Exactly one week after she was elected as New Haven’s 50th mayor, Toni Harp ARC ’78 unveiled the team of people who will help ready her for the job.
With a nod to the accomplishments of her soon-to-be predecessor, on Tuesday Harp tapped a diverse group of well-practiced city and state leaders bound to recast New Haven under the control of a new mayor for the first time in 20 years. Maintaining the theme of inclusion she emphasized on the campaign trail, the mayor-elect drew together 14 volunteers with a cross-section of backgrounds and perspectives — from the city and the state; women and men; blacks, white and Latinos; those with strong ties to outgoing Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and those without direct government experience.
The transition team’s chief task will be assessing the state of government responsiveness to the needs of city residents, Harp said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference at her campaign headquarters on Whalley Avenue. Its first meeting is scheduled for Wednesday evening, when the group will start combing through detailed financial and administrative documents drawn up by DeStefano.
“Any new administration at every level of government stands on the shoulders of the previous administration and works to build on its accomplishments,” Harp said, a promise of continuity made evident in her selection of a handful of current or former city employees to help ease her transition into the mayor’s office.
That group includes former New Haven Public Schools superintendent Reginald Mayo, whose time at the helm of the school district roughly corresponded to DeStefano’s in the mayor’s office. Susan Whetstone, executive director of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and former chief administrative officer under DeStefano, will serve as the transition team’s treasurer, overseeing its $28,104 budget. Former city controller Mark Pietrisimone, a longtime operator of the city’s day-to-day finances, and New Haven Housing Authority Chief Karen DuBois-Walton, were also tapped for the transition team.
The 14-member group will be chaired by Ed Joyner, a retired education professor from Yale and Sacred Heart University. Mark Sklarz, an attorney and former president of the Greater New Haven Jewish Federation, will serve as its vice-chair.
Harp also named a paid staff whose five members will work alongside the volunteer transition team and potentially stay on as staffers come Harp’s inauguration on Jan. 1, 2014. Andrea Scott, a former state development officer who has done financial management and sales work in the aerospace, defense and medical sectors, will lead the staff. Paid staffers also include Jason Bartlett, Harp’s campaign manager, former Connecticut State Rep. Steve Fontana and Mendi Blue, a native of New Haven with law and business degrees. Campaign staffer Chris Campbell will stay on as a volunteer. Laurence Grotheer is acting as the mayor-elect’s spokesman, but Harp did not say definitively whether he would stay on once she takes office.
“The interesting missing name is Matt Nemerson,” said Yale School of Management professor Doug Rae, who served as the city’s chief administrative officer from 1990 to 1991 under DeStefano. Nemerson was an early mayoral candidate before dropping out of the race, endorsing Harp and joining her campaign’s economic development team.
Rae said he thinks Nemerson is likely to be appointed as the city’s economic development administrator.
“If I were Nemerson, I would hope his being left off the list means he’s going to get the real thing,” Rae added. “The interesting interplay is between the transition team members and the maybe overlapping group of people who aspire to get real jobs.”
Nemerson could not be reached for comment on Tuesday evening.
Working groups laid out by the transition team will seek efficiency improvements in the city’s operations and begin crafting strategies for addressing many of the new mayor’s immediate priorities, including drafting a budget by March. Harp said her team will look specifically at efficiency improvements in the city’s operations that might take the form of consolidating city service crews or housing and fire code inspection teams.
The transition team will also be charged with vetting candidates for top administrative posts, Harp said, adding that she will seek to keep on a number of current appointees, including New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman. Still, Harp added, she has yet to offer anyone a job.
Transition team members praised Harp as a compassionate leader keen on equalizing opportunity for the city’s residents. Joyner, who developed the Yale Child Study Center’s School Development Program after nearly two decades spent teaching in the New Haven Public Schools, said the mayor-elect has the power to “help level the playing field for our community.” He said her message of inclusion has personal significance for him, having grown up in the South when there was still a racial “pecking order in American society.”
Some members of the transition team recounted extensive ties to the mayor-elect. Attorney Tamiko Jackson said she attended Harp’s wedding, and former Ward 7 Alderwoman Esther Armmand recalled how Harp mentored her when both served on the New Haven Board of Aldermen. Others, including Jim Segaloff, attorney and former chairman of the city’s Civil Service Commission, lack personal ties to Harp but said they were drawn to her vision for the city and respect her 20 years of service as a state senator.
“I’m one of the people who didn’t grow up here; I came here as one of those obnoxious Yalies” said Angel Fernandez-Chavero ’85, a Fair Haven activist and political and management consultant, commenting on the high concentration of Elm City natives in the group.
Other transition team members are: La Voz Hispana publisher Norma Rodriguez-Reyes, state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities member Alix Simonetti, statewide political staffer Rick Melita and Bill Carbone, former executive director of Connecticut’s Court Supportive Services Division.