A month after beginning her second term at the helm of New Haven’s city government, Mayor Toni Harp touted the progress the city has made over the past two years.
Harp used her annual State of the City address Monday night to highlight New Haven’s “transformation” in recent years. That transformation, she said, has come in a wide variety of fields, ranging from lowered absentee rates in the public school system to tighter finances in the city’s administration. As a result, New Haven has begun to attract national attention and is now often counted among wealthier cities, she said. City officials at the event agreed, adding that New Haven will face a series of new challenges in coming years.
“New Haven is in a state of transformation,” Harp said near the end of her remarks to the crowd of 150 people at City Hall. “It has, in many ways, already transformed over the past two years … New Haven is emerging as a destination city for more students, more residents, more business and more visitors.”
Harp’s 45-minute speech touched on an array of initiatives developed under her leadership. New Haven, Harp said, is shedding its history as a hub for industry and manufacturing and is becoming a center for growing industries like biotechnology.
Harp cited the recent opening of Alexion Pharmaceuticals’ new headquarters on College Street as evidence that New Haven is attracting a fresh wave of businesses to guide it through the coming decades. The headquarters, which will house over 1,000 employees, will help provide a strong base of jobs in the city, she said.
For Harp, further evidence of New Haven’s transformation came last week, when a storm that was forecasted to drop six inches of snow on the city ended up leaving 14. In previous years, she said, that might have crippled the city’s infrastructure, but coordinated planning and preparation ensured that the city weathered the storm without incident.
The city’s strong financial performance in the last two years were a proud point for Harp, who inherited a city saddled with debt and a negative outlook from ratings agencies.
“Two years ago, when my administration got to work, $14 million of debt, a negative outlook … and no rainy day fund characterized the city’s finances,” she said. “Tonight, we are a city transformed. The debt is eliminated, the last two fiscal years finished in the black and the city has been upgraded by all three ratings agencies.”
In addition to the city’s rosier fiscal outlook, Harp cited the substantial reduction in overtime payments for the police and fire departments as indicative of the city’s financial improvement over her tenure.
Harp also praised the New Haven Police Department. She said the department’s focus on combining on-the-ground walking beats and new technologies like body cameras has made it the “envy” of many forces around the country.
But Harp said the coming years will not be easy, despite the city’s transformation into what she called a hub for the arts and sciences in Connecticut and across the country. Instead, each transformation will bring a new set of problems, and Harp called on the city’s leadership to make the hard decisions necessary for moving the city forward.
Edgewood Alder Evette Hamilton echoed that sentiment in her remarks to the Board of Alders before Harp spoke. Quoting a verse from Philippians, she urged alders and city officials to come together “as a collective group” for the benefit of the city.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,” she said, quoting the New Testament passage. “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
One piece of progress Harp mentioned proved particularly popular: the prospect of a new Dixwell Q House to serve as a center for Elm City youth, which Harp said will likely open early next year after receiving a $14.5 million state grant for its rebuilding. The mention of the project, which has dragged on since 2003 and is a focal point for many residents in the Dixwell neighborhood, garnered applause around the room. In remarks to the board after Harp’s address, Dixwell Alder and Board of Alders President Pro Tempore Jeannette Morrison, who has pushed for the redevelopment of the community center throughout her time on the board, singled out strong community presences like her “mentor” Jorge Perez, former Hill Alder and board president, for advocating for the Q House’s redevelopment.
“We’ve got the baddest state delegation in the city, guys,” Morrison said. “Always remember that — when they do things for us, just reach out and tell them thank you.”