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Pork Politics Boosts Elicker
by Jack Hitt | Aug 26, 2013 12:55 pm
Posted to: Arts & Culture, Dining, Food, Opinion, Politics, East Rock, Campaign 2013
When I held a pig roast this weekend at my East Rock home to support Justin Elicker’s campaign for mayor of New Haven — smoking a whole 155-pound hog over smoldering hickory wood for 24 hours — the most common question I got from the adults was: Have you cooked a lot of whole pigs this way? And from the kids: Can you eat the head?
The answer to both is yes. But the flood of questions made me realize something about big group food or festival food or whatever you choose to call it. The entire tradition of having a big cookout is largely lost.
My guess? Our contemporary restaurant culture (which I love) is responsible. I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid in South Carolina, restaurants were unapproachable places where grandparents went on their anniversary. Instead, once or twice a month, you would just hear that somebody was cooking a pig somewhere and you’d go. Maybe it was that someone was frying chicken or fish, maybe smoking oysters or making a big pot of Brunswick Stew — replete with the original meat ingredient: rabbit. In the north, a clambake. (When was the last time you were invited to one of those?) The key thing here was that all these meals involved a good bit of work, and you wouldn’t really go through all that for four or six people. You’d invite 50 or more, because why not?
One could argue that Kentucky Fried Chicken changed everything. A food that I probably ate five or six times a year on special occasions — fried chicken — was suddenly accessible all the time. (Imagine if some entrepreneur made fast food out of the entire tradition of the Yankee harvest meal and called the franchise CTD, Connecticut Thanksgiving Dinner! And with some bow-tied pitchfork-toting Puritan as the spokesman. Then, suddenly, in every strip mall there would be a joint where you could sit down to slabs of turkey with buttered mashed potatoes and a mess of stuffing all slathered in rich gravy with a finish of pumpkin pie and shortbread. If that were to happen, obviously, there would be an obesity epidemic.)
But anyway: Cooking a whole hog is a blast precisely because it’s group food and requires a group to cook it. The work began by finding a nice healthy local pig — this one from my new acquaintance, Jonathan Secchiaroli, whose family farm near Waterford raises hogs fed on recycled greens and other compostables from area restaurants.
After that, it meant luring a half dozen young men and women to help out with the pig. I found them among my neighbor’s kids and the Yale Farm. We’d have to build a cinderblock oven, get the fire started, butterfly the pig, and work in shifts throughout the night, keeping the smoky fire going. We’d need sides and we’d need to set up the yard—all requiring a half dozen more neighbors, yet another pit crew.
So, in the end, what you’re also looking at, with a pig roast, is what otherwise goes by the warm word, community. Let it be said: The first connection between politics and pork was not the cynical one.
The second question everybody asked me was: So, you’re going with Elicker?
I am — even though New Haven is fortunate this time around. No “lesser of two evils” talk needed. All the candidates are good. Even before, when the field was crowded with Gary Holder-Winfield and Matt Nemerson — if you’ve been in town for a while, then you know that best and the brightest really did step forward to take on the challenges after Mayor John DeStefano decided to step down.
We can be happy that Henry Fernandez would make a great mayor and that, while Toni Harp may be running as a cap to her career, she has a solid record in the state legislature.
But Elicker is different from the other two candidates. He’s brilliant with details, and being mayor is more a job of details than one of slogans. If you’re familiar with his work as alderman or his single-handed resurrection of the Friends of East Rock Park group, then you know. He gets things done — finding just the right people who need cajoling, getting around the obstacles and then his stick-to-itiveness carries the plan through. This talent is key, whether we’re talking about fixing a pothole, making sure the snowplows run, or cutting a deal for a new business to come to town.
I like that he pays attention. The debacle of the parking meters last year was telling. We almost gave away the revenue of our parking meters to an out-of-state company at a catastrophic revenue loss until Elicker bothered to read the contract and led a counter-charge.
