Read His Lips

Thomas MacMillan PhotoIn front of two video cameras in the backyard of his East Rock home, then on the campaign hustings, Matt Nemerson sought to single himself out as the one mayoral hopeful promising he will not raise taxes, period.

Just like a manufacturer that can’t raise its prices, the city has to increase “productivity” to attract investors, Nemerson said.

In numerous takes, Nemerson (pictured) improvised variations on that message Thursday, generating footage his campaign will edit together into the first TV ads of what has become New Haven’s most hotly contested mayor’s race in years.

Nemerson is one of seven Democrats running to become the next mayor of New Haven. Two-decade incumbent John DeStefano is stepping down at the end of the year. The primary election is on Sept. 10.

Thursday was a busy day of campaigning for Nemerson, the 57-year-old former president of the Chamber of Commerce. After filming the TV spot in the morning, he campaigned door to door at downtown businesses, where he got an earful about parking problems downtown. Nemerson, who’s chair of the board of the New Haven Parking Authority, offered several possible solutions, including connecting smart parking meters to a mobile phone app that would let parkers know what spots are free.

Returning to home to his campaign headquarters in the afternoon, Nemerson trained three new campaign volunteers and sent them off to Westville to spread the Nemerson promise: No new property taxes. Period.


Nemerson has made a point of declaring that he alone is not “pandering” to people as he tries to win their votes in the campaign. He has promised not to say just what people want to hear rather than be up front about tough choices elected officials must make.

He was asked if pledging in advance not to not raise taxes during his first term as mayor could be seen as the very definition of campaign pandering, as some have argued since then-President George H.W. Bush declared, “Read my lips: No new taxes,” and a generation of office-seekers proceeded to issue variations on that cry.

He’s not pandering at all, Nemerson, said. Rather, he is requiring the the city to work more efficiently.

“What’s missing in government is the pressure to be more productive,” he said. By deciding up front that the city won’t raise taxes, Nemerson said, he will ensure “a dialogue about productivity and being customer-facing.” Knowing that the city won’t have more tax revenue to work with, the government will have to be more efficient, he said.

A Yale MBA, Nemerson peppered his campaign pitches with business analogies, often comparing New Haven to a company that has to compete for a share of “the market.” He refers to the “real world” of business, where competition means you can’t raise prices on your product. Companies have to deliver more with less; and New Haven will too, without raising taxes, Nemerson argued. As he portrayed it, New Haven is competing on a global stage, fighting to have businesses set up shop here, rather than anywhere else in the world.

“I’m Not Going To Say That”

Nemerson said he’s not looking to be a politician in the mold of other business-minded elected officials, like George W. Bush, who was touted as the first MBA president. Nemerson said the difference is that he doesn’t think government is the problem. “It’s part of the solution,” he said.

Government can create predictability for investors by, say, declaring it won’t raise taxes, he argued.

“You have to hold some constants steady,” Nemerson said into a Canon video camera on Thursday morning in his leafy backyard of his house on Huntington Street, where he lives with his wife and two daughters. Once you decide not raise taxes, it creates a “whole different dialogue,” he said.

“Stop, stop, stop, stop,” declared Mark Cestari, the campaign’s communications director, cutting Nemerson off after a few minutes of ad-libbing. “You’ve got to do these in shorter chunks.”

Nemerson started over. “I’m a progressive guy. … I believe in government. I believe in taxes.” His words petered out.

“Say, ‘Taxes are a necessary evil,’” Cestari suggested from the deck overlooking the lawn. West Hartford videographer Tom Virgin (at right in photo) adjusted his cameras and lights.

“I’m not going to say that,” Nemerson said. He started again. “Let’s talk about taxes. … Look businesses around the world don’t have the option of raising prices.”

“This is a key point,” Cestari said, during another break in filming. “The market sets the price.”

Nemerson talked about using technology to increase productivity, calling for “relief on some work rules” to get more out of city employees. Again and again, he returned to the word “productivity.”

“How do we grow?” he asked the camera. Two ways: productivity and new investment, he said. And new investment comes from increased productivity. “People want to be with winners.”

Asked later about specific ways the city could be more productive, Nemerson said, “I’m not going to go there right now.” The specifics would “evolve out of discussions that can come later.” He did say that the city could move more services online, to keep people from standing in line.

Nemerson also declined to specify ways he might have trimmed to avoid a tax increase in this coming fiscal year’s budget, which will raise property taxes by 7.7 percent. “I don’t want to get into this year’s,” he said. “This is something that you have to get involved in a year ahead of time. I’m not going to start second and triple guessing people who have been in the process already.”

