Mayor John DeStefano Jr’s ever-shifting, but still unthreatening, array of challengers for the 2007 city mayoral race grew again Wednesday with the announcement of Green Party candidate Ralph Ferrucci.
Ferrucci’s official entry into the race came at an afternoon press conference, but its origins were in a 10-day question-and-answer period on the forums of the New Haven Independent that ended today. Ferrucci, the Green Party candidate who challenged Sen. Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 in 2006, took questions from residents and provided in-depth answers sometimes nearing 2,000 words. With the help of reader comments, Ferrucci said, he ultimately decided to run — a move that may hint at the power of online community journalism as much as his determination to influence public debate in New Haven.
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Ferrucci ran against DeStefano in 2003 on the Guilty Party ticket, receiving 15 percent of the vote after spending only $800. His views on local issues are not particularly sympathetic to Yale — the University does not contribute enough money to the city and drives up housing costs, he said.
“Yale is both positive and negative,” Ferrucci wrote on the forum, explaining that the positive is that the students can spend money downtown but suggesting that the negative might be the greater factor.
“Landlords raise rents because they can always find someone to fill the apartment as long as Yale students are around, usually grad students and mostly in East Rock area,” he said.
He disagrees with DeStefano about how to best enforce accountability in the Board of Education, saying the board should be elected rather than appointed. He also said development downtown — one of DeStefano’s flagship projects — should not take precedence over development in less fortunate communities.
Ferrucci is a wide-ranging thinker whose deepest beliefs touch not only on New Haven but on the world at large. For example, he has condemned what he believes was unjustified aggression into Lebanon by the Israeli army this summer, a position which launched a spirited debate in the online forum in the days leading up to his announcement.
In addition to Ferrucci’s announcement, Willie Greene, who announced his candidacy in November, filed to enter the race on Wednesday.
Jessica Mayorga, DeStefano’s spokeswoman, said Wednesday night that the mayor “very much welcomes” the candidacies of Ferrucci and Greene, who has not returned repeated requests for comment.
“This will be a very good opportunity to discuss issues that are important to him as well as others in the city,” she said. “Competition is healthy anywhere and the mayor agrees. It’s an opportunity to bring more ideas out into the open, and that’s what democracy is all about.”
But some critics have argued that competition will be lacking in the race, as the chairwoman and many others in the Democratic Town Committee are in lockstep with the seven-term mayor.
The next candidate likely to enter the fray is James Newton, who challenged DeStefano as an independent unsuccessfully in 1999.
But Paul Bass ’82, editor and founder of The New Haven Independent, joked that there is “room for 30 to 40 more” candidates to announce on the Independent’s Web site. After all, the publication’s forums have already served as the campaign base for Ferrucci and independent candidate Andy Ross, who dropped out of the race several days after declaring his candidacy on the Web site’s forums. Bass said his Web site began as a “virtual water cooler” but has evolved recently into a “virtual civic commons.”
“I just think that the citizens have taken over the engine. They’re driving the train,” Bass said. “And I do think that’s where civic journalism is going — as a launching pad for the community to care more about the city and to do more about it.”