Finally, he’s young and has fresh ideas. In any other election, that might be a middling virtue, but right now, in this city, it’s crucial. Here’s why:
New Haven’s on the cusp of something potentially great or something potentially disastrous. Everyone in town feels that in their bones. The traditional solutions in this university town are increasingly difficult to make work: Do we beg for more money from Hartford? Raise more taxes from the fleeing middle class? Cut city services and obligations? Harass Yale for more of a contribution?
DeStefano’s legacy, essentially, is that he has maxed out the four main ways to bring money to the city. And a few days ago, we paid for it. Our bond rating was downgraded again. So, New Haven’s DeSteficit just got more expensive to pay off.
A city like New Haven doesn’t have to let this arc of decline continue. It doesn’t have to become Hartford or Bridgeport. It could become Ithaca, New York. That town is currently enjoying a full economic comeback, surrounded by towns that are falling apart.
Why? First, they elected a smart, young mayor — with little bureaucratic experience — but with the kind of suppleness of mind to reimagine his city to be, as one local resident put it, “a little San Francisco.” A young African-American kid inspired by Barack Obama, Svante L. Myrick is 26 years old. He took command of a town with a huge university presence and culture — Cornell University and Ithaca College, which dominate the local landscape not unlike New Haven with Yale, Gateway, SCSU, Albertus, and even just over the border Quinnipiac and UNH.
If you read about the revival of Ithaca, and you can do that here.
One of the opportunities of a university town like New Haven is the breadth of possibilities that exist among the colleges. In the past, the relationship of town and gown, especially between Yale and New Haven, has been one of tension. In its grimmest mood, Yale perceives the town as a badgering deadbeat with a shambling mayor looking for a larger handout. On the other side, the city resents the ever widening moat between Fortress Yale and the peasants condemned to a modern Sherwood Forest.
There are many elements to a healthy Ithaca-style revival. For instance, Myrick created side-by-side business zones with the colleges coordinating better jobs for locals keyed to a university’s new plans and start-up companies. Another feature is to have a college president eager to work with a smart, innovative mayor. And of course, the flip side is to have a mayor whose day job has been to come up with creative solutions and to seek out new ideas.
(For instance: In the last two years, some 45 albums were funded here in New Haven, through Kickstarter and Indigogo —Carrie Ashton, Plume Giant and Beat Culture, Heather Fay, 4EVA’s gospel hip-hop, and Chrissie Gardner, whose fans kicked in more than $48,000 toward her new record. Everyone knows there is a music scene here. There are recording studios here. Yet this entire emerging world exists haphazardly, uncoordinated amid the clubs, local radio, the festivals, music departments, off-beat venues, and business-school marketing maestros. Sure, New Haven is no Seattle, but it could be an Athens, Georgia. Right now? It’s not even trying.)
We need fresh thinking. Elicker’s day job is to work with companies and government bureaus to incorporate innovative green technology that’s not just a bunch of green fluff but a real way to create savings in a business. Uncommon solutions are what he does. This is the most crucial talent the new mayor needs. And I’m not supporting Elicker just because he’s young. If we had a candidate with a Ben Franklin-esque suppleness of mind — capable to smart, forward thinking — I would be supporting the geezer.
No, I am supporting Elicker because I’ve seen him at his job and seen the clever way he operates. I worked with him to create the East Rock Summer Camp, and Elicker was cunning at finding out just who might get in the way of this good idea and who could help. They all came to early planning meetings, and Elicker out-flanked the opposition’s arguments before they had a chance to form. The Summer Camp is now in its fifth year, providing a great summer to local kids; the plan is currently being duplicated in Edgewood Park.
Some people talk about how we need a mayor with lots of experience. In many elections, that’s a good argument. But experience, in New Haven right now, too often means “knowing how things work” and knowing only that. We could use a lot less experience and a lot more Svante Myrick. In that regard, Elicker has gotten more done with the pathetic resources of an “alderman” than other bureaucrats have achieved with mighty budgets at their fingertips and lobbyists at their backs.
Elicker is a strategic thinker when it comes to blazing a path to collaboration, and one that will wend its way to a conclusion better for everyone. When the merchants on State Street were struggling with a way to change the traffic flow, it was Justin who realized that the complication came from the fact that State Street is, oddly, a state road with some city involvement and local homeowners and merchants on the edge. He resolved that one to everyone’s satisfaction and saved the city money.
