Although the statewide election day will focus on campaign speeches and the last-minute scrambles for voters, for New Haven community members, Nov. 7 is a time for reflection on the tenure of both their mayor, John DeStefano Jr., and their governor, M. Jodi Rell.
In the Elm City, where voters are familiar with DeStefano’s policies and have experienced his leadership for over 12 years, community members said the election is more a report card of DeStefano’s years as mayor rather than a prediction for his possible future as governor. Several New Haven residents said DeStefano’s track record has generally been positive, but said it will be hard for the mayor to overcome Rell’s statewide popularity to win the gubernatorial race. A poll released by Quinnipiac University on Oct. 20 shows Rell leading DeStefano 59 to 33 percent among likely voters.
Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said he expects great local support for the mayor in the election. He said the fact that DeStefano — whose supporters say he has improved town-gown relations, reformed the troubled public school system and revitalized the local economy — has been reelected six times shows that he has a lot of support from New Haven residents.
Longtime New Haven resident John Burns said he would cast a vote for DeStefano based on his work in the city as mayor. Another local, who asked to remain anonymous, said he also supports DeStefano, though both men were quick to cite grievances with some of DeStefano’s decisions in New Haven — especially the demolition of Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum and the proposed downtown redevelopment projects currently underway.
DeStefano’s administration earmarked the New Haven Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum for demolition in 2004 to make way for a $230 million redevelopment of New Haven’s aging urban core that would bring Gateway Community College, among other civic institutions, into the downtown. Although some applauded DeStefano’s move, many others said the mayor was violating good urban design principles and that the Coliseum — which used to host concerts, circuses and sports games — should not have been knocked down.
“I didn’t like that he decided to knock down the Coliseum,” said Burns, sitting at Au Bon Pain on Broadway. “I think that was a bad move on his part, for New Haven and for the campaign.”
Local businessman and Block Watch Chairman Matt Short said he thinks many New Haven voters support DeStefano because he has brought together disparate groups and developed the city — whose largest property owners, including Yale, are tax-exempt — despite a lack of resources. He said New Haven might also favor DeStefano because of the issues he supports, such as universal health care and property tax reform.
“He’s right on the issues that are important to New Haven voters,” Short said. “He can do things with these issues as governor that he won’t be able to do as mayor.”
Other residents said DeStefano’s years in office are a negative in the race for governor, arguing that his policies and agendas in New Haven speak poorly of his ability to govern.
New Haven resident Melissa Ross said she thought DeStefano has made some bad decisions — such as raising taxes and pitching the Gateway project — as mayor, which have negatively influenced her decision on whether or not support him.
“I might still vote for him out of loyalty,” said Ross, waiting for a bus on the New Haven Green. “But I think he may have lost some votes with [the Gateway project.]”
Republican Congressional candidate Joseph Vollano, a longtime New Haven resident, said the state of New Haven affairs reflects badly on DeStefano and will cost him both local and statewide votes in the election. He said local problem areas, such as the crime rate, are not ones that people want to see at the state level.
“The taxes in New Haven are going up every year,” Vollano said. “He’s giving away too much property to schools, especially with the Gateway project. He’s taking away land that is prime real estate and giving it away to a tax exemption.”
While some residents said they were concerned with DeStefano’s decisions, many still said they would like to see DeStefano as governor. But regardless of DeStefano’s local advantage, many locals said they see Rell’s popularity as the major determining factor in the election. Some said that even local support would not be enough for DeStefano to win this uphill battle.
New Haven resident Tom Hosen said he thinks Rell’s history as governor is going to be a hard hurdle for DeStefano to overcome. He said the race is about Rell’s accomplishments, rather than DeStefano’s.
Like Hosen, Burns said even though he supports DeStefano, he does not expect him to win the election.
“I don’t think he has a very good chance,” Burns said. “He’s so far behind in the ratings, I don’t really think he can win.”
Ward 6 Alderwoman Dolores Colon also said she has confidence in DeStefano’s abilities, but not in his ability to defeat Rell. She said that although he is favored in the New Haven region, statewide approval for the incumbent might overrule DeStefano’s local support.
“Rell’s quite an incumbent,” Colon said. “She’s favored by many Democrats as well as Republicans. I think it’s going to be a tough fight come Election Day.”