Filming in his backyard, Nemerson moved on to soundbites about education and crime. He praised the “experimentation” of charter schools and called for cops to work more closely with other city departments, like by reporting signs of blight to the Livable City Initiative.

“Good. It’s a wrap,” Cestari finally pronounced.


Mayoral candidates Justin Elicker and Henry Fernandez declined to comment on Nemerson’s choice to film TV ads, and also declined to say if they’ll be doing the same.

“He’s filming a TV commercial already?” said Jason Bartlett, mayoral candidate Toni Harp’s campaign manager. “Interesting strategy. Maybe he should wait until he qualifies?” Nemerson will have to petition his way onto the primary ballot if he’s not endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee.

Bartlett said it’s a little early to hit the airwaves: “People want more intimacy. 30-second soundbites is not what we’re looking for.”

Nemerson said the campaign will put video spots on the internet and on local-access TV. “I have to make sure people know who I am,” Nemerson said. Although he has lived in New Haven for 30 years, “I’ve been doing state stuff for the last 10 years.” Since 2003, Nemerson has been president and CEO of the Connecticut Technology Council, a tech-business advocacy group.

“I’ve been reduced to this caricature of ‘former Chamber prez,’ with a z,” said from behind the wheel of his Prius sedan, one of three in the Nemerson family. After the video filming, he’d changed into a gray suit and open-collared shirt, and headed toward town with campaign manager Matthew Zagaja and Jane Snaider, the campaign’s “head of special events.”

“My differentiation in the race is I come to the election having spent all these years trying to sell New Haven,” Nemerson said. In the 1980s, that meant selling tech businesses on the idea of Science Park, the business complex at the old Winchester factory, he said. (He served as vice-presidnet of the Science Park Development Corporation.] After that, he served as president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, boosting New Haven business.


“For me, this is a little deja vu,” Nemerson chuckled as he walked up Chapel Street after parking the Prius near the Green. He used to walk door to door at New Haven businesses in the 1990s as chamber prez.

He stopped first at the New Haven’s Taste of China, the new restaurant on Chapel between Temple and College streets. Owner Huping Dolph (pictured) said she has another restaurant in Clinton. “People only complain about parking here,” she told Nemerson.

“I’m head of the parking authority,” Nemerson told her. He suggested getting some maps showing customers where all the parking in town is.

After greeting Mayor John DeStefano, who was having the sea bass for lunch, Nemerson offered more suggestions for how to tackle parking problems downtown. Free parking is a bad idea, he said. You have to charge, to get the turnover in parking spots. Parking options should be “integrated with the marketing of restaurants.” Business websites should link to the parking authority and create coupon programs for parking. Marketing would get people to know the options, and help with the “psychological” shift visitors need to make. People “have a sense that parking should be like in Branford,” free and abundant. But New Haven is not Branford.

Part of the problem is “the uncertainty” of parking availability, Nemerson said. The city should have a mobile app that will tell people in real time where spots are available, he said.

Nemerson walked west on Chapel and stopped in Idiom clothing boutique, “one of my wife’s favorite places.” Like Dolph, owner Kimberly Pedrick (pictured) said parking is a problem for her business.

Next was Raggs, the men’s clothing store. “I’m a Raggs guy,” Nemerson said as he walked in. He was wearing a new suit and shoes recently purchased there.

“Parking is an issue,” said owner Tom Maloney (at right in photo). Nemerson mentioned maps, links to the parking authority website.

Stopping at Peter Indorf jeweler, Nemerson picked up his wife’s pearl necklace, the clasp of which had been repaired.

At Enson’s clothing store Nemerson again discussed parking woes. And he spoke about neighborhoods beyond the downtown. He said New Haven needs to develop its “ethnic and historic neighborhoods” as other cities are doing, he said. He mentioned Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood, thriving home to Cubans and other immigrants.

Outside of the soon-to-be home of a Panera cafe on Chapel Street, Nemerson heard a different take on immigrants, from a United Illuminating employee named John, who was upset about the 3-mill property tax hike in the coming fiscal year. “The illegals,” he said. “We’re paying for them too.”

Nemerson called that “not accurate.” He said, “The real issue is investment. How to get more people to invest in New Haven.”

“Tell Yale they can’t expand” unless they give more money to the city, offered Joe, another UI worker.

“I want Yale to expand,” Nemerson replied. New residential colleges at Yale will bring more investment into the city, he said.

