On Saturday, bloggers from all over Connecticut sat down with Democratic gubernatorial candidate John DeStefano, the mayor of New Haven. This will not be a piece comparing DeStefano with Malloy--rather, it will explore a few of DeStefano's positions on the issues and provide some commentary.
Diet Coke vs. Diet Pepsi
DeStefano started the meeting with a short speech about politics and communication. One of the more enduring images from that speech was his belief that "politics are about big ideas... and choices... not Diet Coke vs. Diet Pepsi." DeStefano, who characterized his rivals Jodi Rell and Dan Malloy as the two barely distinguishable beverages later on in the discussion, is portraying himself as an alternative to more of the same.
So many decisions are made "within a small universe of people," DeStefano said. It's time to open that up.
He also commented on the state of the primary, and what differentiates him from his Democratic rival. "I am...dramatically different from Dan," he said. "What you see is a sum of issues that speak or families in the middle." An example of this, he said, was that "...I don't give speeches to labor. I idenfity with labor." The more bold, progressive stands he is taking on issues relevant to the middle class will help him win the primary.
Schools and Property Taxes
I asked Mayor DeStefano about education and property taxes. He said that homeowners are overburdened by the property tax, and that Connecticut towns are too dependent on it. In fact, he said, only New Jersey is more dependent than Connecticut on the property tax. DeStefano wants to "shift the way you pay for schools" onto the state income tax, basically by raising taxes for people making over $500,000/year. He also wants to create a floor for reimbursement of special education costs.
"I don't think Lisa Moody should resign. I think the governor should fire her."
John DeStefano is a candidate who believes in the big idea. He is personable, engaging and very social, as well as willing to try to explain the underpinnings and theories behind his ideas instead of simply laying them out there.
His support from labor seems genuine, and may end up making a difference. The diner in which we met was right around the corner from Connecticut AFL-CIO headquarters (they had DeStefano/Slifka lawn signs, the first I'd seen, although now my neighbor has one too), which may have been why we were interrupted by an enthusiastic supporter of DeStefano's. They may feel he understands their issues far better than the other two candidates, and his stand against Wal-Mart and the abolition of the estate tax may be bearing this out.
He is an innovator, and seems more interested in the end goal than in how he'll get there. His answer for how he expected to pay for his transportation plan was frustratingly (and deliberately) vague--he believes that the details can be worked out depending on the situation. He may, in fact, be correct, but he may find that a lack of firm plans won't help him with a recalcitrant legislature.
John DeStefano is a charming and down-to-earth man with a good understanding of human nature, which might make a run against a charming, down-to-earth and popular governor an interesting race.
More commentary and reactions coming soon. Thanks to Frank Chi and John DeStefano for setting up and attending this meeting.