Count Keyes In

Paul Bass PhotoNew Haven’s mayoral campaign landscape got more crowded as Judge Jack Keyes has privately let people know that he has decided to seek the city’s highest office.

Keyes (pictured), who is 63 and has been active in New Haven political and civic life since the 1970s, decided after weeks of soul-searching that the time is right to pursue a longtime ambition to serve as mayor, according to numerous people who have participated in the conversations.

That was the latest in a series of decisions among prominent potential candidates this week that began to clarify the emerging mayoral field.

In a conversation Friday Keyes, a Democrat, neither officially confirmed nor officially denied the reports of his candidacy.

“I am constrained by law from discussing a candidacy publicly unless I resign” as probate judge, Keyes noted.

Keyes has served as a probate judge since 1986. He is expected to resign the position in coming weeks.

Keyes’ expected entrance into the race makes even more interesting what has already shaped up as the most hotly competitive and energized mayoral race since 1989. Newhallville state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield and East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker declared their candidacies even before incumbent Mayor John DeStefano announced Jan. 29 that he’s retiring after 20 years in office, an announcement that sparked many other potential candidates to consider candidacies. Former city economic development chief Henry Fernandez and Hillhouse Principal Kermit Carolina have begun gauging support for expected mayoral runs.

Former Chamber of Commerce chief Matthew Nemerson has also made the rounds exploring a candidacy. A Newhallville plumber named Sundiata Keitazulu has filed papers to run as well.

Another potential front-running candidate, Board of Aldermen Jorge Perez, confirmed Friday that he has decided not to run.

And housing authority chief Karen DuBois-Walton (pictured), who seriously considered a candidacy as well at the urging of some prominent New Haveners, is believed to have decided against running.

All the candidates and potential candidates so far are Democrats. The Democratic primary takes place Sept. 10.

Democratic Town Chairwoman Jackie James said Friday that Keyes would be a strong candidate. She noted that his support cuts across racial lines.

“I think he would do well. He’s very well known around the city and the state,” said James, who said she is not backing any candidate at this point. “Historically he has worked with a lot of people. He has great relationships as a probate judge. He has worked with diverse backgrounds.”

Another local Democratic campaign veteran involved in the mayoral discussions and unaffiliated with any candidate also noted the strong support Keyes, who is white, enjoys among African-Americans and Latinos: “Jack instantly becomes the frontrunner. He is the only one who has the bridge” across the city’s various racial and ethnic divides.

On the other hand, this same observer noted that it’s far too early to predict an eventual frontrunner because none of the candidates or potential candidates has run for citywide office before. The ever-important endorsement of the labor-backed campaign organization that won a majority of the Board of Aldermen’s seats two years ago remains up in the air without Perez in the race. Months of debates and endorsements and coffee klatches will determine that question—potentially exposing New Haven to the liveliest discussion of issues in decades, and potentially enlisting hundreds of thousands of new people in the political process.

It will come down to who can convince between an estimated 8,000 and 11,000 registered Democrats to pull a lever, and get them all to the polls on Sept. 14. The mayoral race remains anyone’s to win, depending on hard work and communicating a compelling vision for the city’s future.

For Jack Keyes, that process will be reminding lots of veteran New Haveners who he is, while introducing himself to a newer generation that may have never heard of him.

That’s because much of his work has taken place behind the scenes. A self-deprecating attorney (he has a law practice with state Senate Majority Leader Marty Looney) with an encyclopedic knowledge of local politics of the past four decades, Keyes has generally stayed out of the public spotlight.

At the same time, he has interacted with—and helped—hundreds of families as both a probate judge and a civic volunteer. He also served as city clerk from 1980 to 1986.

In his capacity as judge, he spearheaded efforts to build up a guardianship fund named after his late father (a former city clerk named Thomas Keyes). The fund gives out $450,000 a year to impoverished people who want to take in relatives’ children whose parents can no longer safely take care of them. It is the largest fund of its kind in the state. “As society collapsed around us, with unemployment and drugs and poverty, poor people would come in and say, ‘I want to take these kids, but I can’t afford them,’” Keyes recalled. Hence the fund.

