While freshmen received dozens of Yale pamphlets last week, residents of Wooster Street saw flyers of a far different kind.
Literature criticizing Yale from state Sen. Martin Looney’s mayoral campaign recently hit doorsteps throughout the historically Italian area of New Haven. The flyers, which call for Yale’s “Ivy Walls to shed a few leaves,” attack Mayor John DeStefano Jr. for not requiring Yale to pay more of its share of property taxes.
The pamphlets are the latest in a string of Looney attacks that attempt to capitalize on anti-Yale sentiment in the community and that have University administrators worried that a Looney mayoralty could be a rocky period for town-gown relations.
While administrators have refrained from commenting specifically about the race, they are rattled by the prospect of a Looney victory. Publicly, the University is committed to working with any mayor that is elected to office and does not endorse any candidate. But privately, several Yale administrators say they have been horrified and even insulted by Looney’s campaign rhetoric.
Looney said Sunday he is willing to cooperate with the University and says that Yale has “nothing to fear” if he is elected.
“Yale is an extraordinary asset,” Looney said Sunday. “It sets us apart from other cities.”
Looney has argued that the city should investigate of Yale property whose use has evolved from academic to commercial purposes, which could be taxable. Biotechnology, for example, has turned some campus laboratories into semi-commercial spaces even though they are treated for tax purposes like classrooms, Looney said.
Yale, like most non-profits, does not currently pay taxes on most of its property, but the state reimburses the city for nearly all of the taxes the city would have received.
The DeStefano campaign put Looney’s anti-Yale flyer into a broader political perspective.
“The rather harsh tone that Senator Looney is taking against the University is an extension of a campaign that is negative in every way,” DeStefano campaign manager Julio Gonzalez ’99 said. “The mayor hasn’t had to demonize the University.”
University officials also note that Looney’s pro-union stances would make labor relations more difficult for Yale were he elected. Despite his similar staunch union advocacy, DeStefano was able play a key mediation role during the last round of union negotiations in 1996. Top administrators believe that Looney is unlikely to be as effective a negotiator as DeStefano and that the lack of DeStefano guidance could make a tense labor situation in this contract-negotiation year even worse.
Regardless of the outcome Tuesday, Yale Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander said Yale will work with the winning candidate.
“Our job is to work with the mayor,” Alexander said . “And we will work with the mayor.”
In response to Looney’s sharp criticism of the DeStefano administration’s decision not to aggressively pursue property taxes on Yale buildings, Alexander said that any impartial viewer would recognize the positive impact the University has on New Haven.
“Even though the Yale community has people supporting both candidates I know that many have said they are disappointed by recent attacks on the University,” Alexander said. “Many people have told me that Yale and this administration under Mayor DeStefano have worked together for the betterment of New Haven more harmoniously than at anytime in recent history.”
Administrators are quick to acknowledge that the University’s relationship with City Hall has improved considerably during Mayor DeStefano’s tenure.
“Our relationship with the mayor hasn’t been perfect, but it’s an improvement over the past,” said Provost Alison Richard, Yale’s chief academic and financial officer.