Elicker Pressed On Cops, Budget

Paul Bass PhotoJustin Elicker was ready to talk about changing the way New Haven government runs. He asked for “more time” to provide fully formed positions to some of the most controversial specific choices he might face.

Elicker did that during an appearance Tuesday on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” in which he discussed his campaign for the Democratic nomination for mayor. In a rematch from 2013, he’s taking on (now-incumbent Mayor) Toni Harp in this year’s election.

Elicker, who is 43, set the broad themes of a campaign focused on jobs, public education and taxes; and on responding proactively with “transparency” to widespread “frustration” over how government is being run and addressing major challenges.

He spoke in depth about those challenges and responded to questions from listeners.

Like any candidate especially early in a campaign, he faced questions pressing him to take detailed, specific positions on tough choices that will likely alienate some voters once he would take office. He criticized some of the Harp administration’s actions, offered a perspective on the issues — and promised to more fully formed answers as the campaign develops and he has had more conversations with people.

He also addressed an elephant in the donkey room of party primaries: The fact that he is a white man running against a black woman in a majority-minority city.

That issue arose when he spoke of how civil rights and concerns of the Black Lives Matters movement have put racial and social justices at the forefront of civic debate.

“I’m white. The reality is I can never understand what it’s like to be black or brown,” said Elicker, who attended recent events in support of creating a stronger version of the police Civilian Review Board.

“But I don’t think that detracts from my ability to champion issues that everyone in the city cares about. I imagine that some people would be pushing a narrative like that to discredit my ability to champion those issues because I am white. I recognize that I come from a privileged background. But I don’t think that means I will not be capable of prioritizing issues around racial and social economic justice.

“In some ways, looking at what is going on currently, I think I will be much more effective at doing this. And I will surround myself with people that are from the community and who look like the community to help move that vision forward.”

Read on and add your vote to some of the questions posed to the candidate.

Tough Question 1: Community Policing 3.0

Markeshia Ricks Photo

One of the tough choices facing the current and perhaps next mayor: How to keep crime down and keep cops on the force.

Fifty-nine cops, at all levels, have resigned or retired in the past 13 months. The chief is leaving in March; three of his four assistants are looking for jobs outside the department. Another 39 become eligible this year to retire, with many considering it.

A big reason: New Haven pays cops up to $20,000 less than suburban departments, which also offer better benefits. New Haven’s cops haven’t had a contract since 2016; the next contract is the subject of binding arbitration, with the city seeking retiree health care givebacks.

On the one hand, New Haven government has a structural deficit estimated at $30 million. It feels it can’t pay cops more, and needs concessions, in order to avoid tax increases. On the other hand, the department faces a “crisis,” in the words of departing Chief Anthony Campbell, that could endanger public safety.

One suggestion floated by retired Assistant Chief John Velleca: Have far fewer cops, in part by eliminating some special units and dedicated walking beats, and then pay cops more and keep them longer. (Some have argued that the department does not need four assistant chiefs, either.)

Mayor Harp has rejected this suggestion She argued that walking beats are crucial to community policing, and the large number of cops required to carry that out has helped drop the violent crime to its lowest levels in decades.

On “Dateline,” Elicker praised the work of the cops. He declared that “we do not effectively have community policing now,” with neighbors knowing their neighborhood cops.

“The morale in the police department has been lower than it’s been in a long time,” he added.

“Yale University is stealing our officers,” he said. “It’s almost like your big brother stealing your lunch money for candy.”

He argued that the city should push Yale either to pay its cops less or else “we can pay our” officers more.

Elicker was pressed on whether he agrees with Velleca’s force-reduction, pay-raise suggestion.

“I’m reluctant to commit to lowering” the number of cops, he responded. “The pay is a challenge. ... Give me more time” on the question.

Tough Question 2: Fixing The Budget

Christopher Peak Photo

Elicker was adamant that, if he were mayor, he would not have taken Mayor Harp’s route in borrowing money to cover operating deficits. He said he would have opposed refinancing $160 million in debt — as the administration did last August — to free up money for a few years while incurring longer-term costs (a practice known as “scoop and toss”). As an alder, Elicker helped kill a similar plan pursued by Harp’s predecessor.

