The GOP Finds A Mayoral Candidate

Richter.JPGEmerging from a two-year hiatus, New Haven’s beleaguered Republican Party nominated a candidate for mayor—local businessman H. Richter Elser. He wasn’t planning on it.

The surprise announcement came at the end of a sleepy GOP convention at the Hall of Records Thursday night. A 14-member quorum of the Republican Town Committee urged Elser (pictured) to consider accepting the nomination. He declined at first—only to announce later that he would, in fact, compete in the race.

The committee also nominated Delores Knight for the position of town clerk.

Elser, who has owned two local restaurants, previously ran for U.S. Congress against Democrat Rosa DeLauro.

MaloneGood.JPGThe party hasn’t won a mayoral election since 1951. It has only one member on the 30-member Board of Aldermen. The member, Morris Cove’s Arlene DePino, was re-endorsed Thursday night. And the party found someone to run in Westville’s Ward 25: newcomer Tom Malone (pictured).

After his announcement, Richter said his decision to run for mayor was more than just a matter of pride for the city’s small Republican Party. Voters on both sides of the political spectrum are frustrated with the DeStefano administration and want a change from old thinking patterns, he said.

“A lot of Republicans are frustrated that we haven’t been filling the top of the ticket,” he said. “But I wouldn’t call [his nomination] a pride thing.”

“It’s been 50 years since there’s been a Republican mayor in New Haven,” he continued before adding: “There’s a confluence of circumstances that makes this the right time.”

Elser faces tough historical odds in the upcoming election: New Haven’s last Republican mayor, William Celentano, finished his last term on Jan. 1, 1953. New Haven has largely been a one-party (Democratic) city ever since. Last year, the GOP failed to field any candidates in the citywide election.

Still, many partisans at Thursday’s convention said they are confident that widespread dissatisfaction with Mayor DeStefano’s record on crime and frustration over the city’s new $443 million budget will create a groundswell effect for the Republican candidates.

Former Westville Alderwoman Nancy Ahern said there are two main reasons Republicans could be hopeful in upcoming elections: The Democracy Fund, a new statute which equalizes campaign spending between mayoral candidates, will level the playing field in favor of under-funded Republicans; while ongoing community debates on crime, high taxes and other issues could lead voters to press for a change of guard in City Hall.   

“Candidates could have a chance,” she said,” partly because of available funds, partly because of the dissatisfaction with city politics now.” 

“We Are Up To Date On Dead People”

Rae.JPGFor Republican Registrar of Voters Rae Tramontano, the fact that New Haven counts only 3.000 registered Republicans—versus 36.000 Democrats—is not to be taken for granted. The city’s overwhelmingly Democratic political scene, she said, conceals a population of “closet Republicans” who wouldn’t dare identify themselves as such in public.

Earlier in the two-hour convention, however, Republican Party members struggled to come up with a list of names for registered Republicans who live in New Haven—and are still alive.

“Are we up to date on dead people?” asked a committee member.

“We are right up to date up to date on dead people,” said Tramontano, who maintains a list of registered Republicans in New Haven.

The committee discussed ways of registering new voters, including plans to canvass incoming Yale freshmen in September. Members were enthusiastic about the nomination of Tom Malone, a native of Atlanta, Georgia. And they applauded Arlene DePino for her long-term commitment to the party.

The mood really brightened up when Elser, dressed in a pin-stripe shirt and navy tie, reneged on a remark that he “couldn’t do it [run for mayor]” and delivered an impromptu acceptance speech to the committee.

“If there ever was a time when the mayor was completely off-course and divorced from the needs of the community—it’s now,” he said. “I would be happy to accept your nomination.”

Elser said he had been thinking about becoming a candidate for the last six months. He had been hesitant to join for professional reasons, but is now confident of his ability to lead an aggressive mayoral campaign.

“I’ve been telling Republicans and the town committee that its important to know I can run a good campaign,” he said, “although the mechanics of how that fits into what I’m doing now” aren’t clear.

During an interview in the basement of the Hall of Records, Elser criticized the current administration for discouraging different viewpoints—both Republican and Democratic—during policy debates. He also said the mayor is known for stifling internal dissent at City Hall. 

“I happen to think there are a lot of city employees and department heads who are afraid to cross paths with the mayor,” he said. “Rightly or wrongly, DeStefano has a reputation of being a strong-willed and autocratic politician.”

Although he had yet to establish a firm electoral platform, Elser said that he plans to focus on taxes, education, crime and the development of the downtown district.

“The city’s budget is close to half a billion dollars,” he said. “Yet we’re more dependent on outside funding than we’ve ever been.”