This is the kind of frame of mind we need in a mayor, especially at a time when Yale has hired a brilliant, cool, and involved president. Peter Salovey has so many things to recommend him as the innovative president who can fundamentally change Yale’s handout-relationship with the city. (Despite his lofty appointment, Salovey still plays in his bluegrass band—and Elicker still wails on his banjo, too — so maybe that clinches the argument right there. Or kills it, depending on your view of banjoes and whether you’re already burned out on Mumford.)
But, frankly, new beginnings are breaking out all over New Haven. Garth Harries has just taken over the school district, and already there is an air of innovation and improvement and hard work afoot. With Salovey at Yale, the next mayor of New Haven needs to be an innovative thinker who can honestly evaluate where the city’s strengths are in terms of labor, potential, schooling, land, facilities, etc. and coordinate those resources with the emerging needs of the great economic engines that are already right here. Collaboration creates a lot more jobs than antagonism.
Better jobs make for better parents and students. Better jobs make crime go down, as well as teen pregnancy and drug dependency. Better jobs makes it easier to balance city budgets without firing fire fighters or crushing city pensions or raising taxes. Better jobs is not a cure-all for poverty and social ills, but it is the best beginning for all the other cures.
So, I look at a new New Haven on the verge of stepping out — with a real possibility of an Ithaca revival — because serendipity has given us a new Yale president and a new school superintendent. Now, most crucial to all this, we need a new mayor who will be able to work together with them to give the whole city a fresh start.
That’s why I am voting for Justin Elicker, and that’s why I cooked a local hog. And one other reason: As the adults stood off a good bit while I picked the pig, the dozen or so kids who were there from all over New Haven crowded the table, absolutely mesmerized at seeing a pig three times their body weight, literally right in front of their faces. I provided them with a little anatomy lesson, showing them what a ham looks like when it’s still on the pig and the magical place where bacon comes from. I pried out a rib and handed each kid one. They’d all eaten ribs before, but now they were holding and eating a real one. They looked at rib in their hand and back at the whole pig, overwhelmed not only by the smoking hot flavor, but also by the intense pleasure of understanding how a whole breaks down into all these parts and how all these parts can add up to one great whole. It was a sublime moment, no metaphors needed.
Tags: justin elicker, pig roasts
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Great article and, I agree, let’s go Whole hog on the idea of reinventing New Haven.
@ the author: so Elicker “is different from the other TWO candidates” ?? Is he just like Carolina or did you simply try to marginalize Kerm? There are 4 candidates in this race. I have posted previously and will post again- do that at your peril and be surprised when the votes are tallied on Spetember 10.
This is great. It looks like an awesomely attended event. I’m really excited about the prospects of an Elicker win.
I don’t eat pork and I’ve been trying not to eat as much meat but if a put a load of tofu on my smoker and invite over the neighbors will you publish my paean to Henry?
Love a pig roast! My old next door neighbor did one 2 times a year. I would look out my window at 6am a bunch of men with coffee setting it up and camping around it. People starting coming around noon with the side dishes. I loved and look forward to it. Miss it.
We do a community BBQ 2x a year over here for this very reason.
@ westville man i am thinking it was an over sight.
Very enjoyable read, and I am in 100% agreement with the author. Anyone that has seen Elicker at work will agree he is amazing at making things happen. Creative thinking! Energy, smarts, and the heart! And most of all he speaks truths! Something unheard of at election time.
Justin Elicker has the “suppleness of mind to reimagine his city”. An elegant line that perfectly sums up the challenges ahead of us as a city, and the type of person needed to lead us as Mayor.
Easily the greatest political campaign related article I have had the pleasure of reading. It has the feel of reading a classic novel whilst resting beside a warm fire- a fire that roasts a succulent Connecticut pig.
I have to admit, this would annoy me if it were written about one of the other candidates. I think there’s definitely a place for this type of commentary, but NHI should probably do a better job distinguishing it from ordinary reporting. That said, I thought this was a good articulation of what’s exciting about Justin as a candidate. I hope NHI runs similar thoughtful “paeans” to the others.