“It’s easy to borrow money and get reelected and not make tough decisions” and “pass these problems” to future generations in the process, Elicker said

So what tough decisions would he make on the budget?

In the short term, he said, he would order “cuts” rather than raise taxes. He didn’t specify which cuts. But he did say he would order all department heads to submit plans for 5 and 10 percent cuts and work with those plans.

Long term, Elicker said, he would work to bring “more partners to the table” to address the city’s structural deficit. He said he’d push the state for more municipal aid and Yale for more contributions to the city. Asked by listener Patricia Kane whether he’d support seeking to revoke some of Yale’s tax exemptions, he said he considers that option “on the table.” He said his position on Yale has “matured” and he believes “Yale has to do more.”

Other Choices

Paul Bass Photo

Another listener, Aaron Goode, pressed Elicker on whether he would seek a change in registrars of voters in light of the recurrent problems at the polls on Election Day.

“I’m not going throw people under the bus,” Elicker responded. “But something needs to change. ... What has gone on in New Haven with voting is a disaster.”

He said he would like to see sample ballots mailed to voters in advance of elections so people know what they’ll be asked to decide at the polls, including referendum questions.

Click on the video below to watch the full interview with Elicker on “Dateline New Haven.” Click here to read a story by the New Haven Register’s Mary O’Leary about Elicker’s critique of Monday night’s “State of the City” mayoral address, including discussion of the city’s lead abatement efforts.

 

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posted by: wendy1 on February 5, 2019  5:09pm

I’m glad he admitted he is white. 

Yes, Toni is depending on her name recognition and her melanin to get votes from neighborhoods she has neglected.  This is terrible but true and it’s a hurdle Justin and I will have to jump.  She’s the incumbent.  I’m the dark horse (which may come in handy)....neighhhhh…...

posted by: tmctague on February 5, 2019  9:15pm

Elicker’s white?  Not so fast, let’s see a birth certificate.  #FOIA

posted by: Noteworthy on February 5, 2019  10:47pm

The singular issue which will dictate the future of our city is the budget. Without a balanced budget, we’re bankrupt. We are only a couple maybe three years away from just such a fate. It is fine to worry about other issues - but the budget is what provides the money to do all that we hope for, all that we must do. We cannot continue to be begging, money grubbing our way through life and trust that hope will see us through. Any candidate who aspires to be mayor has got to wrestle these details to the ground and permanently transforms how this city does business. Toni Harp and her co-horts nearly broke this state. She has done a repeat act in New Haven and allowed the unions to manipulate the work rules to their benefit and profit.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 6, 2019  7:14am

Having agencies identify 5% or 10% budget cuts can be a useful exercise.  But most of the city’s spending is bound by contracts. The next mayor will face the unenviable choice of cutting services, raising taxes, or some combination of the two.

On an entirely different note, Paul have you considered using ranked choice voting for survey questions such as the one on election administration? It would require changes in the True Vote app, but I suspect this is do-able. BTW, three of the options for this question are not the city’s call. Early, mail-in, and no-fault absentee voting would require action by the state legislature.

posted by: Noteworthy on February 6, 2019  10:50am

The choice is NOT to cut services or raise taxes. That binary thinking is wrong. The union contracts are bloated with employees, union only jobs and mandated overtime. The workers comp is being abused and the work rules not enforced.

1. Cutting the cop force to fall within national averages is not a cut in service - it’s a cut in fat. We’ll still get great service from the cop shop. Some will still get overtime. But we need a force of 250 to 300 maximum. The mayor doesn’t need an armed chauffeur. Let one of her staffers drive her around if she doesn’t have a license.

2. Right sizing the NHFD - we don’t need minimum staffing, we likely need one fewer fire houses. We need to focused less on fire services and more on EMS and transporting patients to be reimbursed by the insurance companies. This is not a cut in service. It’s smart staffing.

3. We don’t need a Director of Youth Services - this is a $100K or more waste - loaded with benefits, even more. The same with the director of disabled, rent control officer. These positions serve very few people, accomplish next to nothing.

4. Some expert needs to figure out the schools. Their finances are a wreck and we have way too many schools. When it costs $18K per student to get a New Haven quality education, there’s a problem. This is nothing short of a catastophic mess in terms of accomplishment and financial transparency and accountability.

