In his quest to become mayor, Democratic state Sen. Martin Looney is promising deliverance for the city. And in a raucous church basement Sunday afternoon, droves of New Haveners heeded his call.

Looney officially kicked off his campaign Sunday with a message underscoring education, housing and political integrity. With more than 20 years of serving New Haven under his belt, Looney is looking to topple Democratic incumbent Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and take on Republican Joel Schiavone this fall.

“This is a great day for the city of New Haven and the Democratic Party,” Alderman Vincent Mauro said, to whoops in the crowd. “I’ve never known a finer or more decent person. [Looney] is the embodiment of strength and his record shows it every day. It is truly time for change in the city.”

Although Looney had announced his candidacy last November, he officially kicked off his campaign this weekend.

“Unlike other candidates, I’m willing to run on my record rather than run from it,” Looney said, hinting at the Galleria at Long Wharf mall project that may haunt DeStefano in the race. The project fell through in December when planned anchor store Norstrom’s pulled out, forcing the city to abandon its plans.

Campaign helper Grady Reynolds called the mall a “bum deal” and bemoaned what he sensed was the city’s increasing drug and crime infestation.

DeStefano has said the mall deal was the victim of changing economic forecasts for the region. He has touted an incipient biotechnology industry as a replacement for the dollars the mall was intended to bring to the city. Also, in his State of the City address this month DeStefano vowed to reinvigorate the New Haven Police Department’s community policing initiative.

Reynolds said only Looney is up to the task of responding to the city’s cries for change.

“The city’s going to nothing. All you have to do is look around you,” Reynolds said. “We’re still dealing with the same issues as when [DeStefano] came in.”

Besides rallying support, Looney also outlined his platform. He announced plans to turn downtown into a “jewel” that will attract tourism. Looney also said he plans to stamp out the patronage system in public schools, adding that politics and education should not mix.

With a banner onstage that beckoned voters to “Be a part of Marty’s family,” Looney stood with his wife and son by his side. His son, Michael Looney ’98, proudly introduced his father.

“Why do people obviously wince when I tell them I’m from New Haven?” Michael Looney asked, saying that New Haven desperately needs an overhaul and a change in leadership.

The event was the first of its kind in Connecticut to be broadcast live over the Internet.

A four-piece band honked out tunes and campaigners doled out potholders emblazoned with Looney’s name as New Haven politicos and residents rubbed shoulders in a packed church basement; the excitement was palpable.

“We are going to have a great, competitive race,” Vanessa Burns, Looney’s general campaign chairman, said.

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