New Haven Mayor: 100 Day Plan And Then Some
New Haven Independent, July 30, 2020
By Chris Gilson, CCM Communications Writer
Justin Elicker entered the Mayor’s Office with a 100-day plan that has been sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic and the most sustained protests in recent history in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The New Haven Mayor joined the Municipal Voice, a co-production of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and WNHH FM, to discuss how the city has responded to the moment.
"Every day there’s some new challenge that we’re facing,” the Mayor said. “I can say that I started with a 100-day plan, a 2-year plan, and a long-term plan. The 100-day plan will happen, just not in 100 days.”
Instead, one of the first actions taken as Mayor was to start planning for the possibility of the novel coronavirus hitting the city. Elicker remembers asking when cases were still limited to China, what the response would be when New Haven got its first case.
Even in February, it was a matter of when and not if, so early decisions like cancelling the St. Patrick’s Day Parade were important but tough decisions to make.
The inevitability of the virus seems obvious after four million cases in five months, but in March there was not as much information going around.
“I think there’s a lot of things we all wish we would have known,” he said, “An example is mask wearing. […] The first time I put on a mask before the press, it was almost surprising.”
Another example is the way that nursing homes were approached. The wisdom at the time was that because they were insulated and had medical staff, they would not be as problematic as senior living facilities like Bella Vista.
But New Haven has been a model for contact tracing, not only in Connecticut, but abroad. The New Haven system was up and running before the state through the Medical Reserve Corps and Yale University, which gave them the capacity to work with communities outside of New Haven and start Connecticut on the path to flatten the curve.
Elicker says that even after integrating into the state system, they have been catching potentially bad situations before they get bad.
School reopening back to top
Now that Connecticut seems to be on the right path, the question has turned to school reopening, and the clear preference in New Haven is for a hybrid model. The mayor says that in this model the kids are divided into two equal groups and go to school two days a week, while teachers take Fridays to do online and in-school prep.
He says they can decompress the class rooms, change the way the school lunch works, and take other measures to lower risks for all involved.
“There’s an unknown about going back to school,” Elicker said, which has created fear throughout the process. “We want to share the work that we’re doing to ensure the safety of teachers.”
COVID has also exposed the racial inequities of life in New Haven. Elicker cites inequalities in health care, the higher propensity for comorbidities, the ability to telework and likelihood of working in public-facing essential jobs as reasons why minority communities have seen higher rates of the coronavirus.
While these were not the main focus of the protests that have arisen in support of the Black Lives Matter movement since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Elicker says it’s just one of the things that his administration is working on.
When asked about the protests, the Mayor has said that New Haven has a history of protest that allows it to “elevate without distracting,” ultimately making them more successful.
On a state level, the Connecticut Legislature just sent a police reform bill to the Governor, with many legislators citing the protests as the will of the people.
Elicker says that he believes that most people would agree that we should be more compassionate towards our neighbors. He asks people look towards common ground, between the police and the community, or between those who have differing opinions on Christopher Columbus statues.
That has moved him to address immigration and undocumented residents in a time of inaction at the federal level with an executive order announcing more protections for this vulnerable community.
“They pay taxes, they contribute in many ways, and we need to be real that they’re in the community and we want them to feel safe,” he said.
Ultimately, while the 100-day plan didn’t pan out in 100-days, these first few months of being mayor has afforded him an incredible opportunity to lead, saying “I think this is a defining moment for the nation, and mayors have the opportunity to do something big.”