Mayor Toni Harp took to the podium Monday night to deliver her annual state of the city address, in which she glowingly spoke of the city’s advances in improving education, reducing crime and creating new jobs over the past year. But Harp began her speech by addressing the challenges that New Haven and other communities across the nation would have to confront in coming months and years.
Before a crowd of approximately 100 alders and residents, Harp spoke of the “altered social and political landscape” of the country at large in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election, and described the character of the country as in flux. Still, she asserted, in the midst of this change and confusion, New Haven stands strong.
“New Haven has emerged as a pillar of hope,” Harp said, standing at the front of City Hall’s aldermanic chamber. “There is a beacon of stability emerging from this city we call home, providing sanctuary not just for people, but for a time-honored sense of respect, acceptance and dignity.”
The mayor added that she was proud of Elm City residents and officials for collaborating and standing united against “those who would have us shrink away.” She also reaffirmed New Haven’s sanctuary city status, saying that it would not back down on its commitment to protecting undocumented immigrants.
“For as long as I am mayor, New Haven will be a welcoming, accepting place for new residents, for those moving into town from nearby and for dispirited foreign refugees fleeing unspeakable heartache,” she said.
The mayor’s speech follows a weekend during which several large demonstrations of social activism rippled throughout the city. On Saturday, hundreds of Elm City residents and students blocked Route 34 for about a half hour as part of an anti-Trump protest. Police officers shut down the demonstration using pepper spray and police dogs, and arrested suspected protest leaders. The New Haven Run for Refugees, which also took place over the weekend, reached its cap of 2,500 participants and raised over $100,000 for Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services.
Ward 8 Alder Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 said he thought the mayor “laid out really nicely the ways in which the city is leading with progressive values and leadership,” and added that this kind of leadership would be “more valuable than ever over the next 4 years.”
Mayor Harp noted that figures for homicides, non-fatal shootings and robberies have all fallen over the past year, and are well below figures for 2011. Harp, who served as president of the Board of Education over the past year, also praised the city’s progress in public education. She noted that attendance and student engagement were on the rise while the number of suspensions, expulsions and school-based arrests were “dropping precipitously.”
“I am proud of New Haven Public Schools,” Harp said. “We are not a school to prison pipeline.”
Harp added that these advances in education come at a critical time in the wake of Trump’s victory, and that the city “has an obligation to help young people learn so they can separate facts from alternative facts” — a reference to remarks Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway made in an interview late last month. This statement was met with applause.
The mayor also celebrated economic achievements, such as rising property values and the city balancing its budget for the third straight year, which she said reflected the “upswing in economic activity, investment and commercial growth” the city currently is experiencing. She also thanked the city’s alders, about 20 of whom were present, for their work in creating 100 new sidewalks, new street lights and in general maintaining and updating the city’s infrastructure.
For Ward 27 Alder Richard Furlow, the city’s advancements in infrastructure have been a source of pride, he said. Furlow and several other alders have worked to create new speed bumps throughout the city, and Furlow himself has worked on a piece of legislation, which is now pending an aldermanic vote, that would reduce the speed limit on side streets in the city to 20 mph.
Early in her speech, Harp noted a study by FiveThirtyEight that referenced New Haven as the city that most reflected the demographics of the country as a whole. She spoke of how New Haven is representative of the country at large not just demographically, but in the challenges it faces both from the new federal government and internally.
As she concluded her address, Harp reaffirmed her vision of New Haven as a city that represents the best of America and sets an example for the rest of the country.
“There is no question in my mind that New Haven has emerged as a model American city not because it’s perfect, not because there are no challenges ahead, but because of our determination to continue to work together to overcome those challenges and make this a better, and better, and better place to be,” Harp said. “May God continue to bless this great city and all those in it.”
Members of the audience began to leave the alders’ hall just before 9 p.m.