Toni Harp ARC ’78 will be New Haven’s next mayor — and the first female chief executive in the city’s history.
Riding a wave of support from her decisive victory in September’s Democratic primary, Harp surpassed a final hurdle on Tuesday when she defeated petitioning Independent candidate Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 to become the Elm City’s 50th mayor. The general election concluded a 10-month race that once featured a record seven Democratic candidates.
Harp drew 10,602 votes to Elicker’s 8,865 on Tuesday, securing her claim to the mayor’s office with 54.46 percent of the vote. When she takes office on Jan. 1, 2014, she will be the city’s first new leader in 20 years, succeeding outgoing mayor John DeStefano Jr.
“Together we’ll take on the impossible,” Harp said in victory remarks addressed to nearly 200 supporters crowded into Kelly’s Restaurant and Bar on Crown Street, as she reiterated the priorities that have defined her candidacy: jobs, education and public safety.
“You will be included. You will have a place at the table. You will be heard,” she added.
Harp, who has served as a Connecticut state senator for the past 20 years, and as a New Haven alderwoman before that, ascended to the mayor’s office with broad backing from Democratic leaders across the city and the state, including senior members of Connecticut’s Washington delegation and a vast majority of city lawmakers on the New Haven Board of Aldermen. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy introduced the mayor-elect, hailing her as a champion of New Haven in the state legislature.
Harp lost no time articulating the historic dimensions of her victory. “Wait, listen, hear that sound. That is the sound of a glass ceiling shattering,” she said to shouts and cheers from the energetic crowd.
Among supporters who came to celebrate Harp’s victory were city and University leaders, including Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez and Mike Morand ’87 DIV ’93, Yale’s associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs.
After thanking her two daughters, her son and her late husband, as well as her extensive campaign staff and volunteer team, Harp dwelled on the theme of inclusion that has infused her campaign pitch.
She said addressing the city’s gravest challenges will only be possible by lacing diverse neighborhoods together. Riffing on her campaign’s theme song — Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” — Harp said the real message is that “we are on fire.”
“The flames of hope for the inclusion of every neighborhood and every citizen engulf us tonight,” she said. “This campaign is behind us, but the real journey has just begun.”
Harp crisscrossed the city on Tuesday, voting alongside her son, Matthew Harp, at 6:30 a.m. before stopping in at polling places in virtually all 30 of the city’s wards. In addition to a few other omissions, Harp did not visit Yale’s Ward 1.
In the end, a total of 19,467 residents voted, not counting absentee ballots. The final tally saw 5,000 more residents vote than in the primary, which included only registered Democrats.
Harp’s strongest showing was in the northern corner of the city, comprising Dixwell, Newhallville and other strong bases of support for the Democratic-endorsed candidate. Harp outperformed Elicker eight to one in Ward 20, described as a barometer for the rest of the city by Bill Dyson, a former Connecticut State Rep. from the 94th district.
Ward 8 Alderman Michael Smart was elected city/town clerk over 10-year incumbent Ron Smith with 62 percent of the vote, a strong victory for the Democratic candidate running on a ticket with Harp.
Throughout the campaign, Harp touted her breadth of support, contrasting the cross-section of racial and economic groups who flocked to her campaign to Elicker’s concentration of support in East Rock and the East Shore.
Grace Vaughn, a retired emergency room employee at Yale-New Haven Hospital, said she thought Harp’s experience in the state senate qualified her to advance the broad interests of the city, adding that Harp has the clout and the grit to improve the city’s economic position and crack down on crime.
“She’s been invested in New Haven politics for decades,” Charlie Malone, a substitute teacher in the New Haven Public Schools said after voting at Wilbur Cross High School in Ward 10. “I was drawn to her message about improving equal opportunity in the city, particularly in the schools and for young people.”
Elicker, a two-term alderman who remained in the race after coming in second in the four-way Democratic primary, mounted a serious general election challenge, trailing Harp by just eight percentage points in Tuesday’s race.
At a Tuesday night gathering at Crown Street’s BAR Pizza, Elicker congratulated Harp and said the values of his campaign — policy-driven solutions and clean government — outlast this election.
“So much of this campaign isn’t about this election,” Elicker told a resolute group of roughly 150 supporters. “It’s about redefining New Haven and redefining our government … and pushing more for a government with integrity.”
Harp praised her opponent’s campaign ideas and said, “he has a great future ahead of him.”
Harp also paid homage to her soon-to-be predecessor, thanking DeStefano for his 20 years at the helm of the city.
“He did the best that he knew how to do on behalf of this city, and we should all be grateful for that, because we are a good city,” Harp said.
Harp first came to New Haven in 1977 to pursue a degree in urban planning at the Yale School of Architecture.