Another vacancy has opened up at the top levels of Mayor Toni Harp’s administration, as Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81 resigned from the helm of the Economic Development Administration.
Nemerson, a onetime political rival of Harp’s turned stalwart in her administration, was one of a handful of aides who have served the mayor since she was first elected to the city’s top post in 2013. Effective Friday, he will step down after five years in one of the city’s highest-profile positions — and his first foray into government — and return to the private sector for a job in technology.
Nemerson’s tenure, which brought sweeping changes to the economic landscape as swaths of New Haven were transformed, was also marked by controversy. In June, in response to clashes between Nemerson and state officials, Harp placed him on an unpaid leave of absence. Now, Nemerson will return to the private sector, while New Haven’s acting City Plan Director Michael Piscitelli will assume the role of acting economic development administrator in addition to his existing responsibilities.
“My whole way of operating is full speed ahead,” Nemerson told the News. “It just seemed like this was a good time. We had accomplished a lot of things, just in the last couple of months … we’ve had a great run. We’ve had a certain point of view about what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Prior to his entry into the public sector, Nemerson was president and chief economic officer of a technology-related trade association, the Connecticut Technology Council. He previously also served as president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce.
In the 2013 mayoral race, Nemerson was initially one of seven Democratic candidates. He dropped out early in the primary and threw his support behind Harp, then a state senator who had represented the Elm City in Hartford for more than two decades. After her election, she quickly appointed him to lead the Economic Development Administration, one of the city’s most important administrations.
In five years at the helm, Nemerson helped to attract a variety of developers and projects to the Elm City. Although his first agenda item — the Coliseum project — dragged on and still has yet to come to fruition, he led the Economic Development Administration through some of the city’s largest projects, including a long-awaited parking lot across from what is now Frontier Communications, as well as a slew of residential complexes that are now occupied.
Nemerson mostly describes his own accomplishments as facilitating the arrival of new developers and nurturing existing pipelines to advance the city’s economic growth. He cited developer Randy Salvatore as an example. Salvatore had one project in the works when Nemerson took over the reins from his predecessor Kelly Murphy, who served for eight years under previous mayor John DeStefano Jr. Salvatore has since advanced six more Elm City projects.
Mayoral spokesperson Laurence Grotheer praised Nemerson’s work, citing his familiarity with and dedication to the region. Grotheer said the city benefited from Nemerson’s “familiarity with the region and his passion for its attributes.”
Nemerson’s five-year tenure came with its fair share of contention, including an ongoing debate about the potential expansion of New Haven’s Tweed Airport.
As Harp and her aides grapple with increasing financial pressures — budget negotiations for the current fiscal year required the city to restructure $160 million of its existing debt and take out millions more in new borrowing — City Hall has been plagued with turnover at the top.
Another top aide, then-Chief Administrative Officer Michael Carter, resigned at the end of August. Carter, too, was an early tap by the Mayor who courted controversy in his years in City Hall — in 2017, he verbally berated a union official. Harp issued him a written warning but did not fire him.
Harp named Sean Matteson to serve as Acting CAO shortly thereafter, but the CAO position is still vacant. The Board of Alders, in its first exercise of its power to confirm or deny mayoral appointees, voted down Harp’s nomination of Matteson to assume the position officially. In a highly contentious hearing, the Alders grappled with Matteson’s ability to rein in spending.
Nemerson, who told the News that his reasons for resignation include his belief in the need for new blood, leaves Piscatelli and the Harp administration with several questions still looming large. Although the development of new complexes has given the Elm City sources of tax revenue and growth, Nemerson highlighted the balance between growth and accessibility as one of the long-standing challenges his successors will have to grapple with.
“Every city of our size and our complexity is dealing with issues of affordability,” Nemerson said. “Issues of how to help and incentivize building apartments — not just at the market level, but also without having to put too much subsidy into it … so people can live in really good, new apartments but be able to afford them.”
Although Harp has recently fallen under fire for incidents relating to fiscal transparency and accountability, Nemerson praised her leadership of the city. He cited her ability to remain calm, command respect and, above all, lead with moral authority.
Nemerson will remain in New Haven for his next job. He was unable to discuss details of the position or the company but told the News that his new position at the company was, for him, a return to the field of technology.
He will remain part-time remotely to help with Piscitelli’s transition into the role.
Piscitelli has taken over Nemerson’s duties before — he assumed acting responsibility of the role after Harp placed Nemerson on leave earlier this year. Piscatelli praised Nemerson for doing “quite a bit of meaningful work for the city.”
Harp is in her fifth year as Mayor.
Angela Xiao | firstname.lastname@example.org