From a podium on the waterfront lawn of the Sound School, Mayor Toni Harp announced that she will run for a third term as mayor of New Haven before a crowd of about 200 supporters Friday evening.

Among the crowd were government figures —including about 12 alders — religious leaders and nonprofit organization administrators from across the Elm City were numbered among the crowd. Several of these leaders delivered short speeches praising Harp for her work mayor. After these speeches, Harp took the stage. She said she would run on her accomplishments over the past two terms, and that she hoped her supporters would rally behind her to further the progress the city has made during her time in City Hall.

“I hope you will join me as we continue to make New Haven the best small city in America,” she said.

Harp told the News in early April that she intended to run for a third term. But Friday’s rally marked the official beginning of her re-election campaign and the first time she has announced her plans to the public.

The mayor devoted part of her speech to the improvements to New Haven’s public schools during her tenure. She noted that since 2013, high school graduation rates and college retention rates for Elm City public school students have risen. She added that expulsions have dropped precipitously, from between 85 to 150 district-wide in past years to only five so far in 2016, allowing more students to stay in school and off the streets.

In a speech at the rally, Rigby Conyers, a rising junior at New Haven’s James Hillhouse High School, credited Harp for fostering the growth of his school’s speech and debate program and of Ice the Beef, a program aimed at reducing violence among Elm City teens and young adults. Conyers is involved in both programs.

“Without her support, many of us would have been lost youth with nowhere to go, so whether we were hustling in the streets because we had nowhere to go or innocent youth trying to get home from school, our safety was not certain,” Conyers said. “That means there is no guarantee that I would be alive and speaking with you today without the programs helped made possible by Ms. Toni Harp.”

Rally attendee Jason Bartlett, the city’s Director of Youth Services, praised Harp for making public schools a top priority; for fostering after-school programs as well as new vocational programs and youth summer employment programs; and for reducing the number of suspensions and expulsions.

Harp also noted that rates of homicide and other forms of violent crime have dropped considerably since 2011. She attributed these successes to community policing, a strategy endorsed by Harp and the New Haven Police Department that involves assigning specific officers to specific neighborhoods. The goal of this strategy is to increase familiarity and trust between officers and the neighborhoods they oversee.

Tawana Galberth, a New Haven resident who volunteered at Friday’s rally, said that now “we have a police department and a community that respect each other.” She also praised Harp for keeping New Haven a sanctuary city in the face of pressure from the federal government.

Ward 21 Alder Brenda Foskey-Cyrus and Ward 19 Alder Alfreda Edwards, who were seated next to each other at the rally, both praised Harp for keeping taxes low.

Harp’s announcement does not come as a surprise. She won the 2015 mayoral election in a landslide, and continues to enjoy widespread support in the city.

But doubt remains as to whether Harp will make a run for governor in 2018. Gov. Dannel Malloy announced in April that he would not run for another term, leaving the Democratic side of the next gubernatorial race wide open.

City spokesman Laurence Grotheer told the News on April 24 that Harp had begun to weigh a gubernatorial run, but emphasized that Harp had not yet given much thought to the possibility of making such a run. But Dawud Amin, who ran Harp’s 2015 mayoral campaign, said on that same day that Harp’s “official position is that she is only running for mayor.”

Marcus Paca, who will run against Harp in the 2017 mayoral race, said he harbors doubts as to whether Harp’s focus is really on New Haven.

“I hope that she is fully committed to the office she is re-seeking and that this campaign is not about building a bridge to the state office,” Paca wrote to the News on Friday.
Harp has been mayor since 2013.