With the city’s Democratic primary just a day away, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. wants voters to know he is not simply running for reelection — he is biking his way there.
In an effort to introduce residents to a sunnier side of the politician, DeStefano’s campaign has created a television commercial that features the mayor on two wheels, pedaling his way through the Elm City and, the campaign hopes, into the hearts of voters.
It is an undeniably off-beat commercial for a city that few associate with bicycling, and a mayor whose work, more often than not, centers around the nitty-gritty of big city politics and heavy issues such as crime and economic renewal.
In the commercial, which airs on cable and local affiliates of major networks such as CBS and ABC, a helmeted DeStefano — clad in khaki shorts and a collared yellow shirt — is joined on his route by children and policemen. After he gets cut off by a limousine, he shouts, “This guy could use some pedal power!”
“Pedal Power” has become the catch phrase of the campaign, which is exactly what the mayor’s advisors said they wanted.
“We want to show the mayor being funky, innovative and cutting edge,” said DeStefano’s campaign manager, Shonu Gandhi ’03. “He’s not your typical big-city mayor.”
Gandhi is a former staff columnist for the Yale Daily News.
She said the inspiration for the unusual commercial came from the mayor’s real-life pastime of bicycling through the neighborhoods of New Haven, a hobby he picked up around Earth Day 2003 — just six months ago. Yale student and New Haven resident Alexander Millman ’06 said he has seen DeStefano on his bicycle riding through the city, and enjoyed the commercial, but is not sure whether he will vote for the mayor on Tuesday.
“He follows the traffic laws, setting a good example,” Millman said.
In a city that has one of the state’s highest rates of childhood asthma, DeStefano has worked to create bike paths, replace bus filters and promote clean energy, Gandhi said.
“We chose and crafted this commercial because it specifically reflects our values,” Gandhi said. “A livable city, [where] people can move around, bike around, talk to their neighbors — as compared to 10 years ago.”
The commercial is also a departure from DeStefano’s more traditional past advertising campaigns.
“The last campaign was, in many ways, bitter,” said Chris Sautter, who directed the commercial and worked with DeStefano on his last campaign. “And, even though the mayor won, I think his preference would have been to run commercials that were less aggressive.”
The result — DeStefano’s Tour de New Haven.
“For him, it wasn’t really acting,” Sautter said. “He was doing what he does even when the camera is not on.”
Alderman Benjamin Healey ’04 and Marlon Castillo ’05, a former Yale Daily News reporter, had walk-on roles in the commercial as members of the crowd of DeStefano supporters along his bike route.
“I didn’t get asked to bicycle, though, which is what I really wanted to do,” Healey said. “Everyone knows the mayor has been driving a Lincoln Navigator.”
DeStefano’s opponent, Sherri Killins, expressed skepticism about the mayor’s commercial at a debate Thursday.
“I am really disappointed that after 10 years the mayor is finally discovering that there are pedestrians in an urban community,” Killins said.
But New Haven resident Elsie Rielly said she was pleasantly surprised by the commercial.
“It’s kind of cool,” she said. “No one else has done anything much better.”
It remains to be seen whether the commercial will help or hurt the mayor.
“I think it’s a good commercial,” Sautter said. “I guess we’ll know on Tuesday whether it worked.”