For the first time in a decade, New Haven voters citywide will be able to vote for or against a Republican in this November’s general election.
No, the city Republicans haven’t nominated a candidate for mayor. They last did that in 2007. They last won a mayor’s race in 1951.
But Thursday night the Republican Town Committee endorsed a candidate for a different citywide office: New Haven probate judge. The endorsement went to Melissa Papantones, who lives in Westville and practices insurance law. (Three Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination for the position.)
“She’s articulate. She’s run for office before. She’s well-known and respected in the legal community,” party Treasurer Republican Nancy Ahern said in nominating Papantones at the party’s nominating convention, attended by 17 people in the basement of the 200 Orange St. municipal office building. “She’d be a good judge.”
Papantones has toiled in the thankless vineyards of New Haven Republican politics for decades. She previously served as town chair. She ran against then-State Sen. Toni Harp in 2008. (She was nominated in absentia Thursday night, because she was out of town.)
Mostly, though, the city Republicans at their convention tapped new blood to seek public office and assume other leadership positions, people recruited to the party by its new chairman, Jonathan Wharton, who has been working hard to revive the party.
For instance, the party nominated 25-year-old Kate Adams to run for a seat on the Board of Education, in a district that covers half the city. Democrat Ed Joyner currently holds the seat. He’s running for reelection, facing a party challenger.
Wharton was Adams’s political science professor at Southern Connecticut State University. Adams graduated in 2015. Wharton urged Adams to get involved in the party and run for office. She lives in Westville and serves as an education coordinator for Integrated Refugee & Immigration Services (IRIS), where she helps enroll refugee children into public schools. Adams said her dad (and campaign manager), Andy Bravo, also inspired her to run; he served 14 years on the Wallingford Board of Education.
If elected, Adams said, she hopes to convince the Board of Ed to place at least one ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher in each school.
GOP member Paul Larrivee of the Hill asked her how she’d address all the refugee kids who speak languages other than Spanish. For instance, he said, he tutors a teenaged girl at his church from Mogadishu who speaks Arabic. ESL teachers, he said, are “primarily Hispanic.” Adams responded that she’d seek to have ESL teachers hired who also speak Arabic, Russian, Polish, Pashto, and Farsi.
The party Thursday night also endorsed 27-year-old Josh Van Hoesen, a lead software engineer at a North Haven company, to run for alder seat in Morris Cove’s Ward 18, Donald Trump’s largest base of support in the city in 2016 and the last ward to elect a Republican alder, Arlene DePino.
Van Hoesen, who has lived in the Cove for five years, told the convention that he hopes to improve “community engagement,” especially improving communication about government and the neighborhood community management team. Asked about Tweed-New Haven Airport, he said he doesn’t see the need for expansion because there’s “a perfectly good airport 45 miles away.”
Van Hoesen came to the convention wearing an elephant GOP tie and carrying a copy of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. He said he always carries that book with him, because Paine’s political vision inspires him.
Finally, the convention nominated John Carlson of City Point to run for the Ward 6 alder seat. Carlson, who’s 48, teachers fourth grade at John Winthrop Elementary in Bridgeport.
Carlson told the convention that in campaigning he heard from neighbors on Liberty Street that they want speed bumps and a greater police presence. South Water Street voters also told him they want speed bumps, and he vowed to help press their case with the city. He said he has taken up the cause on SeeClickFix of Greenwich Avenue residents waiting years for sidewalk repairs.
After the conventioneers unanimously approved all four nominations, GOP Town Chair Wharton offered a pep talk, and some advice.
“We have a lot of support in the city,” Wharton declared “The press [writes] that we suck. I’m used to it. Bring it on! Not only do we exist and have 4 percent [of registered voters]. We have a lot of independents who are rooting for us.”
Wharton said he recently met with business leaders and “ladies in Branford and Madison” who promised to support local GOP candidates in this fall’s election. He urged the candidates to meet with the Chamber of Commerce to seek support from its political action committee, as well as with other potential funders. He promised to help in that effort, as well. He set a goal of raising at least $3,000 per campaign.
“A lot of business leaders are concerned about having a balancing act with the unions” that dominate the Board of Alders, he said.
According to the most recent records available Thursday at the Registrar of Voters office, New Haven has 37,032 registered Democrats, 2,344 registered Republicans, 14,282 unaffiliated voters, and 498 people registered with minor parties.
Other new members getting involved int he party include David St. Hilaire (pictured), who was elected the new secretary Thursday night. A 24-year-old graduate of Benedictine College in Kansas, where he led the College Republican group, St. Hilaire came to New Haven in 2015 to work for the Knights of Columbus.
Another new member, Chris Walsh, volunteered to represent the Republicans on the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission. Wharton recruited Walsh to the party after meeting him at Beaver Hills community management team meetings; he also knows Walsh’s wife, who works at SCSU. Walsh works at a research lab at Yale; he’s a painter on the side who volunteers with Artspace.