Over lunch on Monday in Timothy Dwight College, four women vying for New Haven political office issued a four-way endorsement, attesting to the common aims expressed in their campaign platforms and promising to work together to better the city.
Mayoral hopeful and Connecticut State Sen. Toni Harp ARC ’78 joined three New Haven aldermanic candidates for a question and answer session with Yale students just eight days before the Democratic primary. On Sept. 10, Harp will square off against three other Democrats in a race to replace retiring mayor John DeStefano Jr.
At Monday’s lunch, Harp was flanked by incumbent Ward 22 Alderman Jeanette Morrison, Ward 7 challenger and first-time candidate Ella Wood ’15 and incumbent Ward 1 Alderman Sarah Eidelson ’12. All face a contested primary election except for Eidelson, whose sole opponent is Republican Paul Chandler ’14.
Addressing roughly 25 students seated around a table in the Thompson Room just outside the Timothy Dwight dining hall, Harp described her 20 years of experience in the state senate and asked for the students’ support — not just for her candidacy but for the slate of what she said were like-minded women.
“I hope that you will support all of these women,” she said. “No offense to any of the young men, but I really think that women bring — if you think about your mothers — a different dedication to actually solving problems that affect the greater family. And this is our great opportunity to begin to really address the things that have plagued this community.”
Following four short stump speeches, each candidate said she was officially supporting the other three.
Major endorsements from members of the city’s Democratic establishment — including from the Democratic Town Committee and a majority of city lawmakers on the New Haven Board of Aldermen — have situated Harp as the frontrunner leading into the Democratic primary.
The coveted backing of Yale’s Unite Here unions, Locals 34 and 35, won Harp the support of an extensive vote-pulling operation that helped 14 out of 15 union-backed candidates clinch aldermanic seats in 2011.
The chairperson of the Yale Political Union’s independent party, Wood is also a member of Students Unite Now, an activist group that formed out of its campaign work on behalf of Eidelson in 2011. Wood spent the summer in New Haven, working for New Haven Rising, an umbrella activist organization, and Unite Here.
Previously a resident of Ward 2, Wood moved from her apartment on Dwight Street two days before filing petitions to challenge Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04. She now lives near the intersection of Humphrey and Orange Streets. Former Unite Here organizer Hugh Baran ’09 helped gather signatures for Wood prior to the filing deadline and also signed off as her witness on all of her petitions.
“There are people out there in the ward and in the city who have been fighting for their visions for their communities for decades,” Wood said to her classmates gathered Monday. “It’s exciting to see people speaking to each other and getting plugged into the political system.”
Wood has criticized Hausladen for not being sufficiently engaged with residents across his ward. Nathan Campbell ’14, a volunteer on Wood’s campaign, said Ward 7 is rife with residents to whom Hausladen has never reached out.
Wood and Hausladen will face off in a debate on Thursday.
Reached Monday afternoon, Hausladen said the four-way endorsement illustrates an increasing uniformity of voices on the Board of Aldermen and a need for more “independent voices.”
“The machine in town has picked me as their favorite target for this election season,” he added.
Hausladen, who endorsed Eidelson in her 2011 campaign, said he has been disappointed with her first term in office.
When Hausladen reached out to Eidelson and Morrison about a dangerous intersection on the corner of Temple and Wall Streets that was posing a threat to a handicapped student in Timothy Dwight College, he never heard back from either of them, he said. Timothy Dwight College falls in Ward 22, Morrison’s district.
“When [Eidelson’s] constituents needed her, she was nowhere to be found,” he said.
He said he found Harp’s endorsement of Wood “even more peculiar” than Eidelson’s.
“I don’t trust the judgment of anyone who endorses a 19-year-old who has never voted in a New Haven election before,” he said.
After Monday’s lunch, Eidelson said she supports Wood because she thinks she is “more able to get students connected to the city” and is “committed to moving this city forward.”
“My conversations with Ella have made it clear to me that she is the candidate who will be the strongest ally on the Board,” she said.
Eidelson responded to criticisms of Wood that allege that she has not lived in Ward 7 long enough by saying that “ward lines are sometimes arbitrary; they often cut right through neighborhoods.
In her brief remarks to the student audience, Harp focused on the importance of rehabilitating the city’s public schools and youth centers and on fostering a sense of unity throughout the city — among Yale students, downtown residents and, according to Harp, the often-neglected inhabitants of Dixwell, Newhallville and Fair Haven neighborhoods.
Harp said her experience in the state legislature distinguished her from her three opponents: Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina, Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 and Henry Fernandez LAW ‘94, a political consultant and former New Haven economic development administrator.
“We’ve gone through the past 20 years of having a mayor who has no relationship with the governor,” she said. “Over 50 percent of our budget comes from the state of Connecticut. Not one of the other candidates has even testified before the general assembly. They don’t understand how it works. It is a lifeline for New Haven. I understand how it works. I have a relationship with the governor. You may say you want to do these things, but to actually get them done, I know how to do it.”
Harp was first elected to the state senate in 1992.