Holder-Winfield Asks: “Where Have All The Dems Gone?”

Thomas MacMillan PhotoA day after a mayoral candidate attacked an opponent on ethics, he found himself criticized by a different opponent—for allegedly going back on his word about being a good Democrat.

Welcome to the world of a seven-candidate mayoral race that’s heating up, as candidates strategically decide whom to attack and when.

The latest salvo came from state Gary Holder-Winfield (pictured), one of the seven Democrats seeking the Democratic mayoral nomination in a Sept. 10 primary in a quest to succeed retiring two-decade incumbent Mayor John DeStefano. Holder-Winfield Wednesday took aim at fellow candidate Henry Fernandez (who on Tuesday issued this criticism of a different candidate).

The issue: What makes a true “Democrat”?

Holder-Winfield is one of only two candidates (along with State Sen. Toni Harp) so far to promise that if he loses the primary, he will not then petition to appear on the ballot as an independent in the November general election. On Tuesday the Independent reported that three more candidates—Henry Fernandez, Matthew Nemerson and Kermit Carolina—are not ruling out a second-chance November independent run. A fourth candidate, Justin Elicker, had already announced that he intends to run that second time if necessary.

In a campaign release issued Wednesday afternoon (entitled “Where Have All The Democrats Gone?”), Holder-Winfield criticized Fernandez for “going back on his public reaction”—in this Independent story—when asked on March 28 about the prospect of running as an independent.

“I intend to run as a Democrat. I’m a Democrat. I look forward to being a Democrat after this election is over,” Fernandez told the Independent at the time.

“With more competition in this race, has this changed?” Holder-Winfield asked.

He called a “do-over” independent campaign following a primary loss a slap at party voters.

“We need to respect these people if we’re asking for their vote,” Holder-Winfield argued. “A vote isn’t something you just shake off. Democracy isn’t something you just throw away if you’re unhappy with it. It’s fine if someone wants to run as an independent in the general election, but then they shouldn’t be running in the primary knowing that they’ll ignore it’s results. That’s the old way of doing things – I’m running to be a new kind of mayor.”

Asked for a reaction Wednesday, Fernandez reiterated that he has not decided that he will run as an independent.

“I just haven’t thought very much about this at all. I’m really focused on the primary,” Fernandez said.

He was asked about his previous quotes about his intention “to run as a Democrat” and remaining “a Democrat after this election is over.”

“That hasn’t changed,” he said Wednesday. “That’s my intent.”

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 6, 2013  8:12am

The question should not be Where Have All The Dems Gone.The question should be why have the dems from Hartford down to New Haven Have sold
the people out.

posted by: westville man on June 6, 2013  8:43am

I want my candidate, Kermit Carolina, to make that decision based upon primary results. I could care less about party affiliations.  It’s your ideas, values & integrity that count.
I want a choice in the general election.  I’m glad at least Elicker is staying in, so there will be a choice.
It’s interesting to me that the 2 who won’t run as independents are the 2 who hold political offices already for the Dems in Hartford. That’s what I call “self-interest”, not some higher moral ground.

posted by: Razzie on June 6, 2013  8:57am

It’s interesting to see how all the so-called Clean Money candidates are reneging on their commitments to the Democratic primary voters to make the primary meaningful. Looks like Elicker’s “Lieberman 2-Step Do-over” is becoming the play of the day. If it’s good for Elicker to take public money for a primary run-thru, and then go private finance for the general election, then all the candidates should do it. In fact, why not skip the primary altogether, and save the taxpayer some money? Thanks for pointing Henry’s flip-flop out Gary.

posted by: westville man on June 6, 2013  9:34am

Razzie,  i would agree with you IF the democracy fund didnt prevent Elicker, Carolina, etc from participating in the general as well if they lose.  But it doesn’t.  So the bigger question for me is do we have a choice in the general.
I am a registered Democrat and have not voted for John DeStefano for the past 6 elections. I was happy to have ANY option to get change.

posted by: Wooster Squared on June 6, 2013  9:55am

Gary, by and large I like you as legislator and I like you as a candidate, but this looks a little desperate.

