As Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and state Sen. Martin Looney continue to capture headlines in their battle for the Democratic mayoral nomination, Republican candidate Joel Schiavone ’58 is quietly gearing up his campaign.
During the past month, Schiavone, a long-time New Haven developer and real-estate manager, has appointed Ted LeVasseur campaign manager and has tapped Kevin McNeill and Cheryl Klock of McNeill-Klock Strategies as campaign consultants. The trio joins pollster Neil Newhouse and long-time Schiavone supporter Dennis Murphy, his treasurer, on the campaign staff.
Schiavone said LeVasseur, McNeill and Klock, who have worked in politics for almost 20 years in 29 states, bring the experience and compatibility he has been seeking.
“We were looking for people who have worked with campaigns, who have been through it and know the nuances,” Schaivone said. “This group has a taste of what it’s like to win and a sense for what campaigns are all about.”
In addition to staffing, the major goal for the Schiavone campaign in the coming months will be fund raising. Schiavone was not able to officially launch a fund-raising effort until Feb. 1, when a New Haven Superior Court judge ruled that the city’s residency requirement for mayoral candidates was unconstitutional. Since then, Schiavone has raised $44,800. DeStefano has raised $216,775 and Looney has raised $121,905 since their campaigns began last year.
LeVasseur added that the campaign is aiming for six-figure fund raising, ideally in the $300,000 to $400,000 range.
The Democratic primary will be in September and Schiavone is currently seeking the Republican nomination unopposed. Though Schiavone does not yet know who his opponent will be come November, he has said city schools will be the primary issue of the upcoming campaign.
“Anyone can tell you our school system is terrible, and the city is spending millions on schools that don’t work from an educational standpoint,” Schiavone said. “Improving schools help to turn neighborhoods around, and everything begins to fall into place.”
Schiavone ran unsuccessfully for governor and then state comptroller in 1990 and served as the town Republican chairman for three years in the early 1990s. Current Republican chairwoman Mellissa Papantones said this experience will help Schiavone’s chances.
“Joel hasn’t made politics his focus, but on more than one occasion he has run for office,” Papantones said. “He could go anywhere, but he chooses to be in New Haven.”
Often controversial, Schiavone last came into the limelight when Yale fired his company in February from managing the University’s commercial and residential properties, after Schiavone sued the University.
Although Schiavone said he still loved his alma mater and only had conflicts with some of its officers, he said the conflict may burnish his reputation with those residents who do not like the school.
“People who generally distrust Yale in the community feel that I am the only one who has stood up to the University,” Schiavone said.
Despite Schiavone’s familiarity with the city, he faces tough odds. Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans among New Haven’s registered voters. Twenty-eight of the city’s 30 aldermen are Democrats, and there has not been a Republican mayor since 1952.
City Republicans hope Schiavone’s candidacy is a first step in re-establishing the two-party system in New Haven. Alderwoman Nancy Ahern, a Republican, said that the presence of a two-party system would be beneficial, but that Republicans have reaching out to do.
“I would like to see the Republican Party become a viable choice in New Haven, and considered so by the electorate,” Ahern said. “We need to spread our message so people understand they have a choice and that Republicans have something to offer.”
Papantones said there are several Republicans in New Haven considering runs for seats on the Board of Aldermen whose candidacies could be announced later this week.