DeStefano gets News’ nod for governor

Incumbent Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, has been praised by many as a good caretaker of this state and, indeed, Rell has been. Her plans have been intelligent: backing the creation of clean elections, beginning improvements to the state’s transportation system and, most impressively, supporting a 10-year $100 million plan that will fund stem-cell research in Connecticut. More than that though, Rell led the state away from the legacy of former Gov. John Rowland, who earned a year in jail for corruption. With her grandmotherly persona and image of stability, Rell took this ship of state and steadied it.

But sitting here in New Haven, we see many more problems in this state than does, apparently, Rell, whose campaign never successfully addressed the challenges — from health care to public safety and job creation — that we face. At a debate with her challenger, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., Rell said she could not name the biggest mistake she has made as a public official. We would question that response. Her mistake has been passing up the opportunity these past two years to effect real change and improve the quality of life for Connecticut residents.

In contrast, DeStefano’s campaign brought up the issues Rell ignored, and we commend him for running a campaign that was, for the most part, very issues-based. DeStefano has been right to identify improving access to health care and creating more jobs as two of his top priorities. Connecticut ranks near last in the nation in new job creation, and over 300,000 of our residents are uninsured. Massachusetts has shown that universal health care is not an absurd dream, and while it remains to be seen how affordable DeStefano’s plans are, Rell has not even indicated that she would fight for any change in the status quo.

As mayor of New Haven since 1993, DeStefano has been a strong leader. New Haven’s downtown has seen a resurgence under his leadership, in part because he found common ground with Yale. His support for the creation of magnet and charter schools in New Haven, as well as his current plans to redevelop the site of the Coliseum, show that he is a creative problem solver when faced with challenges — whether public education or the legacy of 1960s urban renewal — many think are intractable. Most importantly, as an urban mayor in a state split between rich suburbs and poor cities, DeStefano could bring a new perspective to Hartford and support initiatives, such as improving public transportation, to give our cities a needed boost.

DeStefano is not a perfect choice. His decision-making is no doubt influenced by his close relationship with labor unions — see how he held up approval of the Yale-New Haven Hospital Cancer Center until the unions’ conditions were met. His plan to pay for universal health care by closing corporate loopholes seems to be at odds with his goal of attracting more industry to the state. And for all that he has blasted Rell for ethical lapses, DeStefano has taken quite a lot of money from contractors working for the city.

But that said, DeStefano has bold ideas that, if implemented wisely, could bring our state forward in a way that Rell’s cautious planning will not. The News endorses John DeStefano Jr. for governor.

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