NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, the longest-serving chief executive in city history who championed immigration-friendly policies and unsuccessfully ran for governor, said Tuesday he will not run for re-election after 20 years in office.
The Democrat said he was proud of the changes that have taken place in the city, including a vibrant downtown that had been in decline when he took office, numerous rebuilt schools and better relations with Yale University.
“I feel it’s the right time, right for the city, right for me,” DeStefano, 57, said in an interview at his office. “I have pride in what I’ve done over the last 20 years as mayor, feel the city is a different place, felt it’s headed in a good direction.”
DeStefano, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006 but lost to Republican M. Jodi Rell, said when he took office department stores and shopping malls were closing downtown and relations with Yale were difficult. He noted that Yale President Richard C. Levin, who is also retiring, started around the same time and together the men embarked on a more collaborative relationship that helped New Haven become a center for biosciences and pharmaceutical companies and led to a college scholarship program that has encouraged city students to stay in school.
Levin said DeStefano’s encouragement enabled the university to expand its space by 40 percent and add 4,000 jobs as it redeveloped retail districts. Gateway Community College relocated downtown and more than 3,000 units of housing were built in the city center.
By supporting retailers, restaurants, residential development and the arts, he has given New Haven the most vibrant downtown of any city in the state and he has made New Haven a city that our students, staff and faculty are proud to call home,” Levin said in a statement.
DeStefano often coasted to victory, but his last race was relatively closer with an independent newcomer getting 45 percent of the vote. He also faced competition from an alderman and a state lawmaker, but said none of that was a factor in his decision.
State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a Democrat who is running for mayor, said power had shifted in the local party and DeStefano would have had a harder time than in the past winning the nomination. He said there have been improvements in the schools and with crime, but at times the changes came too slow.
New Haven, like other Connecticut cities, has struggled with violent crime. The city had 17 homicides last year, down from 34 in 2011.
DeStefano, the son of a New Haven police officer, said the police department’s practices had gradually evolved to the point that they were not effective, but noted he brought in a new police chief and made other changes to drive down violence.
DeStefano made national news in 2007 when the city began issuing municipal identification cards to all residents, regardless of immigration status. New Haven was the first in the nation to offer the ID cards to illegal immigrants, trying to bring them out of the shadows.
In 2011, DeStefano proposed extending voting rights to illegal immigrants and other noncitizens for municipal elections, but the secretary of the state has said it would require an amendment to the state constitution.
DeStefano also championed education reforms that he said makes it easier to dismiss poorly performing teachers even if they have tenure and created an evaluation system based on test scores and other measures.
Jacqueline James, chairwoman of the Democratic Town Committee and president pro tem of the Board of Aldermen, said DeStefano told her Monday he won’t seek an 11th two-year term.
“I was shocked,” James said. “I think he’s done great things in the city. We’ve come a long way in regards to education and crime and economic development. He will truly be missed.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.