New Haven Republican Party Chair John Carlson is running for mayor of New Haven. The city has not had a Republican mayor since 1953, and the local Republican party has not fielded a candidate in 14 years. Out of New Haven’s registered voters, 70 percent are Democrats, four percent are Republicans, and the remainder are unaffiliated.
Carlson, a fourth grade teacher in Bridgeport, is challenging incumbent New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, whose main challenger in the Democratic primary, Karen Dubois-Walton, dropped out last month.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with Carlson about the role of Republicans in New Haven, and what his policies would be if elected.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What inspired you to run for mayor of New Haven?
I was originally going to run for alder, but as alder, you just can’t facilitate the change that is needed in New Haven, so I decided to make a mayoral run. Fiscal responsibility can really only be achieved by the mayor, and the mayor is in charge of the budget, which he then presents to the Board of Alders to approve it. The mayor hires the superintendent of schools and appoints Board of Education members. The mayor basically controls funding for streets and the police department, which needs improvement.
What changes would you want to see in the city’s police department?
I back the blue. Police officers are heroes, and they put their lives on line every time they go out, but there are occasionally bad officers that need to be removed. As mayor, I would make sure every New Haven patrol car in the police force had front and rear dash cameras to ensure the safety of officers and civilians. Front and rear cameras protect officers from false accusations and also protect the public from any police officers who do not deserve to be on the force. I would put more patrols out there and would make sure officers were actually patrolling, not just parked somewhere, and I want more people to be hired who have real ties to the city. I would also work with groups to work with youths to drive them away from gangs and violence. We need to increase education and opportunities, because poverty and a lack of education leads people into gangs and violence, and we have to nip that in the bud before it becomes a problem.
You’ve criticized Mayor Elicker’s handling of education throughout the pandemic. What would you have done differently?
As a Bridgeport teacher, we went back to school last August. We were remote every Wednesday, and if there was an outbreak, we quarantined and went fully remote for that class. I would have done that. New Haven was fully remote until January. If you’re going to return to school, I would not return at peak cold and flu season, I would have gone back in August.
Mayor Elicker has said that he advocated for reopening, but that the decision was ultimately up to the Board of Education. Do you feel like he had the power to do things differently?
In New Haven, the mayor is an official voting member of the school board. He also appoints members to the school board and hires the superintendent, so I would say the mayor has a very strong influence over the school board and could have influenced them to do whatever it is he wanted them to do.
It’s been 68 years since New Haven had a Republican mayor, and the Republican party hasn’t fielded a candidate for the office in 14 years. What led you to believe that your campaign could be viable?
I like my chances. I’m the only candidate in the race from New Haven and for New Haven. There have been thousands of Republicans registered as Democrats over the years simply because they wanted to have a voice in who was going to be the mayor and Republicans were not running a candidate, so the only option was to register Democrat and vote in Democratic primaries. We also have a tremendous amount of unaffiliated voters who are willing to look at two sides of an issue, and many Democrats are, also. They want to examine a candidate for who they are, and what their plans and policies are, and vote accordingly. On paper, most people would say this is a David vs. Goliath race, but I would say I believe I have a chance to win.
What relationship would you hope to cultivate with Yale?
Yale does a lot for the city, but they’re buying up properties at a very high rate and a lot of those properties are being taken off the tax roll. I would want to discourage that because the more properties taken off the tax roll, the more the rest of our taxes increase. While Yale does voluntarily give us money, I would certainly lobby them to give us a lot more.
What’s something you would have handled differently from Mayor Elicker, had you been in office?
I think they are trying to force through the Tweed expansion, and I would not go along with it in its current form. You have to have an environmental study, and I would not ever use eminent domain to force people to sell their homes to the airport. I would not sign a 40-year lease agreement. In my lifetime of 52 years, I’ve seen how much has changed. You have to do a lease five or 10 years, or maybe even just a few years at a time, to make sure they fulfill their end of the bargain.
What is something you think Mayor Elicker has done well?
Offhand, nothing comes to mind. I’m not going to run a negative campaign and bash the man. I’m just going to just say what my plans are and what I would do.