More local jobs! More vocational training! More civilian-friendly cops!
Voters this year showed they want that, according to Mayor John DeStefano.
More walking beats! More transparency! More Q Houses!
That’s what voters called for, according to some of the new lawmakers with whom DeStefano will do business.
As a tumultuous municipal election season came to a close, the new team in power started sifting through the results of September’s Democratic primaries and Tuesday’s general election to decipher the change that New Haven voters unmistakably demanded.
That demand came first in September’s aldermanic primaries, when union-backed challengers upset City Hall-backed candidates in 14 wards.
Then, in Tuesday’s general election, DeStefano won a record tenth term, but he faced his largest voter rejection since his first election in 1993, against a little-known first-time candidate he outspent 20 to 1.
DeStefano beat independent challenger Jeffrey Kerekes 55 to 45 percent.
In a rowdy back room at the Wicked Wolf bar on Temple Street after his victory Tuesday night, DeStefano reflected on the election results and how they will change the direction of government.
His general conclusion, he said, is that voters were “expressing their anxieties and concerns,” mainly about a lack of jobs in a “scary” economy. “People are saying to us, ‘Hello, we’re concerned,’” the mayor reflected.
DeStefano concluded that city government needs to “do more”—without raising taxes, of course.
“This is not a time to do less,” he declared on stage, starting a call-and-response that became the theme of his victory speech.
“On creating jobs and tax base, we need to do ...” the mayor began.
“... more!” the crowd roared, on cue.
“On great schools where kids accomplish, we don’t need to do less, we need to do more!” he continued. “On being an open and welcoming city, we need to do more!”
“It’s time to expect more of ourselves,” he said.
After he stepped down from the dais, he elaborated on what that means.
Does “more” mean more of the same direction that city government was headed before the election?
DeStefano said the big themes he’s tackling are the same, but the details of how to address them will change.
First, he said, “there’s a public safety problem in the city that needs some attention.” He said the police department is going to take a “different direction,” toward more “collaborative action” and close relationships with citizens.
“For all the talking we’ve done about [prison] reentry, and for all the talking we’ve done about about guns, this fundamental relationship between police and citizens needs to change,” he said.
While some cops have great relationships with citizens, “some of those with the hard heads need to change,” he said.
The vow for a new direction comes as a community-policing-minded chief of police, Dean Esserman, is set to take over the department.
Second, he said, the city needs to do more school reform. That means the city “should be willing to mix up how we get this done.”
New solutions include: creating a vocational initiative for kids who may not make it to college; tackling parental involvement; and adding more social service supports for kids.
The city also has to do more to lower its 34 percent dropout rate, he added.
Third, DeStefano said, he heard on the campaign trail a strong message about New Haveners’ need to get more jobs. That means when the fire department is hiring, he said, city residents want “dibs” on those openings.
Fair Haven Alderwoman Migdalia Castro echoed DeStefano’s remarks when asked about her plans for the new term.
Castro is one of just 10 incumbent aldermen who held onto their seats. (Ward 15 Alderman Ernie Santiago, who filled in the final few months Joey Rodrigeuz’s term, was also reelected.)
Castro said when she canvassed her neighborhood on the campaign trail, the top concern she heard was jobs.
Now she is eying how the Board of Aldermen can leverage new development projects in Fair Haven to set aside jobs for people in the neighborhood.
Specifically, she has drafted a bill that would require Colony Hardware to submit to a local hiring requirement as part of a planned expansion. She proposed creating a “job developer” who would screen applicants to Colony Hardware jobs, in order to get more Fair Haveners hired.
She aims to leverage local jobs in a similar way when another company moves forward with a zone change and development on James and Lombard streets.
Castro said she also aims to solicit local businesses, as well as the city, to support more after-school programming at local schools.
Some of the union-backed, freshly elected aldermen were also talking about more. They gathered at the low-lit Kudeta on Temple Street for food, drinks and celebration with supporters.
Sarah Eidelson, fresh off a win in Yale’s Ward 1 against Vinay Nayak, called for more community policing.
“From all the conversations I’ve had with students, they really want to see a shift back to that. They don’t feel safe right now, so that really keeps them from going out and getting involved with the community,” Eidelson said.
Eidelson said she think the Board of Alderman has ability to advocate for that deep shift. “And we have a certain authority over the budget as well,” she said.
Specifically, Eidelson said real community policing would require officers to build long-term relationships in neighborhoods—with individuals and families.
“I want to see regular walking beats, and assigned neighborhoods for police,” she said.
For Barbara Constantinople, the new alderwoman in Fair Haven Heights’ Ward 11, it was all about more communication.
“I promised my people I’d keep them in the loop,” she said. “And that’s what I’ll do.”
She plans to hold monthly meetings with her ward. That way, she said, they can see her face to face and keep tabs on what she’s up to in her new position. On other issues, she was less specific: she said she hoped to tackle crime, jobs, clean up the streets and make sure her constituents were well taken care of.
“I’m going to work with all the other aldermen—and we’ve got a great team coming up—to clean up New Haven.”
Newly elected Dixwell Alderwoman Jeanette Morrison, sitting in a corner booth with friends, was ready with a more detailed vision.
“I think it’s just imperative for Dixwell and Newhallville to build up a community center,” she said. “When I was a kid, we had the Q House—a place we could go to learn, find mentors, develop relationships and really get support when we needed it.”
The Dixwell Community Center Q House shut down in 2003. Despite efforts to revitalize it, the neighborhood has yet to find a replacement.
“One of the reasons crime is so high in our city is because our young people have no place to go,” Morrison said. “Places like the Q House can develop jobs, provide mentoring programs.”
We have to hold the city accountable now, she said. “We’ve got to make them spend money on what the city really needs. It all boils down to dollars and cents, and I’m not asking for a trillion dollars.”
Morrison, a social worker for the state Department of Children and Families, said she regularly sees the effect of neglect on children. Sometimes, she said, it takes outside mentors to provide accountability and support.
A community center like the Q House “would also be a road to collaboration between the neighborhoods and the Yale students who live in my ward,” she said. “What I’ve learned from this campaign is that they do want to be involved, but there’s this unsaid rule that neighbors and students can’t come together.”
That’s dumb, she said. Ridiculous.
As an alderwoman, she said, she’ll work to change that.