After DeStefano, Who’s Next?

In the wake of Mayor DeStefano’s bombshell decision not to seek reelection, at least two prominent new candidates emerged to succeed him—before lunchtime.

Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina—who has publicly sparred with the mayor over the past year—released a statement to the New Haven Independent stating that he is seriously considering seeking the mayor’s office. He issued the statement Tuesday morning, scant hours after the news broke Monday night that DeStefano will not run this year to seek an 11th two-year term. The full text of Carolina’s statement appears below in this article.

Probate Court Judge Jack Keyes is seriously considering making a run, according to a person familiar with his thinking. Keyes is expected to make a decision within a week. Keyes also seriously considered a run when the mayor’s office was open in 1989. A law partner of state Sen. Martin Looney, Keyes has decades worth of ties in New Haven’s political community. He served as city clerk before becoming a judge 27 years ago.

Two other potential top contenders and the longtime favorites of New Haven’s politically active unions—Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez and state Sen. Martin Looney—are considering running. Perez said he plans to decide within the week. (Click here to read about that.)

Another potential new candidate, state Sen. Toni Harp, told the Independent she will not run for mayor.

The longtime New Haven state senator has always been considered the strongest potential challenger to entrenched New Haven Mayor John DeStefano (including by DeStefano’s camp). For years her supporters have urged her to take DeStefano on.

Now DeStefano’s stepping down—and Harp said she doesn’t plan to step in. She said she’s happy in the state Senate, where she co-chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee.

“I don’t think I’m going to be running, to be honest with you, unless I’m struck by lightning,” she said.

DeStefano’s announcement is expected to release decades of pent-up political ambitions in New Haven and spark many potential candidacies for mayor. He joins a stream of white male powerbrokers relinquishing posts after decades in office: Yale President Rick Levin, whose 20-year tenure roughly coincided with DeStefano’s, U.S. Sens. Joe Lieberman and Chris Dodd ... Heck, even New Haven Register Editorial Page Editor Charles Kochakian retired last Friday after more than 26 years directing the monopoly print daily’s editorial voice.

Now New Haveners—some of whom have never lived under a different mayor—will contemplate a New Haven without John DeStefano running the show and setting the city’s agenda.

More Candidates Expected

DeStefano’s decision instantly changed the dynamic of the 2013 mayoral race—from challengers striving to make the case for unseating an incumbent, to an open field of candidates seeking to make the case that they’re the most qualified for the job.

So far two elected officials have started running for mayor: East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker and state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield. Despite his incumbency, DeStefano was expected to face a tough fight for the Democratic Town Committee endorsement; a slate backed by Yale’s unions took control of the party last year.

“I’m sure other people will come out” to seek the mayoralty now that DeStefano is stepping aside, Democratic Town Chairwoman Jackie James said Monday night.

James (who is not running for mayor) said she’s not backing any candidate at this point. In New Haven, winning the Democratic primary is generally tantamount to winning a general election. No Republican has won a mayor’s race since 1951. No Republicans have even bothering running for alderman or mayor or state legislator the past two years.

“In light of the news, we need to take time and respect John’s decision. He’s been here 20 years,” James said. “Despite our differences, I think he’s done great things. I think we as a city need to take time to vet the proper person.”

Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez, who also has often been mentioned as a potential DeStefano opponent, said he had no comment when asked about his plans in the post-DeStefano era. His phone will be ringing non-stop for days.

Another top local Democrat whose name gets thrown into the mix, state Rep. Toni Walker, said she is definitely not going to run for mayor.

“I am not interested. I like what I do. I like working with kids. And I like doing policy. I have the best job,” said Walker, who co-chairs Appropriations with Toni Harp at the Capitol and works as an assistant principal at New Haven’s adult education center.

Other names that have been floating in the completely unconfirmed gossip mill include state Sen. Martin Looney and state Rep. Pat Dillon. Looney could not be reached for comment Monday night. Dillon deferred comment. “My immediate concern is protecting New Haven in a difficult budget year,” Dillon said.

One key question is whom the Yale union-backed majority on the Board of Aldermen and the Democratic Town Committee—the most organized vote-pulling operation in town, if not the state—will get behind. The organization was primed to back a challenger to DeStefano. But at this point it remains an open question whom it will support.

Transitional Figures?

