As she formally launched her campaign for mayor amid balloons and cotton candy in Edgewood Park, state Sen. Toni Harp promised to build a “new New Haven” free of “political favoritism.”
Harp made that vow Saturday afternoon in Edgewood Park, where 250 people gathered under a sunny sky to take part in the launch of her bid to be New Haven’s next mayor, and the first female mayor in the city’s history. The crowd included many aldermen affiliated with the board’s labor-backed majority.
“I’m Toni Harp and I’m running to be the next mayor of this phenomenal city!” Harp pronounced to a cheering audience. She spoke from a portable stage, set up near the corner of West Rock and Whalley avenues.
Harp is one seven Democrats running to replace Mayor John DeStefano, who will step down at the end of the year after two decades in office.
Harp, a state senator since 1993, is seen by many as the presumed front-runner in the crowded field of candidates, which includes East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker, state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, former city development chief Henry Fernandez, former Chamber of Commerce head Matt Nemerson, Newhallville plumber Sundiata Keitazulu, and Hillhouse High Principal Kermit Carolina.
The Democratic primary election takes place Sept. 10. The first debate including all seven candidates, concerning economic development is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday at Davis Street School (35 Davis St.).
Harp made her announcement Saturday after a performance by a steel-drum band, vocal renditions of the national anthem and the Negro National Anthem, an invocation by a pastor, and remarks by state Sen. Martin Looney and several others. People rose to applaud as she stepped to the podium and a DJ played Alicia Keys’ “Girl On Fire.”
Harp listed some highlights of her 20-year career as a state senator: passing the strictest gun laws in the country after the Newtown massacre, passing a law to raise to 18 the age at which people can be tried as adults, working for early literacy programs, raising the minimum wage, fighting childhood obesity.
Harp said in New Haven, as at the state level, politics often gets in the way of solving problems. “Political favoritism has crept into economic development decisions,” she said. “For too long, political calculations prevented school reform.”
Harp noted she would be the first female mayor in the city’s 375-year history.
“My pledge is that politics is going to take a back seat in my administration,” she said. “Principles and good sound public policy will take the front seat.”
She pledged, as mayor, to work with, not “marginalize,” the Board of Aldermen, and to use her relationships with the state to “bring home the resources we need.”
Among other campaign pledges, Harp said: People who want to do business in town would have to hire New Haven residents; she would focus on neighborhoods beyond just downtown, continue education reform, and strengthen community policing and adult education.
“Together we will build a new New Haven with one set of rules for everyone,” she said.
Whitney Houston’s Olympics anthem, “One Moment In Time,” came on the loudspeakers as Harp finished her remarks.
A live steel-drum band started playing music before 11 a.m., followed by a DJ at noon. Red and white ballons and Toni Harp lawn signs ringed the corner of the park, where a pavilion and rows of folding chairs were set up in front of the stage.
People in Toni Harp T-shirts passed out Toni Harp stickers, while other volunteers registered voters and collected donations. Others handed out water and cotton candy.
An ice-cream truck (pictured) was on hand as well as a food cart with grilled hot dogs and hamburgers.
While a passel of aldermen were in attendance, only a few formally proclaimed their support for Harp for mayor. Aldermen Mike Smart and Sal DeCola said they are supporting her. “I think she understands what the city needs,” said Smart.
Aldermen Brian Wingate, Tyisha Walker (at right in photo), and Jeanette Morrison (at left) showed up and claimed they are at this point undecided. Other aldermen at the kick-off included Adam Marchand, Dolores Colon, Sarah Eidelson, Al Paolillo, Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, Santiago Berrios-Bones, and Frank Douglass.
Alderman Jorge Perez (at left in photo), president of the board, said, “I’m not supporting anyone at this point.” He said Harp’s was the first campaign kick-off he could attend, because it was on a Saturday. (Gary Holder-Winfield’s kick-off took place on a Saturday; the others took place on weeknights.)
Alderman Sergio Rodriguez, who’s running for city clerk, said he was there only as an observer. But Ron Smith (pictured), the current city clerk, who’s running to keep the job, said he’s a Harp supporter. He called Harp “a visionary.” Both men said they will be looking to join a mayoral candidate as a running mate in this year’s election.
Attorney and 2011 mayoral candidate Clifton Graves (at right in photo, with Ken Joyner) said he is supporting Harp. Her late husband Wendell Harp was a key backer of the Graves mayoral campaign two years ago. (Toni Harp endorsed him, too.) He said Harp, of all the mayoral candidates, has the “greatest reach” and most “cachet” in the city.
Keitazulu (pictured), who’s running for mayor this year, was the only one of Harp’s opposing candidates to show up.
State Rep. Bob Megna was on the scene, wearing a Toni Harp sticker. State Rep. Toni Walker shared the stage with Harp, as did state Sen. Looney. Looney (pictured) called Harp the best qualified mayoral candidate in New Haven history.
Many members of the Democratic Town Committee (DTC) were in the crowd. Vice-Chair Vinnie Mauro said he’s supporting Toni Harp: “I just think she’s got the best moral compass for the job.” Vice-Chair Carmen Reyes said she hasn’t made up her mind yet. The DTC will endorse a candidate in July.
Former police Lt. Kenny Howell drove down for the event from Worcester, Mass., where he’s now police chief. “I came down to support Toni.”