Following a pattern, the conversation returned to parking. John said he and his wife don’t like to come into town because of the threat of a parking ticket.

Inside Atticus cafe and bookstore, Nemerson found owner Charles Negaro eating his bakery’s toast at the counter, reading David Kennedy’s The Modern American Military on his iPad. Nemerson praised him as an entrepreneur who started a bookstore, a cafe, and a bread company.

“It’s all about responding to the market,” Nemerson said.

“Too business school for me,” Negaro said of that assessment.

On the subject of parking, Negaro pointed to two buses parked in front of the Yale University Art Gallery, taking up several spots. Something should be done about that, he said.

Nemerson riffed on a walkie-talkie system whereby tour buses could drop people at the gallery, then wait for a pick-up call from a parking location outside downtown. He said the city should work more with the gallery, make a plan for tour bus visits. “It’s a small point,” he said. “But we can be responsive.”

Just before 3 p.m., Nemerson headed to City Hall, where he fulfilled his duties as chair of the parking authority with a closed-to-the-press signing of a set of deed transfers and easements between the state, city, parking authority and developer Carter Winstanley, paving the way for the construction of 100 College St. at Downtown Crossing.

After doubling back to New Haven’s Taste of China for some Kung Pao shrimp, Nemerson returned home, where three new young campaign volunteers were waiting for him. He gave them a short synopsis of his “philosophy”: New Haven needs to compete with San Diego, New York, China, India. He said a key message to communicate during door-knocking is “we can’t raise taxes anymore.”

“The big thing to remember is that Matt Nemerson will hold the line on property taxes,” coached Zagaja, the campaign manager.

Previous “On The Campaign Trail With The Candidates” coverage:

Elicker Dives Into Dixwell
Holder-Winfield Walks Miles In His Wing-Tips

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 31, 2013  1:32pm

Reading his platform.This guy is a one percenter and a up hold of the corporate plutocracy.

posted by: OhHum on May 31, 2013  1:34pm

“West Hartford videographer Tom Virgin (at right in photo) adjusted his cameras and lights.” Are there no video production companies in New Haven or New Haven county. oops!

posted by: anonymous on May 31, 2013  1:38pm

Which candidate is going to come out and promise a 10% cut in property taxes?

Parking is a non-issue. The most vibrant and job-rich areas on the planet all have serious parking problems, that by comparison, make New Haven look like the parking lot at IKEA.  Complaints about parking are probably a good indicator: 1) more complaints = more people are coming = higher rents and more jobs, 2) more complaints = businesses don’t have more important things to complain about. The best way to address parking concerns is to increase density, by making the streets more hospitable to people who don’t drive and by adding better public transit options.

posted by: oldtimer on May 31, 2013  1:42pm

I have lived and loved New Haven for my entire life, close to 60 years, chose to work ad live here. I have paid high taxes and lived with sub par city services for soon time. I would like to know from Mr. Nemerson and the other candidates, Specifics as to how they plan to deal with the impending bankruptcy of the city, the failure of the Police Department, to make any impact on the crime situation, yes I know that statistics presented by the administration show it down but the fact remains it will return to its higher rate with a Police Force that has no long range plan, and has failed in the first rule of Community Policing, making the people of the City feel secure, most do not. What are the specific plans, I would love to know if I should finely, cut my losses now and bail from New Haven.

posted by: Curious on May 31, 2013  1:51pm

Is that a Prius in the driveway?

posted by: FacChec on May 31, 2013  2:05pm

Matt, holding the line on tax increases is a noble objective to achieve in one’s first term in office. Technically, you could do that but, at your own peril.
“(After greeting Mayor John DeStefano, who was having the sea bass for lunch”).
Since you met with J.D. for lunch you should have asked him if it were possible to limit tax increases next year, he hasn’t accomplished that task in all his twenty years in office, not one single year.
J.D. might have advised you that coupled with his pipe line being full for the next five years with down town projects, and, 3 or 4 more union contracts to resolve, that it just ain’t happening.

Advise# 1: If you want to improve parking downtown you might want to start with the exorbitant parking meter rates and the extended weekday and Saturday late hour meter charges. That alone will increase visitor participation.

Advise# 2: City hall employees do not produce a product, they are not on a work factor standard, I do not see how your approach will work especially since no one is every evaluated for performance.

Finally, advise# 3. You have started your campaign on a higher order level, with no when to go if it fails, than the voters in New Haven want to, or, are willing to understand. The BOA who must pass your program, they are accustomed to just want more…they have been lead to believe that more is better. I want more…?

