Harp Gets 60 Days To Make Repairs

The city’s building official paid a visit to the home of mayoral candidate Toni Harp Thursday and gave her son a two-month deadline to complete “minor” repairs and obtain a permanent certificate of occupancy.

The visit by Acting Building Official Daniel O’Neill and a staff electrical inspector occurred after the building department received inquiries about the house from the New Haven Register. The Register’s Mary O’Leary subsequently broke this story Friday revealing that the home, on upper Westville’s Conrad Drive, lacks a permanent certificate of occupancy.

The home was designed and owned by Toni Harp’s late husband Wendell. He and the city fought for years over permits. In 2003 he obtained a temporary certificate of occupancy for the house. Since then, the city had never returned to inspect it to see if further needed work had been done. The house is now owned by Toni Harp’s son, Matthew. His mom, a state senator and Democratic candidate for mayor, lives there, too.

Building Official O’Neill and Matthew Harp both said they hadn’t realized the house does not have a permanent certificate of occupancy. Toni Harp also said she it had been her understanding that there had been a certificate, based on this 2007 appraisal.

Page three of the appraisal states: “Subject property is a new construction (CO has been issued) and is in good condition for the neighborhood.”

Under this state law, the city can’t boot the Harps from the premises. If someone has lived in a house for six years under a temporary certificate of occupancy, and the city hasn’t followed up in that time, then the occupancy is considered permanent, O’Neill said.

“They still need the piece of paper and need to work toward that. But I don’t have the lawful authority to order them to cease the occupancy,” O’Neill said Friday afternoon.

O’Neill said his inspection Thursday turned up some problems, which he termed “mostly minor stuff”: “The owner has some electrical issues to address, some sheetrock to install, some guardrail systems to install. Nothing that we discovered goes to the level of ordering him to not occupy. Not even close. Smoke detectors are in place. All the life-safety basics are there.”

He said Matthew Harp must complete the work within 60 days and then pass a new inspection to obtain a permanent certificate of occupancy.

Harp must also “give me a construction value” that accounts for work done on the house since the 1990s, when Wendell Harp originally applied for permits. At that time he paid based on having done $237,000 of work. Much more has been done since, O’Neill said. “I have no clue what that value is going to be,” he said. Whatever the figure turns out to be, Harp will owe $27.26 for each $1,000 of work.

“The work is going to be done,” Matthew Harp said Friday afternoon. “This is not an issue that should reflect on the campaign. The city and I have worked out a plan that seems reasonable. Had I known beforehand—about the lack of a final certificate of occupancy—it would have been done.”

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posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on October 18, 2013  9:06pm

For decades Toni Harp has served this community in many capacities. She has been honored and praised for her work. She was re-elected year after year to her state senate seat for her honorable service to the people of New Haven. Never was heard an offending word about Toni Harp. She was always seen as a respectable, responsible, reliable person of integrity and honesty.
All that changed after she decided to run for mayor.
Suddenly she became the wicked witch of Westville who lived in palatial splendor in a semi-suburban million-dollar mansion. One mayoral candidate accused her of living, not in New Haven at all, but in Bethany! This same candidate called her a slumlord. Others called her a tax cheat. She was described as a pawn of unions and other special interest groups. Accusers charged that she was a stranger to the black community, aloof and uncaring about the needs and concerns of the inner city. Some implied that she was not very bright and inarticulate.
Every stone was overturned to find some dirt on Toni Harp and tie any hint of scandal to her and her pursuit of the mayor’s office.
Where were all these accusations years ago? Had Toni Harp duped all of New Haven all these years into thinking she was a sincere public servant doing whatever good she could to help make New Haven a better, safer community in which to live?
The Register now digs up a non-news story about “the house” that the Harp family and the city building officials had inadvertently overlooked for years. There appears to have been no criminal intent and an agreement seems to have been worked out between Matthew Harp and the city to resolve the matter. What else will they try to dig up to attempt to assassinate the character of Toni Harp?

posted by: robn on October 18, 2013  9:42pm

Die hard Harp supporters clearly aren’t embarrassed by this but I am.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on October 18, 2013  10:34pm

“Building Official O’Neill and Matthew Harp both said they hadn’t realized the house does not have a permanent certificate of occupancy.”

