While Mayor Toni Harp has travelled in China this week touting New Haven as a good location for economic investment and formalizing a sister city program with Changsha, her mayoral duties have not gone unattended.
Ever since Harp left town last Thursday, Ward 22 Alder Jeannette Morrison, the president pro tempore of the Board of Alders, has been the acting mayor of New Haven. According to the city charter, whenever the mayor is prevented from fulfilling his or her duties for any reason — such as absence from the city or illness — the president of the Board of Alders serves as acting mayor. But since Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker is in China with Harp, Morrison, as the next person in line, has taken the mayoral reins.
According to mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer, Harp left with city business up to date and all foreseeable mayoral responsibilities taken care of.
Still, Morrison has been busy in Harp’s absence. She welcomed the Gov. Dannel Malloy to Wilbur Cross High School on Monday. She represented the mayor with several World War I re-enactors at the worldwide premiere of “Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero,” which was held at Criterion Cinema. She put out a press release reminding the community that people attending government meetings can park for free at a lot on Elm Street. And for the last few days, Morrison has overseen New Haven restaurant week.
All the while, she has traveled to Bridgeport every day, keeping up with her full-time job as a supervisor for the state Department of Children and Families, where she has worked for 25 years. Filling in for Mayor Harp on WNHH FM’s weekly “Mayor Monday” program, Morrison said she has committed to be at the mayor’s office by 5:30 p.m. every day.
Morrison is not the first New Haven official to take over while an elected mayor has been abroad. In 2013, while former Mayor John DeStefano was on a visit to Ireland, Board of Alders President Jorge Perez took over as mayor and signed an emergency declaration in preparation for what turned out to be a historic blizzard.
Still, Perez, who is now the Connecticut banking commissioner, told the News that the gig was “overrated.”
“Even though you’re the acting mayor,” he said, “they don’t take you seriously.”
Perez had wanted to hire contractors to prepare for the storm, but others in the administration disagreed. Perez was unable to get what he thought would be best for New Haven, and, he thinks the city ultimately suffered from the storm more than it should have.
He said that if he had actually been part of the administration — and not an alderman brought into the mayor’s office — he could have been more effective.
“If I were the ‘vice-mayor,’ that wouldn’t have happened,” Perez said, referring to the disagreement about how to best prepare for the storm.
In addition to her day job as a social worker, Morrison has served on the Board of Alders for seven years. Encompassing both Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges, Ward 22 is one of the few wards divided between Yale’s campus and New Haven.
As alder, Morrison’s primary focus has been rebuilding the Dixwell Q House, a community center that, according to Morrison, has been a staple of the Dixwell neighborhood since 1924.
“I’m a Q House House kid,” she said on “Mayor Monday.” “This is the one entity that helped a lot of African American people who migrated from the South into the North. It’s a safe haven. We need that.”
Asked by a caller on the radio show whether she would consider running for mayor, Morrison said she is unsure if she would want the full-time job.
“But any time I’m needed,” she said, “I’m right there.”
Harp is due back this weekend and will resume her mayoral duties upon her return.
Max graham | firstname.lastname@example.org