Nemerson Enlists Finance Cash “Ombudsman”

Two mayoral candidates offered two takes on how to run a clean-money campaign in visits to government offices two floors apart Friday afternoon.

Matthew Nemerson was visiting the second-floor city clerk’s office at 200 Orange St. to file official papers to run in the Sept. 10 Democratic mayoral primary. He is one of at least four candidates seeking to replace retiring 20-year-incumbent John DeStefano.

Nemerson was accompanied by Newhallville Alderwoman Alfreda Edwards, who has signed on as campaign chair; and Fair Haven community activist Angel Fernandez, Nemerson’s treasurer.

As he filed, Nemerson used the occasion to try to get ahead of criticism he’s already facing for declining to participate in New Haven’s public-financing process, in which candidates agree to limit how much money they raise and from whom in return for matching dollars. (Read about that—and Nemerson’s initial campaign platform—here.)

He announced that his campaign has signed on an independent “finance ombudsman” who won’t be involved in raising money, but instead will “oversee” the process to make sure it’s open and honest. That person is Edwin Van Selden, who represented Beaver Hills on the Board of Aldermen from 1982 to 1986. (Click on video above to watch Nemerson discuss the position in more depth.)

Nemerson also promised that details of all campaign contributions will appear on a website within 48 hours of being received—“so people can scrutinize in real time who’s giving us money.”

In the process, he sought to shift the debate over clean elections from public financing to “transparency.”

The “real issue,” Nemerson said, isn’t whether someone gives a campaign $370 (the limit under the Democracy Fund, New Haven’s public-financing system) or $1,000 (the state legal limit). “The real issue is who’s giving money and real transparency.”

“We’re going to do this is a way that’s above board,” Nemerson said. “We’re each going to be contributing our ethical and moral standards that we have been living our lives by.”

Three Democratic mayoral candidates—Justin Elicker, Gary Holder-Winfield and Sundiata Keitazulu—have signed up to participate in the Democracy Fund; Hillhouse High School principal Kermit Carolina said he, too, will participate if he enters the race. Nemerson and Henry Fernandez have declined to participate.

Elicker arrived on the fourth floor of 200 Orange St. as Nemerson was leaving the building. He showed up at the city accounting office to pick up $19,000, his latest installment from the Democracy Fund.

It’s the second check the Elicker campaign has received from the Democracy Fund. The Democracy Fund handed out the $19,000 grant because the race is officially contested and Elicker has raised more than 200 donations of at least $10.

Elicker (pictured with city accounting staffer Andre Wilson) dismissed the news of Nemerson’s new “finance ombudsman” appointment. “Transparency is important,” he said. “It already exists in the system.”

Campaigns are already required to keep records of who gives them money and release that information to the public at regular intervals, he said. They aren’t required to do so within 48 hours, but that time limit isn’t the real issue, Elicker said.

“Either you’re going to participate in public financing or you’re not going to participate in public financing,” Elicker said. “Candidates can choose to do tokens” as a way of “avoiding” the fundraising limits placed by the Democracy Fund. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are not swearing off donations of over $370 and money from PACs.

The larger the donation, the more a candidate is beholden to a donor, Elicker said. “It’s the same thing DeStefano has been doing for 20 years.”

Elicker said Democracy Fund participation forces his campaign to engage with more people, since he needs more small donations to counter a single large donation to an opponent’s campaign. Elicker treasurer Melanie Quigley said the campaign’s median donation is $25.

Another issue that has surfaced in the Democratic primary free-for-all: Whether a candidate who loses the primary will run in the general election as an independent. Elicker said that he will. Holder-Winfield said he won’t; click here for a story in which they offer differing views on that.

Asked if he would run as an independent, Nemerson said no. At least “at this time.”

“I’m a Democrat,” he said.

“Given the candidates who are running now,” he said, if he loses to any of them, he will not enter the general election campaign as an independent.

He does plan to win the primary, he said.

Paul Bass Photo

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posted by: robn on April 19, 2013  4:37pm

Yes transparencey is important but so is the $370 cap. Nice try Mr. Nemerson.

posted by: Chris Ozyck on April 19, 2013  4:49pm

While I like most of this team personally, i would like to point out a few things-

The ombudsman lives in Branford and works in West Haven. He was the head of tweed airport which is always begging for money from the business community.

Alfreda’s ward is mostly St Ronan, Shouldn’t she be St Ronan alder-person. I only point this out because Justin represents other neighborhoods too, but the Indy likes the east rock label.  Alfreda is Matt’s Alder-person. I understand she is not running this year.

Angel lives in the SoHu section of East Rock.

