DILEO: Necessary change in New Haven?

Change. Ever since President Obama’s 2008 campaign brought it to the forefront of American politics, this six-letter word has become the mantra for many in our society, particularly of our own up-and-coming generation. We’re excited to get rid of old, antiquated polices and ideas and bring forward new, progressive ideas and candidates. Growing up around New Haven, I was constantly surrounded by the enthusiasm that comes with such change. I tagged along to quirky coffee shops as a kid and walked in rallies and marches in high school. As a fourteen-year-old volunteering at Yale-New Haven Hospital, I had a front-row seat to see just how great the changes brought about by President Obama’s 2008 election could be.

Both Alderman Justin Elicker’s recent announcement that he will be entering New Haven’s upcoming mayoral race and State Representative Gary Holder-Winfield’s formation of an exploratory committee are making change a possibility for New Haven. This city appears to be the perfect place for this infectious idea to manifest itself. Mayor John DeStefano is currently in his tenth term, making him the longest-serving mayor of New Haven. A younger, newer candidate can unseat the twenty-year incumbent. But every resident of New Haven should wonder: Is change necessary?

Mayor DeStefano has brought the high school graduation rate up from 58.1 percent in 2009 to 70.5 percent in 2012 according to a recent article in the News, and a quick walk through any of the beautifully renovated public schools shows the results of his 1.5 billion dollar investment in education. He has also made New Haven a model for progressive immigration policy, something that I came to understand while volunteering at an immigration clinic in Fair Haven. Change can be a powerful thing, but only in situations that warrant it. It seems that blindly advocating for a change can be just as detrimental as not pushing for a change when it is needed. Being in office for twenty years is not a reason for a mayor to be replaced if he is continuing to excel in his position.

So for now, my allegiance still undeniably lies with Mayor DeStefano. He deserves credit for the Elm City Resident Card, and the improvements that immigrants have seen in their quality of life. He deserves respect for his commitment to revitalizing New Haven’s economy.

However, our mayor has often come under criticism for running a so-called “political machine.” My friends’ parents, longtime employees of the city under DeStefano’s leadership, often spoke of the necessity of being friendly with the Mayor to get tasks accomplished or complaints addressed. And so despite my reluctance to cast a ballot for a candidate other than Mayor DeStefano, this entrenchment could be a reason to consider the merits of a new candidate.

There is a possibility that Holder-Winfield or Elicker could do even more than DeStefano, and perhaps with a more a more transparent style. It is also possible that a fear of uncertainty is playing a part in my reluctance to adopt a new candidate as my choice for New Haven.

But I am more concerned that if they do not succeed in office, our deserving immigrants will suffer the consequences of a mayor who does not effectively advocate for them, or that the high school graduation rate will fall back down to lower levels. Our Elm City certainly needs to continue improving, and Mayor DeStefano has proved that he can make a positive impact.

If nothing else, a competitive mayoral race will certainly be good for DeStefano and the city. Having to run against strong candidates will force the mayor to knock on doors, to talk to people and listen to their concerns. As we begin to consider this election, I hope that we will remember that change can be good, and fear of change can hold our community back. However, I also hope that we can remember that change for the sake of change can be equally harmful.

Monica DiLeo is a freshman in Calhoun College. Contact her at monica.dileo@yale.edu .

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