral candidates participated in the debate, which took place at Nathan Hale School. None of the other candidates told the 40 people in attendance that the airport should expand. Sundiata Keitezulu was the one candidate not to attend.

Moderators Anthony Avallone, a zoning lawyer and former state senator, and recently-retired city Building Official Andy Rizzo asked the candidates questions developed byt he Ward 18 Democratic Committee. The questions focused on neighborhood issues ranging from potential new investments in the neighborhood’s Lighthouse Point Park to the contentious 2010 plan to dump material dredged from Bridgeport’s harbor in Morris Cove.

Some of the questions—like one about tackling climate change—were relatively new to East Shore political discourse. Then there was the airport—the overriding neighborhood question from campaign discussions going back at least four decades, and a third rail for candidates supporting expansion in a neighborhood upset about noise from planes.

Thomas MacMillan File PhotoNemerson (pictured) said that he sees Tweed as more than just a source of noise and health complaints. Expanding the airport — which has suffered its share of setbacks recently as it narrowly avoided losing its air traffic control tower to federal cuts — could bring much-needed jobs and revenue to the city, he argued.

As the former president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce in the 1990s, Nemerson said, he spoke with business leaders who wanted to bring their companies to New Haven but refused to do so unless there was a major airport “within 20 minutes.” Tweed does not rank as a “major airpot.” The candidate also cited a decade-old offer from Southwest Airlines that never got off the ground, to begin servicing Tweed.

Were Tweed expanded, Nemerson argued, new jobs would come to New Haven, while the city could impose impact fees to help close its perpetual budget shortfall. With increased service, he added, flights could be added to Washington D.C. or Florida, an idea that received murmurs of approval in the audience.

The other candidates at Tuesday night’s debate primarily emphasized balancing increased business with noise concerns when dealing with Tweed.

Candidate Henry Fernandez (pictured), a former city economic development chief, noted that he sat on Tweed’s board, stressed that while he believes in attracting more commercial flights to the airport, he would not expand its footprint in the manner Nemerson suggested. Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina and state Representative Gary Holder-Winfield, meanwhile, both maintained that convincing regional interests that a busier Tweed is in their best interest — Carolina cited travel to and from the area’s universities — would drum up stronger city interest in the airport.

Most of the candidates’ answers included the argument that Tweed needs more state money — a not-so-subtle dig at mayoral candidate Toni Harp, a state senator who co-chairs of the legislature’s powerful Appropriations Committee and last week received the endorsement of the city’s most politically powerful labor unions.

“Tweed needs to learn to fly on its own,” argued candidate Justin Elicker, an East Rock alderman. He called the city’s annual $350,000 Tweed subsidy unusual for a city the size of New Haven. Carolina joined in, answering that state money could cover better noise control technology.

Harp (at right in photo speaking with East Shore environmental activist Lynne Bonnett) shot back at critics in her answer.

“If you listen to these answers, you’d think that Tweed doesn’t receive any help from the state at all,” Harp said. “We’ve at least matched what the city does.”

In recent years, she said, the state has budgeted $1.5 million for the city’s airport.

Flooding Fears

A newer issue arose toward the end of the debate, one that promises to face elected officials for years to come:  how the city, particularly waterfront areas like Morris Cove, will deal with climate change.

Rising sea levels threaten shoreline properties as the seawall falls into disrepair. The area is expected to continue enduring more and more devastating storms like Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, which threatened homes on the East Shore the previous two falls with powerful winds and flooding.

Candidates were asked how they would handle that issue as mayor.

Carolina, who was first to answer the question, admitted that he did not have an immediate answer. He said he would seek “people with expertise” to work toward a solution.

Elicker (pictured schmoozing with debate attendees), who is an environmental consultant and chairs the Board of Aldermen’s City Services and Environmental Policy Committee, pointed to an order that he and East Shore Alderman and Harp supporter Sal DeCola — in attendance at the debate — drafted. It requests that the city create a plan to manage climate change over the next 50 years

And despite her competitors’ continual allusions to insufficient state aid, Harp emphasized in her answer that successful management of climate change in New Haven would require a “partner in state government” to procure the necessary funding for items such as seawall repair.

The next mayoral debate, at Dixwell’s Varick AME Zion Church this Friday evening beginning at 6:30, will focus on education.

