New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. officially began his campaign for a sixth term in City Hall Wednesday night a block away from his childhood home.
DeStefano, who has served as mayor since 1994, kicked off his campaign before a fund-raising dinner of about 400 supporters at Anthony’s Ocean View Restaurant. In a brief speech, he spoke of continuing to make New Haven an attractive place to live, and he said he hoped to continue the work he had done in his over nine years as mayor.
“There is no place you can go in this state and people don’t understand that something good is happening in New Haven,” DeStefano said. “With your help, we’re going to do it for two more [years].”
While DeStefano may be in the midst of his most challenging year as mayor — with the city running its first deficits since he took office — no candidates have yet emerged to challenge DeStefano in either the September Democratic primary or the November general election. DeStefano’s campaign committee is the only one to have filed with the city clerk’s office, a step necessary before any candidate may begin raising money.
Two years ago, state Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney challenged DeStefano in a bitterly-fought primary that divided the local Democratic party. Although DeStefano won the Democratic nomination with 62 percent of the vote, he was forced to raise over $450,000 during the primary campaign.
Without a declared challenger, DeStefano has started his campaign — and his fund-raising efforts — significantly later in the election cycle than he did in 2001. DeStefano, Looney and Republican nominee Joel Schiavone ’58 all began actively campaigning for the mayor’s office by November 2000.
While DeStefano said he did not yet know who his challengers might be, he said opposition would “help focus the debate.”
“The campaign is just an opportunity to engage people and involve people in the life of the community,” DeStefano said. “I think what you always try to do in a campaign is to highlight where you are and where you’re going.”
Ward 28 Alderman Brian Jenkins, who said he had been contacted by many people asking him to challenge the mayor, said he would not run against DeStefano. But he said he expected to support another Democrat in a run against DeStefano.
“I would endorse a homeless person for mayor over John DeStefano,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said DeStefano’s administration has deprived young Hispanics and African-Americans of economic opportunities and limited municipal services in wards whose aldermen oppose the mayor.
“I think people are sick and tired of his administration because he runs what I call a bully pulpit,” Jenkins said. “I think, quite frankly, that he is a very petty mayor.”
For the second straight election, DeStefano’s campaign will be managed by a Yalie. Shonu Gandhi ’03, who worked actively for the mayor’s campaign in 2001, will serve as DeStefano’s campaign manager, following in the footsteps of former Ward 1 Alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99.
Gandhi, who also writes a column for the Yale Daily News, said she hoped the campaign would serve as a “civic project,” giving citizens an opportunity to discuss ideas concerning public safety, wealth creation and education.
“We want to give people a chance to be part of the discussion,” Gandhi said.
Republican town committee chairwoman Melissa Papantones declined to comment on any potential Republican candidates. In 2001, DeStefano won the general election with over 70 percent of the vote. New Haven has not had a Republican mayor since 1951.
“It’s another election cycle, and hopefully it will be better this time,” Papantones said.
Ward 9 Alderman John Halle said the Green Party had not yet decided whether to nominate its own candidate. The Greens did not field a candidate in the last mayoral election, but Halle said many members might support Democratic candidates without a formal endorsement from the party.
“We want to run serious campaigns and as a point of policy, we don’t endorse across party lines,” said Halle, who is also a Yale music professor.
Speaking at the fundraiser, state Rep. Bill Dyson said DeStefano had helped make New Haven a “beacon” for other cities in the state.
“I know that he has been a good mayor,” Dyson said. “He has worked hard, he has set an example, and that’s an example we can be proud of.”
DeStefano also praised New Haven as a model for other cities, comparing it favorably to Bridgeport, where former Mayor Joseph Ganim recently resigned after being convicted of 16 federal counts of corruption.
“Our politics is very different,” DeStefano said. “Our politics is not the politics of ‘I.’ Our politics is the politics of ‘we.'”