I, and I would venture to say most New Haven voters want a good mayor and couldn’t care less who is and isn’t “a real Democrat”. Outside of the echo-chamber of internal Democratic Party politics, the charge means very little.

It reminds me of folks like Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin who are always rambling on about who is or isn’t a “true conservative”. Who cares.

I’m surprised you’re spending all of this anger on attacking Henry. I know he’s not the most likeable guy, but he wasn’t the one who declared for Mayor just days after doing a photo-op for your campaign.

posted by: Curious on June 6, 2013  9:57am

I’d be happy to see the Dems just run an open primary.

posted by: Razzie on June 6, 2013  11:03am

Westville Man

At some point, everyone has to admit that rules do matter. And while I understand your sentiment that the need to get rid of DeStefano justified some bending of the rules to level the playing field, I need hardly point out that John DeStefano is not running (exception: DeStefano 2.0 is running). If the excuse for Elicker’s Lieberman 2-Step is that he needed to level the playing field, then that need no longer exists. Thus, it seems to me that the only justification I see for any candidate’s 2 bites of the apple approach is a “da#n the rules, win at any cost” mentality. If Elicker planned to run as an Independent from the beginning, then he is making a mockery of the public finance system by using my tax dollars to finance a trial run in the primary, while saving his $94K war chest for the general election. Doesn’t seem so fair and equitable to me,  and certainly not the ethical approach he wants us to believe it is.

posted by: elmhurst1 on June 6, 2013  11:10am

I don’t get the idea of a Democratic primary full of candidates who will run anyways - isn’t that just having two elections? And some of them are charging tax-payers for their first run. So we get to subsidize someone competing for our vote, who will then ignore it if they don’t like the results?

I’m glad candidates like Elicker are in the race, but we already know they’ll run in the general. This primary is when we get to choose who will run against them. So take your pick - Gary or Toni - this is as close to preference voting as we’ll ever get. We get to pick the field for the general election - why not use that power?

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on June 6, 2013  11:45am

Gary is correct on this issue.  If you lose in the primary, you shouldn’t try to take another swipe at it.  This is actually about the candidates INTEGRITY.  They have told us that they are democrats and want to represent the democrats and the wishes of the democratic constituents.  Therefore, if you lose in the primary, you should respect the wishes of the people.  They would have voted and not chosen you.  If you think you won’t win, don’t take public money now only to succumb to the corporate donations you now eschew because it pleases you.  Just run as an indepdenent.  Or at the very least, agree to pay back the Democracy Fund because by the admission of every candidate participating in the Democracy Fund, if you win with outside money you will be beholden to donor interests.  So, there should be some legislation or better moral obligation that requires you to reimburse the citizens you will have cheated out of money.

This is not a desperate attempt by Representative Holder-Winfield by the way.  It is a statement of moral compass, it is rife with economic indications and costs for the City.  Each election and every additional candidate costs the city money to account for.  I’d be much happier if the commentators decided to either be completely moral or admit that they will only choose the moral high ground when it suits their candidate or position.

posted by: ELMCITYPROF on June 6, 2013  12:18pm

I respect Elicker for saying out the gate that he would run in the general election even if he didn’t win the Democratic primary. However, one has to question the efficiency of dumping so much electoral energy and MONEY into primaries given that so many of the candidates plan to run in November “anyway.” Let’s hope the people of New Haven don’t suffer electoral fatigue and/or adopt a lesser of two evils (or 3..or 4…or..you get the point) approach to choosing our next mayor. The stakes are far too high

posted by: kenneth_krayeske on June 6, 2013  12:23pm

Razzie -

Elicker’s primary campaign war chest is comprised in part of $37,440 in public campaign monies from the Democracy Fund. According to Ordinance Sec. 2-830, any surplus monies Elicker has after the primary must be returned to the Democracy Fund. “All surplus public match ing funds, or matching funds used in violation of the requirements of this article, shall be returned or reimbursed to the fund.”

He cannot use public monies to finance his general election campaign.

