The Democratic mayoral primary is five months away. Most Yale students, however, will be here only five weeks before choosing between Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and state Sen. Martin Looney on Sept. 11.
With summer vacation looming, the DeStefano campaign is stepping up its campaign efforts on campus, and as part of that effort, DeStefano came to Dwight Hall Monday night to address a meeting of the Yale College Democrats.
Speaking before an audience comprising mostly Dems but with a smattering of other students and city residents, a relaxed DeStefano discussed the latest census numbers while weaving in campaign themes such as the importance of intellectual capital and economic development in the city.
DeStefano cited this year’s census numbers, which show New Haven has no majority racial group, to demonstrate the main divisions in the city were based on education, not on race.
“The biggest division is between people who are educated and people who are not, people who are trained and people who are not, people who have access and people who don’t,” DeStefano said.
The mayor also discussed public housing, neighborhood revitalization and the strength of community organizations. He touched briefly on his plans for school choice, a potentially controversial topic among progressive Yalies, but one which seemed to create little stir.
DeStefano seemed to make a veiled jab at Looney when he told students they must have issues they support in addition to knowing what they oppose. The DeStefano campaign has been critical of what it says is negative campaigning by its opponents.
Lex Paulson ’02, former president of the College Democrats and a former candidate for Ward 1 alderman, said he thought DeStefano performed well.
“I thought he did a very good job speaking off the cuff on a number of important things,” Paulson said. “He excelled especially at addressing people’s questions directly. He showed a very real side.”
Michelle Mayorga ’03, who is organizing the DeStefano effort on campus, said the brief question and answer session, which allowed some dialogue, was particularly beneficial to students and to the campaign.
Mayorga said DeStefano may return to Yale next week, when campaign workers will begin going door-to-door across campus in an effort to engage students before their departure. She added there will be extensive efforts when school resumes in September.
Looney campaign manager Jason Bartlett said while the Looney campaign will aggressively go after the Yale vote, it has been inhibited in its pursuit of politically active students to support Looney.
“Seems to me that I’ve found that the politically more active Democrats at Yale have been persuaded by the fact that the mayor’s trying to surround himself by Yalies at this juncture,” Bartlett said Monday night.
Bartlett went on to say he thinks Ward 1 Alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99 and others have convinced students that Henry Fernandez LAW ’94, the city’s economic development administrator, will be the next mayor. Bartlett claimed students are told that supporting DeStefano is the best way to support Fernandez.
“I’m 100 percent sure,” Bartlett said. “That’s a pretty deceiving argument to make to Yale students. I hope we can break through that.”
Gonzalez emphatically denied Bartlett’s allegations, saying students support DeStefano because of his positions on issues.
“I find it shameful that the Looney campaign would insert administrators into this race, and I find it bizarre that they would choose that one in particular,” Gonzalez said last night. “I hope that they do not start trying to campaign against administrators now that they have shown an inability to make any dent against the mayor himself.”
Paulson said he knew of no conversations by any College Democrats about the possibility of Fernandez becoming mayor, adding that many students do not even know who Fernandez is.
“My involvement in the DeStefano campaign has more to do with student mobilization than partisanship,” Paulson said. “If the Looney campaign had organized students on campus, they’d have something to show for it, but they didn’t and they don’t.”