Since the mid-20th century, entrenched mayors who left lasting imprints on the city have tended to be followed by transitional figures after they leave office.

Richard C. Lee served from 1954 through 1970. The first New Haven mayor to centralize government power and create a powerful executive branch, Lee oversaw the nation’s most intensive urban renewal experiment. When much of the city turned against that experiment, from both the right and left, he stepped down. His successor, Bart Guida, served six quiet years before another man, Frank Logue, unseated him. And Logue served only four years in office.

The next strong mayor was Biagio DiLieto, who served a full decade, from Jan. 1 1980, through Dec. 31, 1989. He oversaw a new era of downtown and harbor development. When many in the city started questioning whether he had paid enough attention to neighborhood development and to social problems like AIDS and homelessness, and as a strong challenger emerged, DiLieto stepped down rather than run for reelection. That challenger, John Daniels, became mayor and served just four years (during which time he brought community policing to New Haven).

DeStefano (who lost to Daniels in 1989) began his first term on Jan. 1, 1994. The legacy he leaves behind includes a $1.5 billion citywide school rebuilding effort and a nationally recognized policy of welcoming immigrants to New Haven. Outside of a temporary scare following a 1998 corruption scandal involving his neighborhoods anti-blight agency, the Livable City Initiative, DeStefano has largely run for reelection without serious opposition for most of his term. Then two years ago he had to fight hard to retain his seat against a first-time candidate with no significant financial or organizational backing. And a labor-backed slate of candidates independent of the mayor’s organization took control of both the Board of Aldermen and the Democratic Party. Even though DeStefano moved quickly after that election to address the top complaint in that campaign—the decline of community policing—he still faced a potentially bruising campaign season again this year, from more seasoned opponents and without the backing of the party organization he used to control. He started running hard for reelection—then chose to leave on his own terms and go out on top.

Carolina’s Statement

The full text of Principal Carolina’s statement follows:

“Mayor DeStefano’s decision not to run is both surprising and exciting because of the possibilities that emerge for new energy, leadership and a new vision in our city.

My faith requires me to forgive Mayor DeStefano, and I have already done so.  I wish the very best for his family and for him in any and all of his future endeavors.

Although news of his decision began to spread only yesterday, I have received a number of phone calls and text messages from community leaders, activists and residents—particularly my neighbors in the Westville neighborhood—encouraging me to run for Mayor.

As can be expected, before making a decision of this magnitude, I would need to discuss it with my wife and two sons.  I would also need to consider the impact that my candidacy would have on all members of James Hillhouse’s school community.

As principal of Hillhouse High School, my primary responsibility is to my students who are working hard each and every day so that they are prepared to graduate on time in order to take advantage of the opportunities they will get to be successful in the workforce, college or in the military.

Over the next few weeks, I will continue to listen to more people throughout the city and continue to seek sound advice.  After talking with my family and getting more feedback from people, I will make a decision about a run for Mayor of the City of New Haven.”


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posted by: Greg-Morehead on January 29, 2013  9:19am

All that I can say is WOW!
This caught me and everyone else, off-guard. 
I’m speechless!
What brought about this change of heart?

posted by: anonymous on January 29, 2013  9:37am

Greg- with murders way higher now than they were 10 years ago I think people were just fed up with John’s inability to control the violence.

posted by: Brutus2011 on January 29, 2013  10:34am

I was caught off-guard as well.

After surprise, I felt a little anger—in that the mayor would not have to suffer defeat and in some way answer for his heavy-handed power style of handling the mayoralty.

After processing this development a bit more, I began to wonder how, or if, the new administration will dismantle the mayor’s patronage system.

I think a candidate that has transparency and accountability and gives a sense that he or she will be responsive to the citizenry will be attractive to me.

