Dancing and promises of a safer, more prosperous New Haven filled Wooster Square Park Monday night as Toni Harp ARC ’78 received the backing of yet another major New Haven Democrat.
In a Democratic “unity” rally, longtime U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro endorsed Harp’s bid to become the next mayor of New Haven. DeLauro, who grew up in Wooster Square, reiterated Harp’s commitment to the three pillars of her campaign: jobs, public safety and a better future for the city’s youth. The endorsement, which came just under two weeks after Harp won an emphatic victory in the city’s Democratic primary, follows those of other prominent Democratic elected officials, most notably Gov. Dannel Malloy and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy.
“She is going to build on the already strong and impressive legacy Mayor [John] DeStefano Jr. leaves behind,” DeLauro told the approximately 70 assembled. “Her values have been shaped by the hopes and aspirations of hardworking people in New Haven.”
Following introductions by a host of longtime New Haven activists and Democratic party leaders, DeLauro took to the podium with her characteristic firebrand rhetoric. She spoke extensively on the need to reduce crime through community policing, reduce hunger and improve public education. Interspersed throughout was praise of Harp’s time in Hartford, where, DeLauro said, she was a “tough, unwavering fighter” and “the conscience of the Senate.”
DeLauro’s stump also addressed two issues often glossed over in this year’s contest: race and gender. Harp would be New Haven’s first female mayor and only its second mayor of color. According to the congresswoman, women of color make up a mere 5 percent of state legislators across the country. Many of those in the crowd were African-American women.
Organized labor, long a powerful force in the city’s politics, also held a strong presence at the rally. Members of the firefighter’s union held signs behind Harp and DeLauro, who both have long standing connections to organized labor. Some in the crowd wore shirts bearing the logo of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a major national union, while others displayed “Union Strong” lapel buttons. Harp has also been endorsed by Yale’s Unite Here unions.
“It’s wonderful to see the array of working people and labor unions that stand with you,” DeLauro said, turning to Harp.
DeLauro’s endorsement carries significant weight throughout the city. Having represented New Haven in Washington since 1991, DeLauro has earned a reputation as one of the most progressive members in Congress and a dedicated supporter of social welfare programs that provide for many across the Elm City.
Her popularity, though, comes from more than her record. A native of Wooster Square, DeLauro comes from a family with an extensive record of leadership in the city. Her mother, Luisa DeLauro — who will turn 100 this year — served on the Board of Aldermen for 35 years, at one point concurrently with Harp. In the corner of the park where Harp and DeLauro spoke stands the DeLauro Table, a monument to the family’s contributions to the city.
“Rosa DeLauro is New Haven,” Harp Communications Director Patrick Scully said. “She’s a well-known figure, a neighbor and friend to many of the people here.”
DeLauro’s decision to endorse Harp only after her victory in last Tuesday’s contest stands in contrast to those of the state’s other Democratic leaders, like Malloy and Murphy. When asked about her choice, DeLauro said that she withheld her endorsement because it was a primary without an incumbent and she wanted New Haven residents to make the choice for themselves.
In her speech, which followed DeLauro’s, Harp offered similar praise for DeLauro, calling her a “daughter of New Haven.” She then moved on to the unification message of the rally, which marked the start in earnest of the general election. Invoking both national and local Democratic figures, from Franklin Roosevelt to Ella Grasso, Harp told the crowd that being a Democrat implies a selfless concern for one’s neighbors.
She also touched briefly upon the budget, an issue causing consternation going city residents and policymakers. Rather than going into depth on the future of the city’s finances, though, Harp reassured the crowd that the city was not on a downward path.
“New Haven is not Detroit and it never will be,” Harp said. “New Haven’s glass is half full and in November our cup runneth over.”
As Harp finished speaking, her campaign song, Alicia Key’s “Girl on Fire,” came over the speakers, leaving DeLauro and Harp to dance with the crowd.