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posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on June 19, 2013  9:10am

This was my first debate and I was very impressed with Justin Elicker. He really stood out as someone who knows not only where this city should be heading but how to get us there.
Toni Harp looked like she was going to fall asleep in between snip-its of anger over some of the other candidates answers. It really struck me . I got the impression that she just didn’t want to be there and she doesn’t want to - or doesn’t think she has to work for this job. Maybe she doesn’t have to work hard, the unions will do her work I guess.
The candidates, other than Elicker, spoke in vague terms with no real ideas to implement change. If I heard one more candidate say “I support more Police” I think I would have vomited.
I was looking forward to hearing some of the others speak and was disappointed. Carolina was unprepared. Nemerson seems like a bright guy, just not a politician. Fernandez and Holder-Winfield were both lack luster and spoke in vague ideals, I was very disappointed.
Good luck Mr. Elicker, you showed yourself to be the best choice.

posted by: Curious on June 19, 2013  9:22am

Oh, wow.  So the entire state of CT “at least matches” what funds New Haven puts in to our regional airport. 

That’s the best they can do?

Maybe if the state wasn’t forgiving millions in debt to deadbeat businesses like Renaissance Management, the one owned by Matthew Harp (Toni’s son), they could afford to do more for us.

A million dollars could do a lot for Tweed.

“If you listen to these answers, you’d think that Tweed doesn’t receive any help from the state at all,” Harp said. “We’ve at least matched what the city does.”

posted by: LynneB on June 19, 2013  9:35am

Ease Shore residents (including the Annex and Morris Cove) suffer from noise, smell and hazardous chemical pollution coming from the sewage plant and its sludge incinerator.

How will the mayoral candidates address the sewer plant’s proposed Long Term Control Plan to reduce raw sewage in our rivers that includes a 40% rate increase in 5 years, no public participation in the plan, and failure to evaluate and incorporate source controls (green infrastructure) as recommended by the EPA to fix combined sewer overspills.

Source controls save money because we are not paying the power company to pump rain water to the sewer plant unnecessarily.  They create greenspace, allow rain water to soak into the ground where it lands, decrease reliance on pumping rain to a coastal location that is vulnerable to severe storms and allows the ground to clean the pollutants in the storm water. Rain water is not polluted.  It becomes polluted because it enters the combined sewer pipe system and then creates sewer overspills- raw sewage goes in our rivers when it rains.  We can reduce raw sewage immediately by investing in source control thereby avoiding other costly solutions. 

When it rains, the pumps at the sewer plant scream loudly.  The sewer plant wants bigger pumps as part of phase 1 of their plan. Rain or shine the incinerator produces hazardous chemicals that cause illness and premature death. The smell is overwhelming at times - it can make you gag.

The real sludge dumping on New Haven occurs every day 24/7-our sewer plant trucks it in from Bridgeport and 15-20 other cities to be incinerated in New Haven.

Sadly, it this great forum the issue wasn’t even mentioned except by one candidate, Justin Elicker.

Call the mayor, talk to your alderperson, do they know about the rate increase?  Have they talked to you about it? Do you understand what is at stake for our community? 

For more info go to our coalition website:

posted by: anonymous on June 19, 2013  10:03am

New Haven Taxpayer, I’ve had the exact same observations. Justin, and to some extent Fernandez, are the only two candidates who seem to know what they are talking about and give specific, actionable answers. Harp looked sleepy at the past debates and some of her answers, especially on economic development matters, seemed almost incoherent. Nemerson’s ideas never seem particularly grounded - they are too often set in a global context, not an on-the-ground city context. Carolina, Holder-Winfield, Keitazulu, definitely have their hearts in the right place and make some wise observations (e.g., Keitazulu’s comment at a recent debate that we should pay more than 1:1 when we relocate people for a development project) but completely lack specificity in their answers.

posted by: David S Baker on June 19, 2013  10:10am

Can someone direct me toward an online source where unedited audio or video of the full mayoral debates have been compiled?  It would be nice to watch the candidates in action occasionally without local media outlets injecting subtile editorial quips and omissions.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on June 19, 2013  10:22am

Could the New Haven Independent and other local media do the community a service and publish a list of all future debates? We find out about a number of these debates after they have taken place. The upcoming debate at Varick Church on Dixwell Avenue has been well-publicized. We need to know when other debates will be held. This is a very critical election for New Haven. If the people know in advance when debates will take place, I am sure more than 40 people will show up.

[Editor: The next one the Independent is cosponsoring takes place July 16 at 6 p.m. at Metropolitan Business Academy.]

posted by: Brutus2011 on June 19, 2013  10:48am

I agree that Justin Elicker is an attractive candidate. He’s smart and really is a good communicator.