And, someone who will clean up NHPS and stop all the spin, nonsense and chicanery.

posted by: PH on January 29, 2013  11:55am

The Tonis and Looney do a good job helping New Haven from their current (very desirable) positions.  I hope none of them run.  I’m not convinced Holder-Winfield has the experience to run a city, although I do generally agree with his politics.  I’d like to see him stay at the legislature too.  Dillon is simply not executive branch material in my opinion.  She will lose if she runs.  From among the rest, I anticipate a massively fractured field and someone emerging with a small plurality, like 35% of the vote in the Democratic primary. I also suspect there may be a viable third party (or in New Haven’s case, 2nd party, like the Greens) candidate on the final ticket. Probably the person who is smart enough to avoid the Democratic primary bloodbath.

posted by: anonymous on January 29, 2013  12:16pm

Wouldn’t the Green Party endorsement go to Elicker?

posted by: robn on January 29, 2013  1:16pm

Just remember that every candidate will try to give the impression that they’ve struggled in the past to make a positive difference in New Haven through proactive lawmaking. Amongst all those mentioned, there few that have; those few include Justin Elicker and Gary Holder Winfield.

posted by: David S Baker on January 29, 2013  2:34pm

Let me get this straight. It takes an incumbent, who was nearly defeated by a 30 something therapist with no public policy background,  dropping out of the race for you to suddenly show interest in being mayor?

You definitely will not have what it takes to run this town or you have not been paying attention.

Elicker, wheres my lawn sign?

posted by: cedarhillresident! on January 29, 2013  2:55pm

I think Pat and Toni are where they are needed. I also really wish Gary would reconsider staying in Hartford because I do think he is a great Leg. Rep. but I understand him running for mayor he is a good guy.
Keyes is not known enough to run a good campaign.
And Kermit is a great man but I am not sure about mayor….maybe a higher up in the BOE (tip top).

I heard Looney. Should be interesting to say the least.

But I have to stick with Elicker I really think he is proactive. Out of all of the above he is the most active in city issues. He is who I have to stand with.

I just hope that all take the time out to talk to all that do end up running. And really ask the important guestions….and vote on ability and qualifications and not that “I live him” vote. 

But to all that run good luck each of you are great people in my eyes

posted by: anonymous on January 29, 2013  3:04pm

The suburban-controlled Union/CCNE controls the Board of Aldermen and DTC already, and will definitely be endorsing a candidate. 

History proves that New Haven is in deep trouble if it completely gives away control over local governance to the suburbs, instead of electing leadership that actively stands up for the people who live here.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on January 29, 2013  3:40pm

Instead of a politician, I’d like to see someone with real organizational knowledge and experience,—someone like an electable Rob Smuts, or even ex-Chief Lewis.

Given binding arbitration, there are no simple fixes to this City’s economics. And I fear we might come to miss the stability DeStefano has provided during the last two decade of recovery.

At a minimum we should be looking for someone with years of hands-on managerial experience, and that rules out just about everybody mentioned in the article above.

posted by: RCguy on January 29, 2013  4:31pm

Why even give “the old guard” any press?

Elicker is the guy! Mr. Bass, please stop encouraging the old-timers who didnt have the courage to run the past 20 years.

Let Elicker and Holder-Winfield have the limelight for a few days.

I know what you are doing! Please stop. Let DeStefano and Mayo resign
before you start the mad speculative frenzy!

posted by: anonymous on January 29, 2013  4:49pm

AverageTaxpayer - a Mayor is an advocate for the people who live here (or, should be). He/She is not a city manager or a grant writer. That’s why we have people like Rob Smuts and Mike Piscitelli.

When the city and state bureaucrats are planning to widen roads through neighborhoods, turning them into dangerous highways like was recently done on Whalley Avenue, that’s where you need the Mayor to step in and stop them (and tirelessly advocate for better things in the first place). 

When the homicide rate skyrockets, as it has recently, you don’t need a new police chief - you need a Mayor who is willing to step in and make enormous structural changes. 

When children are being poisoned to death as new gas stations are constructed next to their homes, as is expected to happen at the Greater Dwight/Yale Stop and Shop, that’s where you need a good Mayor.

These are the areas where DeStefano failed miserably, and are the reasons why we are now having this conversation about our city’s future.

If you do not have a true advocate, more children die, and the city’s economy collapses—no matter how good your managers are.

posted by: CreatingUrgency on January 29, 2013  5:59pm

Out with the old guard!

Will Harries be appointed supernintendo by the Commissioner of schools? Will Therrien use his comments on NHI as a resume builder? What will become of Cannelli’s acting career?

All of this and more. Stay tuned.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 29, 2013  7:37pm

posted by: anonymous on January 29, 2013 2:04pm

The suburban-controlled Union/CCNE controls the Board of Aldermen and DTC already, and will definitely be endorsing a candidate.

This is why people should demand that the system of Instant Runoff Voting be used.

