NEW HAVEN---Former New Haven Mayor John C. Daniels who became the city’s first black mayor died Saturday at 78.
“He was the of the best of the politicians, he's the last good guy in politics,” said Sally Brown, New Haven Deputy City Clerk.
Daniels was born in Macon, Georgia, but he went to high school in New Haven at Hillhouse High, where he was a star football player. He went on to officiate college football games in the years leading up to his time as mayor, and even during his time in office.
“People loved him and thought he was a good person. You knew he cared about the city,” Brown said.
The Democrat became New Haven’s first black mayor in 1990, winning 69 percent of the vote, according to The New York Times.
He defeated John DeStefano Jr. in a 1989 primary after then-incumbent Mayor Biagio DiLieto chose not to run.
DeStefano, the city's longest-serving mayor, said Daniels had been in politics for a long time when they battled in the 1989 primary.
“A lot people felt that election, felt that change, it was a tough time. He managed a very difficult time for the city,” said Destefano, New Haven mayor from 1994-2014.
Daniels took control of the mayor’s office at a time when the City of New Haven while it struggled financially, saw a spike in the murder rate and unemployment.
Daniels was credited for bringing in Police Chief Nicholas Pastore, who introduced community policing in an effort to reduce crime in the city.
Daniels served from his inauguration in January 1990 until 1993, choosing not to run for a third term.
“I think it got the best of him,” Brown said.
Prior to his stint as mayor, Daniels served as a city alderman and was elected in 1980 to serve New Haven in the state senate.
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp told Fox CT Daniels served as inspiration for her political career: “If it were not for Mayor Daniels, I probably wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now.”
Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman released the following statement on Daniels Sunday afternoon:
During a career spanning decades, John Daniels had an unrivaled dedication to and passion for the people of his city. From the Board of Alderman, to the State Senate, to the Mayor's office, he was a trailblazer. He broke barriers, and truly personified progress. Respected by leaders across Connecticut, he encapsulated what it means to serve the public. Whether in Hartford or New Haven, John Daniels devoted himself to improving the lives of those around him. He will be deeply missed, and our thoughts go out to his family.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Daniels “was an incredible legislator, leader and friend who I looked up to greatly.
“He was the first state senator I ever met, and I distinctly remember when my father introduced me to him many years ago. He left a lasting impression on me and his profound devotion to New Haven has always inspired me,” Fasano said. “Everyone could see the powerful love he had for our community.”