The name John DeStefano Jr. is all around New Haven — on signs adorning school construction projects, on lawns in the form of campaign signs, in registered voters’ mailboxes.
Despite the nearly ubiquitous presence of the name DeStefano around the city, the mayor struggles with visibility on Yale’s campus, a problem DeStefano admits to readily. In an informal survey of 50 undergraduates in Commons and on Cross Campus over the weekend, 30 said they knew who John DeStefano Jr. is. Still, with tomorrow’s mayoral election not hotly contested, Yalies’ votes are not what matter most, DeStefano’s campaign manager said.
DeStefano openly speaks about his lack of visibility at Yale. When he was an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut, he said, he had no idea who the political leaders were at the time.
“I think the average Yale student, when I walk across Cross Campus, has no idea who I am,” he said in an interview last week.
Politically active Yalies interviewed said they do not think many students outside of political organizations have much of an awareness of the mayor. But regardless of student sentiment, DeStefano’s campaign manager, Keya Jayaram, said Yalies are generally not going to be the biggest factor in determining who wins or loses a New Haven election.
“Yale students aren’t a make or break demographic,” she said.
Even though the mayor’s name is on campaign signs around the city, DeStefano and Jayaram said promoting visibility is harder to accomplish at Yale than in the rest of the city. While his campaign has been sending mailings, adorning lawns with signs and making phone calls to registered voters, DeStefano said few students choose to access media outlets in which he appears regularly. He added that Yalies are more likely to know who he is after four years at college, but then they leave. A quarter of Yale students change every year after graduation, and between election cycles about half of them wave goodbye to the Elm City.
Four students, like Daniel Chandra ’12, said the Yale community can feel isolated from city issues.
When asked, “Who is John DeStefano Jr.?” Julia Atkinson ’10 answered “Is that the mayor?” After she was asked she why she was initially unsure about this answer, Atkinson said there is a sentiment on campus that “we live in a Yale bubble.”
Even students who do community service in the city, like Elise Brown ’12, can sometimes think they are acting within the purview of Yale, rather than in New Haven.
“I’ve never gotten a chance to go out and explore New Haven,” said Brown, who has tutored and volunteered for painting jobs in the city.
Many of those who knew of the mayor said so definitively. One girl on Cross Campus answered while walking: “The mayor. Nine terms running.”
But, Allyson Lieberman ’10 answered that she knew DeStefano’s name but not much else about him.
DeStefano said he thinks Yalies see his work affecting “quality of life” issues in their day-to-day life, such as trash removal, traffic enforcement and 911 services.
“It’s more the routine transactions of city government rather than broad policy initiatives,” DeStefano said of the aspects of his work that are visible to Yalies.
Ben Stango ’11, the lobbying coordinator for the Yale College Democrats, which is working with DeStefano on lobbying for public school reform, said the name DeStefano easily rings a bell with Yale students who are involved in Yale’s many political organizations.
Stango said the different political groups on campus discuss DeStefano, who comes to campus about once a semester to talk to the Dems.
Ward 1 aldermanic candidate Mike Jones ’11, who won the Democratic endorsement vote, said Yale students have had less of a chance to engage in city politics this year because the race for mayor is not hotly contested. Although there are three other candidates running for the seat, it is widely believed the mayor’s seat is not in great jeopardy.
Still, Jayaram added that over the summer, the campaign benefitted from the work of several Yale students: three Yalies served as full-time organizers, and between eight and 15 served as volunteers.
DeStefano’s Deputy Campaign Manager, Ben Shaffer ’09, a former president of the Yale College Democrats, said Yale students run the gambit as far as their interest in politics is concerned, but he said students should not be underestimated.
“Yalies are more involved in New Haven than most people give them credit for,” he said.
DeStefano is up for re-election Tuesday, Nov. 3. If he wins, he will be the city’s longest serving elected mayor.