Dan Malloy has said “yes” to New Haven a lot for the past four years. Now he’s asking for a big “yes” in return—and promising to turn his attention to improving the city’s beleaguered bus service.
The “yes” Malloy is seeking: Another overwhelming vote in his favor when he comes up for reelection as governor on Nov. 4.
In an interview about his urban policy over coffee Tuesday at Woodland Cafe in Sherman Alley, Malloy pointed to increased money for schools, the state’s role in convincing Alexion Pharmaceuticals to build a 13-story office tower downtown, and the decline in street violence as reasons he feels he has earned the city’s vote a second time in his rematch against Republican Tom Foley.
“New Haven,” he said, “has a great future.”
Malloy got the job in large part thanks to New Haven: More voters here said “yes” to him in his first campaign, in 2010, than anywhere else in Connecticut. Democrat Malloy beat Republican Tom Foley 22,298 to 3,685 votes in New Haven, an 18,613-vote plurality; Malloy won the statewide election by a mere 6,404 votes.
Since then, Malloy has been visiting the city so often he practically qualifies for an Elm City Resident Card. On some of those visits he has been delivering on requests for help from New Haven’s leadership, from ending the state’s death penalty to sending a $1 million planning grant for a new Dixwell Community “Q” House (with much more expected from his administration before the election to actually build it). (City Democratic leader Vincent Mauro Jr. has vowed to up Malloy’s New Haven plurality this election to 20,000.)
Malloy said in Tuesday’s interview, which followed a campaign event at the Omni Hotel with former President Bill Clinton, that he will continue supporting such projects. The Harp administration is hoping he’ll come through with up to $20 million in bonding, for instance, to rebuild the roads around the old Coliseum site so that a developer will proceed with a busy new $395 million new-urbanist mini-city of apartments, stores, offices, a hotel and a public plaza. Malloy said Tuesday that he supports the general concept of the project. He didn’t commit to delivering the money until discussions are complete on the details. “Everything is moving in the right direction,” he said. “We’re getting answers to the questions OPM [the Office of Policy and Management] is asking.” Those questions have focused in part on ensuring that the private financing is solid enough to ensure the project is built, he said: “I’m not looking to own infrastructure. I’m looking to be a catalyst” to getting projects built.
The governor said he has helped cities the most by improving schools and helping to cut crime and to create jobs. State aid to the city for education rose 8.5 percent, or another $12 million, this past year, he said. Graduation rates have climbed steadily, 8.9 percent, for four years along with Advanced Placement scores. Unemployment has steadily dropped, meanwhile, and the governor signed a raise in the hourly minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017. The number of shootings and homicides has dropped steadily in New Haven, and in cities statewide, over the past four years; as part of that effort Malloy’s administration worked with the feds and New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman (who was the Stamford police chief when Malloy was that city’s mayor) to launch an anti-gang violence initiative called Project Longevity.
An Education On Education
At times Malloy has encountered jeers in New Haven (like this time teachers booed him in 2012), in part for remarks he now regrets. He said he learned from those experiences. He said he should never have said that teachers can get tenure by just “showing up,” for instance: “That was the wrong choice of words. That wasn’t directed at the teachers. It was directed at the system.”
He drew a protest this year from some members of his New Haven Democratic activist base when he turned down a federal request to house large numbers of immigrant children seized at the border; Malloy said he should have better explained that he did believe in welcoming the children, but that rather than “warehousing” them in institutions, he wanted to find them placements in homes, often with relatives. He said his administration has since done that with more than 400 of the children.
Malloy’s support for charter schools endeared him to the New Haven-based Achievement First network and its supporters. But that support backfired when a proposal for a new charter school in New Haven, Booker T. Washington Academy, got delayed by a scandal involving its original Hartford-based partner, called FUSE. In the wake of that episode Malloy’s education department vowed to vet and regulate charter operators more closely. (The video shows him addressing the question with the Independent during a recent New Haven visit.)
But Malloy also stressed Tuesday that cases of misconduct occur at all kinds of schools: A Hartford public-school bus driver was just arrested on DUI charges, for instance. Another community’s superintendent was caught embezzling. He characterized the FUSE episode as that kind of isolated case, not a reflection on charter schools.
More broadly, some teachers have remained wary of Malloy’s education reform efforts. (Read about that here.) Malloy responded in part with the early announcement that New Havener Stefan Pryor will not serve a second term as education commissioner if Malloy is reelected.
Malloy was asked Tuesday if he will seek to hire another New Havener, current schools Superintendent Garth Harries, for the job if reelected. He responded he had approached Harries about the job the first time around.
“Garth’s a great guy,” Malloy said. “My read is he is committed to a period of time in New Haven. I don’t imagine Garth will be [available].” Asked again if he’ll offer the job to Harries, Malloy repeated, “I’m very fond of him.” [Told about Malloy’s remarks Tuesday, Harries said: “I’m honored that my name would even be discussed. But I do feel excited and committed to the work we’re doing in New Haven. I hope that will continue to point the direction for the state and the country.”]
A Bus Vow
On one problem that has only worsened during Malloy’s administration—the state of the CT Transit bus system in New Haven—the governor said he didn’t realize that a problem existed.
“If it’s a problem,” he said, “we should address it.”
Upon taking office this January, Mayor Toni Harp declared the need to upgrade public transit a “civil-rights issues” since the system is heavily used by lower-income riders and people of color. Commuters and others with access to other forms of transportation tend to avoid relying on buses that run sporadically, especially after 6 p.m. and on weekends. Because the system relies on a hub-and-spoke system, a one or two-mile trip can sometimes take an hour; commuters to or from suburban jobs sometimes can’t make connections off-peak. The Harp administration is seeking for starters to have CT Transit buses equipped with GPS systems so riders can keep track of real-time schedules.
“I believe buses should run later. I believe that they should match the actual travel patterns of individuals,” Malloy said. (Click on the video at the top of the story to watch more of the conversation on the subject.)
“Buses are a less expensive alternative on the transportation front,” he declared. “Connecticut has got to get over itself and build a better bus system,” Malloy declared.
He said he has directed his transit chief, James Redeker, to carry out that vision. In a visit to New Haven earlier this year, Redeker in fact called CT Transit a “wonderful” and “convenient” system that’s working well for most people. Click here to read the full story on that; click on the video to watch that interview.