Two former aldermen and another long-time city employee are preparing to challenge New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. when he seeks a seventh term as mayor next fall.
Tom Holahan ’63 GRD ’72 and Willie Greene, both of whom served stints on the Board of Aldermen, as well as former city spokesman Gary Jenkins all said this weekend that they were stepping their campaigns for the city’s highest office into high gear in September. While the candidates articulated different reasons for running, all three said they believed it was time for new leadership in City Hall and that they would seek a mandate for change in large part by drawing support from New Haven’s black and Hispanic communities.
Although DeStefano has not faced particularly close elections in either the Democratic primary or the general election in recent years, the challengers said they believed the longtime mayor could be defeated, especially as he tries to run simultaneously for governor of Connecticut.
“He’s not an entrenched mayor. He can be beat,” said Greene, a Newhallville resident who served a total of 10 years on the Board of Aldermen until he was defeated in a Democratic primary last year. “He’s there, in my opinion, by default.”
DeStefano’s decision to seek both offices at once has drawn criticism from his local challengers, who argue that he will ignore the city at the expense of his statewide ambitions.
“Practically speaking, it’s going to be a huge strain on his time and energy, and I don’t think he’s going to be able to spend as much as he needs to on the city,” said Holahan.
But DeStefano said he was unconcerned about having to split time between the two races, pointing out that he has made his intentions to run for both offices clear for months.
“If Joe Lieberman could be a U.S. senator and run for president of the United States at the same time, I have relative confidence that I can handle both these things,” DeStefano said.
All three challengers have historically been registered Democrats, but only Greene said he intended to run against DeStefano in the primary next fall. Both Holahan and Jenkins said they planned to run as independents or on third party tickets next year, a move that would allow them to challenge the mayor in the general election in November.
Holahan, who officially filed to run for mayor last week, has been preparing for a mayoral campaign all summer, producing a briefing book of “Ideas for New Haven” that numbers over 30 pages. A retired high school science teacher who served as an alderman for six years in the 1980s, Holahan said some of his central priorities for City Hall include a revamped budget process, a changed system for overseeing the Police Department and greater support for teaching in city schools.
Jenkins — who has worked as a Marine, a news anchor, a spokesman for several City Hall departments and now as a pastor with Sword of the Spirit Ministries — said although he planned to file to run within the next week, he is embarking on an “ascertainment tour” to determine whether local residents are interested in his candidacy. Jenkins said he hoped to focus his campaign on cutting crime and offering affordable housing.
“I actually admire and respect Mayor DeStefano. However, I believe that there is a need for a different spirit in government in the sense that a person should stand on their convictions,” said Jenkins, who worked for the city until his position was eliminated during budget cuts two years ago. “There’s a need for a continued compassion for people. There’s a need to do things a different way in considering the voters and the residents in New Haven.”
Greene, who clashed several times with DeStefano when he served on the Board of Aldermen, said he hoped to change directions from what he called an “arrogant administration.” Greene said he hoped to reverse DeStefano’s policies for the city’s downtown area, which the Newhallville resident said were creating a central district that “doesn’t want to see black, brown or poor people.”
All three candidates are starting their campaigns significantly earlier this year than DeStefano’s challenger in last year’s Democratic primary, former Empower New Haven CEO Sherri Killins. Neither Killins nor DeStefano kicked off their campaigns until less than six months before their September 2003 primary.