At a mayoral “debate” Tuesday night where no active mayoral candidates debated each other, two policy proposals did surface: creating a hybrid elected-appointed Board of Police Commissioners and expanding public financing for city elections.
The New Haven Democracy Fund organized a mayoral debate on Tuesday night in the library of the Benjamin Jepson Magnet School on Lexington Avenue in Fair Haven Heights.
The Democracy Fund is a city program that provides public matching dollars for New Haven mayoral candidates who abide by certain fundraising restrictions, including limiting individual campaign contributions to no more than $370 each.
In order to qualify for Democracy Fund financing, interested mayoral hopefuls must participate in a candidate debate hosted by the Fund.
So far no one has qualified for financing in the general election for mayor in New Haven. But two candidates did sign up for the program. One of them, Working Families Party candidate Sarah Ganong, said she doesn’t intend to raise money but wanted to show her support for the program by signing up. She also said she doesn’t want to serve as mayor; she seeks to win 1 percent of the vote so her party, which cross-endorses progressive Democrats, can obtain a line on future municipal elections.
Marucs Paca, who did obtain public financing in last month’s Democratic mayoral primary, which he lost 3-1, did sign up for the fund for the general election campaign as well. His name will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot as an unaffiliated candidate. But he has suspended his campaign and not put in for more public cash.
The only candidate actively running for mayor, incumbent Democrat Toni Harp, is not participating in the public-financing system and did not participate in Tuesday’s debate. (Click here to read about and watch a primary debate between Harp and Paca.)
Even the moderator from the League of Women Voters did not show up when the debate started Tuesday night, because the League had not received word that Paca, after suspending his campaign, still intended to participate.
Ganong and Paca did show up for the “debate.” Ganong did not take questions, however. She merely gave an opening statement.
Nevertheless, the show went on. New Haven Votes Coalition‘s Aaron Goode stepped up to fill in as last-minute moderator before a crowd of barely a dozen attendees, half of whom were from the media. Goode asked Paca questions for 40 minutes as Ganong sat quiet beside him at a table in the front of the room.
During those 40 minutes, Paca several times proposed that the Board of Police Commissioners, like the Board of Education, should consist of a mix of elected and appointed members. Currently, all police commissioners are appointed by the mayor.
He said that the slight change in composition would be an important step in making the Board of Police Commissioners more responsive to public concerns, particularly if the Board were to be reconstituted as a Civilian Review Board.
“The reason why I support a hybrid Board of Police Commissioners,” Paca said, “is because, according to state law, only the police commission has the right to subpoena. And since they already have the right, it just kind of makes more sense to have an election to put people from the community that actually earn the support and earn the trust of real New Haveners on the board to represent those concerns.”
He also noted that the current Board of Alders has failed to present final civilian review board legislation for debate, despite a 2013 charter revision vote mandating the creation of such a board. He argued the issue simply is not a priority for local politicians who are insulated from any repercussions of police misconduct.
“If we all know that the mayor supports something,” he said, “and we know that the Board of Alders also explicitly supported it, then why hasn’t it been done? It hasn’t been done because it’s not a priority. And it’s not a priority because it doesn’t affect the people that are actually voting on it.”
Alders involved in drawing up the proposal say they’re trying to get it right, and got delayed over the issue of how to give the review board real authority when state law would bar it from having subpoena power.
In response to a series of questions about public education in New Haven and the continued infighting on the Board of Education, Paca said that the mayor needs to push for hiring a superintendent based on qualifications, not on geography.
“I think that we should hire the best qualified superintendent,” he said. “Period. I don’t care if they’re from Woodbridge or New Haven or New York or Honolulu. We need to hire the best person that’s going to fit best with our students and our core values at the Board of Education.”
He referred to the delays and disputes around the superintendent search as “another example of how the Board of Ed plays politics with our students.”
Goode’s final questions of the night pertained to good government, transparency, and public financing of elections in New Haven. He asked Paca if the Democracy Fund, which currently only covers mayoral races, should be expanded to other citywide campaigns, like City Clerk and Board of Ed, and even to aldermanic races.
“I definitely would support expanding the Democracy Fund for any citywide or Board of Ed elected position,” Paca said. “It only makes sense. There’s a lot of money sitting in the Democracy Fund that goes unused.”
According to Democracy Fund administrator Aly Heimer, the Fund currently has $250,000 available to distribute to interested and qualified candidates.
Paca said that, a few years ago, he would likely have leaned against the idea of expanding public financing to include aldermanic races. But, with the rise of the UNITE HERE unions’ political advocacy in 2011 and beyond, he said that, if elected mayor, he would certainly consider it.
“When you have big money coming into local elections,” he said, “I think we should probably consider whether or not the Democracy Fund be extended to aldermanic elections.”