IS THERE ANYTHING THAT TONI HARP *DOES* REALIZE?  Is there anything at all, in her life, her campaign, or this city, on which she is informed and knowledgeable, and for which she is ready to take responsibility?

posted by: HewNaven on October 19, 2013  8:24am

Where were all these accusations years ago?


She wasn’t campaigning to run our city “years ago.” So, no one cared about her inept leadership qualities. If you run for an executive office, you’d better expect the kind of scrutiny that Harp has been given. What’s the alternative? Give her a free pass for some reason? Because she’s a Senator?

posted by: Sarah.Miller on October 19, 2013  12:18pm

@Thomas Alfred Paine you make a great point. When Toni decided to run, I assumed that I would vote for her. A longtime civil servant of New Haven respected by many. I did not think about the fact that Toni has run unopposed in recent elections and has not faced a challenger—and thus not been held up to the scrutiny that a challenger brings. Also, that her position of power in the state legislature has made many in New Haven financially dependent on her good graces and thus loath to criticize her. Yet the questions raised by her challengers hardly required much digging and were entirely appropriate issues to raise for someone seeking to serve as Mayor. I am appalled at my own complicity in not adequately researching the backgrounds of those who represent me in public office.

On their own, the questions raised by Harp’s opponents did not lead me to choose another candidate. Rather, it’s the way in which Harp responds to these questions. She knows nothing, takes no responsibility, does not even say that yes it is wrong for any business to owe the state $1million and she has asked her son to do everything possible to resolve it expeditiously for the good of the state. No. She shrugs her shoulders and moves on. This nonchalant response is the most ethically dubious element of Harp’s persona and did not come from any of her challengers. It comes from her.

posted by: citoyen on October 19, 2013  12:20pm

T.A. Paine raises an important point about why Toni Harp for decades has been considered a valuable public servant, yet now when she is running for mayor finds herself subjected to intense scrutiny and criticism.

For years, Toni repeatedly won polls testing who the strongest potential candidate for mayor against John DeStefano might be. She always declined to challenge him, preferring to remain in the state senate, where she had risen to an influential post.  *This* year she declared she was not interested in running for mayor, and would not run, even with DeS. out of the picture.

And then, over the course of one weekend, she suddenly changed her mind.  All evidence suggests that she was persuaded during those short days by guarantees of backing from both the leadership of the Yale unions and the leadership of the Democratic Town Council.  This is a candidacy that has been *foisted* upon the voters of New Haven, by power brokers.

Some of us, I would like to think many of us, entered this campaign with open minds, and as it unfolded, became amazed and surprised by how weak a candidate Toni Harp has shown herself to be—especially in contrast to others, and now in contrast to her one remaining opponent.  Justin Elicker—who, let us remember, declared his candidacy *before* DeStefano dropped out—who, in other words, *was* willing to challenge him, and without the backing of power brokers—has shown himself to be hugely knowledgeable about New Haven and its issues, tenacious in his pursuit, and intensely committed to wanting to help guide our city into a 21st-century future.  By contrast, Toni seems both out-of-touch and out-of-date.

I have written before that she comes across as a very nice woman.  As mayor material she comes across as well-meaning, but lacking.

The change in perceptions about her stems from how voters think nebulously of her functioning in far-off Hartford versus how they imagine specifically her functioning close to home in City Hall.

posted by: HhE on October 19, 2013  4:50pm

Thomas Alfred Paine could this be because in the past she essentially ran unopposed, and so the voting public were content to accept the narrative that she is a good person doing a good job.  Now she is running in a hotly contested race, and is subject to a level of scrutiny that she has not in the past?

posted by: yim-a on October 19, 2013  5:57pm

“The rich are different from you and me.”

From “City: Urbanism and Its End”. Doug Rae

“In a later period, developer-architect Wendall Harp might use a web if political connections to seek work from the city school system or the housing authority.

