Jon Greenberg

As the city’s mayoral race heats up, dozens of members of Yale’s UNITE HERE unions have devoted time, money and energy in support of two-term incumbent Toni Harp’s re-election campaign.

Harp will compete against longtime resident and former city employee Marcus Paca in the mayoral Democratic primary, which will take place tomorrow. According to Rick Melita, Harp’s deputy campaign manager, dozens of UNITE HERE union members have canvassed for the mayor each week since the race began this summer.

Laurie Kennington, president of Local 34, one of the local unions under the UNITE HERE umbrella, said her union and UNITE HERE have each donated $1,500 to the mayor’s campaign. Melita said he sees UNITE HERE and the mayor as natural partners.

“The mayor welcomes the support of the UNITE HERE locals who have historically supported her in past runs for office because they share many common goals, like good jobs for New Haven residents,” Melita said.

Melita added that UNITE HERE is one of many city unions and organizations that have canvassed for Harp’s campaign.

Local 33, 34 and 35, which represent graduate students, clerical and blue-collar workers at the University, respectively, are the three partner unions that make-up the UNITE HERE coalition. The three unions count thousands of members among their ranks.

Local 34 endorsed the mayor in July, but Local 33 and Local 35 have so far not endorsed Harp. However, members of the two unions have come to rallies for the mayor over the past few months and have canvassed on her behalf. Local 33 President and Ward 8 Alder Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18, who has canvassed for Harp, told the News at a campaign event last month that he views the mayor as a supporter of his union.

Greenberg added that while he supports the mayor as an individual, members of his union are allowed to support whichever mayoral candidate they desire.

UNITE HERE has been the most influential political force within city politics since former mayor John DeStefano left office in 2013. In 2011, a slew of alder candidates backed by UNITE HERE canvassers and organizing efforts swept into office. UNITE HERE-backed candidates continue to dominate the board.

“The Local 34 Executive Board voted to endorse Mayor Harp in recognition of her proven dedication to working people and dozens of union members have volunteered their time to knock on doors,” said Local 34 President Lauren Kennington in an email.

In a press release issued in July concerning Local 34’s endorsement of the mayor, members of Local 34’s Political Committee, which recommended endorsing Harp to Kennington, praised the mayor for hiring locals and for her work on behalf of city’s youth.

“As chair of Local 33 and a supporter of the mayor, I think she’s the best choice for working people in the city,” Greenberg told the News at the mayor’s Aug. 30 event.

An alder, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of angering UNITE HERE leadership, told the News in April that 23 of the 30 alders on the Board are backed by UNITE HERE. Many, like Greenberg, Ward 23 Alder and Board President Tyisha Walker and Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12, are currently affiliated with Yale unions. Some have accused the unions of using their power over the board as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the University by threatening to hold up University building projects. Alders have the power to approve building plans in New Haven.

But UNITE HERE, although involved, is not the driving force behind Harp’s campaign, according to Melita. He told the News that UNITE HERE contributes about as many canvassers as other unions that have endorsed the mayor.

Harp has been mayor since 2014.

Jon Greenberg jonathan.greenberg@yale.edu | @JonGreenbergYDN