The voice of the Elm City is stepping down after a year representing City Hall and Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04, whose responsibilities included informing the public about the city’s initiatives and speaking on behalf of City Hall, recently announced she will leave her post to take a position as the Connecticut communications director for U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73. While a job posting appeared on the City Hall website last week, the city has not announced Benton’s replacement, who started the job last November.
“I have enjoyed immensely my time with the City, both as the Mayor’s Legislative Liaison and in my current role as the Director of Communications,” Benton wrote in a Friday email to the News. “I am proud of the work of this City and what it stands for, from the Elm City Resident Card ensuring that all residents are welcomed and engaged as members of this community, to the work of New Haven School Change ensuring that every student has the support, opportunity and resources to succeed in college and beyond.”
Before assuming her current position, Benton was the City Hall and school-system reporter at the New Haven Register, which she left to work for City Hall as DeStefano’s legislative liaison to the Board of Aldermen.
City Hall chief administrative officer Robert Smuts ’01 said she brought a new focus on social media that enabled the Mayor’s office to reach out to residents.
“It’s important for the city to reach out to its residents and let them know important information about what’s going on and to answer questions people have,” Smuts said. “My departments do a lot of basic work of the city, like public works, libraries, etc., and whenever we asked to communicate with the public, [Benton] would follow up and help us do that.”
New Haven Independent founder and editor Paul Bass ’82 said he agreed, adding that Benton was effective at increasing the use of social media, particularly Facebook, in City Hall.
Both Bass and Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 said that Benton was very effective at communicating with the public and getting out the mayor’s messages, adding that she fulfilled her role of representing and defending the mayor’s views well.
Elicker added that when he worked with Benton during her time as the liaison to the Board of Aldermen, she was “very loyal to the mayor.”
“When she was lobbying for something for the Mayor’s Office, she was very persistent and kept lobbying,” Elicker said. “An example is the Route 34 development: A lot of people were unsure and unhappy with the proposal the city was coming up with and had issues with the street design, but she advocated for the mayor’s policy and that’s her job.”
Bass, who said he has worked with all 11 City Hall spokesmen of DeStefano’s tenure, said that reporters have often had to work around the Mayor’s Office, which may withhold information through mechanisms such as Freedom of Information laws. He said that the “job” of the City Hall spokesman is to be a “roadblock,” adding that Benton fulfilled that role effectively. But he declined to comment on whether he was critical of Benton, explaining that it would be unfair to do so because withholding information was simply a part of her job description.
“The title of the job was public information director, but it should really be political operative for the mayor … When the press inquires about programs and new developments, she would hold off and make reporters fight for it,” Bass said.
Benton will continue living in New Haven.