DeStefano advocates education and economic reform

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. focused on education, the economy, public safety and the budget during the State of the City.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. focused on education, the economy, public safety and the budget during the State of the City. Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

With one year left before he steps down as New Haven’s longest-serving mayor, John DeStefano Jr. delivered his final State of the City address Monday night.

Speaking to a crowded chamber at City Hall, DeStefano stressed the need for the city to continue focusing on four areas in his speech: education, the economy, public safety and the budget. He said that among those four things, improving public schools is particularly a top priority.

“There’s lots more, but those are the four big things for us,” DeStefano said. “There are 330 days, four hours and seven minutes that taxpayers have me left on their payroll, and I intend to earn my keep in this most inspiring of places in the job that’s really the best.”

DeStefano outlined three main goals under education reform: eliminating the achievement gap, cutting dropout rates and ensuring that high school students are both financially and academically prepared to graduate from college.

A college education is increasingly necessary for industries “where the work is today,” DeStefano said, adding that an increasing percentage of jobs require a college degree. He pointed to New Haven Promise and the above-average college retention rates of Promise recipients as evidence that New Haven is making progress in college preparation for high school students.

The mayor also discussed unemployment and the state of the economy. He cited companies such as Alexion Pharmeceuticals and Higher One as examples of business developments in New Haven that produce jobs and have the potential to lower the unemployment rate in the city.

“From 100 College Street to the pop-up business downtown, we want to create jobs and keep the mill rate down, we have to be welcoming and encouraging to developers, businessmen and visitors,” he said.

To bolster development and provide affordable housing, DeStefano urged the Board of Aldermen to modify zoning laws, enabling “smart mixed-use, scale-appropriate projects,” and to develop a formal process for dealing with tax agreements for housing and mixed-use projects.

With regard to public safety, the mayor advocated for continuing the community policing model reintroduced to the city by New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman. He also spoke about gun control in light of the Newtown, Conn. shootings and urged people to express their opinions and participate in public debate.

DeStefano finished his address with a discussion of the city’s financial struggles. With 43 percent of its revenue from the state of Connecticut, New Haven largely depends on the financial health of the state.

“You have heard me say more than a few times that when the state catches a cold, the city gets pneumonia. The state has a $1.4 billion cold this year,” DeStefano said.

The mayor added that while Connecticut may cut aid to New Haven, these cuts are “not going to help the state’s economy” and that people should be “prepared to advocate for what’s right, what’s fair and what’s smart.”

“I do like those four points he outlined because those points align with the agenda the board has,” said Ward 22 Alderman Jeanette Morrison, who added that she was particularly pleased with the mayor’s attention to college retention rates. “It seems like we’re all coming together as one because we really have the same priorities.”

Ward 1 Alderman Sarah Eidelson ’12 also said that she felt the mayor highlighted many of the “same priorities” as those of the board, such as increased public safety through community policing and employment measures such as the New Haven jobs pipeline.

Nicole Hobbs ’14, president of the Yale College Democrats, said that she thought DeStefano did a “great job” and that he correctly identified key issues the city should address, such as gun violence prevention and education reform.

DeStefano is currently serving out his 10th term as mayor.

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