Along with Sens. Looney and Toni Harp, among others, Keyes also created a fund for impoverished potential guardians who aren’t related to the children in question. That fund currently gives out $100,000 a year, Keyes said.

Meanwhile, Keyes was a driving force behind the growth of the Life Haven emergency shelter for women and their newborn children; he served as president of the board for years. He took a public stand over the years in favor of gay marriage, as well, testifying in favor of a series of bills before it became law.

The key issues confronting candidates this year include the city’s current school-reform and community policing drives. Keyes said he “absolutely” supports the idea of school reform, but added that he would not address any specific campaign issues at this point.

He similarly did not say whether he would participate in the Democracy Fund, New Haven’s voluntary public-financing system designed to lower costs, limit special-interest influence and broaden the field in mayoral campaigns. Elicker and Holder-Winfield have both signed up to participate in the Democracy Fund, which offers matching public dollars in return for a promise to limit individual contributions to $370 and swear off donations from outside committees. Candidates who collect at least 200 donations of at least $10 can quality for a $19,000 grant from the fund plus matching dollars. The fund matches the first $25 of donations at a rate of two to one.

In 1982, as city clerk, Keyes proposed a campaign-finance bill to limit all spending, including from outside groups. He said he has been “bitterly disappointed” by U.S. Supreme Court decisions—most recently in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission —that prevents campaign-finance laws from limiting spending and outside special-interest contributions to candidates. He questioned how effective campaign-finance laws can now be as a result. “Citizens United annihilated it,” Keyes said. “Some corporation can write you a check for a million dollars.”

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posted by: DrJay on March 22, 2013  1:19pm

This is welcome news. Jack Keyes will be a great mayor. He combines experience, savvy , and great compassion for the less fortunate.
If only he wasn’t such a Red Sox fan….

posted by: anonymous on March 22, 2013  1:36pm

Interesting. Keyes uses the exact same line as DeStefano does on the topic of campaign financing.  Is he expecting huge checks from the hundreds of big city contractors who live in the suburbs?

Unfortunately for Keyes, any candidate who does not participate in the Democracy Fund will be immediately disqualified from consideration by progressive voters.  Let’s hope that he participates.

posted by: Noteworthy on March 22, 2013  2:34pm

He sounds like a great guy with a compassionate and accomplished background. However, it is hard to see a party insider and the guy behind the curtain reforming and transforming City Hall. Will the patronage dump end? Will we have a balanced budget that is not paid for by relentless tax increases and budget games of the past? Will the city’s payroll not look like an employment agency but reflect what we need and not who knows whom? How would somebody with all these alliances in politics break the cycle, or would he? Or, will he simply continue present practices? Lots of questions, and answers I hope he’ll answer if he makes it official.

posted by: ElmCityVoice on March 22, 2013  3:49pm

Jack Keyes is a breath of fresh air. He’s a people’s choice candidate. He’s never acted out of ego. He’s lived in New Haven all his life and what you see is what you got. He’s trustworthy and stands by his word. He’s approachable and thoughtful. He’s our man!

posted by: Fair and Honest on March 22, 2013  5:03pm

>the Democracy Fund, New Haven’s voluntary public-financing system designed to lower costs, limit special-interest influence and broaden the field in mayoral campaigns<

I welcome Jack Keyes to the race—but he needs to commit to the Democracy Fund to show he is dedicated to running a clean campaign without special interest money. 

I know the Democracy Fund paperwork is a hassle, but running a clean, transparent campaign is really important!

posted by: Razzie on March 22, 2013  5:19pm

Judge Keyes, if he decides to run, would surely be a breath of fresh air for city administrative politics. He is known by many across the city, and uniformly regarded to be a man of integrity and compassion, and is not thought to be in need of using the position as a stepping stone to greater rewards. More than anyone else, he is capable of bridging the gap between the city’s many different stakeholders and bringing us together to address our common ends. Jack’s no newbie ... but I would hardly hold his years of experience against him.

posted by: getyourfactstraight on March 22, 2013  6:33pm

No one can measure up to Jack Keyes. He is of the highest integrity,smart, considerate, knows this city inside out and what it needs.
As far as the democracy fund, I am more concerned that he gets elected. If folks want to make an issue out of that, so be it, but we need a good man, a man of his word and hands on. That is Keyes 100%. Finally as a taxpayer I feel very hopeful once again about New Haven. I’m with you Judge Keyes all the way!

