Mayor debates rivals

New Haven’s four mayoral candidates met in a public forum for the first time Tuesday evening to lay out their visions for the city at a standing-room-only debate at Gateway Community College.

At the approximately 90-minute event, which will likely be the only debate before the Nov. 3 election, eight-term incumbent John DeStefano Jr. drew on his experience to emphasize the importance of tax stabilization, job creation, and education reform to New Haven’s future prosperity, whereas his challengers, all of whom are independents, generally spoke in vague terms about what they would each do if elected mayor.

For the most part, the evening’s discussion revolved around New Haven’s fiscal situation and education reform, and provided DeStefano with a forum to announce in his closing statements that the New Haven teachers’ union had approved a new contract with the city — a key development in the mayor’s plan for comprehensive education reform.

Yet while the debate focused on policy and politics, challengers Ralph Ferrucci and Henri Sumner were not shy about interjecting with quips and personal anecdotes.

Quizzing the candidates on issues such as the state’s budget, taxes and jobs was a panel of four reporters from various New Haven-based media outlets.

One of the members of the panel was Paul Bass ’82, who was representing the New Haven Independent. In an interview prior to the debate, Bass called the evening’s debate “the one chance in this campaign for the city to debate issues in the way that more active campaigns do every day.”

The debate followed the following format: A question was asked of one candidate and after that candidate had responded within one minute, the others had 30 seconds to respond to his or her answer. The candidate who answered the question first had the opportunity to respond again after the others had answered.

Bass opened the debate by asking how the candidates would increase the number of New Haven residents who recycle. Angela Watley, the race’s only female candidate and a police department employee, was the first person to answer a question and could not manage an answer — “I don’t know right now,” she responded.

However, she was more animated later on in the event when she discussed her desire to improve New Haven’s schools and to increase the amount of attention city government gives to all of New Haven’s neighborhoods.

When the talk turned to the city’s finances Ferrucci emphasized that if elected mayor he would push for the city to tax Yale, a point to which he returned throughout the night.

“We should look to Yale to pay their fair share,” he said. “They don’t pay their fair share.”

This year, Yale increased its annual voluntary payment to the city of New Haven to more than $7 million, an increase of $2.5 million.

Still, of all the candidates, only DeStefano had the advantage of being able to discuss policy that is already in place or that is in the process of being implemented and cited his freeze on property taxes this year and plans for working with local hospitals and clinics to distribute the H1N1 vaccine. Nevertheless, DeStefano also disagreed with the other candidates on a number of issues, such as whether the city should look outside of New Haven for a new Chief of Police, when current New Haven Police Department Chief James Lewis leaves his current post.

When asked a question about New Haven’s policies of towing cars to bring in revenue if too many tickets are not paid off, Watley suggested changing the program and Ferrucci — who declared that he owed a little over $100 in parking tickets on his three cars — called the current policy “a little too aggressive.”

“I think people should pay their taxes and pay their fee in fines,” DeStefano said.

DeStefano also disagreed with the other candidates who said that the New Haven Board of Education should be elected. Currently, members of the Board of Education are appointed by DeStefano.

“It would be a disaster,” he said, adding that he thought an elected school board would turn into factions fighting against each other.

Education reform is a focal point of DeStefano’s reelection platform, said Keya Jayaram, his campaign manager said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

If elected on Nov. 3, DeStefano will be New Haven’s longest-serving elected mayor.


  • Wewant Change

    Saddly the write-in Protest Candidate was not invited to the debate!!! He was very sad that they did not see him as an option :(
    “Wewant Change” is a protest candidate who believes that we have a lack of qualidied candidtes running for mayor and is hoping that the next election will offer some real choice

    Please see more info about this candidate at

    take the time this election year to make a statement
    Write the name “Wewant Change”!!!!! for mayor of New Haven!

  • Frank

    Wow!! Destefano talked about his freeze on property taxes??? He raised property taxes by a record 50% just over a year ago. Yale – you should report in context please.
    Mayoer Destefano’s policies and taxes has exascerbated the forclosrue problem in New Haven and resultantly increased blight and reduced property values. Destefano is ill equipped to be mayor even after all these practice terms he has had. I wonder if he’ll give request a raise again as his first order of business?

  • Brian


    You could not be more wrong. A couple of points.
    1) The foreclosure problem in New Haven has been caused by the collapse of the national housing market, not tax increases.
    2) Since 1994, the mill rate has decreased by almost 18 points since Mayor DeStefano took office in 1994. DeStefano has lowered taxes.
    3) Mayor DeStefano took a pay cut this year.

    What was clear from the debate is that there is only one serious candidate for Mayor this year. Deal with it.

  • John (joey)

    Give me a raise of $20,000 and i promise to give back $5,000. I’ll even return the money with the State of Ct. watching

  • TD’09

    What the hell, YDN? I was at the debate and I don’t see any of the IMPORTANT issues and things said in this. Did your reporter wimp out? This might as well be Mayorga’s happy introduction to new beat reporters. Ridiculous. So many important points missed.

  • Frank

    Brian – Try to read for comprehension. The key word was “exacerbated” re: the forclosure problem. And obviously you do not pay property taxes in New Haven otherwise you would’t make such a far fetched claim like, “DeStefano has lowered taxes”. He has raised them, and raised them a lot. This impacts owners and renters alike, and unquestionably lowers property values.

    And to your point on pay cut – I defer to comment #4.

    Sad that you’ll likely vote for Destefano, but I suppose you’ll be voting for Dodd too. Would you vote for a blue dog so long as there was a (D) after the name?

  • Luis

    Frank – Sad but true about destefano. The guy is dead stale. He can’t tighten the budget and the finances of this city and has cozied up with interests looking to exploit New Haven; seems to have forgotten about the people who demand a good quality of life on the edges of New Haven.

    BTW – it’s a yellow dog!