“I think the city’s on the verge of achieving critical mass,” he went on, referring to the recent development efforts. “We’ve got about 10 percent to go. The sign [that critical mass has been achieved] will be when developers come to town independently.”

Asked if he felt there was any futility to his undertaking, Elser said:

“The Republican Party of New Haven might be small, but it’s scrappy,” he said. “I’m happy to share the top of the ticket” with Delores Knight.

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posted by: robn on July 20, 2007  1:59pm

In order for any Republican official to get a elected in New Haven a couple of things have to happen.

Firstly, the New Haven Register would have to print incriminating front page polaroids of Mayor DeStefano committing a crime against nature.

Secondly the Republican candidate would have to scrub hard enough to wash off the filth being spewed by that band of war-profiteering brigands occupying the White House. (But who knows, Joe Lieberman was able to somehow magically disconnect himself from those he supports…so it’s possible.)

posted by: charlie on July 20, 2007  2:02pm

I hope Mr. Elser asks some tough questions in the debates.  There are certainly more than enough to go around.  Don’t let anyone take your vote for granted.

Also, keep in mind that the Republican party here has nothing to do with Mr. Bush et al. (neither is it in NYC, just look at Mr. Bloomberg, a lifelong Democrat who switched to the GOP to run for office, and then switched to become an Independent). Elser is openly in favor of gay rights and in any other setting would be a hardcore Democrat.

posted by: James on July 20, 2007  2:08pm

At a local level, why in the world do I care about political party?  I’m interested and excited to hear what Mr. Richter has to say.  So far, nothing crazy or inflamatory has come out of his mouth and he’s not DeStefano.  If he stopped right now, he’d probably have my vote.

posted by: cedarhillresident on July 20, 2007  3:30pm

he may be what this election needs! I to am looking forward to a debate now!!

James is right on a local level and giving the state of our city….I think we are looking for anyone that is ABLE to help this city…lower our taxes…get the crime down in all areas! Now grant it be these our the immediate concerns but we also want to know how he is going to effect the future of our city as well.

posted by: Taxed To Death on July 20, 2007  4:00pm

Thank you Mr. Elser - it will be refreshing to hear your thoughts on running the city. It can only get better with a fresh pair of eyes.

Tom Malone—good luck. I hope you run a strong campaign. Ina Silverman pays lip service to good government, restrained taxes and reasonable and prudent spending in her public meetings with Westville families. When she gets back to City Hall, she falls right in line bowing together with the other Westville alders Rodriguez and Lehoten at the DeStefantti Alter. In the end, taxpayers take it in the shorts—witness the record tax increases this year and that are scheduled for each of the next four years.

posted by: TGunn on July 20, 2007  11:16pm

Thank goodness. A smart businessman, who accepted the challenge.  I will follow and assit this Mr. Elser the entire way.  He knows the problems, and decided to take the risk.  Sir, do not worry about how many people are registered as republican.  This city has many people ready to vote for a new and true leader.  I will help, please set up a website, so we can contact you with support and concerns.  This should not be a smear DeStefano campaign, but it is a campaign that must focus attention on the fiscal disaster New Haven now faces.  You won’t fix it in two years, but we are willing to help you get things moving in the right direction.  I can bring lots of support.  Most might know who I am now that I use only one post name, but I don’t care.  I grew up and live here.  I know the budget issues, and the hidden deals.  Please just ask for the help. Tell us how to reach you and offer support.  I thank you for taking the leap, and you may find you are more supported than you could ever imagine.  Don’t worry about the BOA, most of them can’t and don’t understand 90% of what they vote on.  Been in front of them many times and came away with little respect, especially after this last budget mess.  There are fixes, and planning then implementation under a full administrative change can have it working within two years.

Bravo and all support

posted by: king james v on July 20, 2007  11:50pm

I now have even less respect for the Elm City G.O.P. than i do the gangsta democrats.  How can they even call themselves a legitimate party when the only run in 10% of the wards.  Unfortunately this hamlet has become a one party town.  When i was younger Ben Delito ran this backwater into the ground while apeasing his cronies (and keeping his nephew out of prisoin for the penny serra murder).  Big Ben has been reincarnated in the body of big Johnny D, who has kept his supporters employed, and those who’d call him OUT in key positions.

posted by: In the Hood on July 21, 2007  10:28am

It would be interesting to see if Elser and Republican party is willing to knock on doors in sections of the City.

posted by: Ned on July 23, 2007  8:46am

So they’ll be canvassing young Rethuglicans?  Why aren’t these young republicans in Iraq?

posted by: Tom on July 30, 2007  10:47am

I think more Republicans serve in Iraq than the tail between the legs Democrats.

New Haven is a hell hole, and the reason for that is Democrat leadership and a ton of their socialized programs.