History proves that New Haven is in deep trouble if it completely gives away control over local governance to the suburbs, instead of electing leadership that actively stands up for the people who live here.

History proves that when you have just the Two Party system incharge this is the reason why you have problems.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on January 29, 2013  9:35pm

A candidate endorsed by ANY machine is a suburban candidate. NOT A CANDIDATE of the people that live in the city. And the NHI will push who ever Unite picks…it could be the garden gnome on your lawn they don’t care as long as that candidate does what they want. PUPPET.  And Unite will target the new comer students that are clueless about local politics and they will blindly vote for who ever they are putting a spin on…and now that Unite OWNS the BOA they want city hall and the BOE. We have several good candidates Justin, Gary and Kermit. Why can’t they let these new minds, new ideas run without sending in the same old politicians? You want the same vote for Jorge. What something better vote for Justin or Gary!

posted by: getyourfactstraight on January 30, 2013  12:50pm

Oh my Cedarhill you are so wrong about Jack Keyes he is probably the most well known candidate of all the potential contenders or equal to any of them.

posted by: Stephen Harris on January 30, 2013  2:02pm

What? No mention of Henry Fernandez?

posted by: lawrence st on January 30, 2013  3:45pm

i for one am hoping that jorge perez runs for mayor! in his 20 years on the board, he has shown that he listens to his constituents, and thinks about what is best for the city. he engages with the grassroots, long before people in this city (or at least those who comment on the NHI) decided that grassroots are the same as the union (which in their opinion is bad).

more importantly, perez has shown that he will do what it takes to pass legislation and make changes, whether he was in the majority or the minority. unlike some of the other candidates, he has been willing to talk with those who are not necessarily in agreement with him, and then work to come up with a solution. he cares more about getting things done than making headlines.

lastly, cederhillresident and anonymous, as well as others, seem to think that union (and perez) equals suburbia. that is just false. i volunteered for union-backed candidates, with hundreds of CITY residents. we did so because they supported what NEW HAVEN needed. NEW HAVEN needs good jobs that people can support themselves with. NEW HAVEN needs a lower crime rate.

posted by: getyourfactstraight on January 30, 2013  4:38pm

Hopefully Mr.Fernandez will not run. He believes in privatizing as much as possible.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on January 30, 2013  8:40pm

Ha lawrence st…hmmm must be a Unite poster…to obvious! OK folks looks like Jorge is running on the Unite (cough cough) ticket. Or what we once saddly called the democratic party. I am starting to think it is that dirty word party from the 50’s. Ha!

posted by: Tessa Marquis on January 30, 2013  9:05pm

Leslie Blatteau should run again.
Bring Back The Guilty Party!

posted by: lawrence st on January 30, 2013  9:34pm

cedarhillresident—why don’t you actually respond to what i wrote? i don’t understand what you have against unions, and why you are convinced they don’t represent new haven. also, please tell me what you have against jorge perez besides the fact that the unions support him? i have given some concrete examples of why i support him.

and while i am not a member of Unite HERE, i do strongly support the work of unions to create good jobs for everyone, especially given the economic situation in new haven. i am sorry that some people think that ensuring good jobs for people is not in new haven’s interest. clearly i will never agree with someone who believes that.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on January 31, 2013  9:46am

lawrence st

I have nothing against unions. My family’s business even though a only a few people were all union workers.  Raise to respect them.  And many of the unions in this city get my support soooo you read into that. I just have come across so thing in the past two campaign years that I deem to be morally wrong. That is with some of the tactic that unite implements. Could it just be the doing of some of it people not all, sure….but I just simply disagree with their way of doing things. 

Eigther you are new on the scene or you are just new to the politics of new haven.

I several times have ask Jorge to run for mayor. And at one time I think he may have been good for New Haven. But over the past few term I have seen him do what I like to say talk the talk but when it came down to voting he did not follow through. 
He is as I see equal to JD in ideas of how the city is to be ran.
Has he over the year fought for some of the right cause…definitely. But and I say BUT like JD he has been in the game far to long to be a healthy new future for the city.

Again that is my opinion and you have yours and I am sure the MACHINE may even get him in…but is it what New Haven needs at this turning point???

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 31, 2013  11:23am

Now is the time to put Term Limits and Instant Runoff Voting in the Charter Revision.