NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – News 8 is your local election headquarters. It’s less than a month until New Haven voters cast their ballots for mayor.
News 8 streamed a live mayoral debate on Tuesday, Oct. 19. Mayor Justin Elicker took the stage against Republican challenger John Carlson at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School.
For the first time in 14 years, the Republicans are fielding a slate of candidates, including a top spot for mayor.
Tuesday’s panel asking questions to the candidates included News 8’s Jodi Latina, Paul Bass of the New Haven Independent, Norma Rodriguez-Reyes of La Voz Hispana/WNHH FM, Mary O’Leary of the New Haven Register, and Michelle Turner of WSME radio, Inner-City News.
The debate lasted one hour, with the candidates tackling topics ranging from creating more affordable housing options to investing in education.
“My plan takes money and puts it into the classroom, into kids, into materials that can improve kids’ lives long-term,” Carlson said.
Another topic of discussion was establishing mask and vaccine mandates.
“Vaccines work. Masks work, however, I wouldn’t force anyone to get a vaccine — I think it should remain optional,” Carlson said.
“We were one of the first to come out strong to protect our community because science says it’s the right thing to do. We will continue to have a mask mandate in New Haven,” Elicker said.
WATCH: Full debate – Elicker vs. Carlson
The concept of making streets safer by combatting crime also came up.
“Violent crime has increased by 30% across the nation and New Haven is no different,” Elicker said. “We are responding with a multi-prong strategy.”
“The police accountability bill that the legislature passed certainly played a role in crime increasing. We haven’t done enough to stop the violence in our streets,” Carlson said.
News 8 followed up with both candidates after the debate to get their final thoughts.
“I love this city, I’ve been here 50 years… I want to be here another 50,” Carlson said.
“My heart is in this because I see my two daughters and want everyone to have opportunities in New Haven,” Elicker said.
Only 100 guests were able to attend due to COVID-19 safety rules. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test was required to get in.
We met up with the candidates Tuesday ahead of the debate.
Democratic incumbent Mayor Elicker has been on the job for 18 months, thrown into the deep end of the pool with COVID. His Republican opponent is a life-long New Haven resident living over at Shore Point Neighborhood.
On the top of both of their agendas is figuring out how to combat crime in the Elm City.
The city is seeing its worst spike in years. FBI crime statistics say homicides are up by some 37 percent. Shots-fired incidents are up 68 percent. And car thefts are a concern, too
Mayor Elicker told News 8’s Chief Political Correspondent Jodi Latina, “New Haven has been hit particularly hard like many cities around the nation and the work we’re doing to respond to it is multipronged and I expect that to come up tonight and for us to have a conversation about the work that our team is doing.”
Carlson added, “We are about 20 percent down where we should be, so we need to have officers fresh, not overworked. We have officers working 60 or 70 hours a week. They are tired; we need to have a full police staff.”
COVID has clearly taken a toll on the city. Of those who are eligible for the vaccine, 67 percent have gotten it. The positivity rate is in the Orange Zone – about 11 cases per 100,000.
There was a recent spike in cases in schools. Kids five to 11-years-old are still not able to get the vaccine.
So what about the city mask mandate? When will it be lifted?
Elicker: “I think it’s important for us to thank the community for their patience. The CDC just moved us back up to High Transmission and so that’s an indication that we need to be cautious particularly as we go into the winter months or people will be spending more time indoors which means wearing masks is more important.”
Carlson: “We are masked in my school, the school kids are masked, the teachers are masked, so in a school, I would agree with him in the mask mandate. But several towns around New Haven, they don’t have to for restaurants and I think it’s foolish to think that COVID would be prevented by you wearing a mask to stand up and go sit down and then sit next to all the strangers two feet away from you without a mask.”
What do the candidates think about taxes?
Last year Elicker raised taxes. This year, they are flat – no increase. Mayor Elicker admits the federal COVID aid and the increase in money from the state, some $50 million, helped fill in the budget holes.
Carlson says that is going to create a fiscal cliff. When the extra money dries up, then what?
Elicker says his record on getting projects like the expansion of Tweed Airport and Union Train Station are winners.
Carlson says the mayor’s education record gets a poor grade, adding the city spends the most per child in the state, yet students are failing in math and reading scores.