This is a great and beautiful and wonderfully written story. Most New Haveners including myself do not know that the author of this Eliker Pig Roast story, Jack Hitt, is a professional writer of numerous books and a contributing editor to The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, and This American Life. I googled him.
I have no problem that a famous South Carolinian New Haven resident has written a glowing and eloquent endorsement of Justin Eliker for mayor. My question for the New Haven Independent is will the paper provide equal opportunity for non-professional writer-supporters of the other three candidates to write their own personal endorsements whether or not they host a political gathering to roast a pig, a chicken, or a hot dog?
[Editor: Yes—if it’s a well-written, interesting story! Otherwise we’re comfortable interviewing supporters ourselves, quoting at length from them, and sometimes linking to documents giving full texts of endorsements. There have been many stories about endorsements for Toni Harp; today there was a story about why people are backing Fernandez. We’ve done similar ones about Kermit Carolina.
[By the way, I really felt the story here was the pig. And, as you said, the “great and beautiful and wonderful writing.”]
NHI/Hitt: Both of you are cultural cornerstones of our city. And I think both of you are incredible 99% of the time. But why on earth does this count as reporting? Why is this not in the opinion section? You didn’t even give it that tag! How do you not understand (or maybe, more insidiously you do)the irony that to many the writing itself will seem nothing more than a nice levy of pork for Elicker? Even if it is barreled up into the packaging of a “thought-piece” in the NH intellgentsia’s paper which JUST SO HAPPENS to be a (lengthy) endorsement?
[Editor: Thank you for the feedback. We’ll definitely mark it as opinion. I knew this article wouldn’t fit neatly into conventional boundaries of news reporting. I also know that we are not giving the candidate featured here more or less coverage than the other candidates. I saw this as a first-person piece that would make an interesting, insightful read. In other cases we interview the people who make the strong cases for their candidates; this just seemed like a great opportunity to enlist a wonderful locally-based writer to offer a different perspective on the race. Many, many articles have been written about why supporters back the other three candidates. I promise you the NHI does not endorse any candidate and never will. Nor do we aim to sneakily steer readers toward any one candidate, though of course all four campaigns seem to have supporters who conclude otherwise daily whenever an opposing candidate has a non-negative article appear about him or her.]
I’m with you but what I’m really upset about is that I missed the damn pig! You make me look like a piker - I cook smaller ones (60 lbs) and put him on a rotisserie. He’s done in about 4 hours. I’ll bet the flavor was a real treat. Oh, and I’ll vote for Elicker too.
Jack did a great job articulating the basis for a lot of Justin’s support, which is useful for those keeping score at home. And by that I mean I enjoyed the ‘peace household’ story too, which was a non-critical “why do I support my candidate” story largely about Henry. Pretty refreshing to see these once in a while. Carl, if you do pull off the ‘Soy Fernandez’ Tofu BBQ paean, can you please ask NHI commenter Xavier to provide color commentary?
I appreciate your response, and take it as a testament to the NHI’s greater integrity. Which, to clarify, is not shaken in my own particular case. I personally wouldn’t assume this to be an endorsement from the paper either. And if this were one of Jack’s pieces in a culture magazine, or other venue it would indeed be another great first-person musing from him. But if that little guy at the top is still holding a newspaper for a reason, than it’s a different story (pun intended). I simply found it strange that these careful clarifications hadn’t appeared here.
JACK wrote “...the best and the brightest really did step forward to take on the challenges after Mayor John DeStefano decided to step down.”
Not really. The only current candidate who stepped up to the plate BEFORE DeStefano decide to step down was Justin Elicker.
Very nicely written, this “Ode to Elicker.” I enjoyed the insights into pig roasting and the evolution of community gatherings. But this article “puts lipstick on a pig” in praising Justin’s candidacy. “He’s brilliant with details, and being mayor is more a job of details” says the author. But the job of Mayor is more than a job of details and minutiae. If it were that, then Elicker is your guy. The Mayor should be our big picture person who has a good overall grasp of the situation, a vision, and can inspire us to work together to achieve big picture goals. Justin pushed a tax cut for East Rock that would have raised taxes for almost everyone else. That’s not the big picture. If faced with a budget crisis, he said he was going to meet with dept. heads, and start renting out the carousel?! I want a wholesale plan for consolidating government duties, eliminating overlap and waste and unneeded programs - a reshaping of government. That’s big picture, that’s Harp.
