Angela Xiao

It’s always sunny in New Haven, Mayor Toni Harp told New Haven residents at Monday night’s annual State of the City address.

At the Board of Alders meeting in City Hall, Harp delivered a resoundingly positive report on the state of the Elm City over the past year, praising staffers and initiatives and proudly dubbing New Haven’s government as a provider of city services. Harp chose to highlight the city’s progress and growth, opting not to touch on the challenges that the city or her administration has faced in the past year. Although the State of the City address previously has been used to introduce upcoming initiatives, Harp’s speech focused on her current evaluation of New Haven.

“The progress New Haven is making … is the byproduct of a sincere, effective and, in many cases, extraordinary effort by the people behind it,” Harp said. “I couldn’t be more proud to be mayor of a city where this is the case. … All credit and great thanks to all the people I mentioned and countless other individuals who make this city all it is, every single day.”

Harp is entering her sixth year at the helm of the Elm City. The 2019 mayoral race is projected to be the most competitive race since 2013 — former New Haven Alder Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 and New Haven activist Wendy Hamilton both entered the race in late January.

Introduced by Ward 27 Alder and Majority Leader Richard Furlow, Harp’s speech spanned approximately 30 minutes and touched on roughly all of the departments under her administration.

Harp opened her speech with a summary of the personal nature of service provision in New Haven, which would form the underlying theme of the address. In her first example, she lauded the city’s response to the mass overdoses on the New Haven Green in August 2018 as being “no better example” of the city’s care.

Harp noted that first responders worked to treat and save the victims, and “it didn’t matter that many victims seemed to be on the fringe of polite society.”

But some were uncomfortable with the mayoral address at what may be one of the city’s most painful points. Elicker, who will run against Harp come September, disagreed with her categorization of the overdose victims. In an interview with the News, Elicker questioned Harp’s ultimate portrayal of the mass overdose as a positive aspect of the city — regardless of how laudable city service providers’ response was.

Other topics Harp addressed included the public school system — she praised it for its “embrace of each student” and its mantra of “no single student left behind” — the public library and the economy. In a nod to the critiques her administration has faced, she cited the city’s improving economic landscape. Since 2013 — the year she was first elected to lead New Haven — the unemployment rate has dropped from 10.4 percent to 4.8 percent, she noted.

Harp also highlighted measures taken by the police and fire departments, applauding the police department for adopting the widespread use of body cameras. In the same breath, she praised the formation of a Civilian Review Board for greater accountability in police brutality. After decades of activist demands and months of clashes between the city’s elected officials and citizens, the Board of Alders voted to establish the review board last month.

After each example of New Haven’s provision of care, Harp singled out relevant staffers, who received consistent applause from the full room. But any word on the city’s fiscal state and its budget were noticeably absent from the mayor’s address.

“I’d like to thank the mayor for highlighting many of our accomplishments but would have liked to have heard her address some of our problems, like the budget, and how she’s going to approach them,” Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 told the News.

Last year, the mayor fell under fire for a variety of fiscal decisions including an 11-percent property tax hike last summer, a historically large debt restructuring to finance the current fiscal year and mayoral expenditures late in 2018. Harp is expected to unveil her proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year by March 1, the Board of Alders’ deadline.

Though she did not address looming budget concerns, Harp invoked two national figures — former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg and former First Lady Michelle Obama, and recommitted the city to, “the continuing advancement of these efforts to the benefit of every single person we serve.”

“That message [of gratitude to the city’s employees] is something we all should underscore,” Elicker told the News. “I find it concerning that she’s highlighting some successes that are real challenges of the city. … We need to have both an honest discussion about what’s great about this city but also what our challenges are and be more proactive about addressing them.”

Harp is currently in her third term as mayor.

Angela Xiao | angela.xiao@yale.edu