New Haven Mayor Leaves a Legacy

By Amanda Raus
|  Friday, Dec 6, 2013  |  Updated 9:16 PM EDT
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After 20 years of leading the city of New Haven, Mayor John DeStefano reflects back on career.

Amanda Raus, Chris Podosek

After 20 years of leading the city of New Haven, Mayor John DeStefano reflects back on career.

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After 20 years in office, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano will be passing the torch to a new leader to usher in a new chapter in the city.

“I think that it’s been an extraordinary 20 years," DeStefano said. "I didn’t know it was going to be 20 years when I had the opportunity to do it. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have done it."

DeStefano said he's grateful for the accomplishments he's made while in office. He’s grown economic development, helped to combat crime and rebuilt the city’s school system, which he says is his proudest achievement.

“School change, to me, is focusing on the professionalism of the teacher core, supporting kids, accountability measures, how we measure our schools, how we turn around our schools,” said DeStefano.

He's also taken on controversial issues like immigration by issuing Elm City resident ID cards to people living in New Haven who are not U.S. citizens.

“A whole group of New Haven residents felt they were being acknowledged and validated for what they are,” said DeStefano.

DeStefano also says there are things he could have done better – he still grapples with the issue of violence in the city and sometimes wishes he had pushed a little harder on property tax reform.

“I remember bad days, too. I remember the days when two of our police cars ran into each other at Chapel and East streets. One of our officers was killed; one of our officers remains in a coma. I remember Feb. 1994, Danielle Taft, when she was shot by a bullet and killed on Orchard Street. I’ll never forget her funeral,” he said.

But overall, he's thankful that he had the opportunity to leave his mark on the city where he grew up, and he's ready to hand over his responsibilities to mayor-elect Toni Harp.

“I’m particularly, and acutely aware, that after 20 years, however prideful I may be of things that went well, that it’s time for a new set of eyes to look at things,” said DeStefano.

Harp will be sworn into office Jan. 1, 2014 and said she respects and appreciates everything DeStefano has done for the city.

“He’s got a lot to be very proud of, and I’m really grateful to be inheriting that,” said Harp.

She said DeStefano was a great administrator and a visionary who made positive changes in the city, such as community policing and school system improvement.

Harp pledges to pick up where DeStefano leaves off.

“A lot of what’s been done really needs to be spread out and deepened in many respects,” said Harp.

She said she already has ideas about what she’d like to accomplish in economic development.

“I think one of the things we’ve done really well is to do develop downtown, so now I’m going to focus on the neighborhoods and try to bring in community development on our arterial roads that are like Dixwell Avenue, like Whalley Avenue,” said Harp.

The rest she’ll be taking step by step beginning next year.

“We’re going to be very transparent as an administration. We’re going to be engaging the people in this town to help define where we go and to help get us there,” said Harp.

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