John DeStefano, the longest-serving mayor in New Haven history, is calling it quits.
DeStefano, who is 57 years old, plans to announce Tuesday afternoon that he will not seek an 11th two-year term.
The mayor sent out a group email Monday afternoon stating that he and his family will be making an announcement at 5 p.m. at The Russian Lady at 144 Temple St. (the former Playwright), the site of past election victory parties. The intention is to cast Tuesday’s announcement as a celebration, a capstone of a successful political career.
Then he made phone calls informing people around town that he had decided that after 20 years in office, he had served long enough. DeStefano told people he is “excited” and “happy” and “very comfortable” with his decision. He told people he “wanted to give everybody time to think about what comes next in New Haven.”
DeStefano, who over the past few years sold an investment property in town and bought a second home in Florida, declined comment Monday night. He testified at the state Capitol Monday afternoon in favor of gun-control measures; he has been speaking out nationally about that issue. He skipped Monday night’s Board of Education meeting as he touched base with longtime allies to share his news.
Since DeStefano won his first term in 1993, no challenger has won more than 45 percent of the vote against him. However, he got a scare two years ago when he faced an unexpectedly strong challenge from a first-time candidate with little money, name recognition or organization. Already this year, two more experienced candidates, state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield and Alderman Justin Elicker, have begun mounting challenges. With the incumbent now out of the way, and decades of suppressed political ambitions now released, many more potential challengers can be expected in the weeks ahead. Elicker formally announced his candidacy last week. Holder-Winfield Monday night said he intends to formally announce his candidacy by week’s end.
“Listen I had some disagreements with the way he did some things. But I think he had 20 years of service to this city. Over time many of us thought he wasn’t able to hear people any longer. The city was slower to react to issues than it needed to be,” Holder-Winfield said, citing school reform and community policing.
Overall, despite a slower pace of progress in recent years, Holder-Winfield added, “I think the city’s a better place than it was 20 years ago, undoubtedly. You have to give credit to people who were leading. John DeStefano has been a leader.”
“I’m as surprised as anyone else” at DeStefano’s news, Elicker said Monday night.
Asked his view of the mayor’s legacy, Elicker responded: “He had a lot of challenges. He’s done overall a good job. He’s done some good things for the city. Obviously there’s a lot I think we can be doing better as a city.”
State Sen. Toni Harp, who has at times backed DeStefano’s challengers, offered an upbeat appraisal of his legacy Monday night.
“I think we have to do is look around at all the new school buildings that we have. I guess you can say he’s been the education mayor,” she said. “The fact that he was able to work out a deal with AFT [the teachers union] and chart a new course with teachers in our town is really historic. If you think of all the cities in Connecticut that have the demographics that we have, New Haven is a vibrant city. Despite the fact that I may not have agreed with the way everything was done, I don’t think anybody can disagree that it is a city that is alive and vibrant and thriving compared to others in our state.”
Gov. Dannel Malloy (pictured) Tuesday morning applauded Mayor DeStefano’s work on education and the relationship he built between Yale University and the City of New Haven.
DeStefano and Malloy, a former mayor himself, ran against each other in the 2006 governor’s race.
“New Haven has in many ways blossomed under his leadership,” Malloy told a small group of reporters Tuesday morning after an event in Hartford. “The relationship that was formed between Yale and the city was very important to both the city and Yale.” He said it allowed the community and the university to move forward.
“He’s got a lot to be proud of,” Malloy said.
Malloy also applauded DeStefano’s more recent work on education reform. He said in the last few years the focus on improving education has been “in the classroom” and prior to that rebuilding the classrooms.
DeStefano has earned national recognition for policies welcoming immigrants to New Haven and more recently launching a school-reform initiative that includes the teachers union as a partner. Click on the play arrow to the video at the top of this story to watch DeStefano discuss his legacy recently upon passing the record for holding the mayor’s office.
DeStefano cited school reform and community policing in the email he sent inviting people to his “important” announcement Tuesday at the Russian Lady, while he didn’t mention the pending retirement in the announcement.
The announcement read:
“Please join me and me and my family for an early ‘State of the City’ briefing and reception tomorrow at 5 PM, January 29th at The Russian Lady, 144 Temple Street (formerly The Playwright).
“Our college graduation rates are up 10% in the last year. Promise scholarship students are sticking in college at encouraging rates. Community policing is driving crime down and there is more to come.
“Me, Kathy and our boys look forward to seeing you tomorrow for this very important event.
