A judge heard oral arguments Thursday in the case that will decide whether Joel Schiavone ’58 is an eligible candidate for mayor of New Haven.
The Republican real estate developer has mounted a constitutional challenge against the city charter’s durational residency requirement, which allows a person to serve as mayor only if he has been a resident and voter in New Haven continuously for the five years preceding the election. Schiavone has lived and worked in New Haven for a total of 15 years throughout his life, but has only lived continuously in the city for the last 16 months after moving back from the adjoining suburb of Hamden.
Judge Jon Blue of the New Haven Superior Court intensely questioned attorneys representing Schiavone and the city. Schiavone’s attorney, Kenneth Votre, argued in briefs and in court that the charter provision deprives Schiavone of his right to be a candidate and his right to travel. He cited the equal protection clause and the federal privileges and immunities clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as a similar equal protection clause of the state constitution.
But city attorney Thomas Ude Jr., representing Mayor John DeStefano Jr., the Board of Alderman and the city, argued that the city has a compelling interest in making sure that the next mayor is familiar with and loyal to New Haven. He said the people, through the process of writing and revising the city charter, have the right to decide the qualifications of their elected officials. He also pointed out that Schiavone was a member of a charter revision committee several years ago that decided not to eliminate the residency requirement.
Blue was particularly interested in two cases, Chimento v. Stark and Sununu v. Stark, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld New Hampshire’s durational residency requirements for senator and governor.
“I wonder if the judicial hands are tied by these U.S. Supreme Court decisions,” Blue asked, seemingly wanting to defer to the nation’s highest court on federal issues. “If the U.S. Supreme Court wants to change their decision, that’s fine.”
But Votre maintained the Chimento and Sununu rulings were based on the specifics of those cases, and as such should not be guiding precedents. He also said the decisions about senatorial and gubernatorial candidates do not apply to municipal officers such as mayor.
Votre argued that precedent related to the state equal protection clause was in Schiavone’s favor. He cited Bruno v. City Commission of Bridgeport, in which the Connecticut Supreme Court struck down Bridgeport’s durational residency requirement for parks superintendent.
Blue said he would try to issue a ruling promptly, but did not give any further indication of a time frame.
Schiavone said he thought Blue effectively summarized the major issues. He said the process was an emotional one for him, as his fate as a candidate rests on the decision in the case.
Schiavone brought the suit, Schiavone v. DeStefano et al., last October against Mayor John DeStefano Jr., the Board of Alderman and the city. Schiavone and his attorneys portrayed the city’s defense as an attempt by the mayor to keep him out of the election.
But Ude said the city has to defend its charter and that the case should be decided on its legal merits, not on the specific political facts — and DeStefano agreed.
“The city is obligated to defend the charter,” DeStefano said. “Frankly, you can’t just choose what part you agree with.”
Democrats DeStefano and state Sen. Martin Looney have declared their candidacies for September’s mayoral primary, and former alderman and mayoral candidate James Newton has formed an exploratory committee. No other Republicans have declared.
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