New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. held a private meeting with local supporters last night to discuss his plans for the future, including his preparations for a run for governor.
DeStefano spoke to several aldermen, Democratic Party officials and other community leaders about his desire to run for both mayor in 2005 and governor in 2006, several attendees said. Addressing about 70 people in a crowded room at the Graduate Club, DeStefano asked local supporters to help elect one of their own to statewide office.
New Haven Democratic Town Committee chair Suzie Voigt said DeStefano described his accomplishments in the Elm City and pledged to bring a focus on middle-class families and education to the governor’s mansion.
“Don’t do this because you like me,” DeStefano said, according to Voigt. “Do this because you think we can bring these same things and achievements to Hartford.”
Although DeStefano has not yet created a formal campaign committee or begun raising money, the six-term mayor has not made secret his desires to run for both reelection and governor. Prior to the meeting, which was closed to the media, aides to the mayor said the invite-only gathering was intended to keep local Democrats involved and excited as DeStefano prepares for a statewide campaign.
In recent weeks, DeStefano — who commissioned private polls last fall revealing that he was not well-known outside the New Haven area — has attempted to make contacts across the state and spoken with several potential fund-raisers.
Voigt said that while statewide Democrats are confident about the party’s ability to retake the governor’s mansion for the first time since 1991 — especially given the scandals surrounding Republican Gov. John G. Rowland — DeStefano and others recognize the need to begin campaigning well before 2006.
“Politics isn’t kindergarten, where you take turns. We’ve lost the last four [gubernatorial] elections,” Voigt said. “So if we are going to make it our turn, it’s because we start this early.”
Along with DeStefano, several other prominent Democrats around the state have been mentioned as potential candidates, including Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz ’83, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy and former U.S. Rep. James Maloney.
Attendees said the mayor did not speak extensively about his policy proposals, although he mentioned his desire to expand opportunities for early childhood education, lower tuition at state universities and implement statewide property tax reform. For the most part, leaders who attended said DeStefano described how, after winning five mayoral primaries, he was prepared for a competitive fight for the nomination.
“I think everyone realizes it is going to be a challenge,” said Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, who represents most of the Yale campus. “No one is placing bets yet.”
Charlie Pillsbury ’72, who ran unsuccessfully for alderman as a Green in Ward 19 last year, said he was crossing party lines to support DeStefano in his bid for governor because of the mayor’s strong support for environmental protections and election reforms.
“He’ll have some tough competition, but I think he has the fire in the belly,” Pillsbury said. “New Haven is a good proving ground.”