DEFIESTA: Where in the world is Toni Harp?

Mayoral candidate Toni Harp ARC ’78 has long touted the diversity and sweeping reach of her campaign. Her rhetoric, and that used by her supporters such as Yale’s powerful unions, focuses on bringing new voters into the fold of city politics.

It seems that her message is reaching diverse demographics. She has built up a broad base of supporters, from long-entrenched Democratic Party stalwarts like Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez to Yale’s very own Mike Morand ’87 DIV ’93 (not in his capacity as a University administrator, of course).

Given Harp’s wide-ranging coalition and her emphasis on engaging New Haven residents who have long been shunned by traditional Elm City politics, students I’ve spoken with are now asking: Why has Toni Harp largely ignored Yale?

In the days leading up to September’s primary election, each of Harp’s three opponents, including remaining rival Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker SOM ’10 FES ’10, made numerous appearances on campus. Elicker even attended Yale’s annual extracurricular bazaar to chat with students from different campus clubs, making a total of six stops on campus since the start of the academic year. Harp, meanwhile, only dropped by once for a lunch with students in Timothy Dwight.

“The fact that I show up as many times as I do on campus is an indication of how I think a mayor needs to interact with all the constituents as much as possible,” Elicker told me, adding that he has knocked on doors in other parts of the city just as often.

During the primary campaigns, each of Harp’s three opponents maintained Yale campaign wings: both Elicker, with his “no sleep” team of dedicated volunteers, and former candidate Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 have drawn relatively high-profile student supporters. Yale for Harp, for all practical purposes, does not exist.

This phenomenon is certainly reflected at the ballot box. Elicker took Ward 1 by a significant margin, tallying 108 votes to the 61 scored by Fernandez, the second place finisher. With 47 votes, Harp came in third, which only happened in two other wards including Elicker’s home district. Since the primary election, Harp’s presence on campus hasn’t increased significantly beyond a low-visibility campaign internship program, imitating a similar idea by the Elicker campaign two weeks prior. All the available evidence seems to suggest that Harp has largely conceded Yale to Elicker.

Harp’s campaign manager Patrick Scully doesn’t quite agree. Harp, he tells me, has focused on including every neighborhood in her campaign and Yale is no different. The election has forced the candidate to be judicious with her time, Scully explains, which Harp spent well, earning about 50 percent of the vote in a four-way race. Scully emphasizes that Harp by no means intends to be neglectful of the University.

Defending Harp’s campaign tactics, Scully points out that while Elicker won the Yale vote, the East Rock alderman lost over two-thirds of the rest of the city’s wards. Perhaps Elicker’s time, he says, would have been better spent in another part of the Elm City.

Still, this characterization is a little unfair. Elicker hasn’t just allocated time to Yale’s campus; he’s given students substantive reasons to support his candidacy. His platform — which emphasizes innovative policies proven to work in other cities — is also more likely to appeal to younger voters than Harp’s relatively standard fare.

Most importantly, a candidate’s decision to invest time in canvassing Yale students isn’t just a campaign tactic: It signals his or her perception of the Yale-New Haven relationship.

Whether or not it was entirely intentional, Harp’s noticeable absence on campus may lead some to believe she has embraced the negative perception of Yale that has persisted throughout the city for decades. As recently as the night of the primary election, when the vote tallies for Ward 1 were announced at Harp’s victory party, one woman shouted out “We don’t need Yale! They’re not even a part of New Haven!”

While Harp’s rhetoric has emphasized Yale as a partner in the city — continuing the Levin-DeStefano legacy of a strong town-gown bond — Harp has much work remaining in narrowing the gap between her espoused values and her campaign’s practices. If the political calculus has shown that we’re not worth visiting more than once or establishing a campus wing, how can we trust that Harp will pay us any heed after the election?

There’s still almost four weeks remaining before Yalies head to the ballot box, more than enough time for Harp’s campaign to catch up to Elicker’s campus involvement. Should Harp win, her mayorship will be all the more collaborative if she has demonstrated her willingness to include Yale students in her vision for New Haven’s future.

Nick Defiesta is a senior in Berkeley College and a former city editor for the News. Contact him at nick.defiesta@yale.edu.

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