If you push for more Yale expansion to increase revenue, forget it…Yale dictates what it will pay and when they will pay it.

posted by: Nathan on May 31, 2013  2:58pm

When choosing between the options of a frequent NHI commenter vs. merchants that have direct real world experience with issues, I would tend to favor the latter.  Parking is an issue - more debatable is how to best fix it.

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on May 31, 2013  3:35pm

Threefifths, Agreed.

anonymous, “Which candidate is going to come out and promise a 10% cut in property taxes?” The one that comes out and promises to get Yale to _commit_ to a reasonable payment to the city. Yale’s voluntary payment to the city in 2011 was ~$8 million; if it paid property taxes, it would owe something like $80 million. Taxes on everyone in the city could be cut, wages & benefits for city workers would not come under attack, truly public transportation in the city cutting across neighborhood boundaries could be prioritized, and locally-owned business in the city _independent of Yale_ could be encouraged with the surplus.

posted by: anonymous on May 31, 2013  3:38pm

Nathan, here is how to fix the issue.  Removing parking spaces and replace them with park spaces, in the areas that are the most congested. 

Chapel Street would be a great test case. Remove half the spaces and narrow the street, adding space for street vendors, parklets, plantings, bumpouts, mid-block crosswalks, and cafe tables. It would cost the city almost nothing.

Doing this will cause more people to linger in the area. It will cause people to spend money - by some studies, about three times more than what they currently spend. Most importantly, it will cause fewer people to complain about parking because they’ll enjoy walking 5 or 10 blocks to their destination that much more.

Parking is an issue because there is too much of it.  Make the city more livable, and the “issue” disappears.

posted by: Esbey on May 31, 2013  3:42pm

Nathan, of course you are correct that merchants really are hearing complaints from their customers about parking, as you say the question is what to do about it.  If you cut rates and enforcement, then all the parking spots will be filled up all the time.  Then merchants will hear the complaint “there is no parking, I couldn’t find a spot!”.  Right now, rates are moderately high and enforcement is very tough, so you hear the complaint “I found a spot but I got a ticket!”  If you solve one of these problems, you create the other. 

A smartphone app really would help, if the city can arrange for one relatively cheaply.  Ideally, it would text you when your meter was about to expire and would let you add time.  Also, tell you where there are open spaces.  Maybe allow merchants to e-mail you a “virtual parking coupon” to pay for parking when you make a purchase.  Even better, allow time of day pricing, so that rates drop (maybe to “free”) when there are a sufficient number of open spots but increase as spots become scarce.

posted by: Razzie on May 31, 2013  3:56pm

As the Chair of the Parking Authority for years, why hasn’t Nemerson suggested these parking solutions before his campaign for Mayor?

posted by: Anderson Scooper on May 31, 2013  4:09pm


Kind of weird correcting someone with your moniker, but DeStefano was actually a fiscal conservative upon taking office, and he held the line on property taxes for his first 4-5 years in office. (Not that anyone took notice…)

So I guess you owe Mayor DeStefano half an apology.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on May 31, 2013  4:42pm

Governments are not business entities and should not be run like businesses.  A government for the most part cannot fail (see, however, City of Vallejo).  When businesses fail, a new business will sprout up in its place or the industry has died.  I’m not certain we want to take that approach with government. 

As for his lack of response on how to not raise taxes, it shows how insincere he is about the issue.  The City’s budget has been released.  He must have ideas about what he would want to cut or he has just doesn’t want to tell the public because he is pandering.  Either way, I’m not impressed.

Nemerson is a nice guy, but thus far he has not proven himself fit to be mayor of New Haven.

posted by: Webblog1 on May 31, 2013  6:08pm


I looked up the word Moniker, the dictionary describes it as:
mon·i·ker or mon·ick·er (mn-kr)
n. Slang
A personal name or nickname. So I’m not clear why or how my handle FacChec used as you say, as a correction, is “Kind of weird”.

Matt could easily confirm with J.D. that since 1994 the budget spending has increased either by mill rate, by property assessments, or a combination of both during the same year, up to and including the new 2014 budget.

