New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. won reelection to his fifth two-year term last night in a convincing three-to-one victory over Republican challenger Joel Schiavone ’58.
In the city’s costliest mayoral election ever, DeStefano won 73 percent of the citywide vote, while Schiavone managed just 25 percent. DeStefano’s running mate for city clerk, Ron Smith, handily defeated Schiavone candidate Shawn Garris.
But while the outcome of the race for City Hall provided little surprise in this heavily Democratic city of 123,000, an upset in Ward 2 gave the Green Party a second seat on the 30-member Board of Aldermen. For the first time in history, the Republicans — who apparently kept control of their two aldermanic seats despite a razor-thin victory in Ward 25 — will have no more power than a third party.
The Democrats, who lost the Ward 2 seat to the Greens, retained control of 26 aldermanic slots in an election that drew approximately 33.8 percent of eligible voters.
Speaking to an emotional crowd of more than 200 supporters and campaign staffers last night at Alchemy on College Street, a glowing DeStefano sang the praises of the city that reelected him.
“This is the first city of Connecticut,” DeStefano shouted, grinning widely as he raised his voice above the din. “This is the best city of Connecticut — and it’s going to continue to thrive.”
With his wife and two sons at his side, the 46-year-old mayor laid out goals for his next term.
“We have a powerful and busy agenda for the next two years,” he said. “An agenda for decent housing, whether it’s for homeownership, public housing or public shelters; an agenda to see that every New Havener gets a decent chance; and an agenda to keep improving New Haven’s neighborhoods.”
The crowd at Alchemy included New Haven political notable Boise Kimber, Yale Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander, and Nick Balletto — the chairman of New Haven’s Democratic Town Committee who supported state Sen. Martin Looney, DeStefano’s bitter adversary in the Democratic primary.
At Schiavone’s election-night headquarters just up the street at the Palace Theater, the mood was somber, and the crowd was smaller.
Conceding defeat less than an hour after the polls closed, Schiavone said he was disappointed.
“It was a resounding defeat. The people of New Haven clearly do not want a change,” said Schiavone, who was surrounded by his children and grandchildren. “If I have nothing else, I have great kids.”
Schiavone vowed throughout the campaign he would defy the city’s party structure and win the race. In the end, however, he failed to overcome the odds.
New Haven has not had a Republican mayor since 1951, and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city 13 to one.
Schiavone did not say last night if he was going to run again in 2003.
“I’m going to go back to the life of the ordinary, humble citizen,” said the former real estate developer, who complained throughout the campaign that DeStefano was ignoring him. “We should go on and consider doing something else with our lives. As of right now, the answer is that I don’t want to think about it. The thing I think that most people realize is that the sacrifices are enormous.”
DeStefano’s campaign manager, Julio Gonzalez ’99, said the victory “was a strong showing of support for the mayor’s record.”
Gonzalez, who will take a position in the mayor’s administration come January, said the win reaffirmed DeStefano’s campaign strategy — which was to campaign as little as possible.
In the wake of his Sept. 11 primary victory over Looney, DeStefano believed he had enough name recognition to carry him through yesterday’s general election.
In an interview after his victory speech last night, DeStefano said he would continue with several initiatives he started during his current term.
“At the end of eight years, in some ways I find and feel more momentum and excitement than I did in my first year,” he said. “There is no doubt this election was the best because it was the toughest.”
DeStefano promised to expand downtown homeownership, clean up New Haven’s public housing developments and implement a universal pre-kindergarten program.
He also said he would continue the city’s investment in biotechnology and work to strengthen New Haven’s relationship with Yale.
The mayor, who will assume leadership of the National League of Cities next year, said he fully expected to run again in 2003.
–Additional reporting by Martha Fulford
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