DeStefano does D.C. for meeting of mayors

Mr. DeStefano is going to Washington — at least for the weekend.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. is currently in the nation’s capital to participate in the 76th winter meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors, where he has joined over 250 of his national counterparts to discuss the economy. While there, he will speak at the Brookings Institution, where the Mayor’s Innovation Project — a group independent of the United States Conference of Mayors — is hosting a meeting, which was scheduled to coincide with the other conference.

The Mayor’s Innovation Project, much like the U.S. Conference of Mayors, brings city leaders and their staffs together with experts to showcase pioneering policies that cities across the country are undertaking.

In the recent past, the United States Conference of Mayors has advocated environmental conservation, persuading cities to accept strict climate-protection standards. But this year, while discussion of the environment will still be on the agenda, it may be overshadowed by concerns about the economy, specifically the continued mortgage-lending crisis. Foreclosures in American cities have surged in the past year, and it appears the trend will continue in 2008.

DeStefano is no stranger to this phenomenon — the rate of foreclosures in New Haven has risen by more than 80 percent over the past year.

“Everyone has their eye on the mortgage lending crisis,” he said. “What’s happened [in the economy] over the last weeks puts the focus on dealing with that crisis first.”

Mayors across the country have criticized the federal government for failing to come up with a solution to the lending problem. The Conference has published the Mayors’ 10 Point Plan, entitled Strong Cities, Strong Families, for a Strong America, which discusses crime, the environment and a variety of other urban topics.

“I don’t see how the economic stimulus package talked about in Washington is going to provide relief,” said DeStefano, who counts himself among those who think that municipal governments must compensate for the federal government’s inactivity. “There need to be greater efforts at counseling before people take out their subprime or adjustable rate loans, and then greater access to credit [for people defaulting on those loans] … No one benefits from the foreclosures — not the banks, not the individuals, not the neighborhoods.”

But DeStefano’s talk at the Brookings Institution will give him a chance to look past the economic gloom and discuss one of his signature initiatives in New Haven.

The topic of DeStefano’s talk: the new Elm City Resident Cards.

“The mayor will be discussing the history of how the city came about the Elm City Card Program,” City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said. “He will be giving some important information to leaders of other cities, since other cities are dealing with these issues of immigration and want to know how we got here, how we implemented the program and why it works.”

The multi-purpose Elm City Resident Cards — available to all residents, regardless of their immigration status — function as debit cards for some local merchants, access cards for public libraries and proof of identification to open bank accounts.

“We’ve invited Mayor DeStefano because the Elm City Resident Cards are the most recent example of a progressive response to dealing with immigration in the community,” Satya Rhodes-Conway, a senior associate for the Mayor’s Innovation Project, said. “New Haven has said, ‘These people are here and we have to figure out for the best interest of the city how we can deal with everyone.’”

Citing DeStefano as a municipal-government leader who took effective action when the state and federal governments could not, Rhodes-Conway added, “Cities are doing interesting things, and we believe New Haven is at the front of that.”

The United States Conference of Mayors was founded in 1932.

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