NEW HAVEN – Mayor Justin Elicker denied claims that he gutted a gun violence prevention program following a Tuesday news conference where mayoral candidate Tom Goldenberg pledged his own initiatives.
Goldenberg, a Democrat and former engagement manager for McKinsey & Company, visited the New Haven Botanical Garden of Healing Dedicated to Victims of Gun Violence, which features a brick road engraved with the names and ages of gun violence victims.
“Each brick on this road ahead of us represents a person that was taken away from us before their time,” Goldenberg said. “… You can’t see it yet because they haven’t been engraved, but in 2023 we already have 11 bricks.”
Rodney Williams, a community leader in New Haven, stood beside Goldenberg, saying many of his friends and family members’ names were engraved on the botanical garden’s bricks. He attributed the long brick road to lack of opportunities for the Black community in the city.
“If you look in other communities [other] than the Black communities, they don’t have gardens because they have opportunities,” Williams said, adding that the only way to stop more bricks from being added was with help from the city and state.
Goldenberg said the current administration does not realize that if one part of the city is unsafe, no part of the city is safe.
“To downplay these situations and offer false reassurances that these are not random is disingenuous and disrespectful,” Goldenberg said of Elicker’s administration. “To build a safe city, you must first acknowledge that people do not feel safe.”
On Wednesday, Elicker told CT Examiner that any suggestion that his administration has a narrow focus on gun violence is incorrect.
“It is not reflective of the hard work that so many people across many different departments and agencies are doing in our city,” he said.
But Goldenberg – a first-time candidate set to face off against Elicker, former Alderman Shafiq Abdussabur and Hartford Inspector General Liam Brennan in this year’s Democratic primary – pointed to lacking city initiatives, offering up three of his own.
The first, he said, would reignite New Haven’s Youth Stat program, an initiative by Elicker’s predecessor Toni Harp that identified and assisted at-risk youth.
According to a 2018 report by the Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab, the city collaborated with the Board of Education, police department and other community organizations to enroll students with poor attendance, infractions and failing grades into the Youth Stat program.
“Mayor Elicker scaled down and gutted the Youth Stat program,” Goldenberg said. “As mayor, I will bring it back and expand its scope to make it a model that other cities can even adapt.”
But Elicker said that was incorrect, explaining he restructured the program and changed its name to Youth Connect because “youth are not a statistic.”
“Previously, the program was very broad and kind of limited resources toward a broad number of young people – 14 to 21 years old,” Elicker said. “What we have done is, with the same resources, narrowed the focus on the approximately 75 individuals that are most at-risk for engaging in violence.”
The second initiative, Goldenberg said, is supporting House Bill 6834, which aims to increase accountability for those committing firearm offenses or repeat offenders by requiring at least 30 percent of their bond.
“We face a situation where a small fraction of our population – 0.06 percent, according to Chief [Karl] Jacobson’s recent testimony – commits a significant share of violent crimes,” Goldenberg said. “Moreover, a concerning number of these crimes are committed by individuals on pretrial release.”
Elicker also pledged his support for the bill and said he helped craft the legislation alongside Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim.
“I think it is [an] additional important tool that we can use to not only ensure we keep the most violent offenders off the street, but also keep those individuals safe as well, because oftentimes the people that are victims of gun violence are also engaged in gun violence themselves,” he added.
Goldenberg’s third initiative is a “more robust” approach to remove illegal firearms from New Haven streets. As mayor, he said, the city would establish a hotline for residents to report suspicions of illegal gun possession.
“These specific reports would lead to removal of the illegal firearm without prosecution in most cases,” he explained.
While the concept is still under development, Goldenberg said he received support from some residents and plans to include victims, previous offenders, community members and elected officials in the collective effort to reduce illegal firearm possession.
In response to Goldenberg’s hotline initiative, Elicker said the city already has a hotline for people to anonymously report any criminal activity.
“That includes if they’re aware of someone that has an illegal gun, or someone of concern that has a legal gun,” Elicker said.
In addition to the hotline, Elicker said the New Haven Police Department has worked “very hard” to seize illegal firearms. According to Elicker, the city has seized 129 guns in 2023 so far, compared to 98 guns by the same time last year.
Elicker also backed additional initiatives outlined in his approach to confront gun violence, including strengthening partnerships with surrounding municipalities and law enforcement, installing cameras throughout the city and purchasing technology from the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network to analyze ballistics faster.
Elicker cautioned against politicizing efforts to reduce gun violence.
“This is a very, very challenging issue that cities around the nation are facing,” he said. “It’s important we don’t politicize this issue, and we work together as a community to confront it.”