Thank you, Mayor DeStefano, for your years of service to New Haven. The City is better for you being mayor.
posted by: ELMCITYDOC on January 28, 2013 9:59pm
Wow. Things will definitely be interesting in this year’s mayoral race. I wonder how many candidates will emerge and if Republicans will field a viable candidate. Thank you for your service Mayor DeStefano
posted by: Carrie Washington on January 28, 2013 10:02pm
Thank you Mayor DeStefano for recognizing it is time to move on. I have been here your whole time in office and you have done some great things and been willing to be a leader on difficult issues. I appreciate that. But the last couple of terms have had their challenges. Leadership can get stale when leaders get more concerned about their own position than doing what the people they represent want them to do.
This city has a lot of different parts and a lot of different people in it. We don’t yet have someone running that can pull them all together. Hopefully the next few weeks of this race will see more dynamic candidates than we have so far.
Mayor DeStefano deserves much recognition for all that he has achieved during his tenure. Congratulations to him for his many years of service.
posted by: Threefifths on January 28, 2013 11:37pm
Taking Bets.The Town committee will now pick George Perez.
posted by: chapillsbury on January 28, 2013 11:45pm
Congratulations on your outstanding and history-making tenure as New Haven’s longest serving Mayor. You helped make New Haven, the state’s most livable city and one of the nation’s most immigrant welcoming cities. As someone who has called New Haven his home for almost 40 years, I applaud and thank you for that.
There is still much work to do, so I also applaud your decision to pass the torch to the next generation. I don’t know anyone who loves this city more than you do. May we be blessed to find leaders who share your passion for this place and for the people who live here and will build on what you have done.
My very best to you, Kathy and your family. Charlie
posted by: Tommy Hobbes on January 29, 2013 12:01am
Thanks for the many years of self-service. Please take Dr. Mayo with you.
posted by: Wooster Squared on January 29, 2013 12:08am
DeStefano saw a strong challenge in Justin Elicker’s campaign and decided to pack it in.
DeStefano certainly left New Haven better than he found it, and for that we all owe him a debt of gratitude.
That being said, in recent years he seems to have lost his bearings, embracing questionable, if not downright ill-conceived projects like massive borrowing for school construction and short-sighted budget band-aids like the parking meter monetization debacle.
Justin has a compelling vision that focuses on goals that all New Haven residents share: increased accountability of the the school board, a fiscally-responsible long-term approach to the budget. And most importantly, bringing people back into the political process through an open government that embraces participatory budgeting and values the input of the people of New Haven.
posted by: Burbel on January 29, 2013 12:55am
Two events made this day inevitable.
The first was the 14 to 1 defeat - and the ensuing loss of control of the democratic city committee - that DeStefano’s slate suffered in the Aldermanic primary last November.
The second was the entry into the race of Gary Holder-Winfield.
Only one question remains: what will happen when Martin Looney declares his candidacy.
posted by: Threefifths on January 29, 2013 1:01am
You will now see the major players of king John steping down.
Politics is not an end, but a means. It is not a product, but a process. It is the art of government. Like other values it has its counterfeits. So much emphasis has been placed upon the false that the significance of the true has been obscured and politics has come to convey the meaning of crafty and cunning selfishness, instead of candid and sincere service.
John Adams: “Elections, especially of representatives and counselors, should be annual…This will teach them the great political virtues of humility, patience, and moderation, without which every man [or woman!] in power becomes a ravenous beast of prey.” So let’s hope Rosa DeLauro takes a cue from DeStefano: http://rosadelauroexposed.wordpress.com/
BEST News since light bread. Hope this impacts two positions, supt. of school, and NHPD chief.
posted by: robn on January 29, 2013 8:15am
Thank you for yor years of service Mayor DeStefano. The city is better for it.
posted by: cedarhillresident! on January 29, 2013 8:38am
I to have to say thank you to JD. He has done some great things as Mayor. So thank you John. And enjoy the retirement.
posted by: anon123 on January 29, 2013 8:38am
Any chance the Greens might have a Candidate this year?
posted by: SaveOurCity on January 29, 2013 9:09am
It feels like Christmas morning.
Thanks to King John? Yeah….Thanks for 3 good terms and thanks for not spending $$ this year to smear better candidates
posted by: Morris Cove New on January 29, 2013 9:25am
Sad Day in the City of New Haven to see the Mayor step down and not run for another term. Thanks for all you have done it is a better place.
posted by: anonymous on January 29, 2013 9:31am
I wouldn’t want to finish in fourth place in the primary, either.
posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on January 29, 2013 10:34am
Well, when I saw Elicker was running I thought of posting a comment wondering if John D would consider calling it quits, but figured that was naive. I should have gone ahead; I could say I said it first.
Thanks for the memories, John. Overall, a very good job.
posted by: swatty on January 29, 2013 10:48am
Thanks Mayor John Destefano for your years of service to New Haven! There is much fruit from your labor.
