Voters Decide Harp-Paca Round 1 Tuesday

Paul Bass PhotoWith appeals to vote for either experience or fresh energy, New Haven’s Democrats head to the polls Tuesday to nominate who’s best to run the city and who should serve three parts of town on the Board of Alders.

Polls open from 6 a.m. through 8 p.m. for Tuesday’s primary. Click here for a list of polling places. Click here to find out what ward you’re in and where to vote.

Marcus Paca is challenging two-term incumbent Toni Harp in a citywide mayoral primary. If he wins, he’ll be the Democratic Party candidate facing Working Families Party candidate Sarah Ganong in the Nov. 7 general election. If Harp wins, she will be the Democratic candidate in the general election; Paca’s name will be on that ballot as an independent candidate.

Party primaries are also taking place Tuesday for open seats in three of New Haven’s 30 wards:

• West Hills/West Rock’s Ward 30, where Michelle E. Sepulveda, Tosha James-Goldson and Charlie Delgado are running. (Read about the race here and here.)

• Newhallville/Prospect Hill’s Ward 19, where Kim Edwards faces Sarah Ofosu. (Read about the race here, here and here.)

Renee Hayward faces Robert Lee in Fair Haven Heights’ Ward 11.

Although candidates’ names will appear on the ballot for a probate judge primary, it’s not really taking place, because one of the candidates dropped out following revelations that he submitted fraudulent petitions to have his name appear on the ballot.

The Main Event

Markeshia Ricks PhotoWith so few alder primaries, most attention has focused on the mayoral contest. Few specific policy differences have separated candidates Harp and Paca in the campaign. But they have offered different overall takes on pressing issues at two debates. (Click here and here to read about those debates.)

Prime example: New Haven’s affordable housing crunch, which is occurring amid the construction of thousands of upscale apartments. The candidates have not cited a specific project or development proposal they would have handled differently. More broadly, Harp argues that the new construction doesn’t constitute “gentrification” because it doesn’t displace anyone and it could lower rents at other buildings; meanwhile, the new projects will build the tax base to support government spending to help the poor, she argues. Paca argues that such a policy represented failed “trickle-down economics” and that government hasn’t heard or done enough to help families struggling to make the rent. He promises to make affordable housing, as well as neighborhood commercial development, more of a priority.

Both candidates have portrayed the election as hinging on who better represents New Haveners and who has a personal track record of success — and who has a personal track record of failure. (The details of that argument can be found in this blow-by-blow account of last week’s debate.)  Harp argues that while Hartford faces possible bankruptcy, her administration has balanced the books for four straight years and kept the mill rate constant for three. She notes that New Haven’s violent crime rate has consistently fallen; this year Hartford and Bridgeport have had murder rates more than triple of New Haven’s. Paca argues that Harp has borrowed money to conceal mismanagement and looming financial disaster. He argues that the crime statistics reveal a persistent violent crime problem that leaves citizens fearful for their lives, and that any progress can be traced to programs that Harp inherited.


(Click on this video to watch last week’s candidate debate from a Facebook Live feed. Suggestion: Start watching at the 10:55 point. Technical difficulties—with the school’s sound system and a noisy fan — made the principal’s introduction the moderator’s introduction and the first question hard to hear in the part of the video leading up to that point.)

In some ways, this contest has echoes of the 1999 Democratic primary and general election: The incumbent mayor then, John DeStefano, had taken heat for firing three top aides as a result of ethics controversies in his administration, he faced a spirited challenge by a former alder named Jim Newton. Harp’s firing of several appointees — including Paca, her former labor relations director; and a policy aide named Mendi Blue (Paca’s wife) — helped set the stage for this year’s contest.

In the final month of public campaigning, Harp has neglected to mention some of her administration’s bigger successes, while Paca has neglected to mention some of the Harp administration’s bigger failures.