I owe the Mayor no apology.

posted by: DownTownNewHaven on May 31, 2013  6:36pm

Nemerson for Mayor: I’ll make the sausage, you watch.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 31, 2013  8:34pm

It’s an admirable goal not to raise taxes and I don’t think it’s pandering to make that pledge. One never knows what efficiency the city can achieve because frankly, nobody has tried. Oh, they talk up recycling and changing companies on healthcare claims and such, but then they spend the savings and raise taxes and spending so you never see the benefit. The city needs a serious technology upgrade - not necessarily computers for city workers. I mean delivering services on line - from complaints to paying your taxes and parking fees; from ordering a garbage can to filing a complaint against the police department to getting a copy of an accident report.

And we need to drive down head counts - police and fire are grossly overstaffed by at least 30%. The fire department needs serious re-organization with fewer trucks and more ambulances. They should treat and transport. We don’t need to roll the fire department and then wait for AMR to show up and rape our insurance policies. One 2 mile ambulance ride, no bandages, no IV, no nothing is $627. It’s outrageous. AMR is a for profit operation that is enabled by this city to rip off its citizens while the fire department drives a truck to and from. That’s a ripoff.

You start to think outside the box on this stuff, with a promise not to raise taxes - I think you could do it. It’s about carry through and that will take focus, and commitment. But it’s possible.

posted by: HhE on May 31, 2013  8:48pm

Curious, I think that is some sort of two place rag top, maybe a Toyota or Honda. 

There is nothing wrong with a Prius that a V6 could not fix.

posted by: darnell on May 31, 2013  9:43pm

I’d like to know the positions of Toni, Henry, Matt, Gary, Kermit and Zulu on the sale of the city streets to Yale.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on May 31, 2013  11:13pm

Nemerson is the only candidate that has come out and talked about not raising taxes and the need to get more productivity out of city employees. The pensions and outdated labor rules will bankrupt the city. The problem is that the unions have bought the aldermanic elections, and there is no cohesive organization left representing the new haven taxpayer. The only way a pro-growth pro-business candidate could win the election would be to assemble an alternative to the current slate of alderman. Unfortunately that takes time and six months simply is not enough time.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on May 31, 2013  11:26pm

He’s right about productivity. I’ve been trying to get a dead tree cut down on Elm Street since August 2012. In the last 10 months the Parks Dept has come on three separate occasions to tag the tree for removal. Over that time period they cut down 6 trees (on 6 separate days) within a two block area of the tree I want removed. They of course left the stumps behind. They then made another 5 separate trips to remove the stumps. 1 stump remains. It’s a complete joke. The City would do well to put the tree-trimming and removal operation out to bid and remove it from the grasp of the unions.

posted by: HewNaven on June 1, 2013  6:00pm

On the subject of parking, Negaro pointed to two buses parked in front of the Yale University Art Gallery, taking up several spots. Something should be done about that, he said.

I did a spit-take when I read that. This guy is hilarious!

posted by: Anderson Scooper on June 1, 2013  6:44pm

@ Webblog1/FacChec—

You are quite wrong, and shouting louder will not change that fact.

Here’s a quick exercise in reality:
Pick any address, click on real estate, let the account load, then proceed to check out the historical tax bills.

What you’ll see is that property taxes remained completely flat from when DeStefano took office in 1994 up until 2001.

In the future please get your facts straight! Thanks. And you still owe Mayor DeStefano that apology.

posted by: Elm City Resident on June 2, 2013  9:21am

@Anderson Scooper: Read the link.  Sounds like you are right. 

@blog1/Check: Everyone makes mistakes…it’s okay to admit you were wrong.

Also, you write “Advise# 2: City hall employees do not produce a product, they are not on a work factor standard, I do not see how your approach will work especially since no one is every evaluated for performance.”

How do you know that the City Hall employees aren’t evaluated on performance?  Public sector jobs aren’t protected from public scrutiny so when evaluations of City Hall employees are published in papers and online, there’s no wonder that City Hall managers feel the need to limit their feedback (so they don’t embarrass an employee that might need to perform better).  I’m not saying that public sector jobs should be protected from public scrutiny but I think we’d agree that we want folks at City Hall who work hard for New Haven and do their best, and that requires evaluations that will allow for honest and critical feedback that aren’t subject to public scrutiny.  If the evaluations of these employees were confidential, it would allow for more honest and critical feedback.  (For example, teacher evaluations in CT are required to be based on performance and they are confidential.)  That said, I’m not sure that City Hall managers aren’t evaluating employees based on performance but we’ll never know, will we?  That is, of course, you are a City Hall employee that hasn’t been evaluated based on your performance.

posted by: Curious on June 4, 2013  1:35pm

@ NewHavenTaxTooHigh,

Have you contacted your alderman?