May God bless you and your family!
posted by: PH on January 29, 2013 10:53am
Congratulations on a great political career! DeStefano has been one of the most successful and important mayors in New Haven history. He will not be easily replaced. New Haveners should take advantage of DeStefano’s thoughtful decision to leave much time before the next election: think long and hard about who you want to take his place—those who are frothing at the mouth for change may be bitterly disappointed by the person who ultimately gets elected! I suspect history will make DeStefano look better and better with each passing year.
posted by: DrJay on January 29, 2013 11:19am
I’m very sorry to hear that we will be losing the experience and leadership that Mayor DeStefano has provided for all these years. I hope our next mayor will be as committed and competent. Big shoes to fill.
posted by: DRAD on January 29, 2013 11:48am
Mayor DeStefano was great for this city, to argue otherwise is foolish. He deserves our thanks - - New Haven is NOT like Bridgeport or Waterbury or Hartford because of his leadership - it may well be the most vibrant city of its size in New England. Now for the fun part - over the last two years or so the union-backed candidates for the Board of Alderman constantly opined that we need new Alders to keep the mayor in check - well now we need a new mayor to keep the union folk in check.
posted by: MotiS on January 29, 2013 12:11pm
Thank you Mayor DeStefano for your many years of service. I remember when you first came on as Mayor and the problems we had back then seemed overwhelming. You rose to the challenge and guided this city to where we are today, a much better place to live. I wish you the best on your future.
posted by: random on January 29, 2013 4:40pm
Truth surpasses gracious untruths. Let’s ask residents in Hill,Dwight,Dixwell,Fair Haven and Newhallville how wonderful Destefano has been to them during his tenure. Ask them about the high unemployment among residents in those areas while 70% of city workers live outside New Haven. School reform is about more than beautiful buildings. Good bye and good luck!!
posted by: anonymous on January 29, 2013 4:53pm
Random is spot-on. While it is appropriate to thank elected officials for their years of service, those who live in the Heights, Westville, East Rock, or the suburbs (as virtually all city staff do) are living in a bubble.
posted by: Curious on January 29, 2013 5:16pm
Here’s a question.
Will DeStefano endorse a candidate, or bow out entirely?
What would a DeStefano endorsement be worth, would it be a help or a hindrance?
posted by: SSSS on January 29, 2013 5:59pm
Anonymous and Random,
Are you alleging that city residents have the skills to fill city jobs, but are not being hired due to some kind of systematic bias or discrimination? Because that is a serious allegation.
I would hope that the best person is being hired for the job, regardless of residence.
posted by: Katie Rohner on January 29, 2013 6:04pm
I suspect Justin threw his hat in when he (in some way) learned that Mayor DeStefano would not be seeking reelection—and not the other way around. That said, I think Mayor DeStefano was (and remains) an intelligent, thoughtful, passionate advocate for all the people of New Haven and I congratulate him on his legacy serving the community. For Bob and I, he will always be our favorite mayor. Good luck in your next endeavor.
posted by: Wooster Squared on January 29, 2013 6:56pm
Anyone who attended Justin’s campaign launch can attest that no one had any idea DeStefano would not be seeking reelection.
DeStefano had filed papers and had already begun fundraising. Unless he raised over $70,000 as a political rouse to throw folks off track, it’s pretty clear he had every intent of staying in the race. Only the most cynical among us would believe that DeStefano would go through all of that if he were planning on stepping down from the get go.
The fact is, DeStefano is a smart politician. He saw a very tough race ahead of him, against a very strong opponent in Justin Elicker and a strong challenge from Gary as well.
posted by: robn on January 29, 2013 8:14pm
If many, many years of hard work, scrimping to pay mortgages, 1000s of hours of sweat equity, rigorous attention to upkeep, expenditure of income for home improvement, diligent attention to the streets that surround them, and partnering with neighbors to prevent crime means that the Heights, Westville and East Rock are living in a bubble, then maybe that’s a bubble other neighborhoods should construct for themselves.
posted by: SaveOurCity on January 29, 2013 10:50pm
RE S S S S
“I would hope that the best person is being hired for the job”
I’m not sure if you are new in town or never interact with city services. Even casual observation will lead one to realize that the best persons are not hired to fill jobs in the City of New Haven. Think about the level of service you receive from the various city departments and it will be obvious that other criteria are at work.
What I have seen is that those that have supported the DeStefano agenda and candidacies get placed in jobs - regardless of skill level. Let’s hope that the next mayor can start to change that practice.
posted by: anonymous on January 30, 2013 9:31pm
Good point, Robn. Whoever puts forward a serious platform to improve and expand homeownership (like Cambridge and other cities have) will get a lot of votes.