The state Elections Enforcement Commission has dismissed a complaint filed by the mayoral campaign of state Sen. Martin Looney against Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
The complaint, which the Looney campaign filed March 26, accused the mayor of illegally using taxpayer money for his campaign when he used his official city letterhead to send residents copies of a New York Times article praising New Haven. DeStefano’s campaign sent copies of the same article days later.
In its ruling Tuesday, the commission cited a statute which declared incumbents were restricted from using public funds for their campaigns only in the three months prior to the general election, not a primary.
DeStefano and Looney will face off in the Democratic primary in September, and the general election will be in November.
The commission’s ruling also dismissed the Looney campaign’s claim that the mayor’s mailing violated requirements for political mailings by not stating it came from a campaign. The commission ruled the mailing was not political since it did not promote DeStefano or solicit money for the campaign.
Disappointed in the ruling, Looney campaign manager Jason Bartlett said the mayor’s actions still violated the spirit of the law.
“He’s getting off on a technicality, but the fact of the matter is that it is an affront to taxpayers,” Bartlett said. “This mayor feels he can run his campaign through the mayor’s office, and that is what he is doing.”
But Ward 1 Alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99, who is managing DeStefano’s campaign, said he hopes the quick dismissal of Looney’s complaints will set a precedent against what he calls the Looney campaign’s negative tactics.
“We hope it will discourage them from submitting further frivolous complaints,” Gonzalez said. “It seems like a negative strategy to raise cynicism and abuse a process that is there for a good reason.”
Gonzalez said the complaint, which he said was filed more to arouse suspicion of DeStefano than for legitimate legal reasons, was part of a campaign aimed at skirting issues in favor of unfounded attacks.
“Not only does it raise public cynicism about the political process, it’s a nasty, disingenuous strategy in general,” Gonzalez said. “It’s easy to submit a complaint, but it’s a lot harder to undercut the cynicism of people in the community. — I think they want to create cynicism, and they want to suppress turnout.”
Bartlett said he hoped the complaint, despite being dismissed, would lead to reform in the mayor’s campaign.
“Quite frankly, I’m happy to bring this to light,” Bartlett said. “We hope that by filing the complaint the mayor and his campaign people will pay a little bit more attention to taxpayers and maybe not use City Hall as his campaign headquarters.”