Kenneth J. Krayeske
New Haven Democracy Fund

posted by: DownTownNewHaven on June 6, 2013  12:51pm

I’m not surprised to see Henry already breaking his first campaign promise. However the real scandal here is the fake democracy fund candidates using tax payer money to subsidies their dry runs.

This 50% democracy fund two-step will effectively put the final bullet in the head of our already embattled public financing system. Shame on Justin and shame on Kermit for making a mockery of public financing. Lieberman should come stump for them both.

posted by: Curious on June 6, 2013  1:05pm

Razzie, Elicker decided to run as an indy in the general after all the Harps, Fernandez’s, and Nemersons of the city popped up out of the woodwork to run when DeStefano stepped down, AND laughed at the idea of participating in the Democracy Fun.

If Democracy-Fund Justin, to whom I have donated, decides to run again because the Dem Fund candidates get trounced by the big-money candidates, then more power to him.

I’ll even donate again, and put your name in the memo field :)

posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on June 6, 2013  1:07pm

I disagree with most of what people are saying here.

From my perspective it appears that the Democrat primary is greatly influenced by parties whose primary interest isn’t the well being of New Haven or its residents.

The mayoral election is largely influenced in this town by people who vote a straight ticket (D).

Whomever big money supports in the (D) primary will win, that person has a 90% to win the main election.  If one had $2M to blow they could probably get Chester Cheetah elected mayor of NH (actually… I should call up Frito Lay).

So in my view between the primary contest and the main election those two chances almost equate to an even shake for someone who SHOULD be mayor actually getting the job.

I think instant runoffs in the both elections would be great to deal with our abundance of candidates.

posted by: Razzie on June 6, 2013  1:25pm

@ Ken Krayeske

Thank you for your explanation. Am I correct in stating:
(1)that if Elicker spends only $37,440 thru the date of the primary as a Democratic candidate, he will still have appx $56,600 to spend on the general election as an Independent candidate; And
(2) He will not be barred from accepting and spending additional private finance dollars?

posted by: Curious on June 6, 2013  1:36pm

Since I am sure that someone is going to respond to Ken and say that Justin IS wasting public money by taking it in the primary and also running as an independent in the general (if need be), I want to point out the following.

Justin declared his candidacy before DeStefano bailed out.
Just declared his candidacy before five of the other candidates in this race.
Justin declared as a Democracy Fund candidate.

It was not until Toni Harp, Henry Fernandez, and Mike Nemerson joined in the race and chose NOT to partake in the Democracy Fund that Justin decided to run again as an indy if they swamped him with their secret, hidden funding.

Spin it however you like, call it a Lieberman two-step, but that’s not the truth.  Justin has been honest this whole time, and is responding to politics-as-usual by staying in the fight despite possibly corrupt money flooding the race.

posted by: westville man on June 6, 2013  2:12pm

Razzie,  i agree that at SOME POINT rules do matter.  But not here. We dont have a legitimate 2 party system in New Haven.  At least at the state and federal level, as a democrat, i can vote republican or even 3rd party at times. 
The rules to which you adhere dont make sense to me given the realities of the city. 
Example- If Harp wins the primary with 20% of the vote, should the other 6 walk away even though hypothetically a consensus behind Elicker or Carolina ends up with 60% in the general? If there were only 2 candidates, i would agree with you. But w more than that, I’d rather have another choice in play. The winner of the primary shouldnt be the automatic winner in the general.  And in New Haven, that’s what would happen if everyone else dropped out.
I also understand the argument about why not just run as an independent.  Because they are dems and many voters, like me, want them to run as such. But i dont blame the others, depending upon the vote count, from staying in for the general.

posted by: Curious on June 6, 2013  2:37pm

Why should Elicker be barred from accepting and spending additional private finance dollars when Harp, Nemerson, and Fernandez are passing around buckets for cash donations in the back room of the Greek Olive from day one?

posted by: Razzie on June 6, 2013  2:41pm

@ Curious
The facts don’t support your statement:

