Amid Fernandez Fans, Elicker Sticks To Message

A one-time lion’s den became a room of new opportunity for independent mayoral candidate Justin Elicker.

Elicker came to the living room, on Woodside Terrace in Westville, to pitch his candidacy Sunday evening to some two dozen people who formerly supported someone else against him in the mayor’s race, former candidate Henry Fernandez.

He asked their help in recruiting independent voters to help change “politics as usual” by winning the Nov. 5 general election.

“I really appreciate your support if you previously supported Henry,” Elicker said.

Instead of altering his message to tell the crowd what it wanted to hear, he kept to themes he has emphasized since hitting the trail last winter—themes that failed to win over that crowd the first time around. As the mayor’s race has entered its final phase, Elicker has a second chance to win over skeptics like this crowd; he cannot afford not to win them over.

Unlike in the primary, he no longer has to convince voters he’s the best candidate amid a pack of choices. He has to convince he’s better than the one alternative, or at least not as objectionable.

Elicker, a second-term East Rock alderman, was one of four (winnowed down from an original seven) Democrats who competed in the Sept. 10 Democratic mayor primary, seeking to succeed retiring 10-term incumbent Mayor John DeStefano. State Sen. Toni Harp won that four-way primary with about 50 percent of the vote. (See results here.) Elicker came in second and is continuing to run in the general-election as an independent; the other two candidates have dropped out of the race rather than run as independents.

The Woodside Terrace home, of former Westville Alderwoman Ina Silverman, served as Ward 25 campaign headquarters for one of Elicker’s opponents, Henry Fernandez, during the primary. Ward 25 proved Fernandez’s strongest base of support, the only precinct out of 30 in the city that he came close to winning. Harp came in third in the ward.

Since the primary Elicker has worked doggedly to bring Fernandez supporters to his side. During the primary, many Westville and East Rock voters were indeed trying to decide between Elicker and Fernandez. (Read about that here.) They received a direct-mail appeal from the Fernandez camp (signed by eight supporters, four of them living in Westville) stating that Elicker “has a fine future but he lacks the broad support necessary to win this election and the experience to be mayor.”

That was then.

Many in the room Sunday have already switched their Fernandez lawn signs to Elicker lawn signs, part of an autumnal switch from navy blue and orange to baby blue and white. Others came ready to be convinced. As one attendee put it before Elicker spoke, “I probably will support him. I want to know what I’m supporting.”

Elicker Math

Elicker (pictured) claimed that his campaign has discovered that “the vast majority” of Fernandez supporters “are saying that they’re now going to support me in this race.”

Then he did some math for the room—to prove the theorem that he remains a “viable” candidate worthy of their volunteer efforts and financial support.

“There’s this question of how do I win, right? Toni Harp has an incredible amount of institutional support. She’s got every politician and her brother that’s endorsed her. She has a lot of money coming in,” 70 percent of it from people who live outside the city, compared to the 80 percent of (usually smaller) donations coming to Elicker from city dwellers.

Still, Elicker argued, he can win.

“I’ll go through the numbers with you,” he said. “I got 3,400 votes in the primary [3,417 to be exact]. And we’ve talked to a lot of our supporters that voted for me. There is virtually zero wavering of our support because I happen to be running [now] as an independent. Because everyone knows that I’m a Democrat. And they care who’s going to be our next mayor.”

Fernandez received 2,784 votes in the primary. Elicker expressed confidence that most of those votes will come to him in the general election.

The fourth primary candidate, Kermit Carolina, has since endorsed Elicker and campaigned with him in the black community, where Elicker, who is white, received scant support during the primary. Elicker said Carolina (who is African-American) has helped him “broaden our message” and expressed the hope he’d receive a “decent” amount of Carolina’s 1,195 primary votes against Harp (who is African-American) in the general election.

If, for the sake of argument, Elicker were to receive, say, 80 percent of all the Fernandez and Carolina votes, that would up his total to 6,600. He’d still lag behind Harp: She received 7,327 votes in the primary. She would presumably pick up at least some Carolina votes.

But that does put Elicker within striking distance. Meanwhile, he continued, the real prize lies in the voters who didn’t get to cast ballots in the primary: some 2,500 Republicans, but more importantly, the 18,000-odd registered unaffiliated voters. (“Wow,” a member of the audience remarked when Elicker cited that figure.) He argued that his message of a “new politics” will appeal to that group more than Harp’s establishment-backed campaign.

“The percentage of votes that Toni got overall in New Haven is 16 percent of all New Haven voters. Eighteen thousand voters have not voiced their opinion in this election,” Elicker argued. “So our challenge as a campaign is reaching as many people as possible and encouraging people to vote, particularly people that have previously not voted because they said, ‘This is politics as usual.’”

