Jorge Perez hasn’t yet decided whether he will run for mayor this year. Meanwhile, he found himself temporarily holding the job—with Blizzard Nemo bearing down on New Haven and Mayor John DeStefano out of the country.
Perez currently serves as president of the Board of Aldermen. That means he fills in as acting mayor when DeStefano is out of town. DeStefano is truly out of town—out of the country, at a Council of Europe immigration conference in Ireland. He’s not expected back in City Hall until Tuesday.
Meanwhile, New Haven has what some are predicting could be the snowstorm of the century to contend with.
In his first major act in the mayor’s seat, Perez Friday signed an emergency declaration that authorizes Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts to “assume the powers and functions” as the city’s official designee assigned to carry out an emergency.
Perez also raised a question with a top official about why the city is charging folks three bucks a day to stash their cars in downtown garages.
Perez has been acting mayor since Tuesday, when DeStefano left to speak about immigration at the Ireland conference. DeStefano—usually the ubiquitous face of government during major storms—recently announced he is retiring at the end of the year after 20 years in office. DeStefano, who is usually among the most vocal municipal leaders on statewide affairs, also skipped a key event at the Capitol Wednesday, the governor’s annual budget address. He wasn’t there to join a chorus of mayors protesting the governor’s dramatic restructuring of municipal aid and the elimination of the car tax for most car owners.
When top officials gathered Friday afternoon at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at 200 Orange St. to prep for the blizzard, Perez sat in DeStefano’s seat, next to the mayor’s chief of staff. After the meeting, Perez signed off on the emergency order declaring a “civil preparedness emergency” on behalf of the city.
The order is a key precursor to accepting state and federal aid, according to deputy emergency operations chief Rick Fontana. Perez entrusted Smuts to take on the role as the city’s designee in charge of the emergency response.
Perez also called into question one aspect of the city’s emergency plan: The city’s decision to open up downtown parking garages to New Haveners at a discounted rate of $3 per day. Beginning 3 p.m. Friday, drivers have been able to park at the Crown Street or Temple Street garages for $3 per day until noon on Sunday.
If the city is trying to get cars off the streets, why charge people to park in the lots? Perez asked. It’s not like there are restaurants or plays drawing big crowds during the blizzard, he said. He said the response he got from the city was that “we always do it this way.”
Reached later, city transportation chief Jim Travers noted that the parking authority is a quasi-public agency not directly managed by the city. He also offered an explanation for the charge.
“Their practice has always been to offer a discounted rate,” Travers said. “Free isn’t really fair to the people who have to pay monthly rates” to park at those garages, he said. Discounting the price makes accommodations for people affected by the storm, “while showing consideration to the people who pay for a monthly pass.” Travers said the Crown and Temple street garages collect fees because they are staffed during the storm.
Other lots, such as surface parking lots and Granite Square at Wall and State, which are not staffed, are open for free during the storm, Travers noted. Click here for more advice on where to park for free.
Perez is in the process of deciding whether to join several other elected official in town in seeking the mayor’s office this year. DeStefano’s term expires next Jan. 1.