Mayor Toni Harp’s mayoral duties took her far away from City Hall last week — across the globe, in fact.
Harp travelled to China for nine days, accompanied by a 21-person delegation that included Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker, New Haven Director of Arts, Culture and Tourism Andrew Wolf and Yale-China Executive Director David Youtz, to foster business and educational relations between the world’s second-largest economic powerhouse and the Elm City. The centerpiece of the trip was an official sister city ceremony between New Haven and Changsha, the capital of the Hunan province in south central China.
“Most people have the wrong idea about what China is,” Harp said on WNHH’s “Mayor Monday” radio program, before speaking about the innovation and desire for collaboration with American cities that she observed during the trip.
The trip opened with two days in the capital city of Beijing, where Harp visited the Yale Club of Beijing and met with various companies interested in doing business with or relocating to New Haven. The group also visited cultural sites such as the Forbidden City.
The delegation then traveled to Changsha for two days, and Harp and Mayor Hu Henghua of Changsha participated in a live-streamed ceremony to finalize the sister city process. In sister-city relationships, the two cities engage in cultural and economic exchange that promotes mutual understanding and increases opportunities for economic expansion abroad.
In the last leg of the journey, the delegation went to Hong Kong for two days, where Harp met with Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive.
Harp and Lam are the first women to hold their respective positions, and they discussed the role of women in politics, as well as Yale’s “politics training school,” which aims to prepare female candidates to run for elected office, according to Youtz.
Wolf and Youtz said New Haven offers benefits to companies and academics that few other American cities can offer because of its location in between New York City and Boston and because of the six universities it boasts. Harp said on the radio that many companies expressed interest in conducting research and development in New Haven.
New Haven’s outreach is especially important in the current political climate, Wolf said.
“This is an opportune moment, given the national crisis with the threat of trade retaliation [to show] that we are more than our nation’s government,” he explained. “We are a city and state that welcomes investment.”
The sister-city idea originated in November 2016, when Wolf traveled to Changsha to sign a letter of intent to establish a sister-city relationship. Several New Haven schools, including the Hopkins School and John C. Daniels School, already have sister schools in Changsha.
According to Youtz, Yali High School in Changsha — named after Yale — was founded by University alumni in 1906. The school receives four recent Yale graduates as teaching fellows every year.
“We believe that Changsha — with its centurylong ties to people from Yale and New Haven — was the ideal city for New Haven to link to, and we look forward to many cultural, educational and business ties to benefit both cities,” Youtz said in an email to the News.
Wolf expressed excitement about the possible cultural exchanges between the two cities, citing Changsha’s investment in a new museum and symphony hall and the potential for “citizen-to-citizen diplomacy.”
While Harp was in China, Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison stepped in as the acting mayor. Usually the president of the Board of Alders fills in for the mayor. But since Walker accompanied Harp to China, Morrison, who is president pro tempore of the Board of Alders, was the highest-ranking official left in the city.
During her week in charge, Morrison performed mayoral duties like welcoming Gov. Dannel Malloy to New Haven, visiting schools and issuing press releases. For the duration of the trip, she also continued working fulltime as a supervisor for the state Department of Children and Families.
New Haven now has eight official sister city relationships across four continents.
Nathalie Bussemaker | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, April 18: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story misspelled the name of the sister city. Its correct spelling is Changsha.