Perfectly captures why I am voting for Elicker.
I think publishing it is totally appropriate. I love the NHI, and have never have wanted to challenge it when others accuse it of being biased…until we listened to the podcast of Paul Bass on Colin McEnroe. It could not have been more biased. Myself and my carmate looked each other shocked while we listened… “Geez, ya think you can tell who Paul is voting for?” I am not sure what the rules are for Paul in his personal time on a public radio show, but he should stick to articles where he can work on his nuance and unbiasedness. I was offended by his flippant and condescending commentary on Elicker, and he didn’t have the most even sided case for the other candidates. I will leave it to listeners to decide who Bass endorses. I know NHI has been having debates about the role of the journalists’ opinion in an article, but a la the tradition of the New KIng of Non-Fiction/This American Life, I can’t figure out how a writer keeps their slant out…
There’s a place for editorials in the news…as long as they are clearly marked.
To beyonddiscussion: I notice that you talk about how Harp is the only candidate with a “plan.” Your plan for the city can’t just be to talk endlessly about having a plan. She has nothing. If Elicker really is all about details, that’s still more of a “big picture” than Harp has to offer. I still have yet to hear any substantial plan for this city from Harp.
This article is incredible. A job well done to the author, and I’m disappointed I missed the pig roast. And thanks to NHI for sharing!
Why pig is not healthy to eat.
So is “big picture” candidate Harp the same one who posted her major “position papers” to the internet 30 days ago? Is she so “big picture” that actually going into detail about what she intends to do is irrelevant? I think not. I think Harp has no idea how to run an city and is just acting as a surrogate for white suburban controlled union bosses.
Mega preacher Joel Osteen? Really? Seriously?
All mammals store toxins in their fat ( some of which is naturally produced by plant materials). if a pig is fed a reasonable diet, its meat is neither better nor worse than any other form of animal flesh.
posted by: robn on August 26, 2013 11:28pm
Mega preacher Joel Osteen? Really? Seriously?
All mammals store toxins in their fat ( some of which is naturally produced by plant materials). if a pig is fed a reasonable diet, its meat is neither better nor worse than any other form of animal flesh.
You are correct.and that is why I eat no animal flesh.
Bacon a Weapon of Mass Destruction
Are all these commentators wrong or has the NHI and its editor revealed biases in reporting on this campaign consciously or unconsciously? Something is not right in this matter and many readers see it as clearly as looking through a glass of water. We just want the facts, man, just the facts. We simply want fair and balanced unvarnished truth in your reporting of the news about the candidates and their campaigns.
@beyonddiscussion: Your statement that Elicker ‘pushed for a tax cut for East Rock’ is ABSOLUTELY FALSE. If you are referring to his support for the phase in of the 2012 increases, that was to help the segments of town (including PART of East Rock, Prospect Hill, Downtown, Fair Haven Heights, Beaver Hills….etc) that saw 25% one year increases in their tax bills. Obviously, the 1%ers in town can absorb this - the Middle Class, not so much. Read here to see how this idea was killed (note Toni Harp’s statements)
If you are referring to some other issue, I challenge you to provide your source. The citizens of New Haven deserve a mayoral race that is debated on facts - not wild innuendo.
Thomas Alfred Paine
Many do feel this way. (especially at election time) My complaint is that the coverage on Elicker and Carolina were lacking. And as a whole storys are not addressing the plans for these candidates. If you call a story about Elicker buying a rocking chair or carrying a rug real reporting then maybe I am wrong. Click on the 2013 button and click back you will most likely see harpfest. But many of those storys were turned in by non NHI reporters. Such as this one was. And at that time I two asked for it to be marked who wrote it.