“New” Vs. “Old”

Paul Bass PhotoTherein lay a challenge for Elicker Sunday night: The room was full of people who loyally supported the campaigns of incumbent Mayor John DeStefano. Elicker launched his campaign before DeStefano announced he will retire. He defined his campaign as a means of changing the way city government works. He defined the DeStefano administration as the epitome of politics as usual. He overtly criticized the mayor for overseeing a government with a “pay-to-play” reputation for development, a government closed to different viewpoints and public input, a government that has failed the city in many ways. In the primary, Fernandez had the loyal support of Democrats who approved of DeStefano’s stewardship of the city and wanted to see a similar experienced government manager continue in the same vein.

Sunday night, Elicker made a point of portraying Harp—an 11th term state senator, backed by incumbent politicians, municipal labor unions, donors who do business with the city—as the politics as usual candidate. (Harp presents herself as the more experienced candidate who can bring together diverse groups of New Haveners.)

But Elicker didn’t change his portrayal of the DeStefano years in order to pander to his hoped-for newfound friends.

As he has throughout the campaign, he referred to the “perception”—real or not—that developers and other business people must donate to mayoral campaigns to obtain city contracts or property; he promised to “eliminate the idea that you have to pay to play in New Haven.” He said he decided to run for mayor because “I was frustrated by some of the policies I saw happening at the municipal level. There were a lot of people around the city feeling their voice was not being heard.” He criticized DeStefano’s school system for lacking transparency.

And Elicker emphasized the importance of public financing of campaigns. In the primary, Elicker participated in the city’s optional public-financing system, the Democracy Fund, under which mayoral candidates receive matching money in return for limiting individual contributions to $370 (rather than $1,000) and forswearing donations from outside committees. Elicker has agreed to abide by those rules in the general election even though he can no longer qualify for matching dollars. Fernandez did not participate in the program; nor has Harp participated. Nor did DeStefano in the 2011 election.

He didn’t dump on DeStefano. He didn’t dump on Fernandez. But neither did he ignore or walk back from his previous criticisms.

One former Fernandez supporter, Max Stern (at center rear in photo), asked Elicker to elaborate on his point about school transparency. Elicker cited complaints over the years about lotteries for spots in sought-after schools like Hooker. “There were people who were able to jump the line” because of a lack of popular understanding of arcane rules; as an alderman he succeeded in pushing for changes to that system, as well as to basic enrollment procedures. He also spoke of how holding Board of Ed meetings at central school system headquarters shut out the public, since most people find it hard to park there or even locate the room. (He didn’t mention that the new schools superintendent, Garth Harries, has moved Board of Ed meetings to Career High School for that reason.”

Silverman asked Elicker how he plans to work with the Board of Aldermen, most of whose members support Harp.

Elicker claimed that he already collaborates with other board members.

“Every single person on the board now is a Democrat, and we vote pretty much unanimously on every decision that comes before us,” he said. He said he sometimes “pushes back” when he feels the board hasn’t conducted business in the open, such as in its selection of charter revision members. He has had occasional policy differences, such as when he supported a plan, shot down by the majority, to explore bringing a trolley downtown.

But he said that overall he shares the labor-backed board majority’s three central goals: safer streets, more youth programs, and more jobs for New Haveners.

“We will together. If I get elected mayor, I know I need the Board of Aldermen,” Elicker said. “If I want to get anything done, and they want to get anything done, we have to work together.”


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posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on September 30, 2013  4:04pm

A tough sell at best. Fernandez has long standing relationships with people in New Haven as he has been a life long resident. And although Henry did not get the nomination the value of those relationships is not something one can acquire with promises, vague plans, insincere handshakes, phony former primary rivals, or claims of competence. That competence has to be seen in action for years in New Haven, and this is what Elicker lacks. Secondly the man claimed he was a Democrat, and when the voting Democrats made their decision he dumps on that choice, and quickly becomes and “independent”. Again an example of how Elicker handles situations that don’t go his way. What would it be like to have a person like this as a Mayor? He lacks character.

posted by: FacChec on September 30, 2013  4:21pm

The fantasy:
If, for the sake of argument, Elicker were to receive, say, 80 percent of all the Fernandez and Carolina votes, that would up his total to 6,600. He’d still lag behind Harp: She received 7,327 votes in the primary. She would presumably pick up at least some Carolina votes.

No candidate for Mayor has ever won 80% of any vote from any party.

The reality:
2,500 Republicans, and 18,000-odd registered unaffiliated voters.

In the 2011 Mayoral primary 13,397 or 29% of Democrats voted.In the 2011 General election for mayor 16,134 or 25% of all voters actually voted.

If 80% of the eligible voted in the 2011 Mayoral election that would equal 51,508 voting.