Lately, there has been news that several sea-side cities, such as New York and Manila, are at risk of catastrophic flooding in the near future if world temperatures continue to rise at current rates.

I think it is more that smart that New Haven start thinking about this issue. One way is for our elected representatives to start involving citizens in finding solutions instead of just relying on experts and then telling us what is good for us from on high.

In fact, NASA just made a public pleas for citizens to help with a solution for dealing with “killer asteroids” as an impact could cause our species to become extinct or nearly so.

So, I am glad to hear people acknowledging that our elected officials should be less autocratic and more in tune with the citizenry. There is a lot of talent in New Haven. We need people in public office who can communicate and involve those who elected them.

This power from on high cow-pucky has got to end.

posted by: Wooster Squared on June 19, 2013  10:57am

@anonymous & @NewHavenTaxpayer,

I came to the same conclusion about Harp. She just looks like she has no energy at these debates and really isn’t all that interested in being mayor. Our challenges in New Haven are big and we can’t have a mayor who’s going to be asleep at the wheel for the next two years.

Of the seven candidates in the race, I only see three who actually seem to be interested in being mayor: Justin Elicker, Henry Fernandez and Kermit Carolina.

Gary started out with energy, but I think Toni Harp entering the race just days after doing a photo op with him kind of killed his campaign mojo.

Nemerson is smart, but seems intent on putting his foot in his mouth, almost as if he’s trying to loose.

posted by: Webblog1 on June 19, 2013  11:43am

On the question of the state vs the city’s financial contributions to the tweed airport, none of the candidates who answered were even close to being correct. But If correctness is the standard by which to judge a candidates response then the candidate should have prior knowledge of the pending questions, especially surrounding finances, which change from year to year.

This would allow their respective managers the time to properly research the proper response.

Since prior knowledge is not afforded but part of the the standard, then you should expect the candidates to “wing their responses in the three or so minutes they have to respond. Not a good format if your judging every candidates knee jerk response.

Henry, who has sat on the tweed board should know best about funding sources, he was smart enough to not answer the funding question at all.
Senator Harp and Holder-Winfield who are familiar with funding sources at the state level were correct that the state has contributed over the years, but, their figures were not correct.

Elicker, who voted on the last two city budgets was also off the funding mark when he said:

“He called the city’s annual $350,000 Tweed subsidy unusual for a city the size of New Haven”.

For the record, here is the 2013 city recorded budget contributions with sources, to tweed.

City of New Haven:
$325K city general fund
$484K city bond fund

State of CT:
$42,750 bond fund

Federal Gov Dept of Transportation aviation.

So while all candidates were incorrect in their quotes, I am willing to cut some slack to those who say Tweed has to carry it’s own weight or lighten it’s load.

posted by: Razzie on June 19, 2013  11:54am

Looks like the Elicker boosters are up early and in full gear. The comments downgrading all the other candidates and giving vague, innocuous soundbites promoting their candidate just isn’t very inspiring anymore. If only Elicker had more experience or a record to run on, they would have more substantive comments to offer. But being a Yale grad student and community activist for the brief period of time he’s been here simply doesn’t allow for much to go on.

posted by: TheMadcap on June 19, 2013  1:16pm

He actually got some of my support for saying that. I mean I still see him as a New Haven version of Bloomberg so he’ll never have my full support, but on the airport issue he’s right.

posted by: Curious on June 19, 2013  1:43pm

@ Razzie, we know, we know.

Yet you’re guilty of the same yourself.

Harp says the state of CT at least matches the amount New Haven pays into Tweed….but by the numbers posted by webblog1 above, that is grossly inaccurate.

So is Harp uninformed, or lying?  Who knows.

posted by: anonymous on June 19, 2013  1:45pm

Razzie, the observations people are making are based on reality at a point in time - the fact that certain candidates are incoherent, vague, and tired. 

Ironically, “downgrading candidates” is what you are trying to do, by making a wildly inaccurate comment that Elicker has less experience than other candidates.  The reality is that on matters of importance to New Haven (dirt bikes, school lotteries, many other examples) he’s often the only person who shows up and represents people who live here on these issues, and he has the experience of getting things done on them.

