New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and the other newly elected officers of the National League of Cities will meet today with U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to discuss emergency preparedness in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
DeStefano, who was elected first vice president of the municipal lobbying organization late last year, said Friday that he and other NLC officers plan to discuss ties between the new federal Office of Homeland Security and the nation’s cities.
“Cities like New Haven have been in reaction mode for the last three months,” he said. “Now we want to get in proactive mode.”
Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the new security agency, said ties between cities and the federal government are an important logistical aspect of the war on terrorism.
“City governments are the front lines for homeland security,” he said.
DeStefano said he plans to lobby for funding cities need to train emergency personnel and construct new communications systems.
Specifically, he said, local hospitals need more direct access to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta should the cities they serve fall victim to a bioterrorism attack.
New Haven will also likely request funding for harbor security. Bridgeport’s harbormaster said Sunday that Connecticut’s ports are vulnerable to possible sabotage.
The official told the Connecticut Post that terrorists might use New Haven’s harbor as a base for attacks on New York or Boston.
The U.S. Coast Guard has increased its patrols around the port since Sept. 11, but local lawmakers said more could be done.
In a related development, the Justice Department announced Monday that New Haven and other Connecticut cities will receive some funding as part of a $2.6 million preparedness package.
Before the deal was announced, DeStefano and the other NLC officers met with staff members from the Office of Homeland Security in preparation for their meeting with Ridge today.
The mayor’s new NLC leadership duties have vaulted him into the national political spotlight in other ways.
Jim Foye, the mayor’s press secretary, said DeStefano has fielded questions from newspapers as diverse as the Houston Chronicle and USA Today.
DeStefano discussed his efforts to promote New Haven as a home for biotech firms in a Jan. 10 USA Today article, which examined how cities are managing their budgets in the post-Sept. 11 economy.
The mayor, who will serve as an NLC officer for a year, will balance his duties in New Haven with his national leadership responsibilities as he travels to meetings around the country.
In his new post, DeStefano will undoubtedly witness his political reputation grow beyond New Haven’s city limits, but he has said he fully expects to run for mayor of this city of 123,000 again in 2003.
DeStefano will attend another NLC meeting in Charlotte, N.C., this week.
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