Crime Was the Focus of New Haven Debate

Five Democrats who want to be mayor of New Haven squared off in a debate on Thursday night.

Nine-term incumbent John DeStefano joined challengers Tony Dawson, Jeffery Kerekes, Clifton Graves and Robert Lee at the Metropolitan Business Academy in a debate hosted by the New Haven Independent.

The first question to the candidates asked them to tackle a crisis situation involving anthrax found in a public library. While a few candidates said they would let the proper authorities handle the situation, DeStefano turned the discussion to the violence plaguing the city he has run for 18 years.

Some watching the debate on a live stream agreed with the mayor's position.

"Terrorism is not our issue. It is important in the grand scheme of things. But we have a pressing issue of violence and I think the mayor was right to shift that focus to real-life stuff,"  "Babz" wrote on a live blog following the debate.

While the mayor had some support from viewers and from some in the audience, he took hits from his Democratic challengers on several issues.

On the question of violence in the city, Dawson blamed DeStefano for allowing New Haven to become a dangerous city. Others agreed.

"I can get a gun more quickly than I can get a library book," Graves said.

One of the sharpest confrontations came between DeStefano and Kerekes as the challenger said the mayor has mismanaged the police department, including the hiring of Chief Frank Limon.

DeStefano quickly shot back, claiming Kerekes' statement disrespected the hardworking men and women of the New Haven Police Department.

On the subject of schools, Lee said he commended the construction projects being done on the city's schools, but would focus his efforts on improving the learning, and not the buildings. "I would rather see students getting 4.0 grades in a raggedy school," Lee said.

All four challengers were in favor of term limits for the mayor. Not so for DeStefano, who is going for his 10th term in office.

"I think the voters in New Haven are pretty smart. I think we should trust them," he said.

The debate wound down with questions on special interests, more on community policing and one asking each candidate to name the most successful mayor in New Haven's history.

None of the candidates gave a specific name in their answers, except Dawson, who said that person had not been elected yet, then named himself, an answer that got a laugh from the crowd.

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