Mayoral race fails to raise needed debate

While there are four candidates in New Haven’s mayoral race this year, the city has not seen a real election campaign. There should be little doubt that Mayor John DeStefano Jr. will be overwhelmingly reelected for a seventh term next Tuesday without having to offer substantial new proposals or answer tough questions.

But that’s a shame, because this time, the mayor’s opponents had ample grounds to attack the incumbent on his record, his plans and — most importantly — his ongoing gubernatorial campaign.

This election cycle provided an opportunity to open a constructive dialogue regarding DeStefano’s record during the past two years, notably his controversial handling of the downtown development project, which has been criticized for a lack of public consultation. The race also offered a chance to discuss the challenges New Haven continues to face after more than a decade under DeStefano’s leadership: economic stagnation in some city areas, rising housing costs, underperforming public schools and disturbing signs that crime may be on the rise.

Above all, this election should have served as a time for the city to remind the mayor that it needs a devoted and attentive leader in City Hall. As DeStefano’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination for next year’s gubernatorial race have risen, his interest in the issues confronting New Haven appears to have waned. Not only has he been frequently absent while touring Connecticut, his slow response to criticism about crime and recent cuts in youth programs raises concern about where his priorities lie.

Apart from the recent fiasco regarding the issuance of ID cards to the city’s undocumented immigrants — a proposal his administration made, then quickly retracted — DeStefano has recently shown little initiative either in leading the city or in proposing new ideas during the election. And the mayor’s continuing efforts to solicit campaign contributions from city contractors, though technically legal, present a deeply troubling conflict of interest for the city’s top decision-maker.

Admittedly, some of these issues have been raised during the campaign. In calling for increased investment in youth programs and the public school system beyond building construction, Guilty Party candidate Leslie Blatteau ’97 has addressed some of the city’s most pressing problems. But Blatteau falls short as a candidate — she lacks experience and practical solutions, and her status as a write-in candidate with negligible funding has limited the range of her message. The other two contenders in the race, Green Party candidate Eric Brown and Independent Gary Jenkins, have failed to communicate an engaging vision for the city.

In many respects, DeStefano has been an excellent mayor. He has made impressive progress in education, economic development, crime reduction and the improvement of town-gown relations. But New Haven should not be content with a mayor who rests on his laurels and focuses on a statewide campaign. Although the News endorses DeStefano for another term in office, we do so while expressing regret that he has not convinced us he is still devoted to serving the city.

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