New Haven Mayor John DeStefano addressed his illegal immigration controversy at a press event in Hartford today, chalking the tempest up to an enterprising reporter (though DeStefano didn’t put it quite that way) and a bungled press operation.[Correction: In an earlier version of this story, we reported that the deadline for filing fundraising totals for last quarter was October 7. It is actually October 11. We apologize for the error.]
Flanked by uniformed police officers in front of television cameras on the state Capitol steps, DeStefano proudly received a gubernatorial endorsement from AFSCME Council 15, which represents 4,000 police officers in 60 towns.The event- with its decidedly law-and-order images- had been planned before this week’s controversy. It started Monday, when DeStefano announced an idea to issue New Haven municipal ID cards to illegal immigrants, so they could better access government services. When the New Haven Register reported the plan, anti-immigrant groups went berserk, the national media fixed its sights on the New Haven, and City Hall appeared to backtrack.Asked today about the sequence of events, DeStefano said the ID idea had been batted around between activists, city staff and attorneys. Though the ID’s were mentioned as part of a package of initiatives at a press conference this week, DeStefano said it was not really an announcement, because the lawyers had conflicting views as to whether the city could actually go forward with the plan.According to DeStefano, New Haven Register reporter Andy Bromage had “side conversations” with folks at the Monday press conference and took those interviews to mean the city was announcing a plan, when it wasn’t.However, Bromage penned another story in yesterday’s Register quoting a tape recording of New Haven Police Chief Francisco Ortiz at the same press conference. The chief said his department was “working hard” with City Hall to make the ID’s a reality.In any event, DeStefano said his press aide was not around the following day, so when “all hell broke loose” over the story, inquiring reporters had to talk to four or five different staffers who weren’t clear on the message, and so it appeared his administration was backtracking.“We were confused,” the mayor said, acknowledging that his office’s responses sounded “inconsistent” and that voters are much less likely to forgive a candidate that sounded too “cute.“Whether the immigration controversy has any staying power may depend on how DeStefano fares in the money race against his Democratic gubernatorial rival Dannel Malloy, Mayor of Stamford. The deadline for reporting last quarter’s fundraising totals is October 11. If DeStefano significantly outraises Malloy, then this week’s controversy might well melt away in a drumbeat towards the nomination. But if Malloy tops DeStefano, the latter’s handling of the immigrant rights issue might be magnified.“We did well,” DeStefano said when asked about his fundraising total.Did he top the $455,000 raised last quarter?“We’re in the ballpark,” the mayor said.