If you think democracy is stagnating, come to New Haven. You will find it alive and well.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. is stepping down, and thus far seven of Mr. DeStefano's fellow Democrats are seeking the party's nomination to succeed him. The number of contenders is not as surprising as the quality of the field. Six of the announced candidates are experienced and well-known personalities with solid bases of support. Three are well-known on the state level. They are:
• State Sen. Toni Harp, powerful co-chairman of the General Assembly's Appropriations Committee and a strong campaigner.
• State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a remarkably effective young legislator who championed school reform and was the lead sponsor of the bill repealing the death penalty.
• Matthew Nemerson, president of the Connecticut Technology Council and former head of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, who offers a serious background in economic development.
But mayoral politics is by definition local, and so Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina, former city economic development administrator Henry Fernandez and alderman Justin Elicker are all well-known and viable candidates as well. Sundiata Keitazulu, a plumber and newcomer to elective politics, would appear to be the long shot at this stage.
There are a number of reasons so many hats went into the ring. With one man holding the job for two decades, there is pent-up ambition. Also, there is a lot of activism in the city these days around a number of issues, from urban design and school reform to bicycling and red-light cameras. Various constituencies want their voices heard.
Some credit should also go to Mr. DeStefano, for showing that leadership can put a city on a positive path. Finally, New Haven has a hybrid system of public campaign financing, which offers candidates matching campaign money in return for promises to limit individual donations to $370 (rather than $1,000) and to eschew donations from outside committees. Three of the candidates have signed up for the program, called the Democracy Fund.
It's a long way until the Sept. 10 primary and the field will doubtless change. But the presence of so many good candidates should make it a terrific year for New Haven politics.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun