New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. showed up at the aldermanic chambers Monday night to offer his assessment of the city’s state of affairs. But he couldn’t resist the temptation to talk about the state of the nation.
“There are not many times that I would say that I’d prefer to be in Hartford instead of New Haven. But I know that at least some of us would like to be with Senator Obama tonight at the XL Center,” he said, referencing the Illinois senator’s and presidential aspirant’s campaign stop in the state capital yesterday afternoon. “But tonight is about our city.”
DeStefano used his annual State of the City address, delivered to about 150 attendees — including city officials, members of the Board of Aldermen and two dozen youth and teenagers — to highlight what he called the need for increased attention to youth, economic development and property taxes in New Haven. But the presentation amounted to a diverse array of largely unrelated policy initiatives — a compilation of “bits and pieces” of focus areas from the past several months, in the words of City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga — rather than a fresh internal grand strategy for the coming year.
That, after all, is because he instead turned to an external source of potential improvement: the state government in Hartford.
“We need … elected officials from around the state to feel the same sense of urgency about reform of the state’s tax structure that our homeowners feel,” he said.
Although the speech focused on the same topics as in past State of the City addresses, there were some new themes raised as well: The mayor trumpeted the recently announced Economic Development Corporation and Street Outreach Workers program, and he lambasted a local anti-illegal-immigrant group. Despite recent criticism from State Senator Toni Harp over the city’s resistance to working with successful charter schools in the area, however, DeStefano largely grazed over the thorny topic of education.
Throughout the course of his 39-minute speech, DeStefano also promised to reform the New Haven Police Department — which saw a narcotics scandal in March 2007 and underwent a Police Executive Research Forum report — and voiced aims to integrate the 25 inmates released from the state-operated Whalley Avenue jail into the city. He also called on state officials to contribute money to New Haven’s public-safety efforts.
“What we say and do here makes a difference,” he said. “In big and small ways we shape not only the city’s future, but that of … the nation as well.”
DeStefano said the city must finish the good work NHPD Chief Francisco Ortiz did while in office after he leaves in the spring, which will leave a hole in the department’s leadership ranks. Ortiz will be joining the Yale Police Department as senior director of public security of Yale’s West campus and special assistant to YPD Chief James Perrotti. DeStefano, however, provided no updates on finding a chief or how the PERF recommendations will be incorporated into the department for 2008.
In his remarks on economic development, DeStefano addressed previous complaints several New Haven residents voiced at a recent community meeting that an outsize focus on rejuvenating the downtown area may hurt other parts of the city.
“We can’t make this downtown growth versus neighborhood growth,” he said. “Downtown development does not come at the expense of the neighborhoods. For New Haven to be healthy, we need both.”
The eight-term mayor also stressed that “most” of the city’s revenue and jobs for city residents come from the downtown area.
DeStefano revealed plans last week for the new Economic Development Commission, a transparent partnership between Yale and New Haven company that will help bring in new business through rezoning.
On Jan. 31, DeStefano announced that Yale would pledge $1.6 million to the EDC, a donation that he chalked up to an improved city-University relationship.
At the end of the address, DeStefano ripped the Community Watchdog Project, a local anti-illegal-immigration group, for its recent campaign to convince black city residents that illegal immigrants are costing them jobs.
“There’s no place for this in New Haven,” he said as he held up a CWP flier. “We will never tolerate garbage such as this.”
As the most of the audience clapped and stood as the mayor left the aldermanic chambers, the four CWP members sat in their seats, arms crossed, whispering to each other.
After the meeting, CWP Chief Strategist Dustin Gold said his group will continue with the distribution of fliers.
“It’s not a heat speech,” he said. “We’re going to continue with what we’re doing.”
At the end of the meeting, CWP representatives passed out the fliers to the aisles.
DeStefano also proposed that the city cap property taxes for all New Haven residents at 6 percent of their adjusted gross income, with the city making up the revenue difference. The proposal differs in degree from one floated by Governor M. Jodi Rell, which would top annual increases in the municipal budget at 3 percent, the New Haven Independent reported in January.