The last 20 years in New Haven, the word “mayor” has meant only one person – Republican Terry McDonald.
Or, as mayoral-hopeful Steve McMichael put it during his introduction to McDonald's State of the City address Monday night, you could have had a baby the year McDonald was elected, 1999, and pretty soon, that baby could drop by a New Haven watering hole and have “an adult beverage. Legally.”
The five-term mayor, who has served as both a Democrat and a Republican, used his annual address to remark on what has changed for the city since he was hired as a young emergency medical technician in 1979.
When he started as mayor, the city had no email system, McDonald said. There was no city web page. A three-person crew took three months to paint the stripes on city streets – a job now done in three weeks.
“Twenty years has gone by very fast,” McDonald, 59, told about 160 attendees at the buffet-style dinner at The Orchid that preceded his speech.
“My service to you has been an honor,” he said. “My true regret, my only true regret, is that I have nothing left to give. I'm tired. It's time to turn the ship over to a new mayor with new ideas.”
McDonald said his time in office has taught him that the mayor's governmental contacts – with local school officials, county commissioners and council members, regional economic development groups and state and federal officials – “are absolutely critical.”
They're what largely determines what gets done in a small city like New Haven, he said, adding he hopes those ties will be maintained and enhanced by a new administration.
New Haven residents can look forward to already-started improvements in city parks and school building projects, McDonald said. And he wants the city to continue a strong focus on planning and budgeting.
“We don't buy stuff willy-nilly. We don't build willy-nilly. That's all been planned for,” McDonald said.
New Haven staff members even have a saying about it.
“If you haven't checked with Mother Checkbook first, you don't get it,” he joked.
After the meeting, McDonald told The Journal Gazette he doesn't have specific plans for his time after he leaves office at the end of the year.
He said he's undergone a year of “personal challenges” in recent months, including a minor brain bleed in February from a fall and the death of his mother from cancer – an event that caused the postponement of the speech from March 11. He also wants some time to rest.
McDonald remains pastor of Woodburn United Methodist Church, and some traveling is on the agenda, he said. He also might stay involved in economic development at some level.
“I enjoy it. I know that's hard to believe, but I do,” he said. “I know something will come up.”