New Haven has a new mayor — and its first female leader — in Connecticut State Sen. Toni Harp ARC ’78.

Riding a wave of support from her decisive victory in September’s Democratic primary, Harp surpassed a final hurdle on Tuesday when she defeated lingering opponent and petitioning Independent candidate Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10. Harp won 54 percent of the vote to Elicker’s 45 percent, with two wards left to be counted.

The general election, a two-way contest slimmed down from a race that once featured a record seven Democratic candidates, formally names a successor to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who will step down on Jan. 1 after 20 years at the helm of the city.

The six-month-long race to replace him revealed a fundamental debate over the right type of experience necessary to govern the city. Harp, a state senator for 20 years and a New Haven alderman before that, maintained that her clout in Hartford made her uniquely capable of giving the city its due, further alleging that her extensive ties to diverse neighborhoods in New Haven gave her the perspective and experience to unite the city.

Pitching his candidacy as an alternative to old-school politics characterized by patronage and favoritism in awarding development contracts, Elicker promised to run a more transparent and accessible government. He placed a premium on innovative policy solutions that drew on best practices from cities around the country, a set of commitments upon which Harp said her opponent could not make good.

Harp awaited election returns Tuesday night at Kelly’s on Crown Street; Elicker gathered with supporters at BAR up the street.