Markeshia Ricks PhotoFor instance, Harp hasn’t spoken about three accomplishments that eluded her predecessors for decades: A notorious fence sealing the West Rock public-housing developments from Hamden finally came down, and the sky didn’t fall afterwards. Her administration found a way to overcome Yale’s legal roadblocks to turn a vacant College Street theater into a concert hall that’s bringing thousands of visitors downtown each month. And it it found a way to enable a developer to start building $100 million worth of apartments, stores and offices or labs on an 11.5-acre stretch of the Hill that has sat largely vacant since the 1980s.

And while Paca has focused on individual staff firings to criticize Harp’s management record, he has in recent weeks made no public mention of how the administration repeatedly fumbled in its handling of a data breach that compromised the personal information of over 500 New Haveners with sexually transmitted diseases. (Back in May Paca did write this opinion article on the episode.) Nor has Paca made an issue of the repeated cases of alleged violations of citizens’ First and Fourth Amendment rights by city cops — and the failure of officials to acknowledge error or issue discipline or announce any efforts to have officers act differently, while an officer with an establish record of abusing citizens got promoted. (One exception: Paca has criticized the handling of an alt right group’s gathering that went awry on the Green.)

The Base Speaks

Michelle Liu Photo

Theoretically, 37,963 registered Democrats are eligible to vote Tuesday. But voting turnout tends to be smaller for municipal elections than for national elections. In 2011, 13,397 Democrats voted in a mayoral primary. In 2013, 14,723 voted. (There was no Democratic primary in 2015.)

Four candidates were running in each of those last two primaries. This year’s primary features just two candidates. Some analysts predict this year’s turnout could fall below 10,000.

Former Mayor DeStefano, who mounted 11 campaigns, said he expects Tuesday’s turnout to be especially small in part because of the lack of alder primaries, which spark neighborhood-based campaigners to pull their neighbors to the polls. Specifically, Yale’s UNITE HERE locals, the largest vote-pulling group in town, are pretty much absent from this alder primary season.

Also, DeStefano said, this year’s campaign lacks a “compelling issue” to bring out large numbers of people who otherwise wouldn’t vote, such as a tax increase or a spike in violence. New Haven’s violent crime has steadily declined in recent years; the city has had four straight balanced budgets and three years without a tax increase. (Paca argues that the statistics mask dangerous underlying crime and pending fiscal woes.)

As a result, DeStefano predicted, the primary turnout will consist largely of “voters of habit”; people who have lived in New Haven a long time (“How many people are going to vote out of the Novella? Or the Corsair?” he asked rhetorically); and small groups of people connected to the candidates and fired up by issues that don’t excite the city at large. So it makes sense that in primaries candidates generally focus on their base rather than on undecided voters or people in the opposition, DeStefano argued: “It’s a more profitable use of time to pick more low-hanging fuit — that is, to excite your base than to try to convince unconvinced voters.”

If Paca wins Tuesday’s primary, he will not face Harp in November, because she did not petition for an independent spot on the ballot. If Harp wins Tuesday’s primary, Paca gets a second shot on Nov. 7, when his name will appear on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate. (So will the name of Sarah Ganong of the Working Families Party, who said she’s working to win 1 percent of the vote so the party can secure a guaranteed ballot spot in future municipal elections.)

It is generally believed that Paca needs to capture at least 40 percent of the vote Tuesday to have enough momentum to compete in a general election match against Harp. The city has 14,544 unaffiliated voters, 2,364 registered Republicans, and 514 members of other parties who can’t vote this Tuesday but can vote in November, according to the most recent statistics from the Registrar of Voters Office.

Since 2011, two-shot mayoral elections have become the norm (except in 2015): Candidates who failed to win the Democratic primary run again as unaffiliated candidates in November.

DeStefano suggested that New Haven copy other cities in doing away with partisan primaries — instead having all mayoral candidates compete in a first run; then, if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of that vote, the top two finishers compete in a second election. Citywide elections should “get rid of the party thing,” DeStefano argued. “There’s not serious competitoin between the parties.” Republicans last elected a mayor in 1951. They do not have a mayoral candidate on the ballot this year.

