Despite the seemingly benign nature of Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s campaign posters in a city elderly home, the mayor’s Republican opponent has charged that DeStefano’s action is an illegal abuse of power.
Republican Joel Schiavone ’58 has alleged that DeStefano posted signs inside the Prescott Bush Home for the Elderly. Because the home is a public building, Schiavone’s campaign has said that DeStefano’s actions could constitute a violation of public works regulations.
Schiavone Campaign Manager Ted LeVasseur said DeStefano put up campaign posters in the home after meeting with residents about school construction. Residents allegedly informed Schiavone of the mayor’s activity when the Republican candidate visited the home to discuss criminal activity.
“[DeStefano] left signs there in the common room, hallways and the lawn,” LeVasseur said. “This is a government building and I’m pretty sure it receives federal funds, which makes it not only a violation of state campaigns, but I’m sure also a violation of [Housing and Urban Development].”
Campaign regulations state that signs can be posted on private property with the consent of residents, and business owners can post signs at their establishments. LeVasseur said that posting signs in public housing without the consent of residents is tantamount to flying a “DeStefano for Mayor” banner in front of City Hall.
“It’s really disgraceful that he’s using public property for campaign purposes,” LeVasseur said.
DeStefano Campaign Manager Julio Gonzalez ’99 confirmed that DeStefano met with residents of the Prescott Bush Home, but said that DeStefano was not abusing his incumbent status to advertise in public buildings.
“I would definitely describe this as laughable,” Gonzalez said. “During the primary we had a pretty large set of supporters, and a lot of them turned out overwhelmingly for the mayor. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the residents put some of the signs up.”
Upon discovering the campaign signs at Prescott Bush, LeVasseur wrote a letter to Robert Solomon, director of the New Haven Housing Authority, asking Solomon to remove the signs and informing the public of “the disregard John DeStefano has for New Haven taxpayers.”
LeVasseur said that DeStefano probably posted signs in every New Haven public housing unit.
“I would not be surprised at all, I’m actually pretty positive every Housing Authority building in the area has DeStefano signs up in common areas and hallways, and it’s not right,” LeVasseur said. “They wouldn’t be put up in hallways of your dormitory or another apartment complex; they certainly shouldn’t be put up in the hallways of a public building.”
Gonzalez maintains that DeStefano supporters must have put up the signs themselves or requested DeStefano post his signs during his visit.
“I can’t control the fact that many of the residents of public housing are overwhelmingly supportive of DeStefano because he has greatly improved the Housing Authority and its bureaucracy,” Gonzalez said. “If some residents put up signs, or the campaign responded to requests for signs, it’s a good thing — democracy at work.”
The Schiavone campaign also alleged that DeStefano posted campaign signs on blighted buildings throughout New Haven. Gonzalez said former mayoral candidate Martin Looney posted those signs in mocking DeStefano.
“There was one time that our primary opponents, the Looney campaign, put a bunch of signs up on blighted buildings to make a humorous point,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think our campaign and our supporters put up signs on blighted buildings unless they’ve been rehabbed, which some of our supporters did in Fair Haven to show that we’re delivering what they want.”
LeVasseur said he is not looking for DeStefano to be punished for violating campaign regulations.
“I’m just looking for signs to be removed and for, quite frankly, the voters to know that John DeStefano is continuing to take liberties with his position,” LeVasseur said. “When people give someone a public office, there’s a sort of trust that he won’t use it for personal benefit, and that’s what he’s done for the past eight years.”
Gonzalez maintained that DeStefano has not done anything wrong and said Schiavone’s accusations are ridiculous.
“I don’t think Mr. Schiavone would want to curtail free speech rights of public housing residents,” Gonzalez said. “Go to East Rock; there are plenty of Schiavone signs in public spaces.”