Over the past six years, several of the candidates have never been seen at a State hearing, a Board of Aldermen public hearing, a City Plan meeting, or a public meeting - if you want a candidate “who doesn’t allow much to do on,” that’s it.  Elicker is precisely the opposite.

posted by: abg22 on June 19, 2013  2:34pm

The nonpartisan New Haven Votes Coalition has compiled a master schedule of mayoral candidate debates and forums. The schedule is updated continuously as new information comes in. You can access it at If you know of any other forums or debates that should be on the master schedule, please contact the Coalition.

posted by: Curious on June 19, 2013  2:56pm

Anonymous - spot on.

posted by: Razzie on June 19, 2013  7:22pm

@ Anonymous
Sorry if I offended you, but I did not think this site was interested in critiquing or making negative comments upon candidates’ appearance, etc. If that were the case, I don’t think any of the candidates would qualify as cutting edge fashionistas (Altho I do like Nemerson’s suits) or beauties. But then again, maybe we should have a modeling contest to settle this debate once and for all.

You may think my candidate looks “tired” or “uninterested” or “sleepy” or whatever pejorative adjective you wish to sneak into the discussion, but do you really want to get into a debate about candidates’ looks?!!! I think not.

BTW - My statement that Elicker lacks experience is factually and demonstrably true. If you want to list the number of meetings he has gone to in his short stint as an Alderman and community activist and compare that with the list of “meetings” and community events that the other candidates have gone to (take your pick of Carolina, GHW, Nemerson, Fernandez and of course Harp) his record pales in comparison to each one. Thus, your bold assertions about Elicker’s Extensive Experience are lacking any credit whatsoever. Simply because you (and 3 more Elicker supporters) say it - doesn’t make it so.

posted by: LookWhatWeveGot on June 19, 2013  9:56pm

A few observations about last night’s Morris Cove debate:

Justin Eliker is clearly a bright, hard-working, guy who cares about New Haven.
He does his homework and seems sincere in his passion and drive. He would be eaten up by the unions and the City’s entrenched political combine within weeks of his election.

“One City” Henry is practiced in delivering lines his campaign consultants have told him will resonate with voters. Yet, he also never hesitates to drag his wife and son into every oratory, in hopes of softening his cardboard cutout persona.

Toni Harp is likeable enough, but has the demeanor of a queen, en route to her inevitable coronation, thanks to the hackarama union bosses, plus the bulk of the easily led and sold-out New Haven Board of Aldermen. All her answers involves “more money for the State” or “programs,” which are her stock in trade. Where will this money come from?

G.H. Winfield and K.Carolina are articulate and personable gentlemen, who appear to be capitalizing on New Haven’s version of this season’s political “American Idol” to advance their separate political and professional box office potential. And who can blame them?

Sundiata did not show up for the forum last night, but seems like a solid citizen who knows how to unlog a mess, which is what this election is becoming.

To me, the only candidate who demonstrated any real grasp of the economic challenges facing New Haven, the resources needed to solve problems, and who has the knowledge and experience to get things done without bailouts, or BS, was Matt Nemerson. Yet, Matt is it routinely dismissed by the Indy as too white, too rich, too, wonkish, too businessman and too “old school,”  to be taken seriously.

The Indy and the voters should listen up and give Matt a chance to save the City.

We shall see how this plays out. But I don’t suspect a happy ending is in store.

posted by: Curious on June 19, 2013  10:26pm

Elicker didn’t need to be driven around the city to find out what the problems are.

posted by: steve on June 19, 2013  11:11pm

There seems be a time warp when it comes to the Tweed New Haven airport. The constant reference to the noise at tweed is many times brought up with the memories of Eastern airlines flying into Tweed along with then Allegheny airlines.
Those were the early days of jet aircraft and although Eastern dubbed their aircraft as whisper jets,they were far from that,and the Allegheny BAC-1-11 were the loudest I have ever heard. But that was yesterday, really decades ago, and the present crop of airliners are the quietest yet and have a much smaller noise footprint on the ground.
The New Haven metro area has lost out on many companies moving here due to the lack of service to several hub airports. These would be jobs went to other cities with good air service.Business people don’t travel by bus or train, but air travel is the standard mode of travel in the business community.
The airport needs to have the main runway optimized in order to allow airliners to depart with full passenger loads. Years ago airlines could make money on flights being 60 to 70 percent full,but with today’s fuel prices hovering close to 3.00 a gallon,loads have to be in the 90 percent range.
Some in the past said if tweed were to grow, it would turn into another Bradley field. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bradley occupies several thousand acres, tweed has about 400 acres.Also the market, not the size of airport would determine the level of service at Tweed.
As A retired airline employee,I estimate Tweeds market for air travel would result in 15 to 20 daily flights to 3 or 4 hub airports.This would result in stopping the passenger leakage to other airports and keep more of the travelers money in the local area and increase the airports income which is largely based on the fees added to each airline ticket sold and airline counter rental fees and landing fees.
More flights simply means more airport income and less reliance on local sources.
Let tweed be able to meet the demand for air travel.

posted by: Brutus2011 on June 20, 2013  8:43am

I have a question for any of our informed viewers of NHI.