Many of the results from this practice were odious, and a few doubtless used tax payer money with less than perfect efficiency. “

Yes, this is a New Haven Toni knows quie well.  One set of rules for her, her family and friends, and another for the rest of us.

posted by: Citizen X on October 19, 2013  6:55pm

Yes, Thomas Paine, the Elicker camp — with a huge assist from the NHI — has been working very hard to smear Toni Harp with accusations that are false. She doesn’t owe back taxes, but the lying Elicker campaigners say that every day on these messageboards.

Many months ago, I’d have thought that Elicker had a future in New Haven politics, but now I hope that he has disqualified himself with his shenanigans — from party jumping to flame throwing.

He and his group were already losers once in this cycle. I suspect they will be losers again in a few weeks… and forever more.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on October 19, 2013  8:36pm


The Harps have been in the real estate business for over 35 years. Yet they paid less than $3,000 in permit fees on their new home construction, whereas you or I, or anyone else not so politically connected would have had to pay $25-$30,000?!!!

You can call that an overlooked mistake. I call it gross, and not what I want for leadership. Toni Harp has not demonstrated personal financially responsibility and I worry about her being at the helm during the City’s current fiscal crisis,—particularly given her campaign which is steeped in political cronyism.

All that being said, I agree that Toni Harp is a very nice person. However I also believe that Toni herself had doubts about her being the best person for the job of mayor, as evidenced by her extreme reluctance to run in the first place.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on October 19, 2013  9:59pm

If all of the negative accusations about Toni Harp were “out there” in the past, why didn’t the Register and other media publicize them in her previous campaigns? If all the reports about back taxes, slum lordship, neighborhood terrorist, the certificate of occupancy for the Harp home happened years ago why wouldn’t a political opponent seize upon these issues to challenge her in a political race of the state senate position?
There a a number of facts about some of these controversies to which the general public are not privy. Senator Harp could have been more direct in addressing several of these issues. Several of the commenters have raised several valid and reasonable points about how Harp has run her campaign and how she has responded to her critics on some of the more controversial issues. The upcoming debate will give her one last chance to convince some of her detractors.
This debate is very critical for both candidates. In order to win Toni Harp will have to answer some of the unanswered, unresolved issues. MomNewHaven makes a strong point when she writes: “This nonchalant response is the most ethically dubious element of Harp’s persona and did not come from any of her challengers. It comes from her.”
I have often wondered if candidates and their campaigns follow public commentary in the Independent. They should. They would get a load of free advice and they would tap into the sentiment of a cross section of the New Haven public. If Toni wants to win she needs to listen to what these people are saying about her, directly and honestly and sincerely address their concerns and assert with strength and conviction as the next mayor her vision for the future of this city.

posted by: Lady Li on October 19, 2013  10:12pm

Matthew Harp for Mayor?

posted by: Razzie on October 20, 2013  8:15am

Justin Elicker won 23% of the city’s Democratic voters. After rebranding himself as an Independent, he hopes to use Republican and unaffiliated voters to override the overwhelming preference of Democratic voters for Sen Harp. Sen Harp has a distinguished 20-year record of service versus Alderman Elicker’s 3-year term. Hence, the Elicker campaign’s imperative that they carry on a non-stop campaign of disinformation and character assassination. Sad, but that’s just the way they have to roll if there is to be any chance of success.

Sore losers—- yes. Haters—- yes. They are willing to vilify anyone and anything that subverts their chances of victory, because the odds of success simply are not in their favor. They speak no more of Elicker’s 75 Steps Agenda. They only talk about dirt and personal attacks on the candidate and anyone who dares support or endorse her. We have seen these tactics before. And my bet is that the voters of New Haven have grown tired of this trash. Let’s get this vote over with, so we can get back to the business of moving New Haven Forward. I only he he Elicker supporters have not painted themselves into a corner from which they cannot recover. New haven will need their energy in the coming years.

posted by: Razzie on October 20, 2013  11:59am


I only hope the Elicker supporters have not painted themselves into a corner from which they cannot recover. New Haven will need their energy in the coming years.

posted by: robn on October 20, 2013  12:45pm


I’m sure that Boss Proto will direct Harp and the BOA to reserve a very special punishment for East Rock after the election; that being continued indifference.

posted by: citoyen on October 20, 2013  2:09pm

Razzie, c’mon—I am so tired of all this “sore loser” and “Haters” business.

