Lee sermon angers Mayor DeStefano

Less than a month and a half after New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. eagerly endorsed the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 at a Jan. 25 fund-raiser, sources said the mayor is upset with the Yale Corporation hopeful because of comments Lee made during a sermon at his church Sunday.

In an apparent change of policy, DeStefano and top City Hall administrators refused to comment on Lee’s candidacy yesterday morning after having openly supported the local minister’s effort for several weeks. Although it was unclear exactly why DeStefano was unhappy with Lee’s sermon, the minister made several remarks critical of the city’s school system.

“We have to stand up in the city where we have Yale — because we are one of the poorest public education systems,” Lee said during his 11 a.m. service. “The public school system should be the quality of the best.”

Lee said Wednesday that he had not spoken to DeStefano, but added that he supported the mayor’s management of the school system.

“I commend the mayor and his administration for their strong work on behalf of New Haven’s public schools, given our limited resources,” he said in an e-mail. “I have stood in support of Mayor DeStefano in the past, and I continue to do so. I look forward to meeting with him as soon as possible, so that we can clear up the current misunderstanding.”

City spokesman James Foye said he received a note from the mayor Wednesday morning directing him not to respond to questions regarding Lee’s Corporation bid.

“We’re not commenting on his candidacy,” said Julio Gonzalez ’99, the mayor’s executive assistant.

Members of Lee’s congregation at the Varick Memorial AME Zion Church On Dixwell Avenue and the Rev. Scott Marks, a local minister who is involved in Lee’s campaign, said they did not understand how anything Lee said during either of his sermons Sunday was critical of the mayor.

“That was a misunderstanding,” Marks said yesterday. “It’s been cleared up.”

One parishioner, who asked not to be identified, said Lee has never blamed DeStefano for anything during his sermons.

“I have never heard him say directly that it was the mayor’s fault,” she said. “I have not heard him directly accuse the mayor of being directly responsible or irresponsible. — Everyone should be accountable for educating the children of the city of New Haven.”

DeStefano has said repeatedly that he does not believe Yale should not be held directly responsible for funding the city’s schools.

When a local think tank with close ties to Yale’s labor unions released a report Feb. 7 suggesting the University should make large cash contributions to hire new New Haven teachers, DeStefano said he thought this responsibility lay elsewhere.

“I just don’t think that the University should do the state’s job for it,” he said.

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