5. But there are many other areas where money is wasted, misappropriated and abused. The Parking Authority is a good example - so broke it can’t maintain its own revenue producing faciliites without a grant.

6. What about the enterprise funds - like Ralph Walker. Good example of waste and stupidity. It’s now February, the third season is lost because 1. The city didn’t have the money to just build the new one without money grubbing for grants and an investment from Albertus Magnus. 2. Didn’t get the project done because of incompetencies in the engineer’s office and more.

posted by: FacChec on February 6, 2019  3:35pm

“I’m white. The reality is I can never understand what it’s like to be black or brown,” said Elicker, who attended recent events in support of creating a stronger version of the police Civilian Review Board.

Politically this is the worst statement Elicker will ever make during this campaign for Mayor.

His adviser and campaign manager 27 year old Bridgeport native, Gage Frank should have known better.

What Elicker should have said… ” Im white”, however,Ii understand what it is like to be black or brown in America, I plague to work tirelessly on the issues which effect these communities, starting with the stagnant Dixwell community House which remains stalled despite the fact the the state of CT has funded the demolition and construction of the Q house since Jan. 2016 without rehabilitation results.


Office of the State Comptroller

Bond Allocation Database

Municipality: NEW HAVEN
Meeting Date: 1/29/2016
Agenda Item Number: 68
Public Act or Special Act: Public Act
Act Number: 79-607
Section: 21(b)(6)(B)
Recipient Category: Municipalities
Use of Funds: Buildings, Facilities, Grounds
Program Area: Urban/Community Development
Allocation Amount: $14,500,000.00
Any Use of Previously Allocated Funds?: False
How Much?: $0.00
Project Description: These funds are requested to provide a grant-in-aid to city of New Haven to assist with construction of a new Dixwell Q House community center.

The Q House and many more grants unreported by the City of New Haven.

https://www.osc.ct.gov/finance/queries/municipality2.asp

posted by: J.Bravo on February 7, 2019  12:08am

“Yale University is stealing our officers” - Elicker
The Yale Police Department currently employs two retired NHPD cops (Asst. Chief, and a Lt.) who have been there for over twelve years, and one NHPD lateral transfer thats only been with the department for less than two years.  Stealing what officers?  Sounds like fake news!

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on February 7, 2019  9:58am

@FacChec

You wrote, ““I’m white. The reality is I can never understand what it’s like to be black or brown,” said Elicker, who attended recent events in support of creating a stronger version of the police Civilian Review Board.

Politically this is the worst statement Elicker will ever make during this campaign for Mayor.”

As a brown man who was born and raised in New Haven, and grew up in the hill;I disagree! That is not the worst statement he could have said. Your response about what he should said is a political response. That’s the problem with politicians. They tell the people want they want to hear, and what sounds politically correct. I respect and love his response. He’s being honest, and the truth is just that. He is white, and it will work against him going against a black women in New Haven.

posted by: FacChec on February 7, 2019  11:23am

@IloveMYcity203 on February 7, 2019 9:58am

You responded:
@FacChec:
“Your response about what he should say is a political response.”

I respect the FAC that you disagreed, however, the question referenced the “donkey in the room” as follows, “He also addressed an elephant in the donkey room of party primaries: The fact that he is a white man running against a black woman in a majority-minority city.” This is a politically loaded referenced question and if not answered carefully with for-thought his answer as stated in my post would cause racial tensions as you have stated in your post:

“He is white, and it will work against him going against a black women in New Haven.”
Responses like yours have to be avoided by Elicker, by providing a politically correct answer, to a politically loaded question. And yes people want to hear what they themselves are thinking. That’s just how it works.

“To Elickers credit however, he did go on to say… “But I don’t think that detracts from my ability to champion issues that everyone in the city cares about. I imagine that some people would be pushing a narrative like that to discredit my ability to champion those issues because I am white. I recognize that I come from a privileged background. But I don’t think that means I will not be capable of prioritizing issues around racial and social economic justice.”

posted by: WhatTheWhat on February 7, 2019  1:10pm

@ J.Bravo
I was thinking that exact thing!! What the heck was he talking about?! It’s my understanding that most of the officers that have left NHPD have gone to other cities/towns.