posted by: factsifter on March 22, 2013  6:43pm

I always thought that the purpose of the Democracy Fund was to grant money to potential candidates for Mayor to help finance their campaigns,  and that they couldn’t accept special interest money as part of the Democracy Fund Grant policy.  Why would the fund give money to a candidate who could raise funds on their own. I am a progressive voter, I support the candidate who supports New Haven as a whole.  I really don’t care if he/she participates in the Democracy Fund?  Who is best for New Haven as a whole is the most important quality in a candidate and I wouldn’t hold his/her choice not to participate in this fund against them when I vote. To think that if candidate chooses not to participate in the Democracy Fund , that they would be beholden to special interest groups seems pretty presumptuous to me?  Just sayin.

posted by: Truth Avenger on March 22, 2013  8:27pm


posted by: beyonddiscussion on March 22, 2013  9:30pm

This is very good news for New Haven. Judge Keyes will be a great mayor. He’s personable, smart, good-hearted, a consensus builder, and a guy who knows and loves New Haven. He will be hard to beat.

posted by: Noteworthy on March 23, 2013  7:41am

Just looking at the comments already positioning and shielding Mr. Keyes from participating in the Democracy Fund, there seems to be a an effort to have him tap the network of special interests, city contractors and employees who provided DeStefano with $760,000 in the last election. They say it’s about winning.

It’s not. Keyes championed public financing presumably on the belief that the marketplace of ideas should be as important as the money that backs them. DeStefano believed in it until he couldn’t do the paperwork accurately or on time and completely abandoned it when he got in a dogfight with Jeffrey Kerekes and faced the real possibility of losing. The contribution list for DeStefano is a who’s who of hangers on, city contractors who count on their supplications to win fat contracts.

So the bottom line is this: If Keyes is as good as those who post here say he is, if the strength of his ideas and integrity are that robust, then run as a Democracy Fund candidate and depend on those relationships and ideas to win the day. Failure to do so will send a strong signal that what Keyes believes is as thinly sourced as DeStefano which means what voters can expect from his administration will mirror the last 20 years. That is the last thing we need.

posted by: Stylo on March 23, 2013  11:14am

I would like to know more about his positions, especially on budget spending, city planning, and economic development. But he does seem to be the most electable candidate thus far given his experience.

posted by: amay47 on March 23, 2013  12:30pm

A Red Sox fan in this Yankee-obsessed town?  He has got my vote!

posted by: getyourfactstraight on March 23, 2013  12:56pm

Noteworthy, you apparently do not know Judge Keyes at all. This mayor and his administration just love that people like you come forward with negative comments about this wonderful man. However, you are entitled to your inaccurate opinion. I would suggest to everyone that supports Judge Keyes not to bother going rounds with you as I won’t.

posted by: RCguy on March 23, 2013  12:58pm

Noteworthy for Mayor!

posted by: robn on March 23, 2013  1:20pm

Jack Keyes may be portrayed in this article as a man of “honesty and integrity” but there’s something he and other Johnny-come-latelies have failed to display and that thing is guts. Only two people stepped up to challenge Mayor DeStefano this year BEFORE he announced retirement and those two people were Justin Elicker and Gary H Winfield.

posted by: HhE on March 23, 2013  1:33pm

Well said, Noteworthy .

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 23, 2013  2:51pm

posted by: robn on March 23, 2013 1:20pm

Only two people stepped up to challenge Mayor DeStefano this year BEFORE he announced retirement and those two people were Justin Elicker and Gary H Winfield.

Do you homework.Sundiata Keitazulu was before both of them.

posted by: HhE on March 23, 2013  9:09pm

Correction:  only two REAL candidates stepped up.

posted by: robn on March 23, 2013  10:28pm


I stand corrected. The number of gutsy candidates (measured by their willingness to challenge an entrenched incumbent) is indeed 3 (and that number continues to exclude Jack Keyes).

posted by: stan maclachlan on March 23, 2013  10:32pm

Jack Keyes is a great person and he has integrity and compassion. Don’t question a person’s guts until you have walked a mile in their shoes. Perhaps you can show some by posting your name.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 24, 2013  1:43am

posted by: HhE on March 23, 2013 9:09pm

Correction:  only two REAL candidates stepped up.

