One month into her tenure as mayor, Toni Harp delivered the annual state of the city address Monday, highlighting transportation and education amid an exhaustive list of services she said make New Haven “poised” for success.
In a lengthy speech before the Board of Alders and the public, Harp said her 34 days in office thus far have illuminated the many facets of city government on which residents depend. She pledged to enforce results-based accountability, holding city departments to rigorous standards of quantifiable improvements as they prepare budgets this spring.
“My mantra for city government is this: If we can’t measure it, we can’t manage it,” Harp said, adding that she views government not as a business — as is conventional — but as a “service organization, working to provide … equal protection and equal opportunity for those in its jurisdiction.”
To that end, Harp zeroed in on transportation, which has emerged as a major focus of her administration. To solidify New Haven’s place as the “great small city” between New York and Boston, the city must improve its ability to move residents both within and beyond New Haven, Harp said.
She pledged to lobby for additional flights out of Tweed Airport, including to Florida, Washington and Chicago — which she said should be realized within two years. She also praised the planned redevelopment of Union Station, in particular the opening of a second garage to facilitate the commute to New York and around the region.
Within the city, more buses and more expansive routes are critical to ensuring residents have access to the jobs and opportunities around them, she said.
“Adequate transportation is an economic and civil rights issue — I will not let buses and those who ride them be left behind,” Harp said.
She paid tribute to the days-old tenure of Doug Hausladen ’04, the city’s new director of transportation, traffic and parking. With new leadership, Harp said, the transit department is poised to make streets safer and more accessible to drivers, bikers and pedestrians alike. Hausladen, who left the Board of Alders to join the administration, said he is already investigating low-cost traffic-calming measures. He added that he is looking to transit examples in Philadelphia and New York.
Harp also singled out Migdalia Castro, another former alder and the city’s new director of elderly services; Harp said she wants to expand the number of city senior centers from three to five.
Harp pledged continued focus on education, the principal legacy of her predecessor, former Mayor John DeStefano Jr. Engaging the city’s youth also depends on a host of related services, including spaces such as the Dixwell Community “Q” House which has been closed since 2003. Ward 28 Alder Claudette Robinson-Thorpe said after the address that she would have liked to have seen Harp pledge to work to reopen the shuttered Goffe Street Armory as well.
Economic development, Harp said, depends on ongoing construction projects and further growth along major arterials in the city: Whalley, Grand and Dixwell Avenues. She cited 100 College Street, under construction as part of the city’s Downtown Crossing project, as an example of development that connects the downtown to other neighborhoods while providing residents with vital construction jobs. She shared the story of one iron worker — Irmalee Roberts, a recent graduate of the Construction Workforce Initiative — and her daughter, both of whom hope to work on the College Street site, Harp said.
Speaking in the alders’ chamber of City Hall, Harp underscored her commitment to working collaboratively with the city’s legislative branch.
“You all know I served on this board, and I do feel very comfortable here among you,” Harp said. “Likewise, you all know that until recently, I served in the state Senate for an extended period. As a result, I have high regard and profound respect for the relationship between legislative and executive branches of government.”
Harp concluded by noting the city’s growing cultural diversity, or what Ward 25 Alder Adam Marchand GRD ’99 described as “the changing face of New Haven.” Harp said New Haven’s Latino population has increased by more than one-third since the turn of the 20th century. The result is a vibrant melting pot of backgrounds and ideas, she said.
Harp was sworn in as New Haven’s 50th mayor on Jan 1.
Correction: Feb. 4
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Toni Harp is New Haven’s 20th mayor. She is in fact its 50th.