Even after nine terms in office that ended in a massive city deficit, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. holds his cool when receiving millions of dollars in governmental help.
Before a crowd of about 20 people, DeStefano and Jim Finley, the executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, joined the Yale Urban Fellows on Tuesday night in the Dwight Hall common room to discuss how the Obama administration’s economic policies would affect New Haven. Praising the Obama administration’s economic policy thus far, both men touted six-figure projections for potential city improvement projects.
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DeStefano said the New Haven metro area is set to receive $5.3 million from the federal stimulus bill over the next two years. Though he criticized the extent of Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s oversight of the funds, he said New Haven will allocate its share of the funds toward improving city infrastructure, health care and education.
“Is change on the way?” Finley said. “Well, it’s in the air — no question about it.”
Dwight Hall Executive Director Alex Knopp echoed the sentiment: “What has happened with Obama is, as far as I’m concerned, a complete 180-degree turn in national policy so that for the first time it looks like the federal government will firmly make itself part of a national partnership with city governments.”
But both DeStefano and Finley said it would more difficult for the federal government to distribute funds between 30,000 cities rather than 50 states.
“I think a lot of people are going to be watching what’s going to happen in Washington, D.C.,” DeStefano said, “and it’s because the situation is so bad that people are going to risk more change than not.”
Both men advocated Obama’s brand of regionalization, emphasizing that the knowledge of how a city works exists at the city — not state — level.
“A lot of money goes to roads and bridge work from the Department of Transportation that many of us consider old-school projects,” Finley said of federal money that must pass by Rell’s desk. “We aren’t making anything go faster. We are just replacing existing architecture.”
DeStefano pushed for funding directly to cities with ample discretionary funding. The city, he said, has either applied for or will apply for several grants directly from the Connecticut Recovery Web site — the city has garnered $990,070 thus far from the federal stimulus.
The mayor noted the need for light rail initiatives to connect Hamden, West Haven and New Haven, and more rail systems with fewer stops along the way, a stab at Metro-North’s frequent stops. Discussion touched on trolleys and green transportation options, weatherization technology and cutting cities a larger share of sales tax revenue. He added that smaller and mid-sized banks, among with other smaller businesses, should receive more credit.
The mayor ended the panel by inviting Urban Fellows to join his community committee, a forum to voice suggestions and concerns.