New Haven’s Harp offers optimistic view for city’s growth during annual address
February 06, 2017
NEW HAVEN >> Despite a seismic shift in the country’s political and social landscape, Mayor Toni Harp on Monday said New Haven will emerge as a “pillar of hope” in what is developing into an increasingly challenging period for progressive cities.
Harp, a Democrat, did not directly mention President Donald Trump during her State of the City remarks at the Aldermanic Chambers Monday. But she didn’t need to; instead, Harp alluded to the Republican president’s strategies as “threatening” to American values and said the city will stand together with “all those targeted arbitrarily and randomly, but decidedly and with premeditation, by a new administration in Washington.”
Overall, Harp — who may run for re-election later this year — struck an optimistic tone by suggesting in her remarks that she intends to keep New Haven charging forward and a model for cities nationwide. Her remarks, the fourth of her mayoral tenure, earned her a standing ovation at.
The city will continue to nurture “idealistic” dreamers such as Helen Eugenia Hagan, who Harp said was the first African-American woman to graduate from Yale’s School of Music in 1912. Hagan honed her musical skills at Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church.
“Helen’s career as a pianist, music educator and composer was jolted but never stymied by the forces of segregation and resentment,” Harp said.
Despite the current climate, Harp said Hagan’s story is one the city will replicate.
But this won’t be easy.
Cities like New Haven will likely face repeated ideological clashes with a president whose administration may continue targeting liberal initiatives. It didn’t take long after Trump was sworn-in for him to implement his strategy: He signed an order calling for cutting funding for “sanctuary cities” such as New Haven, and temporarily banned refugees from entering the country during his first two weeks in office.
On sanctuary cities, Harp stood firm. She joined a chorus of mayors across the state and even the country in reiterating their support for undocumented immigrants.
“There is a beacon of stability emerging from the city we call home, providing sanctuary, not just for people, but for a time-honored sense of respect, acceptance and dignity,” Harp said.
Harp mentioned social programs initiated under her supervision, while also repeatedly thanking the Board of Alders for various projects. Harp mentioned a kindness campaign launched last fall and the a Food Reclamation and Redistribution Summit that helped “rescue” nearly 114,000 meals to address food insecurity among some New Haven residents.
Lauding a three-year streak of balanced budgets, Harp said figures certified last week suggest an 8.5 percent jump in aggregate property values following last year’s revaluation. The city’s personal property grand list grew by 3.3 percent, while some 300 new business properties were opened. There was also a 22 percent increase in tax-exempt properties, Harp said, which could put the city in a position to receive additional state reimbursements.
While Harp’s remarks sounded hopeful, some challenges the city has faced and will face this year weren’t directly mentioned. The city still doesn’t have a permanent police chief or a superintendent of schools, with Acting Police Chief Anthony Campbell and Interim Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo currently filing those roles.
The city’s drug concerns, funding cuts from Hartford and potential decreases in federal funding — a product of Trump’s order — were other major issues that didn’t make the cut.
Harp said future projects under deferred assessments will be phased out and potentially add up to $13 million to the 2017 grand list and could also translate to an additional $70 million in the 2018 grand list.
Harp called the city a national leader in policing with the department once again announcing a drop in crime from the previous year and an expansion of the city’s Shotspotter technology. New cars for the police were also lauded, though their arrival came only after the police union complained about the condition of the current fleet.
The Fire Department, under the new leadership of Chief John Alston Jr., is similarly poised to continue growing with a new incoming class. Yet their mood at the moment is likely somber, as the department mourns firefighter Jeffrey K. O’Neil’s death last week. Harp offered condolences during her remarks.
Harp directly addressed the $45 million Strong School project, celebrating its passing in front of a board that held an animated discussion before voting to approve the school’s construction. At least eight alders voted against the budget that included the school.
New Haven Public Schools reported chronic absenteeism has been reduced in every grade from kindergarten through twelfth grade, Harp said.
But perhaps the accomplishment Harp seemed most interested in sharing Monday was one that can’t be measured.
“We are called New Haven but we know for many we are a safe haven,” Harp said.New Haven Register: New Haven