NEW HAVEN — Democrats delivered a resounding change message Tuesday as challenger Justin Elicker soundly defeated incumbent Toni Harp in a Democratic mayoral primary.
Elicker defeated Harp — who had beaten him six years ago to become mayor — with a total of 7,198 votes (58.29 percent) to the incumbent mayor’s 5,150 (41.71 percent).
The former East Rock/Cedar Hill alderman and 2013 mayoral candidate beat Harp both at the machines in the city’s 30 wards on Tuesday and in the absentee ballots.
He collected 6,825 machine votes compared to 4,841 for Harp. And he collected 367 absentee votes compared to 305 for Harp.
It was Toni Harp’s first electoral loss in a 32-year career as a popular alderwoman, then state senator, then three-term mayor. Her third term has been marked by complaints over a tax hike, lead paint enforcement failures, and chaos at the school board, issues voters of all backgrounds raised Tuesday at the polls.
The big question now is whether Harp will continue the campaign into the general election, when her name would appear on the Working Families Party line — but in which over 16,373 unaffiliated voters and 2,459 registered Republicans are eligible to cast ballots. Elicker outperformed Harp among those voters in the 2013 general election; plus, Harp benefited among Democratic voters in that general election from having won the primary, which she didn’t do this time around.
Voter turnout was strong Tuesday in pro-Elicker wards, especially Westville’s Ward 25 (where Harp lives), while a concerted effort by Harp to appeal to black and brown voters fizzled.
Elicker gained ground in wards that Harp easily captured six years ago when the two candidates last faced off in a mayoral election.
Elicker ran a more 21st century campaign, with heavy reliance on social media and email as well as a regularly updated campaign website. Harp relied on a wave of incumbent mayoral press conferences and a ground game focused almost exclusively in closing weeks on New Haven’s black and brown communities.
About an hour after polls closed, Harp called Elicker to concede the primary.
‘Our coalition grew’
Elicker addressed his supporters at Trinity Bar on Orange Street shortly before 9 o’clock. He said it’s the same location where his 2013 campaign ended.
“Six years ago, we came pretty close,” he said. “We didn’t see that as a failure. We saw it as a lot more work that needs to be done, and our coalition grew. This time around a lot more people have joined our coalition.”
Elicker said the campaign had been tough, joking at one point that he didn’t want to “drone on,” a reference to Harp’s television ad that claimed he supports drone surveillance of people’s homes in “our” neighborhoods. He stressed that he wants to work with those who’d backed his opponent.
“Tonight, when you look at the results around the city, we have a clear mandate for New Haven to be a government that is ethical, that is responsive and that puts this city in a direction where every single resident can thrive,” he added.
“Now is the time for everyone in this room to reach out to the other campaign, because at the end of the day, the most important thing has nothing to do with the individuals in this room, but with the individuals that we met knocking on doors … in every single neighborhood around this city,” he said.
Harp, meanwhile, briefly addressed her supporters at the 50 Fitch tavern.
I want to thank each and every one of you who worked with my campaign over these months, who’ve really worn out your shoes, knocked on doors and made telephone calls,” Harp said. “Thank you so much for believing in my administration and what we have stood for.
“I want to say to you that this campaign and all of you stood for something really new in New Haven,” she went on. “We brought people together from clear across our city, people from different cultures and different races, with a vision that we would be the city, and we will be still, where everyone — no matter whether where you come from, no matter how rich or poor — everyone has an opportunity and a chance to make something of themselves.
The question now is whether Harp will choose to compete in the general election as the Working Families Party candidate. Asked about her plans after the speech, she said, “I will let you know.”