That goes to show how an 80% get is a high bar to scale under any vote scenario.

posted by: darnell on September 30, 2013  4:24pm

@JustAnotherTaxPayer, soory, but you just have it just plain wrong. Fernandez is not a life long resident of New Haven, he came here for college and has since stayed. He has spent perhaps half his life here. Just saying. BTW, as a disclaimer, I have not supported nor endorsed any candidate, I just like to see the facts correctly stated.

posted by: anonymous on September 30, 2013  4:25pm


Combining all filings reported to the Independent, Elicker received over 1,100 contributions from people who actually live in New Haven.

Carolina and Harp tied for second place, at 407 New Haven donors each.

If Carolina was a “phony” primary contestant from New Haven, then Harp was too.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on September 30, 2013  4:30pm


What do you think of someone who says they absolutely will not run for office unless struck by lightly, endorses one of their colleagues, and then turns about-face and announces their candidacy a couple days later? This type of behavior shows a greater lack of character, in my opinion.

The mayoral race system in New Haven is inneffective for a city that is heavily democratic. If one does not run as a Democrat, they lose out on participating in debates and lack the exposure to voters that is necessary to win in the General Election. It just isn’t wise to run as an Independent or Republican from the get-go.

Also, I thought Henry Fernandez moved to New Haven in his 20’s to attend Yale Law School, no?

posted by: Razzie on September 30, 2013  4:36pm

Did Justin get a chance to explain about his stint in the George Bush State Department, and how he has failed to repudiate any of the foreign policy initiatives of his boss. He changes positions so quickly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cheney were to come to New Haven to endorse.

posted by: LoveNH on September 30, 2013  4:45pm

The numbers tell us that this election is going to be quite a horse race!  That is, unless JustAnotherTaxpayer is right that this election becomes one about character rather than special interests. If only this were about character… Harp wouldn’t even make the ballot.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on September 30, 2013  5:00pm

Elicker is going to win this thing, much to the surprise of the patronage wing of the Dem party.

Three weeks ago Harp won 50% of the primary vote. Elicker nearly 25%. If you split up the 25% of the remianing vote, giving Harp 40% and Elicker 60%, it puts Harp up among registered Dems, by only a 60-40 margin. And that’s not going to be enough for her!

Fact is Justin will clean-up among Unaffiliated voters. They’re unaffiliated for a reason, and they’re not going to break in favor of the Dem machine candidate, whose family remains CT’s biggest tax delinquent.

But the kicker will be the 4000 New Haven voters who actually voted for Tom Foley in 2010. How many of those fiscal conservatives will vote for Harp? How many against?

My prediction is that November turnout will be approach the 24,000 votes recorded in the last gubernatorial. Meaning it’s going to take about 12,000 votes to win. My belief is that Harp won’t be able to find enough non-Dems to build a coalition to get there.

Bottom line is that without her family tax problems, Toni would be our next mayor. But those unpaid taxes, (coupled with her immodest house), are going to sink her ship. Which is the reason she was reluctant to join this contest in the first place.

posted by: TheMadcap on September 30, 2013  5:17pm


He made the argument he might get 80% of Fernandez and Carolina supporters from the primary, not get an 80% turnout in the general election

posted by: TheMadcap on September 30, 2013  5:21pm


Do you really think everyone working for the state department or any federal department must be someone who supports the siting president? Good god. There are currently around 8-9,000 foreign service officers, do you think they’re all Obama supporters?

posted by: DownTownNewHaven on September 30, 2013  5:46pm

Justin’s math is absurd. Henry’s voters already proved that they value experience and qualifications over democracy fund demagoguery. And 18k new voters are not showing up in the general, mostly just the same voters and couple thousand independents, most of whom think that they are D’s anyway.

posted by: Champ358 on September 30, 2013  6:26pm

Another campaign ad from the New Haven Elickependent.

posted by: robn on September 30, 2013  9:31pm

Where to begin..,

RAZZIE, justin held a civil service job, not a political appointment.  You’re Counter factual as usual.

FACHEC, your math is bad. As you wrote our last primary was only short @ 2000 votes from the previous general election. Justin will pick up many Fernandez and Carolina supporters and tap a vast reservoir of independents who don’t buy the Harp BS and more importantly, dwarf the entire vote count from the last general election (DTNH, you underestimate the amount of disgruntled democrats sitting it out as Independents waiting for a good and truly democratic candidate)

JATP, let’s have a conversation about character after the Harp family pays the state one million dollars in back taxes, a bill that has inexplicably lingered for years while other people go to jail for lesser crimes.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on September 30, 2013  10:19pm

I find it funny, LITERALLY, that people are on here trying to say why a person should not be running for office.  If you think that a person is not qualified for the office they seek, don’t vote for them.

But, unless a candidate is running illegally, what is the point of saying that they shouldn’t be running at all?  Doing so makes you shoukd desperate and scared for your preferred candidate.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on October 1, 2013  1:48pm

All I have to say is

GO JUSTIN GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You have my vote!