Tuesday’s mayoral contest came down to the wire, but in the end 18-year incumbent John DeStefano Jr. won a record 10th term in office.
After a day of last minute campaigning, DeStefano held onto the Elm City’s highest office with 55 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s general election, beating out challenger Jeffrey Kerekes with a final count of 8,556 votes to 6,901. The victory came after a bitter campaign in which Kerekes, a budget watchdog who first declared his candidacy in June, leveled relentless accusations of corruption and dishonesty at the mayor. DeStefano’s margin of victory, about 10 percent, was significantly lower than that which he secured in the 2009 election, but the mayor held on despite what Kerekes supporters are calling a visible shift in public opinion toward DeStefano.
Final results in the race were not announced until around 8:40 p.m. After learning of his victory, DeStefano addressed a group of about 100 of his supporters at Wicked Wolf Tavern on Temple Street.
“I’ve been here before, but it’s like the first time all over again,” DeStefano said after being introduced by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who represents New Haven.
The numbers bear out the relative difficulty of this year’s race for DeStefano: in the 2009 mayoral election, DeStefano was re-elected with 74.5 percent of the vote, almost 20 percentage points higher than his performance Tuesday night. DeStefano said the sluggish economy in New Haven and the nation at large was his greatest challenge during the campaign.
But DeLauro said DeStefano’s victory shows that New Haven residents trust the Mayor in this time of economic difficulty.
“It’s a tough time for people: they’re worried about their economic future but they made a determination that John DeStefano was good for their economic futures,” she said.
Kerekes, who ran for mayor for the first time this year, waited for the ballots to be counted with around 25 supporters at his house on Lyon Street. He said he called DeStefano and left a message congratulating him on the victory after learning of the outcome. Despite his supporters’ disappointment, Kerekes energized his crowd, emphasizing that his team made a lot of progress over the past five months.
“While the results are disappointing, there is much to be proud of,” Kerekes said at a 9:40 p.m. press conference at his home. “We ran a campaign of the highest ethical standards, we told the truth, and we didn’t shake down city workers.” He added that his campaign’s budget totaled $43,000 while DeStefano spent over $700,000.
At the event, Kerekes’ supporters voiced their frustration with DeStefano’s tenure in the mayor’s office. Former Ward 14 alderwoman Joe Forte said that after 18 years of DeStefano, change is needed “to get the city moving forward.”
“I think DeStefano’s ability to dole out favors was a significant factor [in his win],” said Joel LaChance, a New Haven resident, at Kerekes’ house. “It’s only the ones who aren’t connected to him that are tired of him.”
Tuesday’s contest was not the first time DeStefano and Kerekes have faced off at the polls. In the Sept. 13 Democratic primary, which included two other candidates, DeStefano captured 43.2 percent of the vote to Kerekes’ 22.7 percent.
In an interview with the News after his speech, DeStefano said Kerekes ran a good campaign. Now that the election is over, he said, “there are no opponents” and politicians must work together to improve New Haven.
Though both candidates struck a conciliatory tone Tuesday evening, the campaign was littered with controversy and hard-edged rhetoric.
After DeStefano announced the resignation of Police Chief Frank Limon on Oct. 17, Kerekes called DeStefano a “liar” because City Hall had denied until a day earlier rumors that Limon was planning to depart.
On the eve of the election, Kerekes announced that his campaign would have complaint forms at all polling stations Tuesday due to suspicions that DeStefano’s campaign would engage in voter fraud.
Danny Kedem, DeStefano’s campaign manager, said those suspicions were “baseless,” and at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Kerekes acknowledged that aside from an unspecified “little bit of concern” in Ward 5 earlier in the morning, he had received no reports of suspicious activity.
Throughout the day, both candidates visited polling places around the Elm City, including the Ward 1 poll at the New Haven Public Library on Elm Street.
DeStefano’s new term will begin in January.