In his annual State of the City address Monday night, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. unveiled a series of proposals designed to improve city schools, police and public housing — ideas which form DeStefano’s preliminary platform for this year’s mayoral campaign against Democratic state Sen. Martin Looney and Republican Joel Schiavone.
Speaking in front of a packed audience of aldermen, city leaders and members of the press, DeStefano dropped his usually boisterous delivery style as he calmly painted a picture of a successful city, while promising greater school choice, universal preschool, a civilian police review board and improved public housing under a revamped Housing Authority.
DeStefano praised New Haven’s public schools, but qualified his compliments by criticizing the city’s educational bureaucracy and by describing major school reforms. The plan outlined by the mayor would allow all parents to choose which public schools their children attend, would close and reorganize schools failing to meet performance standards and would allow the establishment of privately run charter schools.
“We’ve got to make some changes in the bureaucratic monopoly, which by practice, by policy and by contract, must be challenged,” DeStefano said. “We need more competition and more choice in our public schools.”
Ward 1 Alderman Julio Gonzalez, a leader in DeStefano’s campaign, applauded the mayor’s proposals, saying they built on New Haven’s existing magnet school program. Gonzalez said DeStefano was not suggesting giving parents school vouchers to pay for private school tuition.
Continuing his focus on education — an area in which many expect Looney to criticize the administration throughout the campaign — DeStefano also said the city would provide childcare for all of New Haven’s preschool-aged children, including those whose families have limited financial resources.
DeStefano again paired praise and reform when he discussed the Police Department. While touting a decrease of 10,000 crimes in the city in the last decade, DeStefano said he would issue an executive order forming a civilian police review board, an entity supported by the Board of Aldermen in the past. Gonzalez said resistance in the General Assembly to the subpoena power aspect of New Haven’s proposal prompted the mayor’s action.
The mayor cheered the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s recent removal of the New Haven Housing Authority from its list of troubled local agencies. He said the Housing Authority, under a recently-released Agency Reinvention Plan, would reduce the number of publicly-owned housing units by 500. Under the plan, the total number of housing units available to low-income residents would remain the same, thanks to increased ownership by private companies and residents themselves. DeStefano said the plan offered more choice and less bureaucracy — a clear parallel to his education proposals.
The speech, which entirely avoided all but the most subtle references to Looney, was a change from the tone of the ongoing mayoral campaign. The mayor has been frequently critical of the senator’s campaign tactics and ethics, and Looney has criticized DeStefano’s integrity.
In a statement written before DeStefano’s speech, Looney gave his own take on the state of the city. While Looney’s view of New Haven’s situation was less optimistic than the mayor’s, many of his proposals were similar to the mayor’s — including a focus on education and support for the civilian review board.
There were, however, important differences. Looney blasted DeStefano’s proposal for charter schools.
“Now is not the time to privatize our schools,” Looney said. “I am afraid the mayor’s proposal constitutes an admission that after eight years under his leadership, his educational policy has failed.”
Instead, Looney proposed correcting the school-to-school disparity in resource allocation.
Looney also called for an economic development plan that would make New Haven less dependent on the state government, a series of “neighborhood summits” to discuss local issues, improved parking downtown and greater training for police.
While both candidates presented the most detailed proposals of the campaign so far, their supporters remained critical of the other side. Looney campaign manager Jason Bartlett said DeStefano was running against his record as mayor, while Gonzalez characterized Looney’s proposals as empty ideas lacking in substance.
Republican candidate Joel Schiavone could not be reached for comment.
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