During his 10 years in office, John DeStefano hasn’t led New Haven, once ranked among the worst cities in America, to a complete about-face. He hasn’t completely revamped social services programs. He never built a $500 million mall and he didn’t quite reinvent the city’s relationship with Yale. The city budget is tighter than ever this year, and just last spring, the mayor was forced to lay off a number of city employees. Now, the mayor’s office sits in the middle of stalled negotiations between Yale and its unions, with eyes on DeStefano and no contract in sight.
And yet. Quality of life in this city of 123,000 keeps improving. DeStefano launched a 10-year, $900 million plan to rebuild the city’s schools. Crime is down 50 percent according to his campaign literature, literacy is up, and 80 percent of New Haven high school graduates are going to two or four year colleges. The streets downtown are more walkable. There are markets in the summer and sidewalk sales in the fall. Thanks to the work of Henry Fernandez and the Living City Initiative, the nine squares are generally nicer places to be.
Considering a decade of the DeStefano-Levin strategy for town-gown development, the question all voters — and particularly members of the Yale community — will consider at the polls today is whether the state of New Haven has actually improved. We believe the unavoidable conclusion is that it has. Slowly. Modestly. Imperfectly — sure. But even now, in the middle of a strike that is testing the fragile stability of Yale-New Haven relations, it is clear that the city is in better shape than it was 10 years ago and that this is in part the result of its mayor’s work. That is why the Yale Daily News endorses John DeStefano for re-election against Sherri Killins in today’s Democratic primary.
DeStefano’s fifth re-election campaign, not altogether unlike his fourth, saw a few more allies pull back their support and a few more debates sink into the realm of the vicious or the bizarre. But after months of aggressive campaigning on both sides, Killins was unable to make a convincing enough case against the status quo. Instead, DeStefano emerged, bicycling around limousines on television commercials and seeming to be all the more accomplished a candidate.
Killins, a former CEO of the highly problematic urban development corporation Empower New Haven, whom the mayor fired earlier this year, has positioned herself as the anti-DeStefano. What to do about city contract negotiations, about same-sex civil unions and about our most favorite of dead-horse issues, the Coliseum? Killins says she isn’t always sure. She just knows she wouldn’t do it the way her opponent did.
While Killins has not demonstrated that she is what this city needs, her push for change and the limited but substantive support she has received are worth considering. At some point soon, New Haven might need a new or reinvigorated city government. But for now, better to let Mayor DeStefano pull on his bicycle helmet and go back to work.