Yes, Save Our City, it was that phase-in which Elicker championed. Regrettably. East Rock was hit hard by reval as were other pockets of town. But that cost should not have been borne by the vast majority of taxpayers in town who suffered loss of property value. Thankfully the legislature agreed this one-sided “fix” was unfair and killed it.
Wait am I missing something? Is not Elicker one of very few alders that fought dam hard to find cost savings to help lower taxes in 2012? And did the puppet ones not even consider do such? Did the 20 Proto owned alder not ALL vote it though with no real effort to help the tax payers?
I was really disturbed by the photos of the pig. Pigs are widely known to be smarter than the dogs and cats with whom we share our lives. How would you feel about grilling a dog? Justin, why did you let them do this at your campaign event
“A city like New Haven doesn’t have to let this arc of decline continue. It doesn’t have to become Hartford or Bridgeport. It could become Ithaca, New York.”
New Haven: 129,779 people, 42.6% White
Ithaca: 29,287 people, 73.97% White
And you wonder why people have a hard time trusting Justin Elicker…
I’m sorry but this endorsement is ridiculous.
Elicker outflanked the entrenched anti-Summer Camp lobby! Make him our mayor!
But seriously, he’ll play banjo with the President of Yale.
Sorry but you’re saying that because our city has a higher proportion of nonwhite citizens we can’t creatively resolve our financial problems as Ithica has? Please explain?
Alex, your specious comment only ‘works’ if no one reads the article.
The story highlights a successful young African-American mayor with whom the author feels Elicker shares many qualities. If I follow your data, Alex, then it is entirely possible that a person of background X can lead a city where the majority is X,Y or Z. This sounds good to me, whomever wins.
@ Mike & Robn- the racial stats aside, could his point be that Ithaca is more like East Haven or Branford in size, population and issues and that we are a city, not a town? It does seem a bit like apples and oranges to me, though maybe there are some lessons to learn from it.
I did not meant to offend white people or say anything about their ability to run a city. I’m sure Justin Elicker would do a fine job.
But what I am saying is that New Haven is a much bigger, much more diverse place than Ithaca. New Haven’s problems aren’t a result of not looking at details or not thinking creatively, they’re typical problems for a medium-sized, diverse city. Saying let’s be Ithaca is not a solution.
The point of the Ithaca comparison is that the young, progressive mayor of that city has figured out a way to cooperate with a major university presence to improve the quality of life of all residents, not just students and faculty. It’s been said many times that New Haven is nothing without Yale and Yale is nothing without New Haven. The last decade or so has seen a great first step in increased cooperation and all of the candidates support further coopearation. But the other point of the comparison is that Justin Elicker is a lot like Svante Myrick, young, well educated, idealistic, seemingly in over his head but if we’d all just listen we might actually recognize that good ideas, based on evidence, can lead to good results.
Yeah, New Haven probably has more and bigger problems than Ithaca had. Apples to pears, maybe, if not oranges. But look at Oakland under Jerry Brown (who left the Democratic party to run as an independent urban renewal candidate), Newark under Cory Booker, Pittsburgh under boy-mayor Luke Ravenstahl. A city of any size will do better if led by a visionary mayor whose primary interest is the vitality of the city as a whole and not the particular interests of the folks who did most to put him/her in office.
Fernandez has some good ideas, but he is not, in my view, independent given the support for his campaign by contractors eager to do business with the city whether or not it’s in the city’s interest. He’s also too quick to pass the buck up to Hartford. Harp (along with the entire Democratic establishment in the state, apparently) is beholden to labor, which is a problem given the state of the public fisc. Carolina is not beholden but, in my view, he does not present realistic ideas for urban improvement and has questionable character given the negativity that has defined his (and, to a lesser extent, Fernandez’s) campaign). Elicker ticks all the boxes. My only fear is that we won’t give him a chance.
WM: Let’s go with apples and oranges. Worcester MA is our size. Someone there sees parallels.
“Worcester could learn from Ithaca”
Here’s 10 seconds of Google: Ithaca: inheriting a 3M deficit. Tax-ex parcels at 60% of space. One major Uni paying only paying 1M in PILOT.
Its not that crazy to think Ithaca could be a source of comparison for one article.