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posted by: Atticus Shrugged on September 11, 2017  4:00pm

Before this article gets too clogged with usual replies, I’d like to point out how quickly positions have changed.  In particular Mr. Brian Jenkins wrote as follows:
posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on April 25, 2016 6:13pm

Knowing the mayor and Tomas as I do, this was indeed an arduous decision for them to have made.  To hear about anyone getting fired; especially a husband and wife, is of in itself most devastating.

Certainly for me, my morals and upbringing will not allow me to cast aspersions on these two like others have demonstrated.  But they have my prayers and I wish them both well.

To those who are blaming the mayor for hiring this young man to fill that position, shame on you.  Such an accusation is tantamount to saying that those who are qualified and occupy positions accordingly, don’t make mistakes or get fired.  To the mayor’s credit, she gave the young man an opportunity to display his talent in an area that may have been a bit too much.  Unfortunately, he faltered.

And with regards to Bill Saunders he sarcastically wrote of Mr. Paca’s hiring:
posted by: BillSaunders1 on July 1, 2014 4:00pm

Such a meteoric rise—from Alderman, to Food Cart Operator, to Labor Relations Chief??? Hot Dog! Or should I have said ‘Gastronomic Rise’.  I think I have indigestion…..

If this was a man you can admit was fired for cause or had no business being hired, how is he at all the best qualified person to run this City in this race?

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 11, 2017  4:36pm


Didn’t you already make a similar allegation about me in a different post…...

I reshare my retort, as to not be out-flanked…


Sure, I made those allegations at the time, three years ago, before all of the ‘facts’ were out on the table….

Since then,  I have taken the time to meet the Man, watch certain ‘story lines’ unfold,  and make my own decision about this invigorating community leader.

When I’m wrong, I’m wrong, and will admit it….it is called having an ‘open-mind’...
Marcus Paca and his team have won me over honestly…

btw - the Food Cart Operator was Greg Morehead, My Bad…..  I know…. I’m Terrible!!!

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 11, 2017  5:34pm


Actually surprised you would post here at all—this story seems like it should be the ‘quiet’ before the storm….unfortunately you had to jump the sharknado….

must be worried….

posted by: Inside 165 on September 11, 2017  5:48pm


Your post is great to highlight the complete incompetance of Harp and her clear disregard to the taxpayers of this City. She hires people into positions far above their ability and she continues to do so to suit her political needs. Just look at your police and fire departments.

The recent hiring of Ms.“up your ass with no grease” Knox is a perfect and consistent example.

Can’t wait for the tax increase next year.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on September 11, 2017  8:11pm

I like to thank Toni’s $&))(& for pulling up my old comments when I supported her a few years back.  But know this, as you try unsuccessfully to make me out to be a hypocrite, unlike many, when facts change, so do I.

I meant every word I said then, and I mean every word I say now.  Also, I thank you for opening the door again to allow me to share why the change. 

This same stunt was tried earlier in the year by you.  So let me try to help you understand why so many people like me are done with Toni Harp.  As I have always said, I refuse to share anything personal with the public about Toni.  In that same article, you will find me saying that if Nicole is found innocent, then she should immediately be restored to her same position.  Well, not only was she found innocent by the Feds, they complimented her.  But what did this mayor do?  Not only did she not restore Nicole as I recommended, she gave the job to Matt Nemerson’s friend who some will argue, and I do too, has done nothing in the capacity to help small minority owned businesses.  That bothered me to the core.  My conscience will in no way allow me to be supportive of someone who treats people like that.  Not to mention the subsequent treatment of Ron Manning, the needle exchange workers and others.

Additionally, if my best friend was found to be a liar by me, he would never again be my best friend.

What many do not know about me is my attractiveness to those who have good character.  Those who can admit to error instead of doubling down on it, I find to be impressive.

Finally, a very good friend of mine who I loved as a brother, but unfortunately is no longer with us once said to me “no one can make you lose your integrity but you.”  That friend was Wendell Harp.

So Atticus Shrugged, if I were to continue supporting Toni like I have over the years, but did not know this revelation then, however, know it now, I would lose my integrity.  You wouldn’t want that would you?

posted by: citoyen on September 11, 2017  10:03pm

I hate the politics of this city.

