Friday, August 16, 2013

Politics In The Ruins

When 10-term Mayor of New Haven John DeStefano announced he was calling it quits, a queue of Democrats quickly formed, each aspirant anxious to step into Mr. DeStefano’s outsized shoes.  Among Democrats hoping to succeed DeStefano are Toni Harp, a state senator for the past 20 years, Yale Law School graduate Henry Fernandez, Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina and Alderman Justin Elicker.

As is the case with other large cities in Connecticut, New Haven is a one party town. This means that no Republican need apply for mayor. The urban redoubts of decaying political party machines are still important to Democrats who run for state-wide offices. Votes in Bridgeport and New Haven were largely responsible for Governor Dannel Malloy’s successful run for governor, and it will not do to ignore those who butter your political bread. A perception of this kind may have drawn Mr. Malloy to New Haven to endorse Mrs. Harp.

At least one of Mrs. Harp’s Democratic opponents, Mr. Fernandez, was unimpressed by the endorsement, “a rare endorsement” from Mr. Malloy, according to one reporter. Mr. Malloy’s political endorsements are not nearly as rare as those of his predecessor, former Governor Jodi Rell, who steadfastly refused to play politics while in office. Mr. Malloy is free of that political impediment. It is true, however, that Mr. Malloy has not been in the habit of praising politicians who are not Mr. Malloy, and his endorsement in New Haven is likely to help him much more than Mrs. Harp.

Prior to Mr. Malloy’s endorsement of Mrs. Harp, Mr. Fernandez released a statement:

“If Governor Malloy was really concerned about what is best for New Haven, he’d be coming here today to ask Senator Harp to pay the million dollars her family owes in delinquent state sales tax.  Instead, he is here to endorse a candidate who lives tax free in a mansion and has a history of failing to pay her own taxes, all while working in Hartford to write state budgets that raise taxes on New Haven families. Clearly, the governor is more concerned about re-election and keeping special interests happy than supporting a candidate who will fight for New Haven families and taxpayers.”

In introducing Mr. Malloy, Mrs. Harp mentioned that the governor had in his budgets implemented substantial savings without harming either students or the poor, and she promised to do the same if elected mayor. The author of the largest tax increase in Connecticut history was equally complimentary to Mrs. Harp

Following his endorsement of Mrs. Harp at Nica’s Gourmet Market and Deli, Mr. Malloy was unsuccessful in his repeated attempts to brush by Wendy Hamilton, possibly an aggrieved taxpayer, who was determined to give the governor a piece of her mind on the subject of tax scofflaws.  Mrs. Harp’s late husband owes the state over $1 million in unpaid taxes.

In defense of her failure over the years to prod her husband to pay his taxes, Mrs. Harp claimed ignorance, rarely an unassailable position for a politician who has spent 20 years in Connecticut’s General Assembly, a dozen of them on the budget writing Appropriations Committee. Mrs. Harp protested that she and her late husband had been living different lives together.

Mr. Elicker said Mr. Malloy’s endorsement of Mrs. Harp was at the behest of Yale’s unions, UNITE HERE Local 34 and Local 35:

“Malloy is in a tough spot. He depended on UNITE HERE to get him elected in 2010. He’s going to need them in 2014. So I can understand the position he’s in.”

Watching from afar is the self-sidelined DeStefano.  The soon to be former mayor and Mr. Malloy are old political antagonists. In 2006, Mr. DeStefano defeated then Mayor of Stamford Malloy in a hotly contested primary for Governor, losing in the general election to popular Republican Governor Jodi Rell.

Thus far, Mr. DeStefano, every bit as progressive as Mr. Malloy, has made no endorsement in the New Haven mayoralty race. But it is not possible to quell altogether the chattering and wondering among those in the city who have for more than 20 years benefited from the DeStefano regime. Will the former mayor pull a Rell and decline to endorse; more importantly, what are his plans for the future? Is it too soon to begin speculation concerning a re-run of the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary?  

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