DeStefano, Rowland focus on business as usual



Last week, both New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Gov. John G. Rowland gave major speeches laying out their agendas for the coming years. And in both cases, the mayor and governor chose not to mention a chief issue on the minds of their constituents and colleagues.

While the mayor described the achievements of his administration in a historical context and presented an agenda for reform of its political, corporate and nonprofit institutions, he did not discuss his own future, which likely includes a run for governor in 2006. Likewise, although Rowland spoke about having “guided the state through difficult times,” he was speaking about its economic troubles — not the scandals that could potentially lead to his impeachment.

In both cases, the speeches represented attempts by DeStefano and Rowland to conduct business as usual, even as the two public officials face circumstances far different from anything they have seen since their tenures began. Yet despite efforts by Rowland and DeStefano to maintain a focus on governing, rather than their political futures, some state and local leaders said glimpses of these extraordinary circumstances were evident in the two addresses.

New Haven Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez, a Democrat, said that the mayor’s State of the City address last Monday — which provided a lengthy discussion of New Haven’s economic and social transformation — reflected the mayor’s ambitions, even if DeStefano never directly mentioned his own political future.

“My impression was that he was running for governor,” Perez said, declining to elaborate further.

But while DeStefano is in the process of discussing his likely candidacy for governor with prominent local Democrats, aides in City Hall as well as some of his supporters on the Board of Aldermen said the mayor has tried to distance his duties as mayor from any preparations he is making for a gubernatorial campaign — especially since the six-term Democrat has repeatedly stated his intentions to run again for mayor in 2005.

“He really didn’t dwell on what the future held for him,” said Ward 27 Alderman Philip Voigt, chairman of the Board’s Finance Committee. “He really tried to stay focused on the future of New Haven.”

Rowland, on the other hand, may have greater difficulty separating his political future from his role as governor as he faces both a federal investigation and a legislative inquiry concerning free gifts he has admitted to receiving from state employees and contractors. Yet even though recent polls show that two-thirds of Connecticut residents support Rowland’s resignation, the governor tried to sound an optimistic tone in his State of the State address Wednesday.

In particular, the governor said both the state’s economic outlook and its fiscal situation look better than they have in several years, suggesting a shift from the extremely contentious budget negotiations of recent legislative sessions. Rowland said, for example, that he did not project another cut in aid to cities and towns — which provide a substantial percentage of revenues for New Haven and several other municipalities — while also expressing support for initiatives aimed toward senior citizens and higher education.

House Minority Leader Robert Ward, a Republican who represents North Branford and East Haven, said Wednesday was an “awkward day” for members of both parties. But Ward cautioned against reading too much into Rowland’s address, maintaining that the investigations into Rowland’s behavior would have little impact on the General Assembly’s deliberations over the budget.

“I think way too much attention was paid to the speech by the media,” Ward said. “Everyone anticipated something major, and, in many respects, he just laid out what his budget was going to be.”

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