Elicker May Run Twice; Holder-Winfield Won’t
BY Paul Bass | MAR 28, 2013 2:09 PM

At Kick-Off, Harp Vows Principles Over “Politics”
BY Thomas MacMillan | MAY 18, 2013 9:30 PM

Elicker decided to run twice long before Harp, Fernandez or Nemerson entered the race.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on June 6, 2013  2:54pm

Why are these politicians whining about Democratic mayoral candidates running as independents if they do not win the primary? Why is a Democrat running in the general election as an independent being cast as un-American, undemocratic, disloyal and unfair to Democratic voters?
New Haven has been dominated by a dictatorship of the Democratic party for more than 60 years. For most of that time, the Democratic primary has been equivalent to the general election because the Republican party here has been so impotent that there has been no second party threat to the Democrats. The New Haven Republican party recently sent out a letter to Republicans literally begging for candidates to run for office.
This Democratic monopoly will not be broken this year, but the people of New Haven do deserve choices in this mayoral race. If every Democratic candidate for mayor pledged not to run as an independent if they lost in the primary, there would be no need for a general election: the primary winner is the next mayor! Republicans and independents cannot vote in the Democratic primary, so they are the people who are disfranchised in this new Haven oligarchy. So all you whiners need to get over it. Let all run who want to run. Let the primary be the first and not the last hurdle in this race. Allow New Haveners some semblance of democracy in this election.
Real democracy has been dead in New Haven for decades. The people have been the real losers as a result.This is the reason for most of our problems as a city today: government waste, high taxes, inadequate services, bloated city and school bureaucracy, incompetence. The lack of political competition—a second or third party—has been to our peril and ruin as a city. It is not normal. It is not American. It is not right for a city to be governed by one party, but unfortunately we accept it. The thought of it all makes me very sad.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on June 6, 2013  3:07pm

I think Holder-Winfield’s right in this matter.  They should respect the wishes of the voters.  If you can’t beat the non-Democracy Fund candidates in the primary, what makes you think you can beat them in a general election?

And if you are taking taxpayer money from the Democracy Fund and you aren’t going to respect the wishes of the primary voters, why should we even have a primary?  What’s the point?  It’s just a warmup vote?

I support Holder-Winfield because he strikes me as a man of integrity who doesn’t make a lot of bold claims or empty promises about the kind of candidate he is, and he respects the Democratic voters enough not to take taxpayer money to get through two elections.

I also happen to tremendously respect his role in abolishing the death penalty in CT, so I may be a little biased.

posted by: Curious on June 6, 2013  3:31pm

Razzie, thanks for that link.  From it….

“Another announced candidate, Henry Fernandez, has stated that he will not participate in the Democracy Fund, the city’s clean-elections voluntary public-financing system. That means he can collect larger financial donations that his opponents who participate in the Fund, as Holder-Winfield and Elicker have already signed up to do.”


posted by: parejkoj on June 6, 2013  3:43pm

I have never understood the concept of “party loyalty” and “party voters”. Particularly as it pertains to New Haven: as others have said, it’s been a one party town for decades. That’s just not good from a democracy standpoint.

Moreso, the turnout for primary elections is much lower than the turnout for general elections. Do we really want less than 20% of the voting population (who are all by-definition members of one party) to determine the mayor? Recall the 2011 election: Kerekes took ~20% of the Democratic Primary, but 45% of the general. The primary is not representative of the whole.

An instant-runoff or ranked voting system would certainly help in this situation, but that’s a long ways off.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on June 6, 2013  4:00pm

@Thomas - I have no problem with people running as independents or republicans, indeed, I welcome it.  However, when you state that you are a member of a party, sign up for that party’s primary, obtain campaign financing (for those participating in the democracy fund) based on your campaign affiliations, you should then abide by your party’s wishes.  If you only seek the benefit of the primary (being chosen as the democratic candidate) and not the burden (not running) then don’t participate in the primary.  Simply make a stand to call the primary a farce, which is what you are deeming it if you opt to defy its outcome.