Look, in any normal place in the U.S. there can be, and often/usually are, up to 3 contested elections in any given cycle: a primary for each of two main political parties, and then a general election between the winners of the two primaries.

But New Haven is different. It is not a normal election setting, and has not been for three generations. Elections in New Haven are distorted by there being only one viable political party, the Democratic Party. For the past sixty years, nomination by the Democrats has been tantamount to election, and during many of the election years over those decades there was not even much of a Democratic primary—just designation of a nominee by the Democratic Town Committee—which meant there was no real election *at all* in New Haven in those years. In each of the few years when there actually was a contested Democratic primary, there was 1 real election in New Haven, a far cry from 3, for that cycle.

Two years ago, there actually were *2* real, contested elections in New Haven—the Democratic primary, and the general election in November, when a candidate from the primary, now running as an independent, challenged the Democratic nominee. 45% of the voting electorate—of now the *entire* voting electorate, not just registered Democrats—expressed appreciation that November for having that second contest.

This year there will also be 2 real elections in New Haven. It still isn’t 3, but it’s an improvement over 1, or none.

What the people sneering “sore loser” are really arguing for, is a return to the 1 election days.

I’m sorry; happily, democracy in America tends to go forward, not backward.

And the Democratic Party in this city is not some sort of sacrosanct organization, which people have a sacred obligation to submit to without question or alternative.

posted by: citoyen on October 20, 2013  2:15pm

And as for the “Haters” stuff, Razzie, plus the “sore loser” stuff, and oh, yes, let’s not forget the “right-winger clone of Dick Cheney” nonsense—aren’t these kinds of thrusts quite different, qualitatively, from the criticisms by the opposite camp about unpaid taxes, housing property conditions (including, now, Toni’s own), and lack of knowledge (to cite one of my favorite examples, not even knowing the name of Yale’s v.p. for New Haven affairs) which are based on actual, identifiable information?

It is getting to be crunch time, passions get raised, more and more people are likely paying attention now to the election, and partisans, myself included, are apt to get carried away.  I do think it is likely to be much more effective in persuading, turning, influencing, undecided voters if we all try to keep the conversation rational, rather than fevered.  I don’t count myself perfect in this regard, and I can’t promise, but I’m going to try.  How about you?

Also, as for Justin’s 75 position papers (called “Solutions”) viewable at his website, they are not being overlooked by those of us supporting him; they are part of what I refer to above when I say he “has shown himself to be hugely knowledgeable about New Haven and its issues.” They go along with the breadth of study and thought he shows when he himself speaks.  Toni has position statements at her website also (called “Issues”), and voters can sample, read, and decide for themselves, in the quiet of their own time rather than amid the hyper discussions here in these columns, which set seems more substantive.

posted by: HhE on October 20, 2013  5:10pm

Let us deconstruct Razzie’s most recent argument.

P1.  Elicker won 23% of the Democratic primary vote.  True.
P2.  Running as an independent, he hopes to win with the support of independents and Republicans.  True, indeed, this has been his stated operational concept for several months.  Apparently, in Razzie’s world, this is objectionable. 

P3.  Sen. Harp has 20 years service/experience, Justin Elicker has three years.  True.  For some, this is a compelling argument in of itself, for others it is not. 

C.  Elicker et. al. must and do engage in character assignation and misinformation.  This conclusion does not nessicarly follow. 

Then Razzie calls Elicker’s supporters haters and sore losers.  Now this is consistent with her past and current methodology.  But how does one square this with seeking reconciliation with, “New haven will need their energy in the coming years.”?  I certainly understand her desire to “Let’s get this vote over with…” after all, Sen. Harp’s campaign has nowhere to go but down, and Team Elicker can only go up.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on October 21, 2013  7:37am

This has been an absolutely fascinating and fact driven discussion.  Were it not for the commentaries on this site, I doubt that I would read it at all. 

