A group of about 30 people gathered on the steps of City Hall Monday afternoon to hear New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and fellow community leaders launch the New Haven Democracy Fund campaign reform initiative.

The initiative, spearheaded by the Citizens for the New Haven Democracy Fund, seeks to reduce the influence of private money in public elections. It will provide mayoral candidates with limited public funding in exchange for a reduction in campaign spending and special interest contributions. The proposed fund would cost the city approximately $100,000 per year and would provide mayoral candidates displaying significant public support with a one-time block grant of $15,000 and two-to-one matching funds for the first $25 of each campaign contribution raised.

DeStefano endorsed the initiative and said it would stimulate increased political awareness among New Haven’s citizens.

“We need folks engaged,” DeStefano said. “[The initiative] encourages broad breadth of participation. [Politicians] have nothing to fear by this proposition.”

Yale Students for Clean Elections board member Daniel Weeks ’06 said the proposal was developed over the past two years under the auspices of Executive Assistant to the Mayor Julio Gonzalez. Calling campaign finance reform “the fundamental democratic reform of today,” Weeks said the 2001 mayoral elections, in which $1.2 million was spent by all candidates — $700,000 of which was spent by DeStefano alone — provides an example of the inequities the initiative seeks to reform.

Ward 9 Alderwoman-elect and League of Women Voters member Elizabeth Addonizio GRD ’06 echoed DeStefano’s concerns about voter apathy and said the initiative was a step in allowing greater political participation.

“Voter turnout rate is 25 percent,” Addonizio said. “People are not participating. This measure allows grassroots candidates to participate.”

If the initiative is passed when it goes before the Board of Aldermen, it will be the first municipal public financing system of its kind in Connecticut, joining a growing number of similar initiatives in states across the nation.

Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield said New Haven is “ahead of the curve” in promoting the initiative, adding that he hopes the movement will filter up to higher levels of government.

“New Haven is a tolerant, progressive city with a vanguard nature,” Goldfield said. “There’s a sense that something is wrong [with campaign financing]. This is a grassroots effort that I hope will filter up to the state and federal levels.”

Ward 14 Alderman Joe Jolly said the initiative will result in greater governmental participation and efficiency.

“The proposal amplifies the voice of the grassroots,” Jolly said. “The result is a more responsive government.”

New Haven Environmental Justice Network member Crystal Manning seconded Jolly’s appraisal of the measure and said the proposed fund will benefit all members of the community.

“[The initiative] is an important step toward little guys getting access to their representatives,” Manning said.

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