While it came as a surprise to no one, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. formally announced his campaign for a record tenth term today.
DeStefano made his announcement in Newhallville against the backdrop of the shuttered Winchester Repeating Arms factory, once the centerpiece of the neighborhood’s economy. Now being redeveloped by Winstanley Enterprises to house 200 apartments and the headquarters of Higher One, a New Haven-based financial services startup, the building is an example of the “good choices” New Haven has made in growing its economy last year.
“We did in a year what most cities try to do in a decade,” DeStefano said, citing New Haven’s 3 percent grand list growth last year, the fastest in the state.
More than business growth, however, DeStefano cited education reform in the city’s public schools as his primary motivation to seek yet another term as mayor. In the past several years, the city’s school district has won considerable flexibility in a contract with the teachers’ union, closed underperforming schools, instituted a teacher evaluation system, and rolled out New Haven Promise, the college scholarship program, with help from Yale. About 8,000 students come to New Haven schools from the suburbs, DeStefano said.
“Point to another city where the flight is suburban to urban,” DeStefano said. “School Change is working: test scores, student attendance, and parental participation are all up. That’s why I’m standing here.”
The mayor showed great leadership in achieving meaningful reform with the collaboration of the city’s teachers, said teachers’ union president David Cicarella.
Violence remains unacceptably common in the city, DeStefano acknowledged. Rather than try to “arrest our way out of the problem,” however, DeStefano said the city’s strategy should target narcotics and emphasize working with the prison reentry population.
Released from prison in 2005, George Cunningham thanked the mayor for his commitment to initiatives such as the Small Business Mentorship program. With the program’s help, Cunningham said, he was able to start his successful painting business.
“I made some choices in my life that I’m not proud of, but when I got out of prison I knew I didn’t want to go back to the streets,” said Cunningham, who said he dropped out of high school in the ninth grade. While he was skeptical of the city program at first, completing it helped him get his life back on the right track, he said.
In the crowd at the vacant factory on Winchester Ave. was one of the men who will run against DeStefano in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary, Clifton Graves. A former city attorney and civil rights activist, Graves said DeStefano offers the city “the same voice more misdirection.”
Graves is not alone in challenging DeStefano: Tony Dawson, a former Hill Alderman and an employee of Yale-New Haven Hospital, will announce his bid for mayor this Saturday. Because Dawson and Graves are both African-American, some have speculated that their candidacies would split the city’s black voters, a concern Graves said he understands but does not fear.
“The black vote is not monolithic, and everyone has a right to run,” Graves said.
If DeStefano wins a tenth term in the Nov. 8 general election, he will become the longest-serving mayor in New Haven’s history.