Correction: Your Opinion.

posted by: Truth Avenger on March 24, 2013  3:51am

New Haven voters standing at voting booths to cast their votes, will not care or remember when candidates announced. They will be voting on what candidates bring to the table. The City and the election process is better served by having more candidates in the field. We should welcome every voice and then make informed decisions about who is best for the job. When is the first debate?

posted by: AMDC on March 24, 2013  9:18am

New Haven badly needs someone who is CLEAN. By that, I mean untainted by the corruption that swirls around our city like a tornado funnel.  Even though a novice candidate will be attacked viciously by all the patronage-seeking blood-suckers,  only someone new can come in to save this city.  And the people must gather around this person to protect them from those who will not give up their power without a fight.  These are tough days coming and I pray that enough good people will not stand by and do nothing.

posted by: ElmCityVoice on March 24, 2013  9:29am

robn and anyone else who holds the johnny come lately analysis of good leadership:  First is not always best. There’s something to be said for reflection. The fact that Jack Keyes waited to think over a major decision that will impact all New Haveners is good not bad. Guts? I don’t think ambition and good “timing” necessarily means guts. There are many candidates who are still assessing whether their contribution can help their city thrive. The term Johnny-come-latelies is ridiculous. Should we really care when someone announces or do we care whose the best candidate to come out of the pack? I’d like to hear what all the candidates have to say before coming to a conclusion.

posted by: getyourfactstraight on March 24, 2013  11:38am

Agree with you Elmcityvoice!

posted by: robn on March 24, 2013  1:00pm

SM and ECV,

The timing of one’s announcement is absolutely relevant to the discussion of a candidates intentions. Announcing prior to entrenched Mayor DeStefano’s announced departure signals a willingness to take some personal risk for the benefit of our city. Waiting until after that announcement signals to me one of two possibilities; the first possibility is the opportunism of an outsider who was unwilling to go toe to toe with Mayor DeStefano. The second and much worse possibility is someone who is part of the old guard power structure who deferred to Mayor deStefano but now feels entitled to take his place.

posted by: beyonddiscussion on March 24, 2013  1:28pm

Johnny come lately?! Give me a break. It’s only mid-March. And the question is who has the experience and skill set to do the best job as Mayor. Who can bring the whole city together to govern during these tough times. Kudos to Kerekes who ran 2 years ago and got 45 percent. He showed the desire for change and the Mayor’s vulnerability.

posted by: HhE on March 24, 2013  2:05pm

“He either fears his fate too much, or his deserts are small, that dares not put it to the touch, to gain or lose it all.”

Gary and Justin took such a risk.  Justin in particular, risking not only his seat on the BoA, but also as facing retribution from an entrenched incumbent known for getting back at people who had crossed him. 

It is not to say Judge Keyes lacks the necessary courage to be mayor, but he did not dare it all.  For many of us voters, this is significant. 

Unless Mr. Keitazulu was risking city contracts by running, he was not taking a meaningful risk.  (Certainly, Mr. Dawson’s run against the mayor did him no harm—but we know how that played out.)

PS.  HhE stands for Harold Holmes Ellis.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on March 24, 2013  2:10pm

I welcome this new candidate and the idea that we will have more smart choices.
Seems like this election is taking an other turn out. This next term of mayor in New Haven is going to be very difficult to manege. So many changes that need to get done that is truth but how do make them for the best of the community? 

Usually I like to read and respect robn comments because usually sounds to me the he has knowledge in history (New Haven’s) Not this time. I don’t think the “guts” get you and help you completely to get the job done.

Be wise and patient is very easy to say but actually doing it it take years of hard lesson in life to become “wise and patient”.

