New Haven set a deadline of Noon last Wednesday for Occupy to leave the Green. In case you haven’t noticed, the tents are still up. And they will remain for another week and a half, by court order.
Almost every mayor in America — including self-proclaimed liberals — knew what do to with Occupy encampments: Avoid more violent confrontation by sending the police in at night. Give the Occupiers no advance warning. Throw everything out, evict the squatters and be done with the mess.
But not Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
Instead, for the past month, the mayor played a game of political footsie. First he asked the Occupiers to move to a park. They refused. Then he set an approximate deadline of mid-March for them to go. They refused. Then he set a definitive deadline, noon on the 14th. And guess what? They still refused.
The predictable result of DeStefano’s bungling: The Occupiers — otherwise small in number — bused in supporters from out of town. The mayor gave them the opportunity to marshal their resources and resist eviction. And they took him up on the offer.
Then Occupy New Haven’s lawyers filed an injunction against a potential eviction in federal court. Fifteen minutes after DeStefano’s supposed Wednesday deadline, a judge granted the Occupiers a two-week stay until their case can be heard, thereby ensuring the continued life of the tent city.
The open secret: Even if the court had ruled in the city’s favor, DeStefano would have done nothing. I saw few police on the Green that Wednesday at noon. The deadline was a bluff and Occupiers called it. The mayor was caught flatfooted, saved only by the court’s stay. City Hall now lacks all credibility.
The mayor needs to learn a simple fact of governance. Some problems can only be solved decisively. Occupy New Haven has become a lifestyle for the so-called protestors, a lifestyle they will not willingly abandon at City Hall’s tepid request.
DeStefano’s constituents don’t like his milquetoast act. I talked to onlookers Wednesday who described themselves as liberal. Many supported Occupy’s message against income inequality and nontransparent elections. But, consistently, they want our public space back. Occupiers should not be allowed to monopolize the Green indefinitely.
The official cluelessness runs beyond the mayor. Also on Wednesday at the Green, I spoke with Doug Hausladen ’04, alderman from Ward 7, which abuts Occupy New Haven. He said he “didn’t know” if the Occupiers should be allowed to live on the Green, but he “sure liked having them here.” Hausladen refused to speculate on whether Occupy hurts or helps local stores in New Haven, despite representing a district of small businesses. And he had similarly ambiguous thoughts about the encampment’s safety at night.
For the record, last Tuesday, a registered sex offender was charged with raping a woman in an Occupy New Haven tent.
Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12 was not on the Green Wednesday, but I reached her by email. She doesn’t think Occupy is a public safety risk either. When asked if Occupy should be allowed to remain, she merely noted that the mayor has not consulted her and her constituents have not been in touch.
Ward 1 includes the Green and the tents. Apparently, Eidelson can’t hold an opinion until she takes every student’s temperature. Where is the candidate the News endorsed for being principled and genuine?
The city’s government needs to face the facts: The Occupiers are a nuisance and a public safety hazard. Their numbers and resolve will only grow with passing weeks and continued feeble behavior from City Hall.
Meanwhile, ordinary New Haveners have had enough.
When the court rules for eviction — as it should — the mayor must act.
Nathaniel Zelinsky is a junior in Davenport College. His column runs on Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.