Mayor Toni Harp told the News on Saturday that she will seek a third term as mayor, though she has not yet officially declared her candidacy.
Since first elected in 2013, Harp has worked to push the city forward in the fields of public safety, education and economic development. She uses the acronym SEE — safety, education and economic growth — to describe her plan for improving life in the city. City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said that if re-elected in November, the mayor will continue to focus on SEE. However, in a year in which the city and state budgets have come under strict scrutiny, Harp will face stiffer competition than she has in previous elections.
A lifelong Democrat, Harp served in the Connecticut state Senate for 20 years before becoming mayor in 2013. She won re-election in 2015 handily, garnering over 10 times as many votes as her closest competitor.
But the 2017 election field is already shaping up to be more competitive. Marcus Paca, a lifelong New Haven resident who has worked as an alder and a city administrator, declared his candidacy in late February and is already courting supporters. Paca said he has secured the endorsement of former Board of Education member Alicia Caraballo and that he is reaching out to residents, city officials and other Elm City groups.
Harp has her own connections to the Board of Education. She served as the board’s president for one year, a decision that came under criticism from residents who feared Harp would hold too much power and responsibility fulfilling the two roles simultaneously.
Paca has made several public statements on his policy views in recent weeks, distancing himself from Harp on issues such as government spending and development. On March 30, he delivered a statement to alders criticizing the Harp administration’s management of the city budget. He called Harp’s unwillingness to cut spending “irresponsible and misguided” given the city’s current financial straits. Harp will continue negotiations on the city budget with the Board of Alders until late May, according to the proposed budget’s timeline.
In an email to the News, Paca expressed doubt as to whether the mayor’s focus was on the city or on broader political aspirations.
“While the mayor’s fundraising efforts started as a potential gubernatorial run last summer, I have been 100 percent focused on New Haven, and only New Haven,” Paca wrote.
Though Harp has not yet declared her candidacy, some of her political allies created a political action committee called SEE 2 2020 last October to help finance her future political endeavors. Harp told the News in December that she planned to use the PAC money to finance this year’s mayoral campaign and some aldermanic campaigns and that she did not plan to run for governor, as some had speculated.
New Haven Democratic Town Committee Chair Vin Mauro said he has been satisfied with Harp’s performance as mayor. He said his committee, which is composed of two chairs from each of the city’s 30 wards, will convene in July to assign the Democratic endorsement to a mayoral candidate. Mauro explained that mayoral candidates not endorsed by the committee will be able to contend the endorsed candidate in the September Democratic primary but will need to acquire signatures from a certain number of the city’s registered Democrats to do so. In 2013, this number was 2,406 signatures.
Grotheer said the mayor is proud of the progress the city has made under her SEE platform. He noted that since 2013, rates of homicide and several other violent crimes have dropped, high school graduation and college entry and retention rates for New Haven public school students have increased, and many new developments have gone up in the city. He added that, because many of the city’s problems are interconnected, targeting one problem can create positive ripple effects.
“When students stay in school, they stay off the streets, and crime rates decrease,” Grotheer said.
But Paca challenged these notions of success in his email. He said, for instance, that although homicides have dropped in the city during Harp’s time in office, nonfatal shootings have risen every year from 2014 to 2016 and that shots fired increased sharply from 2015 to 2016. He cited this as evidence that the city’s violent crime problem is far from over and is perhaps worsening.
Grotheer said that since 2013, Harp has coordinated several payments from the city to the New Haven Police Department for new programs and equipment to increase public safety. He noted that the mayor greatly extended ShotSpotter, an antenna system that scans the city for gunshots and transmits information about these shots to police within minutes. The system used to cover five square miles of the city but now covers 15, including the portion of the city known as “the corridor,” according to NHPD spokesman David Hartman. The corridor runs from the border of Hamden through the Newhallville and Hill neighborhoods to Dwight and is where most of the city’s violent crime takes place, he said.
Hartman also noted that the mayor has provided the department with money to upgrade its fleet of cruisers and to purchase other equipment and added that those payments have greatly benefitted the department.