At this time of the game that’s what we need a mind capable to sit back and take actions for a change. I’m very interest to hear and learn more about this new judge mayor candidate.


posted by: anonymous on March 24, 2013  5:54pm

Johnny come lately is absolutely accurate, because silence is an acceptance of the status quo.  All it takes for evil to persist is for good men & women to say nothing.

posted by: formercommish on March 24, 2013  6:03pm

Wow, Jack Keyes for Mayor, best news for New Haven in years. Jack Keyes is everything that John Destefano is not. If you all know Destefano then I need not comment further on that. As a former commissioner who was not reappointed because I didn’t do the Mayors bidding, I am glad to see that we will be getting a Mayor with ethics. Mayor Keyes will slowly but surely get rid of the incompetence that currently runs the City of New Haven. I have known him for many years and he is someone of high integrity. With Jorge Perez out of the race he will surely support Jack Keyes and with that support will come the support of the unions. This will help in getting all these pretenders out of the race. I am looking forward to November when New Haven will finally get a Mayor that will put the City on the way back from the fiscal mess they are in. Time to do more than build new schools, time for a real Mayor, GO JACK GO!

posted by: factsifter on March 24, 2013  6:22pm

Though every candidate has a great deal of thought in their decision to run for Mayor and I would not want to show any disrespect to any of them. I have to ask ...What risk? One is pulling a Lieberman, not risking his current elected position, to run for Mayor.  The other is a alderman, there are 30 of them,logical step if you are an ambitious politician, still has his job if he is not successful.  The other still has his business if he is not successful..  Now if you are a smart politician, you sit back and measure your competition. When you have a love for New Haven and realize that you can do a better job, you decide to enter the race.  Keyes is risking more than the other 3 candidates. If he loses, he is the only one out of a job!  That implication of same old politics with keyes, you obviously don’t know New Haven that well and the non relationship between keyes and Destefano

posted by: Edward Francis on March 24, 2013  8:43pm

If Jack Keyes is a lifetime resident of the City of New Haven - he is certainly not a “Johnnie Come Lately” as several commenter’s have indicated.  Living in the city for decades with great knowledge and experience of how city government should run puts him in the spot light as a prime candidate for the Office of Mayor. The other two candidates also have track records but will their shortgevity in the city be an issue for voters. I look forward to the debates

posted by: why! on March 24, 2013  11:41pm

Nice guy but he represents the old old guard Who are struggling to remain relevant. Lets move forward 20 years not back 40. I hope Fernandez runs!

posted by: cedarhillresident! on March 25, 2013  9:03am

Keyes is a good guy. But reality check people….you tap into special interest money you owe special interest, not the people. It is that simple. Has nothing to do with how nice a guy he is. If you really want to be a mayor of the people the democracy fund is the proof that is what your intentions are.

posted by: anonymous on March 25, 2013  9:18am

Needtoknowmore - Agree we need to move forward 60 years, not go back 20 years.  Look at energy costs and the fact that large sections of the city will soon be underwater.

posted by: Truth Avenger on March 25, 2013  9:20am

Some folks here are engaging in the politics of severe distraction. Some are lobbing irrelevancies focusing on process rather than policy, ideology rather than ideas. Others want to make this about age, suggesting that youth trumps the kind of wisdom and experience a Keyes victory might bring. The desire to talk about anything but the needs of the city and the vision for the city suggests partisans feel threatened by new faces entering the race and want to diminish those new faces with bogus charges about entering the race “late.” I want to know what the candidtates will do to stem “taxflation,”  what their vision is for real education reform with Mayo gone.  What is the vision for developing languishing assets like the harbor front, and key parts of neighborhoods across the city?  How will the new Mayor secure the fiscal viability of the city going forward? Those are just a few of the things I would like to see discussed here rather than the hysterics some are trying to whip up- thin partisan issues that do not ultimately benefit the citizens of the city.

posted by: Curious on March 25, 2013  9:29am

Special interest money and the Democracy Fund are VALID concerns.

That’s not divisive.  That’s not a margin issue, or a cheap shot.

It’s a valid concern in modern democracy, and an important one.

Trying to deny this fact is cheap politics, coming from people who want to leverage as much money as they can, no matter where it comes from or what they have to do to earn it.

posted by: robn on March 25, 2013  9:39am

A 26 year probate judge is eligible for a pension that’s something like $55,000 plus Social Security, plus medical benefits, so we can pretty much take the “risk” thing off the table for Judge Keyes.

Suggesting that latecomers to the race may be either weak or with ulterior motives related to the old guard isn’t bogus; it just is what it is.

posted by: Curious on March 25, 2013  9:57am

Make no mistake, I am an Elicker supporter, but if Justin chose not to participate in the Democracy Fun, I would have serious reservations about voting for him and would probably support another candidate.

