After spending 20 years in New Haven’s highest office, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. will not seek re-election this November.
DeStefano, the longest-serving mayor in city history, is expected to announce that he will not run for an 11th term today at 5 p.m. at the Russian Lady on Temple Street, where he has celebrated his re-election before. The mayor’s office could not be reached for official comment.
To date, two other New Haven residents have declared their candidacy: Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 and Sundiata Keitazulu, a plumber. In addition, State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield has said he plans on announcing whether he will run by the end of January and has indicated that he is likely to run.
Both Elicker and Holder-Winfield said DeStefano’s announcement will not change their plans or affect the issues on which they hope to focus in the campaign.
“We’re moving forward as if nothing has changed. Obviously the landscape has changed a little bit, but the issues we’ve been talking about this whole time are the same. … We’re moving full speed ahead,” Elicker said. “[DeStefano] and I have been on the same side of some issues and the opposite side of others. I think he’s done some good things and that he has wanted what’s best for the city.”
Elicker added that he was not completely surprised when he began receiving texts and phone calls Monday evening about DeStefano’s intention to step down. He said he reviewed the DeStefano campaign’s financial records, which revealed that he had not been actively fundraising since the end of October, and that he had spent more than he had raised by the next filing period of Dec. 31.
Holder-Winfield said that his plan to announce officially whether he will run at the end of this week remains the same, adding that DeStefano leaves behind a “mixed legacy.”
“I think you have to respect 20 years of service. I disagree with the way he’s done things and particularly in the last few years I’ve been on the record saying that, but I still think you have to respect the fact that he’s been willing to serve for 20 years,” Holder-Winfield said. “Now the question is, ‘What is the future of New Haven?’ and that’s the question that those of us running have to answer.”
Jorge Perez, current president of the Board of Aldermen, and Carl Goldfield, a former board president, both declined to comment, saying that they could not confirm that DeStefano was stepping down.
Two years ago, DeStefano ran against Jeffrey Kerekes, winning re-election by his narrowest margin, 55–45, to date despite outspending his challenger by a 14–1 margin.
“We’ll find out when the dust settles exactly what this means as far as strategy goes,” said Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04, who has said he is officially supporting Elicker for mayor. “It’ll be interesting to know it’s not going to be about who can raise three-quarters of a million dollars, but who can get enough people on the ground and getting name recognition out there.”
Over the past two decades, DeStefano has been credited with instituting community policing to lower crime rates, advancing school reform and revitalizing downtown. Elicker said that DeStefano has “seen the city through some pretty tough times,” noting DeStefano’s partnership with Yale University President Richard Levin in improving the relationship between the University and New Haven and increasing the level of the University’s investment in the city, particularly in economic development and real estate.
DeStefano has also overseen an ongoing school change effort, and Hausladen said that programs like New Haven Promise will be a part of DeStefano’s legacy. Hausladen added that DeStefano has overseen a growth in the city’s population and jobs, and that it will be the next mayor’s responsibility to continue that growth.
“John DeStefano [Jr.] leaves behind a legacy of school construction programs, and now we’re left with buildings that we have to work on improving the insides,” Hausladen said.
Holder-Winfield and Elicker have both said previously that they thought DeStefano is “out of touch” with New Haven residents. Holder-Winfield added that while he believes education reform and bringing crime down will be part of DeStefano’s legacy, that legacy will also include the fact that DeStefano “doesn’t listen to people.”
DeStefano is 57 years old.