Students braved the cold to venture to the Branford Fellows Lounge on Monday night to hear Newark, N.J., Deputy Mayor Stefan Pryor ’93 LAW ’98 discuss his plans for that city’s downtown area and his past experience with economic development.

Pryor, a Ward 1 alderman in the early ’90s and a former policy adviser to Mayor John DeStefano Jr., held an informal question and answer session with an audience of about 20 students. Pryor fielded questions on topics from his time in New Haven to his plans for redeveloping Newark, which suffers from many of the same problems of poverty and crime that New Haven does.

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Pryor has been an active participant in urban affairs since his time at the Law School, when he helped found Amistad Academy, a New Haven public charter school that has gained recognition for its high student achievement. Most recently, he served as the president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, working to coordinate responses on the city and the state level for revitalizing the community of lower Manhattan and rebuilding the World Trade Center site after 9/11. Ultimately, Pryor said, he was “lured across the river” to Newark to his current position.

Pryor spoke at length about his goal for Newark: revitalization of its downtown area, transforming it into a vibrant commercial and residential urban core. Pryor said a great deal of Newark’s many problems were created by a series of riots in 1967, which made many lose hope for any kind of thriving future for the city, which he said is “one of the most traumatized cities you can find.”

“Unlike the benefit we had in Manhattan [after 9/11] where we received billions and billions of dollars, there hasn’t been the kind of push that there ought to be,” said Pryor, who compared working in Newark after the LMDC to “being shot out of a cannon.”

As a struggling urban center, Pryor said, Newark faces many of the same challenges as New Haven — chiefly high crime rates and rampant poverty. Though only in his fifth month in office, Pryor said, he already has some big changes in mind in pursuit of economic development. He said he wants to change inflated community perceptions of crime and drug use; improve public transportation; and use Newark’s ports to promote job growth.

But first, Pryor said, he must overcome what he called one of his biggest obstacles: being viewed as an outsider in his newly-adopted community. As Yalies learn upon arriving in New Haven, Pryor said it can be challenging to enter a new environment, carrying the stigma of being perceived as a stranger. But he said he is optimistic, stating that “after five months, there’s always a way to build bridges.”

For Pryor, much of what he has done in his career has roots in New Haven.

“[New Haven] was the best classroom,” Pryor said. “I really think about how many things I’ve learned here.”

Pryor said New Haven still faces many challenges as an urban center, but has continued to be a good model for cities like Newark.

“It’s really fantastic the way it’s making progress through Yale’s investment,” he said.

Yalies who were present at the talk said listening to Pryor’s experiences also proved to be valuable.

“It was insightful to hear what a similar agency does,” said Matthew Goldstein ’08, who worked for an economic development corporation this past year.

Organizer Orly Friedman ’07, a Special Divisional major focusing on Urban Studies, said student interest in urban studies was a chief motivating factor in inviting Pryor to speak.

“We’re always looking for someone interesting to talk about urban studies,” Friedman said.