In the aftermath of a bitter Democratic mayoral primary campaign that ended with a tragedy-marred Sept. 11 election, the attempt by Republican Joel Schiavone ’58 to unseat four-term incumbent Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has gone largely unnoticed. Schiavone has received little coverage, and few city officials have taken him seriously. DeStefano himself seems convinced he can safely ignore his challenger, declining debate offers and cutting his campaign expenditures.
DeStefano’s assumption that he is a guaranteed winner should not have relieved him of the need to campaign aggressively and debate the issues. Schiavone is to be commended for raising substantive concerns about the city’s future in an election usually rendered meaningless by the Democratic Party’s dominance in New Haven.
Schiavone has successfully pointed out the failures in the mayor’s tenure: a series of scandals, a botched mall proposal, and poorly performing schools. But his plans for neighborhood and city self-sufficiency, smaller government, and stimulation of businesses resemble pre-New Deal principles that are no longer practical given the reality of 21st century urbanism.
While DeStefano’s administration has had its share of problems, New Haven has been on the rise during his tenure. The mayor has worked to rid City Hall of corruption, helped reduce crime, slowly improved the school system, and catalyzed unprecedented cooperation between New Haven and Yale.
DeStefano’s commitment to continuing the city’s improvement is the reason the News endorses him for reelection.
But he still has a long way to go. The revitalization of New Haven’s schools is far from complete. Schiavone and Looney have criticized the top-heavy education system, and DeStefano must not be afraid to strip away some of the bureaucratic layers. While the city’s magnet schools have enjoyed some success, the mayor must ensure that all of New Haven’s schools and students receive the necessary attention and resources.
Yale and its unions appear to be headed towards a major confrontation in the coming year, and DeStefano will be in a perfect situation to mediate the conflict, as he did five years ago. At the same time, the mayor can continue to strengthen the unique link between New Haven and the University, allowing both to reap the benefits.
DeStefano has both a rare opportunity and a stiff challenge before him. With so many of New Haven’s voters behind him, he is free to pursue aggressive policies, even if he must cross party stalwarts to do so. He can help make city government a source of funding and coordination for projects that will bring major improvements in the quality of life in the city.
But DeStefano stands to begin his fifth term at a difficult time for both New Haven and the nation. State aid, the city’s main source of financial support, may dry up as the economy continues its slide, and the mayor will have to grapple with bearish times while continuing the essential business redevelopment projects he has already launched.
This is a time where New Haven’s leadership will be tested, and DeStefano must rise to the challenge.