Town-gown central for new leaders

On a quiet Thursday morning last week, two of the foremost leaders in New Haven met officially for the first time in their new positions.

Two days after she was elected mayor, Toni Harp ARC ’78 joined Yale President Peter Salovey for a brief meeting on the steps of City Hall, where the freshly minted president offered his congratulations to the mayor-elect and re-emphasized his desire to work closely with the city. The chat precedes what both foresee as extensive collaboration, in education reform, economic development and coping with the city’s budget shortfalls.

The two new officials’ concurrent transitions into University and city leadership mirror those of former University President Richard Levin and outgoing Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. 20 years ago. With town-gown collaboration a hallmark of their predecessors’ tenures, Salovey and Harp said they plan to expand upon Levin and DeStefano’s two-decade partnership.

“There’s a considerable advantage in having the two of them come in at the same time so that they can learn to trust one another from the beginning,” said Yale School of Management Professor Douglas Rae, who served as the city’s chief administrative officer from 1990 to 1991 under former Mayor John C. Daniels.

Salovey and Harp arrived in New Haven over 30 years ago for the same reason: education.

“We both came to Yale for graduate school. We both met our spouses as graduate students. And then we both, upon completing graduate school, decided to stay in New Haven,” Salovey said. “We start off both caring passionately about this place, both having spent essentially our entire adult lives in this city.”

Rae said the leaders’ common reason for moving to New Haven provides a significant advantage in building their relationship.

After DeStefano took office in 1994, Rae said, the mayor took several years to remove a “chip on his shoulder” over being from a blue-collar background — a personal discomfort that mirrored the broader dynamics of Yale-New Haven relations.

“Historically, the town-gown animosity wasn’t just in the mayor’s office — it was in the body politic of New Haven,” said Will Ginsberg, CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

Well over a decade before Levin and DeStefano re-envisioned the Yale-New Haven relationship, Harp entered public service after completing an architecture degree in 1978. Salovey joined the Yale faculty when he finished a series of advanced degrees in psychology in 1984.

And while the two did not meet during their time as Yale students, both said their relationship extends back well over a decade. Salovey said he first heard of Harp in the mid-’90s, when his wife Marta Moret SPH ’84 worked for the Connecticut Department of Social Services. Harp said she first remembers meeting Salovey in person when he was dean of Yale College in the mid-2000s.

“I always admired him,” Harp said. “[He] has a really strong feel for what I would consider the human condition, with the work that he’s done on emotional intelligence.”

Harp said she believes the University is strongest when the city is thriving, and vice versa. In considering how the partnership can move forward, she said she plans to look to other city-university relationships — such as the one between Brown University and Providence, R.I.

Rae said he sees Salovey as being sensitive to the city’s fiscal needs, adding that, like Levin, the University’s new president will “give a high degree of focus to the city.” In coping with the city’s immediate budget problems, Rae said, the University will be an indispensable ally.

“We know Yale does a lot,” Harp said, referring to the University’s voluntary monetary contributions to the city. She added that the University is also an ally in lobbying the state for Payment in Lieu of Taxes program funding, which partially reimburses New Haven for the high percentage of tax-exempt properties within city limits.

In devising long-term mechanisms for increasing the city’s revenue, namely through economic development, Yale can play a major role while also serving its own interests, Rae said.

In both his October inaugural address and recent interviews, Salovey said he plans to make employment — particularly in high-skill, high-wage jobs — a focal point of his work with the new mayor.

“In this decade, the solution is really often about ideas and their commercial potential and the resultant creation of jobs,” Salovey said.

While Levin focused on improving the city’s development through investment — especially by establishing Yale University Properties and the Yale Homebuyer Program — Salovey said that entrepreneurship will ultimately drive future growth.

Salovey suggested that by encouraging Yale students and professors to start businesses and remain in New Haven, the University can play a major role in improving the city’s economic circumstances. At an alumni event in New York last week, Salovey highlighted the success of New Haven-based companies like Higher One, which was founded by Miles Lasater ’01, said Yale spokesperson Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93.

Ginsberg said the base of New Haven’s future economy flows from the University in the form of biomedical and scientific research. Spinoff businesses in the pharmaceutical industry and other growing enterprises should be encouraged to stay in New Haven, he added — a prospect that could be facilitated by developing transportation infrastructure and furthering education reform to make city residents job-ready.

Morand said he anticipates further encouragement of alumni entrepreneurship, given the personal stories of Harp and Salovey.

“New Haven is a great place to live and work,” he said. “And you have leaders who know those are facts because that is their own life story … they came here for education but decided to stay and pursue a career here.”

In addition to expanding collaboration on economic development, Salovey and Harp both pledged to continue partnerships between Yale and New Haven Public Schools. Emphasizing Yale’s role in improving public education throughout the city, Salovey said he has discussed the matter with recently-appointed Superintendent Garth Harries ’95

Salovey officially assumed the University presidency on Oct. 13 of this year. Harp will be inaugurated as mayor on Jan. 1, 2014.

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