New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. flew to Salt Lake City this week, but skiing down the powdery Olympic slopes or ogling nearby national parkland were not his primary goals. Instead, Destefano headed west with six city aldermen to become the president of the National League of Cities, a national lobby group for roughly 18,000 municipalities around the country.
Serving as second vice president of the organization in 2001 and first vice president this year under Minnetonka, Minn., mayor Karen Anderson, DeStefano is considered a shoo-in for the presidency. He will run unopposed in the election today.
“We’re very pleased,” said John Pionke, spokesperson for the National League of Cities. “He’s a dynamic mayor, and we’re happy to have him leading our organization.”
Local officials expressed similar excitement about the prospect of the city’s chief executive representing New Haven on the national scene, with the hope and expectation that DeStefano will use this position to voice local concerns.
“It’s a big plus,” said Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield. “There’s nothing like the access and leverage he has on a national level to do good things for the city.”
Ward 9 Alderman John Halle agreed that the mayor’s election to the post is a boon to New Haven’s prospects, as well as a valuable East Coast perspective for the League.
“I can’t say it could possibly hurt,” said Halle, a Yale music professor. “I think he’s a good guy for the job. Everyone’s really excited about it.”
The mayor’s camp was quick to emphasize that increased national exposure will translate into governmental sympathy for the issues that face the city.
“It’s good for New Haven because he’ll be out there lobbying for us and our region,” said Jim Foye, the mayor’s spokesman. “It puts us on the map a little bit more.”
The mayor will spend four or five days a month working on League matters, which will entail occasional trips to the national office in Washington, D.C., to talk to national politicians and meet with fellow League officials. The national consortium has nearly 1,800 member cities, including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
“What time he puts into the post of president at the National League of Cities will be returned to New Haven,” said Foye, who said he has not heard of any organized local resistance to the mayor’s election.
“I’m sure he’s going to be able to handle both [mayoral and presidential duties] with ease,” Goldfield said.
Despite the apparent local support, Ward 28 Alderman Brian Jenkins argued that the mayor’s rise to the presidency of the League is more of a career move than a victory for New Haven’s residents.
“All this does is help the mayor with his resume,” Jenkins said. “It has nothing to do with the city of New Haven.”
He added that it was naive “to assume that the city will garner great benefits.”
The National League of Cities will also decide its 2003 agenda at this weekend’s meeting and early childhood education is expected to be at the forefront of the new president’s plan, Pionke said.
The mayor and aldermen will return to New Haven on Sunday.