Lastly, I do think it’s important that Justin and Gary declared early because they were declaring themselves as opponents of DeStefano and all his political muscle.  That’s a bolder move than coming into the race after the incumbent has declared he will not run, and it shows a certain level of courage and motivation that the more newly-declared candidates did not.  If you want to argue that the recent candidates shouldn’t have that held against them,. fine, but you yourselves shouldn’t try to take it away from Gary and Justin, because they showed boldness and willingness to take action.  Those are positive qualities and you should not try to take that away because your candidate didn’t do the same.

posted by: HhE on March 25, 2013  10:09am

Each of us have our own criterion, issues, values, and views to guide us as we choose who we will support (and how much support we will give) and vote for.  At the end of the day, we are ultimately accountable to our selves. 

In the posts of the NHI, I have read a lot that dismisses not only the expressed views of others, but the posters and their perceptions as well. 

What I have not read much of is posts that address the concerns expressed by one person or another. 

For me, the entry of Gary and Justin before the incumbent stepped down says a lot.  The reason I support both of them is I know both of them (I consider us to be on friendly terms, but I would not be so bold to say we are friends—both fail the “I’ve been in their house, they have been in mine” test, albeit Gary did give me a ride home the other day.) and they have very good values.  I opine that both have articulated a very good vision for New Haven.  They both have very relevant experience, and are bright and energetic.

I do not need a candidate to be a life long resident of New Haven, any more than their age is important so long as they have the stamina and depth of experience necessary (youthful exuberance vs. elder gravitas; both have an upside). 

I need a mayor who knows all the players (I do not, but I think all the serious candidates do), that understands the problems New Haven faces (I have more than a clue), and can and will change the course of the city. 

If a candidate chooses not to participate in the Democracy Fund, that for me is not an automatic dismissal—but only if they run their campaign as if they were a participant:  ideas not dollars, no large donations, and no pay to play.

posted by: Curious on March 25, 2013  10:12am

Robn, are you serious?

“A 26 year probate judge is eligible for a pension that’s something like $55,000 plus Social Security, plus medical benefits”

So a judge gets 1/3 of the pension that Mayo gets.  Wow.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on March 25, 2013  11:14am

We are still in the early stage to know better all the candidates and as the time past we all are going to hear things may be controversial or learning more about what the accomplishments they done.

Depending how “wise”, smart and open for discussion they will manege criticism, and how well and realistic young candidates will present their modern points of views. That’s how we are going to know if age, idealism or passion of about the irresponsibility will guide them to get the job done for the benefit of ALL ethnic group that we live in this city.

I like Justin but, I feel it will be very irresponsible with my self, if I just run and support him without giving me the chance to see my other choices and what can be even worse at the middle of the race “I change my support” after I learn that was some others options. 

For last, I don’t see the point to argue the two first candidate “declare” earlier they interest, remember they are “applying” for a job that is going to be paid. But is you are worried that if you speak your mind before time and it’s going to be consequences; the answer is yes, but it also they will need some help in the run to get the job done. Both requires risks.

The benefit for the early birds is they have and early start.

posted by: Concerned Citizen's Friend on March 26, 2013  3:37pm

Jack Keyes was never a part of the DeStefano team. He’s one of the few people who disagreed with Mr D for the past 20 years! He is his own person and not part of the old guard!  Congrats, Jack if you do decide to run!

posted by: david m. lesser on March 27, 2013  9:47am

Jack Keyes has been an excellent public servant for many years—a man of integrity, intelligence, sound judgment, good common sense. He will be an excellent mayor, and I plan to support him. Sincerely, David Lesser

posted by: tommy on March 28, 2013  1:23pm

Nobody who knows Jack would connect him with DeStefano.  When his friend, Marty Looney, ran for mayor, Jack publicly supported him against DeStefano , even tho it’s a political sin to primary an incumbent. DeStefano has hated Jack ever since. He’s tried to find candidates to primary Jack for probate judge, but has been unable to find someone willing to take on such a popular judge.

Jack is the real deal. Like his father, he treats the homeless person with the same, or more, respect as the CEO.