Stability may trump change, even as the city changes hands for the first time in 20 years.
When Mayor-elect Toni Harp ARC ’78 succeeds outgoing 10-term mayor John DeStefano Jr. on Jan. 1, 2014, residents will not perceive a difference in the city, Harp promised Thursday afternoon at her transition headquarters on Whalley Avenue.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want to sense or feel a different city,” Harp said. “They just want to make sure that the city is stable and that it’s moving forward in a planned way that they understand. They want a sense of security.”
Harp said that feeling of security partly depends on continuity, praising the work of her soon-to-be predecessor, whose tenure she celebrated at a tribute dinner Wednesday night that drew 700 people to Anthony’s Ocean View, a banquet hall in Morris Cove.
In his remarks, DeStefano said he never planned to serve as long as he did, explaining, “it just happened … because the city kept changing and I always found interesting things to do.”
Harp said she will not match the length of DeStefano’s tenure. Still, she said she plans to run at least for a second term — “maybe a couple more.”
Ensuring stability in the mayor’s office has animated the work of her transition committee thus far, Harp said. The group is comprised of five paid staffers and 12 volunteers who represent a cross section of government, business and civic leaders from the city and the state.
Harp said her most immediate and challenging task is forming a new administration and recruiting talented individuals for top city jobs — a task made more pressing by the fact that the terms of many city officials expire during the first three months of her tenure, including the staff of the city’s corporation counsel office on Jan. 1.
Formal interviews for administrative posts will begin after the Thanksgiving holiday, Harp said, emphasizing that no hiring decisions have been made. She said there are a handful of current city administrators and department heads she hopes to retain, adding that employment in the DeStefano administration does not disqualify anyone for consideration.
“I don’t always think that new is better, although I guess I hope that I will be,” she said, reflecting on the impending shift in city leadership. “If people have a solid track record and are moving policy initiatives in the way that I think they ought to be moved, then they should be given consideration to stay. I wouldn’t hold against them the fact that they work for this administration.”
Harp named three DeStefano hires she said she hopes will stick around: New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman, City Hall Legislative Director Rebecca Bombero and Karyn Gilvarg ARC ’75, executive director of the City Plan Department.
Harp said Gilvarg has firm plans to retire, but the mayor-elect said she would like to keep her should Gilvarg change her mind. Harp said she has not yet considered whether she will seek to retain New Haven Fire Chief Michael Grant, whose term expires before March.
Matt Nemerson has said he is interested in playing a role in the city’s economic development projects, Harp said, but added that she has not yet spoken with him about his specific aspirations. Former president of the New Haven Chamber of Commerce, Nemerson entered the mayor’s race in April before dropping out and endorsing Harp. Tapped to serve on her campaign’s economic development committee, Nemerson is widely considered to be a likely pick for economic development administrator. Doug Rae, a professor at the Yale School of Management and a former chief administrative officer under mayor John C. Daniels, speculated last week that the decision not to include Nemerson on the transition team suggests he has a good chance of getting the actual appointment.
For some jobs, Harp said, she will search nationwide for candidates. Most members of her administration will likely hail from New Haven — or at least from Connecticut.
“I think almost everything that I need I can find here, within the city or the state or the region,” Harp said. “But in some cases I’ll be looking at people who may have left the state and want to come back, or people who have some national stature on certain issues.”
More technical jobs, such as the city engineer, may require a national search, she added.
Much of her time over the past two weeks has been spent poring over documents detailing the state of each city department, Harp said. Of the binders-full of information, she added, the most surprising revelation has been the extent to which major city agencies are understaffed, including the public works and police departments. She said she is looking into possibly merging public works and parks maintenance crews to improve efficiency.
She is also preparing to solicit input from the public, which residents will be able to provide through a transition team website that Harp’s spokesperson, Laurence Grotheer, said would be live by next week. Harp said actually executing residents’ suggestions will reconnect everyday people with their government and improve the city’s sense of democracy.
Ed Joyner, a former education professor at Yale and Sacred Heart University, is chairing Harp’s transition team.
Andrea Scott, a retired state development officer, is leading the paid staff.
Contact isaac stanley-becker at