In her annual State of the City address, Mayor Toni Harp called for continued resistance to disturbing national trends, at the bimonthly Board of Alders meeting at City Hall on Monday night.
In front of a crowd of alders, city leaders and roughly 50 New Haven residents, Harp outlined the city’s achievements over the past year, from declines in homicide and unemployment rates to strong health services and education advancements. She said a city is measured by the care it gives to its most vulnerable, lauding New Haven’s fundraising efforts for victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico among other causes.
“I don’t think any of us could have predicted [one year ago] the full extent to which we would be dealing with such a dramatically altered political, social and economic landscape,” Harp said. “In that context tonight, I would describe the state of New Haven as resistant to those frightening trends in this nation toward what would be a new normal.”
Harp focused on the theme of resistance throughout her speech, praising various departments for fighting against the “status quo.” She specifically praised the New Haven Police Department for another year of “steadily decreasing” crime rates, noting that the seven reported homicides in 2017 were the fewest in more than 50 years. Applauding the department for resisting the “temptation to be anything but forthright and forthcoming about its operations,” she pointed to its recent adoption of body cameras and video recording program.
Turning to economic development, Harp noted that “powerhouse firms” such as Goldman Sachs will provide a training program starting this year for local business owners while City Hall helps retailers counter the trend toward online shopping and e-commerce. But she said the city’s efforts do not stop at storefront, asserting that Elm City helps all its residents even as federal support diminishes.
“Social services for veterans, the elderly, the formerly incarcerated, the homeless, the disabled, the addicted and the mentally ill seem to fall increasingly on the shoulders of local providers, as federal and state support dwindles,” Harp said.
Before the speech, Rabbi Herbert Brockman of Congregation Mishkan Israel praised the Harp administration’s openness to those with diverse backgrounds and identities, calling New Haven “America’s City for All.” He also commended Harp’s commitment to the city in spite of national trends, saying that she works hard to “swim against the tide.”
Harp also touched on improvement in New Haven’s public schools, noting the decrease in student absences, suspensions and expulsions, as well as an increase in college acceptance and retention rates.
She went on to praise a recent effort in city government to promote interdepartmental cooperation, an effort that she said pushed back against the temptation to “compartmentalize.”
“There isn’t a city I envy, there isn’t a city I’d rather serve as mayor, and there isn’t a community of people I’d rather be with as we tackle a daunting agenda under these current, challenging circumstances,” Harp said as she concluded her speech.
Alders interviewed after the address said they were impressed by Harp’s speech and lauded New Haven’s progress as a city.
Ward 6 Alder Dolores Colón affirmed Harp’s view of New Haven as a “welcoming city.” She expressed gratitude that the city “seems to be resisting” the stereotypical notion that New Haven is a place with poor education and rampant crime.
Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 echoed Colón’s positive review of the speech but noted that Harp could have touched more on the issue of youth participation in city government.
“She could have talked a little about how the kids of New Haven are slowly, but surely, starting to have a voice in local politics and are representing their communities just as well as everyone else on the board,” Catalbasoglu said.
Having won re-election last November, Harp is now serving her third two-year term as New Haven’s mayor.
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