DeStefano laughs it up at Rowland commerce speech

For one day, at least, Connecticut Gov. John Rowland and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. were on the same ticket for the 2002 gubernatorial election.

Yesterday morning, DeStefano announced his humorous idea for a joint ticket at the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce’s 208th annual meeting at the Omni-New Haven Hotel at Yale. The chamber’s breakfast, which provides an economic update for the region each year, featured a keynote address by Rowland.

DeStefano’s proposed campaign slogan was “We’ve got you covered from all sides.”

But Rowland, who initially laughed at DeStefano’s joke along with the hundreds of businessmen and city officials in attendance, frowned when DeStefano unveiled the final of three campaign posters. Both the governor and the mayor, normally clean-shaven, donned “Al Gore-style” beards on the professional-looking poster.

“Between the two of us, there isn’t a point in the state that wouldn’t be covered,” DeStefano said.

Rowland, a Republican, and DeStefano, a Democrat, both displayed a keen sense of humor during the proceedings.

“Now I see what you do in City Hall all day,” Rowland joked at the start of his address, which immediately followed DeStefano’s 10-minute comedy routine.

In his speech, Rowland discussed two major legislative issues: the Cross Sound Co. cable project and the state budget.

Earlier this month, Rowland vetoed a controversial bill that would have placed a temporary moratorium on utility projects in Long Island Sound, including the already approved electric cable between New Haven and Brookhaven, N.Y.

“There’s a process to be followed for this type of cable,” Rowland said. “You don’t change the rules in the middle of the game.”

The state House voted to override Rowland’s veto on Tuesday, but the Senate narrowly upheld the governor the next day.

Had he not vetoed the bill, Rowland said, he felt the state would have faced a potential loss of as much as $100 million from lawsuits regarding the cable project.

The governor also defended Connecticut’s fiscal situation. The state will have an estimated $350 million deficit this fiscal year. But Rowland said only three other states will end the year in better shape than Connecticut. He added that he opposes increasing taxes and supports a 4 percent increase in the state budget.

“I don’t want to go backwards,” Rowland said. “Our philosophy is that we come out of this little ripple of a recession ahead of the other states.”

The chamber, which represents more than 1,200 businesses in the region, addressed several housekeeping matters during the first portion of the event. Michael Schaffer, the chamber’s nominating committee chairman, held informal elections for positions on the chamber’s Board of Directors.

Yale President Richard Levin presented to the New Haven Register the second annual Corporate Heritage Award, given to corporations and institutions that have served Greater New Haven for more than 100 years. Yale received the chamber’s inaugural Corporate Heritage Award last spring.

“It’s always a pleasure to follow Yale University in anything,” New Haven Register Publisher Kevin Walsh said.

In his award presentation, Levin set the stage for DeStefano and Rowland’s slapstick later on.

“A highly successful business itself, the Register understands how to run a newspaper in a competitive market,” Levin said.

The presence of DeStefano, Levin and Rowland at the breakfast demonstrated the interest of the city, University and state in local economic development issues.

“A strong region depends on a strong city, which is evident from the Chapel Square Mall deal reached last week,” said Chamber of Commerce President Anthony Rescigno in his opening statement.

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