At 85, Jim Daniels doesn’t have any real problems with the city of New Haven.
A World War II veteran and former New Haven public school teacher, Daniels turned out for the “Mayor’s Night Out” last night because he just felt like it.
The monthly mayor’s nights out — where Mayor John DeStefano Jr. leads his corps of city administrators out of City Hall and into the trenches of New Haven’s communities — are usually well-attended by residents who have grievances with their government.
But of the 30-odd people who attended last night’s session at the Lincoln Bassett School in Newhallville, only a few had the usual problems with potholes, public housing and the Police Department. The majority, like Daniels and his friend Louis Moore, were there because mayor’s nights out in Newhallville are — for all intents and purposes — old-fashioned powwows where everyone who’s anyone in local politics turns out to show his face and swap stories.
Self-described political “kingmaker” Boise Kimber was there. So was city Economic Development Administrator and rising political star Henry Fernandez. And then of course, there was DeStefano — a man who has a way with children and the young blood that powers his re-election campaign.
If it hadn’t been for his casual political battle armor — ribbed mock turtleneck and khakis — one might have thought the four-term incumbent was a beloved general surveying his troops.
DeStefano, who will square off against Republican challenger Joel Schiavone ’58 in the Nov. 6 general election, nodded his head approvingly last night as his administrators introduced themselves to the small crowd assembled in the school’s cafeteria.
DeStefano rubbed his hand across his chest slowly and beamed as each administrator explained how he could help residents with their problems: School Superintendent Reginald Mayo fielded questions about education, and city Assessor Bill O’Brien willingly heard complaints about tax bills.
For his part, DeStefano simply worked the crowd, as confident joking with close friends like Kimber as he was helping a girl who had a problem with the cleanliness of her elementary school.
“Usually at these mayor’s nights out, people have problems with me,” he said, carefully avoiding mention of the upcoming election. “In Newhallville, people just come for the social event.”
DeStefano has had his hands full these past few weeks, his re-election bid at times taking a back seat to the myriad security issues that have cropped up in the wake of Sept. 11’s terrorist attacks.
Wednesday night, he told residents where they could turn if they had questions or concerns about anthrax — the deadly bacteria that has recently forced the closing of office buildings in New Haven and across the country.
But some residents had their minds on more traditional problems.
A determined frown on her face and a yellow city work order in hand, Patricia Highsmith might have driven to the school to make small talk like the others, but she made it clear she had a problem with the city.
“This is only the second time I’ve ever been to one of these,” she said, explaining how she liked the monthly events because she found it hard to get downtown to City Hall. “All that new development they’re talking about, that’s happening right by my house. They tore my fence down, and I want it back.”
The mayor himself carefully avoided talking about his chances at re-election, but Daniels — who chairs the Democratic ward committee in Ward 21 — didn’t shy away from the topic.
“I don’t think the mayor’s got everybody’s vote,” he said jokingly. “I don’t think so, that is.”