Harp Stands By Campaign Hire

Markeshia Ricks Photo In the face of criticism over the hiring of a woman who admitted to committing petitioning fraud, Mayor Toni Harp stood by her campaign team.

Harp did that Friday when asked about her reelection campaign team’s decision to pay Priscilla Knox to work for it.

Her campaign had obtained a sworn affidavit from Knox stating that she had people falsely sign the names of relatives on petitions to get Marcus Paca’s name on the ballot for the Sept. 12 Democratic mayoral primary. At least one such signer confirmed that indeed happened. Knox said Paca told her to do that; Paca denied it.

Knox told the Harp campaign — and, subsequently, the Independent — that she came forward with the story in order to punish Paca over a payment dispute. She also told the campaign, when she made her statement, that she was hoping the Harp campaign would subsequently hire her. The campaign did; the assistant campaign manager, Rick Melita, denied that the hiring was a “quid pro quo” for having made the statement. (Read a full story about the case here.)

The decision to hire Knox came under criticism from readers posting comments to a news story about the episode.

Harp told the Independent Friday that she had never met Knox before and, until reading an Independent story about the case, hadn’t known about her hiring.

“I guess it’s done now. She was hired,” Harp said of Knox. “I stand behind my team. I have to really discuss it with them. I’m over doing the other job [as mayor], so I don’t know everything they do. I stand behind their decision to hire her.

“I haven’t met her or had a chance to talk to her to hear her side of the story. Obviously Marcus [Paca] thought there was some value she could bring to her campaign. I guess my campaign manager thought there was value she could bring to our campaign. I trust their judgment.”

Paca told the Independent that he had hired Knox, who had worked for him alder campaigns, in an effort to help someone who was struggling. (Knox is unemployed, has battled with drug addiction, and has an extensive criminal record.)

“She told me she was in dire need of money. I help people when they ask for help if I can. She was the only person who got paid for signatures. Everyone else was volunteers. The only reason she got paid was because I’m compassionate,” Paca said. “I care about people I wanted to help her. It goes to show: You can’t help everybody.”

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posted by: 1644 on September 8, 2017  1:16pm

She stands by the team that hired convicted criminal who admits to crimes involving campaign fraud?  They should all be fired, including Harp.  Elicker, or Mickey Mouse, is looking pretty good right now.  What is the deadline for registering as a write-in candidate?

posted by: 1644 on September 8, 2017  1:22pm

I guess Elicker needs to consent, and register prior to October 24th.
http://www.sots.ct.gov/sots/lib/sots/electionservices/misc/write-in_applicatoin_november_7,_2017.pdf

posted by: Timothy G. ORourke Jr. on September 8, 2017  1:46pm

At the very least, Ms. Mayor, you have read the story in the Independent by now and you have seen the absolute vulgarity spewed by Ms. Knox and yet you stand by her? If these are the employees that you stand by one can only surmise that you fired Mr. Paca because he was virtuous.

posted by: Hill Resident on September 8, 2017  2:54pm

I’m not sure ... no, correct that, I am sure that I cannot support a Mayoral candidate that ‘stands by her team’ decision to hire a person who admitted to knowingly committing petitioning fraud to be a part of her team. I need a Mayor who will stand by what is good for New Haven and what is right! And the two are not contradictory. Shame on you Mayor Harp.

posted by: OhHum on September 8, 2017  3:18pm

The Mayor should run for Federal office it appears that she has the perfect qualifications. Perhaps she’s practicing for just that. Good luck Mayor. As for your hire, when will the charges be filed.

posted by: challenge on September 8, 2017  3:57pm

Yet again Harp “didn’t know” what’s going on in her camp and we trust her with City hall. Sigh.

posted by: Gary Stewart on September 8, 2017  4:09pm

Harp truly should be ashamed of the Hurricane Priscilla hire and many more , including ” Living in New Haven ” , who is one of her prime minions. She seems much like King George of the American Revolution, he with his Hessian mercenaries. Her mercenaries were much in evidence at the debate and some have been sent out to attack the validity of the Paca signatures . Marcus , on the other hand , has true volunteers who believe in what he stands for , with the Knox exception. remember the Revolution - the volunteers kicked mercenary—-!

posted by: robn on September 8, 2017  4:52pm

You can’t put a price on good comedy.

posted by: EPDP on September 8, 2017  5:04pm

During the debate Harp said that hiring Paca was the biggest mistake she made as Mayor.  Hiring Knox must be her biggest accomplishment.  I commend the Mayor for her bold executive decision in hiring this outstanding individual.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on September 8, 2017  5:42pm

The mayor did not stick by the hire but by her team’s decision.  It’s a subtle distinction but a distinction nonetheless.  It’d be as if your kid did something you disapproved of but you said you will continue to support your kid.  It’s what people say and do when their most likely peeved but don’t want to overtly throw you under the bus. 

Obviously, the decision to hire Ms. Knox is at the very least questionable on the part of Mr. Melita.  However, that does not change the veracity of Ms. Knox’s allegations or the serious nature of them.  It would be akin to saying a woman who was a sex worker could not seriously claim rape because she engaged in illicit work for pay.  Yet, we know that can occur.  Here, she makes two claims: (i) she was told to commit fraud and she acknowledges doing so; and (ii) she was not paid for committing fraud as she was promised.  That she is has stated that she committed fraud doesn’t mean she’s always lying and that she is being vindictive makes her no less credible than anyone scorned.  It is possible to seek revenge and tell the truth.

Getting back to the hire, she should likely be let go.  It is unclear what her campaign role or function is and at this point she has become a distraction.  With that said, if her job does not entail tasks where she has the ability to commit fraud (e.g., stuffing letters, or something similar) then maybe she doesn’t need to go.  It would be important before saying she needs to be fired to see what her roles and responsibilities are.

posted by: Noteworthy on September 8, 2017  8:10pm

It is complete BS that Mayor Harp didn’t know this entire scheme. You don’t hire a union thug, put him on the taxpayer payroll and then move him around and give him free reign in your campaign. That doe eye’d “I didn’t know” thing is nothing but a retread of what Harp has used for years to avoid any complicity in her husband’s dirty dealings and shirking responsibility for mortgages, taxes and business deals.

What is particularly and spectactularly duplicitous and hypocritical however, is Harp keeping a self admitted fraudster on her campaign payroll and doing a quid pro quo for her accusations- and defending it. But she attacked a law abiding, conflict free, honest and hardworking city employee in Nicole Jefferson - even accusing her of ethics and legal violations none of which passed the smell or legal test.

This whole story and the politics behind it are despicable.

posted by: Timothy G. ORourke Jr. on September 8, 2017  9:11pm

Atticus Shrugged,

Her role in the campaign is being paid for bringing down a political enemy. It does not matter if she may be telling the truth.  The bigger point is that the mayor is willing to use and defend the manner in which the take-down was accomplished. There is no honor or civility displayed there.  Only the expedient smearing of one who should be treated respectfully as a competitor and not as an enemy who is allowed to be figuratively raped just because he may have broken the law. The ends do not justify the means as Paca’s alleged behavior does not allow a mayor to permit, defend, and condone the motive and manner in which Ms. Knox attempted her alleged revenge. Besides, who hires one who admits to fraud when they are actually required to then enforce the law by having her arrested? In other words, how is the person even allowed to be working for any campaign until she is cleared of any wrongdoing? Mrs… Harp has had plenty of time to distance herself from her staff’s hiring of this woman.  Instead, she has chosen to stand by her.  Insane. Just as a disclaimer, I am not for Paca.  I am just entirely offended that my mayor has acted in this way.

posted by: challenge on September 9, 2017  1:05pm

I believe Harp didn’t know about the criminal behavior of the woman who her staff hired just like she likely is not aware that several members of the New Haven community requested a debate hosted by community members and her campaign flatly rejeccted it. It’s unfortunate that she is so clueless about those whom she surrounds herself.

posted by: duncanidaho645 on September 9, 2017  2:38pm

Mayor Harp proving she is the queen of the dirty deal.  Obviously putting this lady on the payroll was a decision with the potential to look so bad that it went all the way to the top for confirmation.

posted by: FacChec on September 9, 2017  5:00pm

Obviously, the Mayor would have us believe that she knew nothing of the Knox matter until she read about it in the independent, reasoning that, “because she was busy doing her other job”.
If she read about it in the independent why did she not immediately call Rick Melita and demand that Know be suspended with pay pending an investigation. