Peace Household Split On Mayor’s Race

Melissa Bailey PhotoAs crowds descended on her home to support Henry Fernandez, hostess Allie Perry welcomed visitors with her homemade guacamole—and politely stood her ground in support of a different candidate in the mayor’s race.

Perry stood by as her husband, Charlie Pillsbury, hosted a campaign event at their East Rock home for mayoral candidate Henry Fernandez. Perry is supporting Justin Elicker in the race.

Elicker and Fernandez are among four candidates—along with Toni Harp and Kermit Carolina—competing in a Sept. 10 Democratic primary to replace outgoing 20-year incumbent Mayor John DeStefano.

Perry and Pillsbury’s divided household emphasizes a phenomenon among their social circle and around town: Voters are finding themselves split between several good candidates.

As in any American election, candidates and their supporters have spent time attacking each other and presenting some voters with a lesser-of-evils choice. The debate in the Perry-Pillsbury household reflects a different dynamic at play for the many New Haveners this year who know and have worked alongside some or all the candidates: They know them. They respect them. They believe they have solid records of public service. They’re struggling to choose among the better of good choices rather than the lesser of evils.

Pillsbury, a former New Haven Green Party town chair, one-time Green U.S. Congressional candidate, and longtime peace activist, organized a meet-and-greet with Fernandez for about 30 people Thursday evening in his and Perry’s 1890s Queen Anne Victorian home on Saint Ronan Street in the Prospect Hill section of East Rock.

He walked out the front door, which is decorated with a peace-sign-shaped wooden wreath, and greeted visitors around 6 p.m. The first visitors came from the peace-themed congregation he and Perry belong to, Shalom United Church of Christ. Pillsbury said even within his small congregation of about 30 people, there are supporters of each of three candidates: Harp, Elicker and Fernandez.

He and Perry both listed those three as excellent choices.

“What a win-win-win,” Pillsbury said. “When have we had this choice?”

Pillsbury welcomed visitors Thursday evening with a choice of San Pellegrino, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or Ruffino Orvieto wine.

Perry added a batch of her homemade guacamole to a table of appetizers, which included hummus, pita chips and deviled eggs.

Thursday’s event, co-hosted by Jamie Cohen and Fran DeToro, drew about 30 voters to Pillsbury’s living room. The guests, including former city parking chief Paul Wessel and former Fair Haven Community Health Clinic head Katrina Clark, gathered near arched windows in the home, which was restored after a fire gutted it in 2008.

Pillsbury introduced Fernandez to the crowd. He said he met Fernandez when Fernandez was the executive director of the youth agency LEAP. At the time, Pillsbury was the executive director of another not-for-profit in town, Community Mediation. Pillsbury announced that he supports Fernandez so strongly that after 12 years as a Green, he switched his party registration to Democrat in order to vote in the Democratic primary.

Pillsbury kept Fernandez on a tight time schedule as the candidate introduced himself and took questions from voters for an hour. Among his remarks, Fernandez (pictured) announced a proposed solution to the city’s pension problem. And he recounted how he joined city government in 1998 to take over the administration’s troubled neighborhood anti-blight agency, the Livable City Initiative (LCI). “I was asked to come in and clean that up and rebuild confidence in city government,” the candidate said.

Fernandez spoke of how he worked at City Hall for five and a half years, as LCI chief and then as economic development director. He left in 2004 to start his own firm that consults with progressive not-for-profit organizations.

After the hour-long appearance, Pillsbury urged the crowd to donate to Fernandez’s campaign.

The he recounted how he came to that position.

Pillsbury (at right in photo with Jared Clark) said he and Perry started out the mayoral race supporting Gary Holder-Winfield, their state representative . Holder-Winfield was the second candidate, after Elicker, to jump into the mayoral race. He has a strong track record on progressive issues, such as leading the charge to end the death penalty in Hartford and opting in to the public-financing system as a mayoral candidate.

Between Elicker and Holder-Winfield, Pillsbury said, “I thought Gary had the experience and the vision.”

Perry and Pillsbury even hosted a campaign event for Holder-Winfield at their home.

Then Pillsbury changed his support. The day Fernandez joined the race, Pillsbury called Holder-Winfield to report that he was now supporting Fernandez. (Holder-Winfield has since dropped out of the race and backed Harp.)

Pillsbury said he has known Fernandez since Fernandez was a student at Yale Law School. “The kind of experience and resume Henry has is second to none,” he said.

“I ran an organization as a small-non-profit. The city is a huge non-profit,” Pillsbury said. “If I were to hire an executive director to run a huge non-profit, I’d want someone with executive experience and management experience and experience running a city.”

He also cited Fernandez’s “commitment to social justice” and to kids.

Perry (pictured) is a therapist, Yale Divinity School grad, former pastor of United Church of Christ on the Green, and longtime peace activist. She said she agrees with Fernandez’s positions on policy and thinks he has a “great track record” in city government and at LEAP.

But Elicker swayed her support based on one major issue, campaign finance. Elicker is participating in the city’s Democracy Fund, which rewards candidates with public grants in exchange for refusing to accept money from corporations and political action committees, and holding to a lower cap on individual donations. Elicker and Carolina are participating; Harp and Fernandez are not.

“I’m really tired of money in politics,” said Perry. “I support anyone who’s willing to promote getting money out of politics.”

She said that same reason led her to refuse to support self-financed Democratic candidate Ned Lamont for governor in 2010. Pillsbury supported Lamont; Perry back Dannel P. Malloy.

Perry added that the Democracy Fund promotes participation of New Haven voters in the political process. As of early August, Elicker reported that 77 percent of his donors hailed from New Haven. A New Haven Independent analysis in July found that Elicker had far more local donors than Fernandez and Harp.

Perry said she knows Elicker from the Yale Divinity School dog park, where she walks her English shepherd, Dani. Elicker, the alderman in East Rock’s Ward 10, takes his dog, Captain (in video), there. She said she respects his work with the Friends of East Rock Park (FERP). Lately, she’s been keeping up with his 75 solutions, posted daily on his campaign website.

“As I learn more about him, I like his ideas. He seems really smart,” she said.

Pillsbury’s first experience with Elicker was working against him in an aldermanic campaign. Pillsbury supported Green East Rock Alderman Allan Brison; Elicker challenged Brison and won.

Since then, Pillsbury said, “I’ve come to respect Justin a great deal.” He said though he was never Elicker’s constituent, he and his neighbors “often heavily depended on information from Justin because our alder was not as communicative.”

Pillsbury said he respects Elicker’s work organizing neighbors to fix up East Rock Park, “a place I go every day of my life.”

“I think that he should stay on the board,” Pillsbury said.

Pillsbury said Toni Harp has been in a “critical” role for New Haven in her 20 years as a state senator. “Toni’s been very supportive of Community Mediation over the years. I have a good relationship with her. I have a lot of respect for her.” But “I think Toni should stay in the state senate, where we need her,” he added.

“I just think that Henry is the most competent and qualified,” he said. “He’s the person I’d hire, if I were on the hiring committee—and I am!” Voters are all on the hiring committee in this election, he said.

Perry said she has never met Harp nor worked with her. “While I respect the work she’s done in the Senate, in some ways she seems more like the conventional party candidate, because everybody’s lined up to support her,” she said. 

“I’m ready for what I think is some new and more inventive ideas,” Perry said.

Harp “has been great in the senate. I think it would be great to have her continue there,” she added.

Perry couched her disagreement with her husband over whom to support as a good sign—a sign that there are a number of good choices this year.

“It’s been valuable for the community to have much more public discussion and airing of the issues. That’s healthy for democracy,” she said.

“In the end, whoever people choose New Haven will have a good mayor,” said Pillsbury. “They’re all good.”

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posted by: anonymous on August 26, 2013  9:01am

Good piece. Fernandez and Elicker are qualified and have a lot of energy and good ideas. This was eminently clear from the debates.  I am seeing a lot of split families between those two.  Meanwhile, Harp was woefully underprepared for the debates and, while she may be a well known legislator working with Looney, her record in Hartford has been quite bad for New Haven on the whole, e.g. on Keno and many other issues that damage our city. She is by no means qualified to run a city, especially given her personal tax issues in the 1990s, and her continuing issues with a family that has the largest ourstanding tax bill in the entire state, and her highly offensive comments about the mental health of people with a gambling addiction/disability. 

You won’t see a Harp sign together with a Fernandez or Elicker sign.

Perry rightly points out about 80% of Elicker’s money comes from New Haven, whereas only about 20% of Harp and Fernandez’s money does. Who will the latter two be beholden to?

posted by: citoyen on August 26, 2013  10:06am

The latest mailing to arrive from the Harp campaign offers the feel-good yet empty statement, “Toni Harp understands the value of hard work and having a stable, good-paying job.” And then, printed in red, I find, “That’s why Toni Harp’s the only candidate with a plan to help everyone who wants a decent.”

Um, I believe the word “job” is missing at the end there.

Who writes something like this? More interestingly, who proofreads it? And even more so, who authorizes something like this to be distributed?

Is this kind of carelessness an indication of how a Harp administration would govern?

Little things are indicative.

I’m willing to agree with Pillsbury and Perry that with either Elicker or Fernandez New Haven may have a good mayor going forward.  But to include Harp in that category is too much of a stretch.  As Anonymous says, she is woefully underprepared.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 26, 2013  10:27am

Not you Charlie Pillsbury.Say it is so.Henry Fernandez who Feeding at the Corporate Trough.Take a look at his money backers.This is the same Henry Fernandez who is not for term limits.He is also for Charter School.So it any so Charile.

posted by: Indigo on August 26, 2013  10:32am

I’m with Allie. At least two more features distinguish Elicker from Fernandez:

1) Temperament. Justin brilliantly listens to others’ ideas and concerns and integrates these issues, identified at the grassroots, into his policy priorities and proposals. By contrast, Henry’s track record at city hall is one of arrogance and poor listening. The only ideas that seem to matter are his own. Yes, Henry has some good ideas. So does Justin. But only one has the ability to engage people across the city in refining ideas and helping to make them into realities.

2) Local Engagement. Elicker is rooted in his neighborhood and deeply engaged with other neighborhoods throughout NH. Henry, on the other hand, doesn’t attend neighborhood meetings (his own or others’). He was nowhere to be found before he started running for mayor. It’s no surprise that the June 30 filing showed just 10 donations to Henry from his own zip code, including 1 from his wife. Fernandez talks a lot about Fair Haven, but there’s not much local love. I wonder if Pillsbury would support Fernandez if he lived around the corner and had never participated in a single neighborhood activity pre-mayoral race.

For those of us who want a mayor to listen to us, and to know our communities from the ground up, the choice is clear.

posted by: grounded on August 26, 2013  10:56am


You may be right that Fernandez and Elicker are the better candidates but at the end of the day all that will matter is this:

Neither could put aside his ego long enough to put aside his candidacy. 

Neither can win so long as the other is in this race so Toni Harp will be our next mayor.  Thank your buddies Elicker and Fernandez for that.  You can bet the Harp camp is thanking them for it and laughing all the way to City Hall while they do it.

posted by: Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil on August 26, 2013  12:21pm

I love to see such division.  Keep it up.

posted by: Billy on August 26, 2013  12:23pm

Well said, Citoyen.

There have been so many examples of small details missed throughout Harp’s campaign.  They have been sloppy from the get-go.  I’ve always taken that as a sign of assuming they will coast into office, and don’t have to do much to earn our votes.  I think this will translate into not listening to us if elected.

And, good point, Grounded. 

I fear that you are absolutely right.  Justin is polling better.  Henry ought to bow out, and take a job within the Elicker administration.

posted by: grounded on August 26, 2013  12:43pm


It doesn’t really matter who’s polling better.  The people voting for Elicker, if Elicker were to drop out, wouldn’t disperse.  They absolutely will not vote for Toni.  They’d overwhelmingly, other than the very very few (single digits) staking their ground 100% on campaign finance so they’d have to go with Carolina, end up with Henry.  What matters is who has the potential to expand the current combined Elicker/Fernandez voting base.  I think that’s probably Fernandez but I don’t feel strongly about it.

My larger point though is that both are too arrogant to consider joining someone else’s camp.  And that arrogance is meaningful, it says something about their ability to play nice with others and to put the City above their own ambitions. 

So while I have questions about Toni’s mayoral campaign, I’m not losing any sleep over the fact that neither of these two arrogant men, one of whom I will probably vote for, is going to be our Mayor.

posted by: westville man on August 26, 2013  12:44pm

Too bad the hosts and posters are forgetting that Carolina is in the race and is a democracy fund candidate. I predict that there will alot of surprised people waking up on September 11-  because they move in world where a Carolina victory doesnt seem possible.  That world may become a bit unsettled on election day.

posted by: anonymous on August 26, 2013  1:01pm

Westville: It is laudable that Carolina is participating in public finance. No truly progressive voter would consider a vote for one of the two “Big Money” candidates, whose financing almost entirely comes from out of town, when they have the option of voting for either Carolina or Elicker, almost all of whose funding comes from people who actually live here.

Also, Carolina’s debate performances were generally better than Harp’s, but that’s not saying that much.  Listen to each candidate respond to public questions a few times, and it becomes clear that Elicker and Fernandez are the most qualified and energetic candidates, even if Carolina may have the most progressive stance on several important policy issues.

posted by: citoyen on August 26, 2013  1:10pm


Let’s wait and see.  It is probably too early to jump to conclusions.

Elicker, Fernandez, and Carolina presumably all have long futures ahead.  I agree about the ego thing, especially in Henry’s case.  But let’s see what the primary results turn out to be.

The Harp people are trying their utmost to create the impression of inevitability.  Her victory may or may not happen.

If it does, let’s see who comes in second, and by how much.

At that point, a very smart thing for the two at the bottom might be to withdraw in favor of number 2, so as not to split the anti-Harp vote.  Get rid of Toni now—and then wait for the next time around.

If Harp wins in November, the next time around could come sooner than later for numbers 3 and 4.

In any case, both Elicker and Carolina have said they don’t think any mayor should serve more than 8 years.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on August 26, 2013  1:24pm

@ Billy totally agree.
Elicker is what the city needs right now (post JD). And I am shocked that Henry is not bowing out. Remember Henry is mostly financed by outsiders to. My major worry is that he to will owe everyone but the people that live here. Now that is not saying that he is a bad candidate I have been paying attention and he has earned some respect from me since he started. 
And someone said he has grown since he has had his child, he is not the same Henry. Which I can believe but we have not had enough time to see if old Henry is in the past and staying there.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on August 26, 2013  1:27pm

@ Un-Grounded—

Fairly comical that you think either Elicker or Henry should drop out, before anyone actually votes. Where in America does the system work that way?

What will happen is that the primary voters will have their say, the votes will be tabulated, the results announced,—and then the individual campaigns will make their decisions about whether to continue.

However, I do agree that Toni likely does not have a majority of New Haven voters behind her come November. Too many people fear that she hasn’t the fiscal discipline to be put in charge of the City’s budget woes.

posted by: westville man on August 26, 2013  1:43pm

Anonymous-  thanks but you mean “clearer” to you that they are more qualified and energetic.  I can tell you that to me- a 15 year resident with a small business here in New Haven for over 30 yrs- that Carolina is the most qualified. His resume says so and so do hisa actions & experience.
My point was that alot of these East Rock and Westville folks travel in circles that are isolated from the rest of New Haven and they will be surprised when they see how others think of Kerm and how they vote.  We’ll check back with each other in 16 days or so.

posted by: grounded on August 26, 2013  1:43pm

@ Anderson Scooper

Where in the real world?  Well, for example, here in New Haven.  Certain people with the ability to marshal lots of resources sat down together and said, “Who should we run in this race?”  They picked one, flawed though she might be, and ran with her.  Do you think that if Marty Looney had wanted to run, Toni Harp would have run also?  If Jorge Perez had run, would Toni Harp be in this race? Of course not, that’s ridiculous.

But there is a segment of the New Haven community that is too bound up with “independence” and being right all the time to understand that working in teams, in partnership, is all that matters in getting things done.  Why on earth were Gary Holder-Winfield, Justin Elicker and Henry Fernandez all in this race at on point?  That’s crazy.  They were cannibalizing each other’s support. Gary understood that and dropped out and did what he had to do to preserve his political future. 

Look, obviously, they all have the right to run.  But they’re not entitled to be Mayor, even if they are smart and well-read and well-connected and well-spoken and lots of people in New Haven give them money, unless they can pull together the machine to win.  And I don’t think they can.  Maybe they could have if they had teamed up.

posted by: westville man on August 26, 2013  1:47pm

BTW, @ NHI, Carolina holds a meet n greet with 35 or so attending last night and Fernandez has one in East Rock w 30 people. Fernandez’ is still has top billing in todays paper while Kerm’s is 5 stories down on the left column. Seems a bit unfair to this Carolina supporter.

[Editor: Thanks for the feedback. I knew folks would be upset today about two candidates getting longer story. Our feeling is that over the course of the campaign some campaigns have events that receive longer stories on some days, sometimes because they’ve made more news, sometimes—as in these cases—where they present the opportunity to write about a larger point. But it evens out over time. We ran two full-length top stories on Carolina in one week earlier in the campaign, when he did the walk through Dixwell, and when he encountered about public financing; both those stories offered the chance to explore longer points and tell people both about Carolina and about challenges of public financing. At the time commenters sympathetic to other candidates accused us of turning the site over to the Carolina campaign at the expense of others. We are committed to covering all the candidates at length and in full; I’d ask people to try to view the campaign coverage as an 11-month process, not as a one-day snapshot.]

posted by: anonymous on August 26, 2013  2:34pm

I find the accusations of “too much coverage”  to be hilarious, but also somewhat frightening. 

If other cities had a newspaper that covered backyard fundraisers and sidewalk campaigning, America wouldn’t be in such a mess.  Heck, most of America doesn’t even have sidewalks or neighbors.

The scary part are the accusations coming from whose who seek to de-legitimize the free press because they recognize it doesn’t spew their pre-approved Unite Here / DTC propaganda about job pipelines and “community policing” in a city where the reality is that unemployment and violence continue to rise.

posted by: Hieronymous on August 26, 2013  4:01pm

Two points:

(1) Grounded is pretty much spot on, except that it doesn’t seem too late after the primary for Henry and Justin to join forces. If the result is something like 40-30-20-10, there’d be a lot of pressure for 20 and 30 to join forces. Whether they would or not is a good question, but one we don’t have to be so fatalistic about before the primary yields its results.

(2) I’ve now seen complaints from supporters of all four candidates (including, ahem, me) about the NHI’s coverage and prioritization. That’s a pretty good sign they’re doing it right. But, because I just can’t help myself, a half-hearted complaint: I don’t think either the Harp tax issue or the Carolina grade-tampering issue have gotten the searching scrutiny they deserve. We know they’re issues, and we know the respective candidates explanations (it was my husband’s business, in which I played no part; I was framed by DeStefano b/c I wouldn’t pose in a picture) but we (or at least I) don’t yet know what to make of the baseline allegations, themselves. For example, it seems that the Harp tax bill climbed so high because interest accrued while the matter was being litigated. I’ve seen no analysis of that litigation, which might serve to explain whether Wendell/Matthew have/had a good-faith basis in arguing that no tax is owed. That seems at least as relevant to me as Toni’s ostrich defense, which does not hold water in my view. I’ve also seen no explanation for the continued failure to pay since the Supreme Court’s decision. As for grade-tampering, Westvile Man keeps inviting us to look at this powerpoint presentation, which seems to present a rather far-fetched conspiracy theory. Can’t we get an objective analysis?

But, on the whole, anonymous is right. The fact that we’re complaining about hyper-local (i.e. backyard) coverage of an important municipal election shows how spoiled we are.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on August 26, 2013  4:52pm

Hieronymous good comment.
I have sent emails to NHI with my complaints to :) I love them and I think we are spoiled.

posted by: Bill Saunders on August 27, 2013  1:58am

I have to admit, I do not get the trained dog video at all…..