The Russian Lady, née Wicked Wolf, is a 15,000-plus square foot restaurant and bar in downtown New Haven. Its three floors feature rooms with Soviet-inflected titles—the Vodka Room, the KGB Room—that can accommodate hundreds of people on a given night. On the evening of Tues., Jan. 29, however, nearly everyone inside crammed into a single, unnamed room in the back of the first floor. The previous day, John DeStefano Jr., the longest serving mayor in the history of the City of New Haven, had informed a number of people that after 20 years in office, he had decided not to seek re-election. He would make an official announcement the following day at the Russian Lady, where in years past he has celebrated a slew of election-night victories.
By 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the back room had swelled well beyond capacity. Most people, dressed in suits, had come straight from work. The mood was celebratory, and as the crowd continued to grow, many edged their way forward to the podium, a glass of wine or a beer in hand, hoping for a better view. Finally, U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro took the stage. Standing against a giant blue backdrop emblazoned with the slogan “Improving New Haven, Again,” and flanked by bunches of red, white, and blue balloons, she introduced the mayor and spoke glowingly of his legacy: “It’s wide, it’s deep, it’s broad,” she said. “It’s an important legacy for the city.”
DeLauro cited the strides forward taken during Mayor DeStefano’s ten terms, from improvements in education and housing to the revitalization of downtown. “It’s unimaginable that [New Haven] would be such a vibrant place but for the leadership of John DeStefano,” she said. Then she asked where the Yalies were. A hand near the front of the room shot up at the mention of the University. It belonged to Richard Levin. DeStefano, who stood a few paces to DeLauro’s right, bounded off the stage toward Yale’s outgoing president, wrapping his arms around him in a tremendous hug. Among the monumental changes that have occurred in the Elm City in the past two decades, few have been as significant as the rekindling of relations between the University and the city. DeLauro called it a “partnership.” A man in front of me whispered to a friend: “Can you imagine the president of Yale being at this event 20 years ago?”