Harp Camp Swings Back

As accusations against her family’s real-estate business gained traction, mayoral candidate Toni Harp’s campaign called an opponent “reprehensible” for dragging her deceased husband into the race. And a state legislator decried “offensive” “badgering” and “bullying” of the race’s only female candidate.

The campaign issued a statement responding to allegations by rival Kermit Carolina in a debate Tuesday night featuring the five Democratic candidates for mayor. Meanwhile, state Rep. Toni Walker, who co-chairs the state legislature’s Appropriations Committee along with Harp (a state senator), signed a group letter from women who support Harp suggesting the attacks constituted a sexist and harsh double standard.

In the debate, Carolina called Harp’s family one of the worst “slumlords” in New Haven. He cited an elderly-housing complex on Rosette Street as evidence.

A subsequent visit to the building found security problems and other unsafe conditions there. (Read about that here.)

Two other candidates, Justin Elicker and Henry Fernandez, have also criticized Harp for the tax debt and record of her family’s business.

Harp during the debate repeated her contention that she has never had anything to do with the real-estate business that her family owns. Her husband, Wendell Harp, owned the building on Rosette Street until he died in 2011. Her son, Matthew, now runs it. Matthew attributed problems with a tenant he’s trying to evict as a major cause of trouble at the Rosette Street property, and presented inspection data to support his contention that he is not a slumlord.

The Harp campaign’s latest release quotes campaign manager Jason Bartlett saying the following: “It’s reprehensible that any candidate in this race would use Toni’s deceased husband’s business to score cheap political points. It is well documented that Toni has never been involved in her late husband’s businesses, and as Mayor, she will apply the law equally to everyone, including her family. Toni believes that every person in New Haven deserves a decent home and, unlike her opponents, has a real record as a lawmaker of standing up for safe, affordable housing and fair treatment of tenants.”

The group letter signed by Toni Walker accused participants in Tuesday night’s debate of an “offensive” double standard: “badgering” and “bullying” Harp about her family, but not doing the same about the other candidates.

The debate included no questions from moderators about Harp’s family. The accusations arose when candidates were answering other questions. (The Independent co-sponsored the debate.)

Walker’s letter was cosigned by a group of female Harp campaign supporters from around the city including Alicia Caraballo, Sheila Carmon, Rose DeMatteo, Veronica Douglas-Givan, Gwenadine Felder, Jacqueline Harris, Kia Levey, Ginger Nash, Wendy Samberg, and Barbara Walker.

Following is the text of Walker’s letter:

“After watching and reading comments about the ‘Safe Streets’ debate on July 16, 2013, I was deeply disturbed. The questions posed to Toni Harp about her husband were particularly offensive. I hope as a community we can agree that judging people by who they are associated with is unacceptable. While Toni was badgered and bullied about things not related to running the city, her colleagues were not. Were questions about Justin Elicker’s wife, family or friends raised? No. Were questions about Kermit Carolina’s wife, family or friends raised? No. Were questions about Henry Fernandez’s wife, family or friends raised? No. Were questions about Sundiata Keitazulu’s wife, family or friends raised? No. Is there a double standard? Why was Toni’s deceased husband discussed in a debate about ‘Safe Streets’?

“The tabloid magazine-style accusations regarding spouses’ businesses make for racy fodder in an election. However, if that’s the only way to solicit voter support, we’re in big trouble. The issues New Haven taxpayers want to know are: how do you propose reducing the current mill rate? How are you going to give small business owners more support to make their businesses thrive and grow? What strategies do you have to grow our grand list? What are your thoughts on education reform and what are the ways you can help our schools and students be successful? How do you propose making our streets safer for our kids? The list goes on and on and on.

“It’s in everyone’s interest to keep these debates focused on issues. That’s what elections are for. That’s what citizens want to hear. There is no place for personal attacks on people’s character; that is nothing but a distraction that divides our community. Please, can we agree to focus on the future? Let the debates uncover how we can create a brighter and better New Haven.”

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posted by: HhE on July 18, 2013  8:59am

“Please, can we agree to focus on the future?” because the Now is really awkward for us.

posted by: Citizen X on July 18, 2013  9:36am

“Judging people by who they are associated with?” They were married for decades and she benefitted from ill-gotten gains for much of that time.

Who are these people who think that they can dictate what the voting public finds compelling in its selection? How she has chosen to benefit in her private life is absolutely relevant to how she will govern.

This campaign and its entitlements seem to be off the rails.

posted by: HewNaven on July 18, 2013  9:37am

Thanks, Walker. We were all waiting for Harp to play the gender card.

