New Haven and Yale stand on the edge of an exciting new chapter in their shared existence. Although severe economic pressures on our great city have burdened us the past few years, we have an historic opportunity this year choose collaborative, consensus-oriented leadership that will leverage our advantages and transform this shared place that we call home.
Throughout this year’s mayoral campaign, I’ve articulated a vision for New Haven that capitalizes on our strengths and positions us for resurgent growth. It relies on three principles: making our streets safer, improving our kids’ education, and creating good-paying jobs.
Clearly, a Mayor has few responsibilities more important than working to make people safe. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of our dedicated public safety personnel, many people believe that we’ve slid backwards on making people feel comfortable living, working, and enjoying what we offer here. Under my leadership, we will re-energize public safety by reinvigorating community-based policing and better allocating and coordinating public safety resources.
Beyond that, ensuring that every child gets a quality education is the civil rights issue of our time. I will not accept mediocre results when it comes to meeting our shared obligation to prepare our city’s children for work or college, especially when too many young people are falling through the cracks. Under my leadership, we will challenge parents, students, teachers, administrators, members of my Administration, and the larger community to help us to provide them with educational innovation and excellence.
Finally, creating a city where everyone who wants a good-paying job can find one has to be a top priority. The recession and loss of manufacturing jobs have hurt us, but we can create a future in which New Haven is an economic leader once again. Under my leadership, we will embrace sustainable economic development projects and create a conducive climate for entrepreneurship.
To realize this vision, however, we need to build consensus around it and make it happen. I have both the experience and skills to do that: for more than twenty-five years, as both an Alderman and State Senator, I’ve brought people together from disparate backgrounds to forge durable, effective solutions to complex problems. Through these partnerships, I’ve gathered an array of invaluable political and professional relationships that I will leverage as our next Mayor.
Regarding Yale and New Haven’s partnership specifically, we must seek out and seize opportunities to engage and expand on it at every level. Certainly, in my administration, this effort will start with my relationship with President Salovey. Since we are both former Yale graduate students who have spent the past several decades living here and coming to understand this city, I expect that we will form a very productive partnership. Having invested ourselves in learning how to work with different people, I also know that we believe in collaborative, consensus-oriented leadership that places a premium on being willing and able to listen.
Over the past few months, I’ve identified several ways that we can work together:
To help city residents who are struggling to get the training they need to fit into a highly competitive workplace, I’ve called for collaborating with Yale to redesign how we deliver adult education.
To bring fresh perspectives into our schools, I’ve suggested enlisting Yale students to broaden and enrich our early childhood classroom efforts.
To improve our ability to meet residents’ social-service needs, I’ve talked about soliciting Yale’s help to increase enrollment in state and federal assistance programs.
Since city government isn’t the only answer to our challenges, I also hope that the Yale community will join me in promoting a higher level of engagement in city life. The day after I received the Democratic Town Committee’s endorsement in July, I organized a day of service for volunteers to help our neighbors in their communities all over the city. Between that day and similar days since, we’ve done everything from serving meals at soup kitchens, to distributing food to needy families, and donating supplies to our nationally-recognized Diaper Bank.
We have a bright future ahead of us, if we elect a leader who knows how to bring people together and work with them to build consensus-oriented solutions. For too long, our city has been run from the top down, and to this day, some politicians insist on telling people, “This is what I think you should do,” rather than asking them, “How can I help you?”
We need to upend this approach, by listening to people first and then working to serve them. The solutions to our problems are not going to come from the top down – they will come from our working together to build answers that work for all of us.
Toni Harp is a candidate for mayor of New Haven and a Connecticut State Senator.