Ten months into her tenure as mayor of New Haven, Toni Harp stopped by the University for a Master’s Tea on Thursday, where she highlighted her strategy to address the city’s major issues.
In the Branford Common Room, Harp spoke to an audience of roughly twenty students and community members about the Elm City’s economic and social challenges. She emphasized education, safety, employment and a new community policing effort as some of the most important aspects of her plan for improving the quality of life for New Haven residents.
Harp emphasized the important role of unions such as Local 34 and Local 35 in ensuring that jobs with strong wages and benefits remain available for union members and workers in greater New Haven.
“I see that as really positive,” Harp said of the unions, asserting that they have much to contribute to New Haven.
When asked about her role in facilitating a relationship between New Haven and Yale, Harp said she sees herself as a bridge between the two entities.
Harp also spoke of New Haven’s recent economic growth. Relations between Yale and the community have greatly improved, and downtown New Haven is a safer and more desirable location for residents, students and tourists, she said.
Reflecting on the state of New Haven’s public education, Harp admitted that there is a need for reform and attention. High School, particularly ninth grade, she said, is where the community and local government must focus in order to avoid loosing disengaged youth.
Another social issue that Harp addressed at the event was homelessness in Connecticut. Harp alluded to “failed national policies” that have not successfully addressed the root causes of homelessness such as alcoholism and mental health issues. But even though Harp said she was dissatisfied with national efforts to curb homelessness, she applauded the efforts of the Connecticut Mental Health Center in providing key services, including substance abuse recovery and support for the mentally ill.
“It seems simple, but it’s cutting edge,” Harp said of the program. As a state senator, Harp served as co-chair of the Mental Health Services Working Group, and she supported improved mental health screenings — preventative measures against homelessness.
Public safety remains a priority for the mayor, who spoke of a new community policing program. She said she will be congratulating the first class of the program’s graduates on Friday with two more classes graduating in the coming year.
When asked of her greatest inspiration, Harp spoke of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, whose bravery and strong moral convictions have inspired Harp to accomplish her own goals to improve New Haven.
“She carried a gun and a big stick and she threatened to shoot anybody who wanted to go back,” Harp said. “It’s the idea that when there are insurmountable odds and there’s danger, that you have to keep to the program no matter what happens.”
Students who attended the Master’s Tea said they enjoyed hearing Harp’s thoughts on the future of New Haven.
As a member of an educational outreach program, Kathleen Wu ’18 said she particularly enjoyed hearing Harp’s thoughts on education policy.
Anna Baron ’16 added that the event was a great opportunity to talk to the mayor one-on-one and agreed that “New Haven is the perfect sized city where students can get engaged locally.”
Halsey Robertson ’17, a community health educator, said she appreciated Harp’s candor in explaining the issues that New Haven faces, particularly with public schools.
“I thought that she touched on some of the major issues that I’ve personally noticed since being in New Haven,” Roberston said.
Harp became the first woman to serve as mayor of New Haven when she assumed office January first of this year.