Given that New Haven has (1) Tweed/NH airport, (2) a rail hub and seaport, (3)arguably the finest university in the world, (4) in addition to SCSU, Quinnipiac U, and Gateway CC, (5) a nice downtown area, (6) cultural and culinary delights:

Why can’t New Haven be the shining city in New England and attract more business and jobs?

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on June 20, 2013  11:21am

@Brutus, I’ll decline to comment on the debate as I was not present.  Suffice it to say, my vote is fully accounted for. 

With respect to your question, a number of issues plague New Haven.  The City has very nigh property taxes (though not as high as New York or Boston).  The City has a vastly uneducated work force that cannot fill many of the entry level jobs.  The City’s rental market is torn between primarily low-income and low quality housing and expensive housing that does not cater to transients who will stay for 3 to 5 years while working at a decent corporate job.  The City also has no hub that ties other facets in.  New York has the financial industry, Hartford once had insurance, Washington D.C. has the federal government, and Boston has shipping and a strong history of pharmaceutical research companies.  This is in part because Boston has over four excellent research institutions (Harvard, MIT, BU, Tufts, etc.).  In addition, it has a significantly larger footprint to spread people over. 

Unfortunately, a single great research institution is not enough.  Lastly, we can’t even clear the snow on our streets after a storm.  There is no silver bullet for New Haven but it can get significantly better with the right leadership.  I believe Toni Harp is that person but whomever is elected will have to solve the aforementioned challenges.

posted by: steve on June 20, 2013  12:43pm

Quote “I have a question for any of our informed viewers of NHI.

Given that New Haven has (1) Tweed/NH airport, (2) a rail hub and seaport, (3)arguably the finest university in the world, (4) in addition to SCSU, Quinnipiac U, and Gateway CC, (5) a nice downtown area, (6) cultural and culinary delights:

Why can’t New Haven be the shining city in New England and attract more business and jobs?”

Your first point,(1) tweed airport is the primary reason why New Haven seems to be lagging behind in spite of the positives you speak of. Air travel is huge in this country, from business travelers to vacationers to those visiting families.For Tweed to become the regional airport many hope for,the runway overruns need to be paved over to allow landing aircraft to have more pavement to come to a stop and departing aircraft to have more pavement for the takeoff roll. The overruns would not be used for landing aircraft to touch down on as the runway would be marked showing where the overruns start and end.
This would not mean larger aircraft or the number of flights rivaling Bradley field.The size of the aircraft does not have any correlation with the amount of noise.
The newer regional airliners flown by many of the airlines are stage 4 meaning they are much quieter than planes from even 10 ago,let alone those that flew into Tweed decades ago.
For Tweed to be part of the economic engine that will attract new businesses it needs to optimize the runway and this could be done totally on airport property with no roads needing to be closed or rerouted and the flight paths will not change.
Air travel is the missing piece of the puzzle as to why New Haven seems to be lagging other similar sized cities in New England.
Tweed needs to grow but the growth to the infrastructure will be minimal and the complexion of the area will not be drastically changed.
With 2 or 3 airlines at Tweed,more options would surface for air travelers and competition would help to keep fares in check.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on June 20, 2013  3:00pm

“Candidate Henry Fernandez…stressed that while he believes in attracting more commercial flights to the airport, he would not expand its footprint.” And therefore he will not attract more commercial flights to the airport. (This is defined as “doublespeak”.) “Most of the candidates’ answers included the argument that Tweed needs more state money”. Money that our on-the-road-to-bankruptcy state doesn’t have. 
The fundamental purpose of local govt. is to provide basic services such as police and fire protection, trash pick-up, street sweeping and whatever other services residents wish that govt. to provide—and which they are willing to pay for via taxes. So instead of pie-in-the-sky ideas about getting more state money for Tweed (which simply isn’t going to happen) or preparing for the tsunami of 2060 (I’ll be dead by then) and as an alternative to the usual segue into improving our schools (a topic of minimal interest to those of us who do not have school-age children and who are growing increasingly resentful of the monomaniacal focus on transforming the system into a parent substitute), how about some down-to-earth fundamentals. Ask our candidates about some basic quality-of-life issues such as enforcement of noise & blight ordinances, or removing some funds from the education budget so we can return to twice-a-month street sweeping.