The field for the 2019 mayoral race widened again Thursday, as local activist and organizer Urn Pendragon filed papers to challenge incumbent Mayor Toni Harp, who has been at the helm of the Elm City for six years.
Pendragon joins a field that already includes two others vying to win the Democratic primary and unseat Harp — former Alder and Executive Director of the New Haven Land Trust Justin Elicker SOM’10 FES’10 and long-time New Haven resident Wendy Hamilton. Pendragon, an LGBTQ+ advocate, has focused her efforts on the issue of affordable housing and stressed her ability to represent the city’s low-income community.
“I feel that I am a really good representative for those who are underrepresented,” Pendragon said in an interview with the News. “I’ve been talking to people… people who, like myself, live on very little … I have lived experience and I’ve learned a lot about politics through my graduate degree.”
A Michigan native, Pendragon moved to Connecticut 10 years ago and received her master’s degree in Political Science from New Haven’s Southern Connecticut State University. Pendragon interned at the city’s Economic Development Corporation last spring and has since become a local activist. She has worked closely with (Mothers and Others) for Justice — a group within the Christian Community Action service organization that promotes change in programs and policies that improve the lives of women and their children — and the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force — a task force commissioned by the Board of Alders last spring to compile suggestions and recommendations regarding affordable housing policy.
Pendragon was present at an affordable housing rally in October, organized by Mothers and Others for Justice, the Connecticut Bail Fund and several other activist groups. The activist groups demanded more transparency from the Affordable Housing Task Force, as well as actionable policy recommendations and accessible meeting times from the task force.
According to the New Haven Independent, Pendragon said she will advocate for the adaptation of an inclusionary zoning ordinance that would require 20 to 22 percent of new housing developments to be designated as “affordable” — which Housing Authority of New Haven Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton ’89 has measured to be $750 per month. If elected, she also plans to hire more housing inspectors, code enforcement officers, city planners and economic development staff.
Pendragon joins a field that is expected to create the most competitive race since 2013. Last month, Harp announced that she would seek a fourth consecutive two-year term. Harp won both her last two re-election campaigns easily, without a legitimate challenger. In her first election in 2013, she duked it out with Elicker, who lost to her by 2,000 votes in the general election. Elicker was the first to file his papers for this cycle on Jan 16.
Elicker is participating in the Democracy Fund, as he did in his first bid six years ago. The Democracy Fund is New Haven’s public financing initiative, which places a limit on the amount any one individual can contribute to a candidate and emphasizes small, grassroots donations. Harp has not participated in it before and told the New Haven Independent that she does not intend to do so this time.
Hamilton, a retired nurse, filed shortly after Elicker and has cited housing affordability and accessibility as one of her primary concerns.
Pendragon’s professor at Southern, Jonathan Wharton, told the News that she was interested in politics and had spoken to him about running for political office in the Elm City when she was his student.
Wharton, who told the News he advised Pendragon against running for mayor and instead suggested that she consider further community advocacy or vie for a seat on the Board of Alders, characterized Pendragon as “tenacious.”
“She was insistent that she was going to run for mayor no matter what,” Wharton said. “To her, [housing] was a singular issue that needed to be noted to the media.”
Harp is the 50th mayor of New Haven.
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