The real question is what kind of mother would allow her son to get away with being the biggest tax delinquent in the state while simultaneously “representing” one of its poorest communities? No one that I know could get away with an arrogant, elitist white-collar crime like that. I ain’t no Senator’s Son! I ain’t no fortunate one!

Harp should be held accountable. This is not a case of male chauvinism. This is a REAL accusation with REAL consequences for those involved. She should really stop dodging the issue as it is making her look foolish and dishonest.

Lastly, bringing to light the criminal activity of a candidate’s immediate family is definitely FAIR GAME in a campaign. It speaks to the candidates leadership quality and integrity. If there is anything about Carolina or Elicker or Fernandez on par with the Harp family’s tax delinquency problems, please tell us! If any other candidate were living in a million-dollar home, inherited from a spouse whose profits were derived from criminal business practices (e.g. tax delinquency & building code violations), we definitely want to know! Spill the dirt!

posted by: JuliaCS on July 18, 2013  9:46am

Your son and husband are the biggest tax delinquents in the state.

Their business pays for your home.

This is not a double standard. This is not a personal attack. This is a genuine and legitimate concern.

Sexism is a real and important problem in politics, media and business. Your co-opting it because you can’t address the questions you’re being asked, is irresponsible.

It’s actually damaging to other women who are facing sexism and trying to fight for themselves because it dilutes the power of their claim.

It’s true, I’m an Elicker supporter and therefore, perhaps predisposed to disagree with you. However, I absolutely believe you have the right to defend yourself. I just really wish you’d taken a different approach.

posted by: HewNaven on July 18, 2013  9:50am

Please, can we agree to focus on the future? Let the debates uncover how we can create a brighter and better New Haven.”

I would start by prosecuting the most egregious building code violators (e.g. slum lords like those on Rosette Street). We can’t have a city of the haves (living in million-dollar homes) and the have-nots (living in drug-infested slums). We need a more equitable distribution of wealth in our community. If anything, this policy will mitigate the trauma experienced by wealthy senators when they are escorted through rough neighborhoods like Newhallville.

posted by: Curious on July 18, 2013  10:07am

Toni Harp willingly turned a blind eye to her husband’s shady business practices for years, and continues to do so while her son now runs the company, all the while reaping the benefits of their actions.

That speaks DIRECTLY to her character, which is an important issue in ANY election.

How long has Harp been in the senate?  Twenty-five (25) years?  And she can’t handle a little political heat?  Has she ever SEEN the things people said about DeStefano?  If she doesn’t have the spine for the job, she never should have out her hat in the ring.

The “I’m a poor old lady” defense doesn’t quite cut it.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on July 18, 2013  10:27am

Ms. Harp lives in a 10,000 square foot home, replete with seven and a half baths, but we’re not supposed to ask where all that money came from? (Or if we do we’re somehow sexist?)

Accountability is supposed to start at the top.

posted by: Hieronymous on July 18, 2013  10:36am

I confess to some discomfort about dragging Wendell Harp across the mud. But that’s because the man is dead and his wife is apparently completely incapable of defending him. I think Toni Walker is correct in her assessment of “[t]he issues New Haven taxpayers want to know.” Unfortunately, her colleague either doesn’t know or isn’t willing to share her own views on these matters beyond general platitudes.

The reason the Renaissance Properties issue is relevant, in my view, is not really the guilt-by-association or head-in-the-sand angle. Rather, it underscores for me that Toni Harp had no interest in being the mayor of New Haven until somebody told her that she had to be the mayor of New Haven. This is the kind of baggage that should be vetted well in advance. That the Harp campaign has no answer for the accusations other than “she had no idea” really suggests that it was not something that was vetted ahead of time, which further suggests that this candidate was thrust forward at the last minute only when the powers-that-be decided they didn’t like (or didn’t like the chances of) the other candidates who’d declared. (Utter speculation, but I think they were afraid that GHW and Nemerson were just poor candidates and did not want to see Elicker or, in particular, Carolina gain traction.)

This is not an authentic candidacy. And that concerns me because if the reason Toni Harp decided to run for mayor is because her friends told her to, we can’t know who we’re really voting for: Toni Harp or some cabal behind the curtain. And we certainly can’t trust that she has an independent vision for the City.

There must be connected people who know the circumstances that led to Harp running for mayor. I hope to see that story exposed by our intrepid friends here at NHI.

posted by: EdgewoodMom on July 18, 2013  10:39am

THANK YOU Toni Walker, Alicia Caraballo, Sheila Carmon, Rose DeMatteo, Veronica Douglas-Givan, Gwenadine Felder, Jacqueline Harris, Kia Levey, Ginger Nash, Wendy Samberg, and Barbara Walker!!!

“The issues New Haven taxpayers want to know are: how do you propose reducing the current mill rate? How are you going to give small business owners more support to make their businesses thrive and grow? What strategies do you have to grow our grand list? What are your thoughts on education reform and what are the ways you can help our schools and students be successful? How do you propose making our streets safer for our kids?”

YES!!! Those are relevant questions and topics for this election. I would love to know the answers to THOSE questions from EACH of the candidates!

posted by: Indigo on July 18, 2013  10:49am

This is a big problem for Toni Harp and may sink her candidacy. Though I have decided on Elicker, Harp was a close second. Until today. These revelations lead me to deeply doubt her integrity. Her husband and son are not merely “people with whom she is associated.” There was nothing “offensive” or “sexist” about Carolina raising the issues he raised. If anything, it’s the opposite of sexist. It is entirely appropriate that the actions of a candidate’s immediate family unit reflect on him or her, particularly when those actions are in the public sphere AND the candidate personally benefits. (And if there was anything this unsavory going on in the Elicker, Fernandez, Carolina, and/or Sundiata families, Harp would surely be talking about them). Toni further invites this judgement when she features a photo of her and her son on the “About Toni” page on her campaign website http://www.toniharp2013.com/toni_s_bio and brings him along to file papers for her mayoral candidacy back in April http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/harp_files_holder-winfield_hangs_in/.

If Toni Harp has no knowledge of and/or influence over a family business, what does that say about her ability to manage a city? And if she knows but looks the other way so that her family can keep raking in the big bucks and buy her a fancy house, that’s even worse. Either way, these revelations should make her thoughtful supporters think twice.

posted by: InformedOpinion123 on July 18, 2013  11:01am

While I do think it’s reprehensible to bring up the business dealings of Harp’s deceased husband, the attacks on Harp have NOTHING to do with her being a woman. So get over that! Second, Harp is the only candidate who has connections to businesses that have had a significant negative impact on the residents of this city. So OF COURSE it’s appropriate to question her about it. Her using the excuse that they’re picking on me because I am a woman is ridiculous and insulting to women. If you’re going to run this city, you gotta have a stronger backbone.

posted by: ISR on July 18, 2013  11:31am

So basically the letter is saying you made Toni sad. It’s also saying pay no attention behind the curtain, she’ll get New Haven back to Kansas.

She’s in a bind. I guess they’re calculating that ignorant doesn’t look as bad as corrupt. (Google Enid Waldholz for the play book.)

I want to know how she’s paying the taxes on the million dollar house she lives in? Or are the taxes being paid. My semi-annual tax bill is due at the end of July. Isn’t here?

posted by: Jon on July 18, 2013  11:44am

Forget running for mayor, I don’t want the immediate relative of the business owner who owes the greatest tax debt to the state holding a legislative position either. 

Maybe her son could be forthcoming about the reason(s) for the outstanding taxes and clear all this up?  If there is a reasonable explanation and a plan to satisfy the debt then the issue may go away.

Forget politics, pay your taxes!!!

posted by: David S Baker on July 18, 2013  11:48am

I pray this candidate does not get the mayors seat if this “foam bat” version of scrutiny is bothering her. Voters are not going to continue to bow before the sainted reputation she held while out of sight in Hartford allocating our tax dollars.  They are going to stick her under the microscope and blame her for everything bad in town, every single day, for four years straight.  And when this election is over and the media can drop the veil of unbiased reporting, they are going to pounce on the winner like wolves.

Get thicker skin and fight back, or bow out.

posted by: Yaakov on July 18, 2013  12:10pm

As it quickly becomes obvious that Harp is pathetically ill-prepared and ill-qualified for the job of mayor, I want to know whether the union alderpeople who endorsed her will jump ship, or whether they truly believe that someone whose family actively makes our city worse and who benefits from the pillaging of our neighborhoods will make a good mayor.

posted by: anonymous on July 18, 2013  12:32pm

I agree with Yaakov and Julia.  When will the Alders address this?

The handful of establishment types, and the Alders who are on the Union payroll, who think that this issue is a “cheap shot” are not the ones who are literally DYING because of the Harp slumlording. 

The top issue in this election is leadership. My first question about anyone who seeks to be a leader of New Haven would be what their opinion is about slumlords, and what properties they own (or have benefited from) themselves.

After that, we can move on to the other questions.

posted by: TheMadcap on July 18, 2013  12:58pm

Hey as her supporters(and Harp herself considering she flat out said she won the primary already) like to constantly point out, isn’t she the presumed frontrunner? It’s only fair to give her the most scrutiny.

