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Handicapper's Guide to the New Haven Mayor's Race

by: abg22

Thu Jan 31, 2013 at 15:14:57 PM EST

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New Haven's mayoral race is shaping up to be a truly magical carpet ride for political junkies. The field is wide open after "King John" DeStefano Jr. (the longest serving mayor in New Haven's 375-year history) announced this week he would call it quits after 10 terms.

Two candidates had already emerged before DeStefano's announcement, and others will surely emerge in the days ahead. The "Great Mentioner" has been working overtime pulling hypothetical candidates' names out a hat, but are any of these really credible? Who in the world is Jack Keyes? Is Kermit Carolina a real name or something cobbled together from one of those porn star name generators?

Here's a handy-dandy guide to the serious players, the non-factors, and the simply not-running:

Justin Elicker: A relatively inexperienced two-term aldermen with a Yale pedigree would not normally be considered the ideal citywide candidate, but Elicker is a popular alderman with a strong base in the politically active East Rock neighborhood. He was the first candidate to throw his hat in his ring -- that is, even before DeStefano's big announcement -- with a very well-attended and impressive campaign launch party showcasing his highly motivated volunteers and supporters. Within six days of announcing his candidacy, he had already blown past the 200-donation threshold for qualifying for a public finance grant under the New Haven Democracy Fund, the only municipal public campaign finance program in the state. Strong on environmental, quality-of-life, and good-government issues, he has indicated that he would consider running as an independent in the general if he loses the primary.  SERIOUS PLAYER

Gary Holder-Winfield: State Representative from 94th district. Popular in the black community and among progressive activists for his work on death penalty abolition (as well as good-government and LGBT issues), but not necessarily well-known to the average New Haven voter. Might be better known around the Capitol in Hartford than to Joe Sixpack in Fair Haven Heights or Eastshore. The key to his success may be huge black turnout (from which New Haven's only black mayor John Daniels benefited when he was elected in 1989), but Holder-Winfield also has the intelligence and campaigning ability to substantially expand his base. Many observers were surprised to see him form an exploratory committee for mayor late last year, rather than focus on his work in Hartford where he is clearly a rising star. He has said publicly that his mother's death in 2012 changed his perspective on his political future, and says he plans to announce for mayor as soon as tomorrow. SERIOUS PLAYER

Kermit Carolina: Principal of one of city's two largest public high schools, Carolina was recently implicated in a grade-tampering scandal, which resulted in lots of free publicity (unfortunately for him most of it was bad). Seems to have a big enough ego that he might actually think he can win, which any reasonable observer would say he clearly cannot. NON-FACTOR

Jack Keyes: Probate judge, old-school pol, Martin Looney's law partner. Apparently has indicated interest in running -- perhaps as a stalking horse for someone else, but whom? NON-FACTOR

Martin Looney: District 11 State senator, Senate Majority Leader. Lost to DeStefano in vicious primary in 2001, so in theory he's interested in the job. But most observers don't see him giving up his position in Hartford, which he likes and is good at. NOT RUNNING

Toni Harp: District 10 State senator, co-chair of powerful Appropriations committee. One of New Haven's most popular politicians, she does well with both white and black voters. If she wanted the job, she would immediately be considered a top contender, but she has said repeatedly over the years that she's not interested. NOT RUNNING

Pat Dillon: State Representative from 92nd district. After 25 years in the legislature she has decent name recognition, plus a strong base that includes two of the highest turnout wards in the city, but it's hard to imagine her giving up the legislative gig. Despite her longevity she's never entered the leadership in Hartford, probably for the same reason(s) that most insiders say she has the wrong skills and temperament to be mayor.  NOT RUNNING

Jorge Perez: President of the Board of Aldermen. He's the heavy-hitter who would immediately transform the dynamics of the race. Perez would get the nomination from the Democratic Town Committee, endorsements from 90% of the Board of Aldermen, and probably lock up support from both the powerful Yale unions as well as the police and fire unions. As the longest-serving alderman, he has the experience and know-how to be mayor, though many people doubt his vision, and everyone doubts his charisma. Does he have the fire in his belly, or is he too conflict-averse for a mayoral dogfight?  X-FACTOR


There are some other names floating around out there: Alderman Mike Smart, Housing Authority director Karen Dubois-Walton, former economic development administrator Henry Fernandez, immigrant rights activist Kica Matos. But the field is likely to come down to the two candidates who've already announced (or effectively announced), plus one or two others, with x-factor Jorge Perez as the undecided elephant in the room.

abg22 :: Handicapper's Guide to the New Haven Mayor's Race
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