Despite their constant claims at journalistic objectivity, the NHI’s bias is obvious for any who can or care to look beyond the veneer. 

But, the commentariat here adds value and a greater sense of objectivity than do the professional journalist, even if merely admitting their biases is the best way that such is accomplished.

Thomas Paine’s questions and the corresponding responses reveal much about how informed all of us who have engaged these comments, either by participating or just reading, have become. 

And I agree with the accusations that the media has failed us over the years in its failure to provide more complete information on candidates running for office, contested or not.

(Standing behind me in the Supermarket…REALLY? LoL)

posted by: Dwightblock on October 21, 2013  10:40am

My first impression on this issue was to say that this issue should be a non-starter and not worthy of news coverage.  So they didn’t have the right seal of approval, that was Wendell Harp’s mistake.  Whatever.

However, the NH Register article has feedback from Senator Harp herself, which NHI does not have in this article.

“Toni Harp said her husband had an appraisal done on the property in 2007 and the appraiser “indicated she saw one. I don’t know where it is, but that’s what she indicated.” She said work on the house is finished to the best of her knowledge.”

That’s weak.  It’s just weak, and overly political.  A real leader, a real adult even, would own the problem, and vow to get to the bottom of it.  Especially someone seeking the public trust.  To disavow knowledge and wash your hands of something like this is not okay, and does not make her seem capable of being a responsible, proactive leader.

If you can’t literally get your own house in order, you shouldn’t be trying to run someone else’s.

posted by: PH on October 21, 2013  11:12am

Non-story.  How many people commenting on this article know the status of the certificate of occupancy in their house?  Or when it was last inspected?  There are plenty of questions to be asked of Toni Harp and her family, but this one just isn’t a relevant to a mayoral campaign or even a story about New Haven, unless it is to show how far behind the building department is on inspections.

posted by: HenryCT on October 21, 2013  3:00pm

“Under this state law, the city can’t boot the Harps from the premises. If someone has lived in a house for six years under a temporary certificate of occupancy, and the city hasn’t followed up in that time, then the occupancy is considered permanent, O’Neill said.”

Yes, a nonstory except to give the anti-union, anti-Harp commenters another venue. The Independent could investigate why the city is so lax. The Independent could investigate what Harp has contributed to CT and New Haven as a public official. Or find actions as an elected official that are worthy of criticism. 

Having been unable to come up with any substantive facts that Toni Harp has misused her position as state Senator, or has been incompetent, or has not significantly helped the city of New Haven during her tenure - the Independent provides a forum for speculation, unsubstantiated charges and union and Harp-bashing.

Contrasted to the many articles the Independent publishes that actually inform, those on Harp, the new Democratic leadership, and the reality of the union-community alliance are worthy only of being peddled at the supermarket cash registers.

posted by: webblog on October 21, 2013  3:08pm

For a building permit/C of O, one would have to follow the these procedures:

http://www.cityofnewhaven.com/Building/pdfs/Building permit app revised2004deptcopy.pdf

As you will note at the bottom of the application for official use only which ask the quetions:

This Section for Official Use Only
Flood Zone YES NO
Certificate of Occupancy YES NO
Threshold Review Required YES NO Certificate of Approval YES NO

As-Built Site Plan Required YES NO Special

Inspection Required YES NO

Asbestos Report YES NO

Design Occupant Load____________

Building Official Comments:

CO / CA Fee: $____________

Permit Fee: $____________
Penalty: $___________
Total Fees: $___________
Taxes Paid?

Procedure for Obtaining, a Certificate of OccuPancy:

So in 2003 if wendell Harp never filled the app. out completely, then it is the building dept. who dropped the ball and bears the major responsibility.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on October 21, 2013  6:28pm


Senator Harp and her husband stiff the City for over $20,000 in building fees and that’s not something people should know before they go to the polls?

But yes, I agree that the NHI should investigate if this was political favoritism at work.

Personally I expect much, much more from an elected representative if I’m ever to vote for him or her.