Also this is not an “association”, it’s your former HUSBAND. I mean, either she know and didn’t care, or she didn’t know, which in itself is pretty bad if you can’t keep track of your immediate families shady dealings while you’re an elected official.

posted by: robn on July 18, 2013  1:19pm

Her sons tax evasion is germane because she benefits from it. Whether Sen Harp was lying about or was ignorant of this issue doesn’t really matter; she’s either a liar or ignorant of an issue very important to New Haveners and doesn’t deserve to be mayor.

posted by: Wooster Squared on July 18, 2013  1:43pm

The fact that Harp’s allies don’t have an issue with the unethical and possibly illegal behavior of the Harp family is deeply troubling.

Toni Harp is benefitting financially from the profiteering of a slumlord, which is wrong by anyone’s standards.

She needs to take some responsibility for her own family, fix this, and stop making excuses.

posted by: streever on July 18, 2013  1:46pm

If Harp could release a platform, I’m sure her challengers would prefer to take that apart.

Until she does, however, her entire platform rests on HER as a person. Not a surprise, considering this is the egomaniac who declared victory a few weeks ago!?, but give it a rest.

You don’t get this both ways: you don’t get to run as a personality and then get upset when people criticize the personality you are running as.

The irony of stating the “questions” that you want answers to? Yes, we do want you to answer those! Elicker has—he is listing 75 policies on his web site—but to date Harp has listed 0.

Don’t treat us like we’re ignorant. We’re smart enough to see we’re being fooled. We’re smart enough to see that you don’t have a platform or even a policy idea to share, and are instead running on your personality.

Don’t blame us if you choose to run a campaign on nothing of substance. I don’t see Justin running a campaign on how much people like him (although they do indeed like him)—I see him running a campaign on actual ideas he has to improve the issues you keep bringing up.

We don’t need a Mayor who knows the questions. We all know the questions. We need a Mayor brave enough to try and answer them.

posted by: TheMadcap on July 18, 2013  2:02pm

It’s not even just Elicker who is putting out actual policy details in his “75 solutions in 75 days”, Fernandez as well has substantial more actual proposed policy laid out while Harp just has a few paragraphs of vague pleasantries. As streever said, Harp’s entire campaign rests on her as a person and her history as a state legislator, and yet people are getting mad when her character and history are being questioned.

posted by: Xavier on July 18, 2013  2:09pm

The Senator is finding that actually campaigning to win an election is much harder than she could have ever imagined.

HhE hit is right on, the NOW is too awkward to focus on right now.

One City Henry, skilled politician and guided by skilled professional campaign staff, is wisely waiting for The Plumber Guy, the Senator, and Carolina to self immolate before the primary.

One City Henry, when it’s hot outside, he is even hotter. Loving New Haven, slowly and gently, people will soon realize, he is the best candidate for mayor.

posted by: anonymous on July 18, 2013  2:13pm

Streever, not only that, but much of the economic development and housing policy material recently posted on the Harp website was clearly written by Matt Nemerson. 

Not only do websites need to post clear material, they need to be written in the candidate’s own voice, not lifted from something that sounds like something our self proclaimed “wonk in chief” wrote about the beauties of the New Haven Harborfront (before the flyover destroyed it) when he was 22 years old.

This should not come as a surprise, given that when Harp was asked questions about housing/economic issues in several of the recent debates, she gave answers that essentially consisted of meaningless rambling, especially when compared to the high level of detail and direct answers given by Fernandez and Elicker. Does anyone have the audio clips?

posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on July 18, 2013  2:42pm

I’m confused how Ms. Harp believes “living in one of the business’s properties rent free, and using another for parties at no charge” is not involved.

Oh no, I’m a vegetarian, I only eat chicken.

posted by: Curious on July 18, 2013  2:45pm

Unpaid taxes is a real issue.

How many New Haven residents get a pass on that?

Who gets a pass on not paying their property tax?

Who gets a pass on not paying their parking tickets?

How is Harp going to try and collect city taxes to pay for city services when her own family is full of tax-scofflaws and she is passing budgets that forgive HER FAMILY tax problems but not EVERYONE’S?

posted by: FrontStreet on July 18, 2013  3:56pm

The issue is one of judgement and a pattern of conflict of interest.

Appropriating and voting for a budget that gave her family a significant tax break.

Receiving a salary from Hill Health as head of the Homeless Division while overseeing block grants to Hill Health as a senator (does anybody know what her salary was at Hill Health?).

