The quest to succeed retiring New Haven Mayor John DeStefano officially became a two-man race Friday, as school reform remained a top campaign issue.
Democratic state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield of Newhallville filed papers to form his official mayoral campaign committee around 10:30 a.m. at the City Clerk’s Office.
He joins Democratic East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker as an official mayoral candidate, with other prominent New Haveners expected to announce soon if they’ll jump in, too. (Read about that here.) Democrat DeStefano announced Tuesday that he’s retiring at the end of 2013 after a record 20 years in office.
In his retirement announcement DeStefano urged voters to press candidates on school reform.
After filing Friday, Holder-Winfield said that he will indeed put improving public education at the top of his campaign agenda along with public safety and local job-creation. He has authored numerous school-reform bills in the state legislature, including one parent-empowerment law that put him at odds with city officials when they ignored it.
This coming year will see a transition not only at City Hall but also at the Board of Education when the schools Superintendent Reggie Mayo, a close DeStefano ally, retires after more than 20 years in charge upon the expiration of his contract on June 30.
“Garth will be the interim [superintendent]. I accept that,” Holder-Winfield predicted, referring to Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries, whom the city brought in from New York to oversee school reform and eventually succeed Mayo. But, he added, only if an intensive national search takes place for a permanent schools chief.
Holder-Winfield stressed that he believes that person may well be Garth Harries —but that the city needs to discover that through a thorough search process.
Board of Ed officials did not offer a response to Holder-Winfield’s comments by the time this article was published.
Elicker took a similar position when asked about the succession Tuesday night, when speculation began running rampant about the post-Mayo Board of Ed and the future of New Haven’s nascent school reform drive.
“I wouldn’t completely dismantle what they’re doing,” Holder-Winfield said Friday about that drive. Rather, he said, he’d seek to focus more on early childhood education, with a concentration on reading; and more on dealing with the traumas kids bring into school with them. Young children have often experienced multiple traumatic events in their lives, which makes it harder for them to learn, a key reason for Connecticut’s gaping urban-suburban and racial achievement gaps, he said. “Even when they get dealt with, they get dealt with improperly, which compounds them.” He spoke as well of developing school “building leaders” who have “the autonomy to do their job” while also being held accountable for results.
Click on the play arrow to watch, and here to read about, Holder-Winfield’s explanation to his church about why he’s running for mayor.