Make no mistake, this is not about denying options or choice.  Rather, it is about abiding by the social contract set by the people and the party.  If you’re an independent and believe the system flawed, just run as an independent from day 1.  Don’t decide to be an independent because you’re a sore loser.

Everyone wants to talk about the character of the candidates.  But true character is demonstrated in the face of adversity and abiding by a decision you disagree with if it be the will of the people.  All Elicker and any other candidate who has agreed to ignore the primary results is doing is saying that s/he is smarter than the electorate and does not need to listen to its desire.  Such a person is not fit for mayor but rather monarch.

posted by: streever on June 7, 2013  7:51am

Are we talking about New Haven when we say “the electorate”, or some utopian town where the city is made up entirely of Democrats?

New Haven has a lot—a lot—of independents, and many green party members, who currently have no say. That isn’t right.

New Haven shouldn’t be a one party town, with 14% of the population voting being a watershed moment.

That is how determines the Mayor in primaries: under 14% of the citizens.

New Haven residents deserve to have a vote for Mayor no matter what party they are in.

You’re all mostly missing the point about Lieberman, however.

Lieberman was a problem to party Dems not because he was breaking rules but because he was ignoring Party directives. While I don’t like Lieberman, I think he had the right to run again. I don’t need some insular group of political elites telling me who can be on the docket for a vote. I’m tired of these small circles of people defining what it means to choose and what my options are.

I think every candidate should run as an independent if need be. If you have supporters, they should get to vote for you. The Primary system in New Haven is irrevocably broken. It exists to give Dems a strong candidate against another party: without another party to contend against, it is a sham election instead.

posted by: streever on June 7, 2013  7:55am

Where have all the Democrats gone?
Well, as you must know from your run for State Rep, they seem tired of having their futures and elections defined and determined by a small and insular group of political elites.

The same machine that picked Blango for State Rep because of close ties and patronage is why the Dems are willing to jump ship.

The local party, in New Haven, is a joke. It is a group of work colleagues who profit together, and stand together, regardless of who would or wouldn’t be the best Mayor for democrats.

As long as the local democratic party is so corrupt and patronage laden, you will have a hard time finding principled and energetic people who want to be a part of it.

posted by: DownTownNewHaven on June 7, 2013  9:17am

streever: If Democratic Primary system is so broken then a principled person would only run as an independent. Not run as a democrat then again as an independent. These folks cramming into the Lieberman clown car are all trying to have their cake and eat it too. Not one of them would turn down the nomination if they got it, but they don’t want to be held accountable for the election that they have all of their free will chosen to partake in.

posted by: westville man on June 7, 2013  9:42am


I am a registered democrat and have no problem with it. All the candidates ARE democrats and should run in the primary as such. With 7 candidates, I dont want the primary winner- who may garner only 20% of the vote- to automatically be our mayor.  I want a choice in the general. But I dont expect Carolina, Elicker, and others to DROP their affiliation now in anticipation of losing the primary. Why should they?  One of them might win it.  Harp & Holder-Winfield CANT switch because they are sitting democrats at the state level. 
I’m looking at this through the lense of reality- the 1 party system we now have here in New Haven.  When that changes, I might agree with you.

posted by: DownTownNewHaven on June 8, 2013  2:05pm

westville man: I hope you still have no problem with it after a republican figure out that a 5 way democratic split of the general vote will let him or her walk right into office.

posted by: streever on June 9, 2013  3:52pm

So principled people have to bow out of politics entirely, because a broken and corrupt system is not being challenged by the voters? I don’t think so.

As to the idea of a Republican winning in the general: how many Republicans do you think New Haven has? You’d need a lot more of them than NHV has!

After a primary, you’re going to see some of the candidates step down. Let’s save the doom & gloom scenario for the general IF it happens that 5 Dems all run as independents AND a Republican runs.

posted by: DownTownNewHaven on June 10, 2013  6:24pm

streever: It is pretty simple, if you think the primary system is so broken that you have to run in the general then don’t run in the primary. A principled person would choose one or the other not both. The worst offender of course is Justin who is using tax payers to fund his dry run. At least Henry is a wolf who doesn’t pretend to be a sheep.