Toni Harp stood Wednesday with black female 9/11 responders who broke the glass ceiling—and vowed to break her own glass ceiling next week.
Harp (pictured above holding New Haven firefighter Erika Bogan’s helmet), the Democratic candidate for mayor, made the remarks at a press conference at the Elks Lodge on Webster Street, where she received an endorsement from the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters (IABPFF).
Harp vowed to beat independent candidate Justin Elicker in next Tuesday’s election and become the city’s first female—and first African-American female—mayor.
Harp commended a half-dozen black women for breaking a “glass ceiling” and joining fire departments occupied mostly by white men.
“I am honored and proud to accept your endorsement, and I hope to blast through that ceiling next week,” said Harp.
Before and after the event, the campaign played its theme song, Alicia Keys’ “Girl On Fire,” which took on an added meaning.
Harp had already received an endorsement from New Haven’s black firefighters association, the Firebirds, in August. Lt. Gary Tinney (pictured), a past president of the Firebirds, convened a second event Wednesday to bestow on her the endorsement of the larger IABPFF. Tinney is the vice-president of the IABPFF’s regional chapter, which represents some 1,500 members in Philadelphia, Boston, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Wednesday’s event drew about 20 black firefighters to the Elk’s Lodge, including several from New York.
Regina Wilson (pictured) spoke emotionally about her time helping victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York, where she has served as a firefighter for 14 years. The fire department in New York had to be sued to let women in, she noted. The first 41 women joined the force in the 1980s. She said women have yet to gain a large foothold on the force: Out of some 10,500 firefighters across New York City, only 35 are women. Of those women, only four are black.
“We have to continuously tear down” walls to build inclusiveness and diversity in the department, she said.
She said the iconic images of first-responders from 9/11 usually depict men, ignoring the women who spent months at the toxic site.
Wilson vowed to return to New Haven to help Harp’s campaign on Election Day to support her fellow firefighters and Harp’s historic candidacy.
Erika Bogan (pictured), one of 11 women on New Haven’s 270-person firefighting force, spoke of the discrimination women face on the job.
“We are prejudged and labeled,” she said. She argued that women are better suited to certain aspects of a firefighter’s job, including nurturing a scared child and comforting a female sexual assault victim who would not want to be around men.
Harp called Bogan, Wilson, and their colleagues “sheroes.”
“I can’t help but be moved by the support of the women sheroes here,” Harp replied upon accepting the endorsement.
She vowed to help get more women on the firefighting force.
After the speech, she expanded on how she would do that. She said she would support the public safety academy at Hillhouse High School; conduct more “aggressive recruitment” of women; and employ ambassadors like Bogan to spread the word about women’s options in a fire services career.
“A lot of women don’t know they can go into fire and police and have satisfying careers,” Harp said. That’s partly because “often the symbols we see [of firefighters] are male symbols.”
Bogan agreed that the message isn’t reaching women. She said when she looked to go back into the workforce after she had kids, firefighting wasn’t on her radar. So she became a 911 operator first.
“I didn’t know about it,” she said of firefighting. “I wasn’t aware that any job like that existed.”
Bogan now has 16 years on the job. She said she has been involved in every recruitment drive, and in speaking to young women about her career.
“If I can do it, you can do it,” she tells them.
In addition to receiving the endorsement, Harp collected a few donations from out-of-town firefighters such as John Coombs and Tracy Lewis (pictured) of New York.
Coombs, president of the Vulcans black fraternal firefighting association in New York, said he supports Harp in order to stand in solidarity with his fellow firefighters.
“Their concerns are our concerns,” Coombs said.
He said he would not be able to come back to help on Election Day, given that there’s also an election in New York. “We expect to be overwhelmed with our own stuff.”