New Haven and Connecticut politics do not enjoy the best of reputations (cronyism, corruption).  Senator Harp doesn’t seem to have escaped this type of politics.  She’s part of the problem, certainly not the solution.

posted by: Amityboy on July 18, 2013  4:30pm

This is so ridiculous. Has the Harp campaign never heard of conflict-of-interest? The only question is whether Matthew Harp has been derelict in his duties. If he has, she cannot be mayor.

posted by: wendy1 on July 18, 2013  6:39pm

Mr. Keitazulu refrained from “attacking Toni” I suspect because it is distasteful for him to pick on a lady not because he is favoring her or protecting her or her politics.  He is a chivalrous man by nature.  And perhaps he even foresaw the blowback from her camp.  I still think he is the best man, an honest man, for the job

posted by: formercommish on July 18, 2013  9:27pm

So I guess we need to start looking at the prison system and blame the mothers and fathers for their grown children’s actions. People need to wake up and smell the coffee, Toni Harp is not responsible for her sons actions as no one is responsible for the actions of a grown adult male or female. Let us stick to the issues, who will be the most effective Mayor for New Haven? Who will bring the dollars from Hartford at the State Level? Who has built relationships at the federal level? New Haven needs an experienced person to clean up the mess that it is facing after 20 years of one Mayor. These are the issues I will be looking at, not smoke screens created by the media and other less qualified candidates.

posted by: Righteous Cyclist on July 19, 2013  5:46am

You can’t hold a parent responsible for the way their kids choose to act. You can’t hold a wife responsible for what her husband does as part of her business. The bitter petty attacks need to stop but they only make us stronger. OUR skin toughens, not getting thinner.

We love you Toni and we’ll keep fighting for you like you fight for us. Don’t get discouraged by the few small critics coming from East Rock and Fair Haven, trying to seem like they’re more than they are. Real democrats support you, not turncoats.

posted by: Noteworthy on July 19, 2013  6:52am

It’s called fruit from the poisoned tree and all of the Harps especially Toni Harp have directly and historically feasted on that ill gotten fruit for decades. The family business has or has had some 20 liens for property taxes, IRS taxes, state taxes, employment security taxes, multiple layers of mortgages. Meanwhile, the kids went to Spellman and Howard and Miss Toni moved up town to a $1.1 million dollar mansion with a country estate supposedly built for others, but used by the family for years as a country retreat and party home.

This is a matter of hypocrisy, of treating tenants with respect and providing decent affordable housing with rents that were paid consistently and without doubt better and more reliably than what the Harps could have gotten on the open market.

To roll out the sexist gender card and pretend not one member of her family questioned where all that money was coming from is a heroic ask to believe. To never, in all those years, take an interest in or tour any of these properties is just remarkable. As someone who spent the better part of 10 years managing some 250 units of low income housing, I can assure you that my wife saw the units we owned, visited with some of the tenants and our management of them included midnight runs to shut down parties and run drug dealers off the property. We had a robust maintenance program and weekly, I personally cut the grass, blew parking lots, mopped and vacuumed hallways with the help of my day laborer/project crew. It is not done by remote control or making excuses for not filing eviction papers. It is hard, but rewarding and profitable work.

That Toni Walker et al want to whitewash this is really in bad taste and a poor example to those she governs. It is nothing short of ridiculous to think that even the most dysfunctional family doesn’t know the source of their wealth which raises another whole issue of honesty and integrity by the defenders and the defendant.

posted by: anonymous on July 19, 2013  7:25am

FormerComm: If you need a dose of reality, read the New Haven Register Board’s statement on this issue today.

posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on July 19, 2013  7:33am

formercommish, if someone was living in a house, driving around in a car, and using various appliances and goods that their drug dealer child bought for them, yes we should blame them.

posted by: Beth19 on July 19, 2013  8:16am

If Toni Harp’s family is fair game then the personal lives of all candidates should be exposed.  I would like to see the college transcripts and the graduate school transcripts of all the candidates; especially Mr. Carolina’s.

posted by: robn on July 19, 2013  8:51am


Sen. Harp’s family ISN’T fair game. What’s fair game is SHE:

SHE is the recipient of benefits from a company that has been evading taxes for 20 years and is CT’s biggest tax evader by a factor of 2.

SHE claims ignorance of this even though the company was owned by her husband and even though she sits on the appropriations committee of the State of CT to which the taxes are owed.

SHE holds herself up as a defender of the poor and helpless but refuses to acknowledge the poor living conditions of renters who support her lifestyle.

posted by: Bill Saunders on July 19, 2013  3:06pm

Here is the link anonymous was referring to:


such sweet, angelic music…..