I understand its hard to build a team.  I often look at people who run for office and the people they surround themselves with and ask “whats the motivation?”

posted by: Claudia Herrera on April 19, 2013  6:43pm

I’m very interested to learn about his plans for New Haven, the business part, I know he has it and very well focus.(Good reference from GNHCC) Seeing Mr. Angel with Mr.Matthew shaking hands make me smile, would be very nice to see Angel Fernandez working with him. Angel is an educated man and can be very useful reaching the community. Looking forward to heard from this new candidate.

posted by: Noteworthy on April 19, 2013  8:06pm

The issue is not transparency. The issue is whether a candidate will stick to small donations, swear off of pac donors and city contractor bundles of cash. Hiring an ombudsman is nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig.

posted by: getyourfactstraight on April 19, 2013  11:54pm

What a silly man. Does he actually think this little ploy is going to work? Look Mat, lets not start this nonsense this early in the game with the political double talk. I may not believe that it is important to go through the democracy fund, but I do believe you don’t have to talk that political BS either. Certainly after two articles about you I have decided you aren’t the candidate for me.

posted by: HewNaven on April 20, 2013  7:29am

Mr Nemerson,

What don’t you understand? Your intention to receive large donations (over $370) and money from PACs would make you suspect of corruption if you were ever elected. And, along the way, it will prevent you from reaching real-life voters by not seeking small donations. So, we’ll have a new DeStefano; a good friend to his “supporters” (i.e. large donors) while ignoring the majority of citizens and their respective neighborhood concerns.

If you’re an honest candidate, you’d use the Democracy Fund, otherwise, we don’t trust you. Its that simple. You’re an old school politician confused by a new world. As its going, you don’t have a chance against honest, intelligent candidates like Elicker and Holder-Winfield.


posted by: Winston on April 20, 2013  8:35am

Transparency is very important, but so is access to all the data and clearer prohibitions on bundling.  Campaign records may be on file at city hall but they are impossible to view in a meaningful way.  Municipal campaign contributions should be accessible through a real time online database and searchable by employer, candidate and contributor.  This is the only way to"follow the money” and put a stop to companies like Northland, Fusco and Winstanley bundling tens of thousand of dollars to buy influence for reduced taxes and construction projects in city hall.

posted by: Burbel on April 20, 2013  8:44am

Transparency and a cap would be nice, but unilateral disarmament is seldom a good idea. Since Henry isn’t playing ball, and Elicker is already saying he intends to run as an independent in the general (by the way, purists, that’s gaming the system as much as anything) it seems only wise to keep his options open.

The fund is there so that candidates who cannot compete financially can still be viable. Transparency the way this guy is describing it is very acceptable. People will know almost immediately who is financially involved, so his opponents can make an issue of it if there is a problem.

There is nothing sacred about $370. That is well beyond many people’s ability to contribute. And this is going to be a four or five way split of voters. The candidates with the real support in the wards, who can get out the vote, will win. It’s going to be about volunteers and shoe leather, not money.

posted by: HhE on April 20, 2013  6:05pm


posted by: CitizenPetePaul on April 20, 2013  8:32pm

Am I the only one who was sick to their stomach after seeing that $19,000 check???!?!?!

I just think I’d rather see that money spent somewhere else; like computers for community centers, health fairs for children, or money towards the library… idk anything but THIS

posted by: GoodNatured on April 20, 2013  8:41pm

>Shouldn’t she be St Ronan alder-person? I only point this out because Justin represents other neighborhoods too, but the Indy likes the east rock label.<
Yes - I’ve asked the Independent several times not to disenfranchise the other neighborhoods in Ward 10, but the Indy is intent on erasing us.

posted by: PennyCrump on April 20, 2013  8:50pm

You can’t run for Mayor with one had tied behind your back. Matthew’s approach to the public finance quandary is to do what he does best - come up with a new solution for an intractable problem. Until we have true public financing where no candidate can opt out, I applaud Matthew’s innovation of enlisting a finance ombudsman.

posted by: Downtown Gary on April 21, 2013  2:00pm

It’s interesting that Mr. Nemerson is going put this self-imposed “rule” on his campaign financing… promising to post their fundraising checks up online within 48 hours of reciving them. Its transparency that no other candidate has stepped up thus far. Democracy Fund or not. The issue is how much and who is giving the money. This could be a game changer.

posted by: Winston on April 22, 2013  9:24am

Here is a suggestion for Nemerson, or perhaps even the Democracy Fund:  Post all contributor data for ALL candidates online in a way that can be sorted and searchable so everyone can see who the contractors and architects and major property owners are that are trying to influence in city hall to obtain special favors such as construction and design contract awards and “informal” assessment reductions.  This would be a powerful tool to discourage these costly, but well established practices.