I hate the lack of meaningful competition between or among parties.  The only occasional important competitions are within the Democratic Party.

After the Priscilla Knox episode over the weekend in the current mayoral primary race, I want to say, “A pox on both your houses.”

I want this year’s mayoral competition to extend into November.  That would argue in favor of voting for Toni Harp, since if Marcus Paca wins the primary, the election is over (since Toni, unlike Marcus, has not filed to run as an independent in November).

At the same time, I want Toni Harp to have, and to realize she has, stiff competition.  That would argue in favor of voting for Paca, especially since, with the backing of Yale’s unions, Toni is likely to win the primary in any case.

It is appalling that these are my considerations, rather than anything of any substance.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on September 11, 2017  10:10pm

I love John’s idea of a party agnostic run-off election. This should happen.

It feels like there’s a chance tomorrow’s race is going to be way closer than most residents of the city realize. The folks who look at the city and see a place that has never been better have not been poked to show up and vote. Many of them don’t know there’s an election tomorrow. Many of the folks who do know there is an election and would support the Mayor don’t believe the Mayor has a challenger.

The folks who feel that this city is not working for them are fired up and have lawn signs to boot for the challenger.

posted by: Greg-Morehead on September 11, 2017  11:09pm

Umm, Bill Saunders, how did I get involved with your rant? LOL

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on September 12, 2017  9:57am

@ Citoyen—I’m with you. New Haven’s politics are truly pathetic… after the recent ugliness with Team Harp trying to get Paca thrown off the ballot, I wish I could take back my absentee vote.

It’s worth noting the self-implosion of Mike Stratton, Doug Hausladen being co-opted by Nemerson and the administration, and the total abscence of both Henry Fernandez and Justin Elicker form any local political discussions.

Most depressing is Elicker, who exchanged his political aspirations for a comfy non-profit job. Can you imagine the different political landscape, had Justin kept his voting base together as a political movement? Instead, and like Kerekes, his mayoral run was evidently all about him, and not building a better New Haven politics.

The problem is the one-party dynamic, which doesn’t tolerate much open debate or dissent. How much better off New Haven would be if we had two political gangs consistently hashing out the issues, pushing each side to be better, and keeping each other honest. Unfortunately that is not the case.

posted by: LookOut on September 12, 2017  11:46am

sad that our one party system leaves us with these 2 horrible choices.  Places like New Haven, Moscow, and Beijing that operate as one party monopolies result in these type of elections followed by the fraudulent activity to which we have become numb

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 12, 2017  5:05pm

@ LookOut and BenBerkowitz AverageTaxpayer

Look at the state of Louisiana which is one of the easiest states to get on the ballot. Anyone may obtain a spot on the ballot by either paying a qualifying fee, or submitting petition signatures. In Japan signatures are rarely used. Instead, every adult has multiple seal/stamps which are used to stamp documents in the same way as a signature is used. Someone possessing your seal can stamp your name as your proxy. Stamps that were used for important transactions like buying a house or getting married are usually locked away in a secure place. Local governments have a register of seals & issue certificates of authenticity. They keep an image of the registered seal electronically and can verify whether a seal is the same one that was registered at another location in the country. Also Louisiana has what is call nonpartisan blanket primary.Which is a primary election in which all candidates for the same elected office, regardless of respective political party, run against each other at once, instead of being segregated by political party. Under this system, the candidates receiving the most and second-most votes become the contestants in the general election—as in a runoff election, in a two-round system. In some cases the second round of voting is necessary only if no candidate receives an overall majority on the initial ballot. However, there is no separate party nomination process for candidates before the first round, and political parties are not allowed to whittle-down the field using their own internal processes , party primaries or conventions. Therefore, it is entirely possible that two candidates of the same political party could advance to the general/run-off.In fact this systems is also used in some countries that use proportional representation.Notice no party primaries or conventions.Under this system you do not need the crooked ward committees. We the voters pick the candidates.

posted by: bewildered on September 12, 2017  9:41pm

Will the real experts in this thread please stand up.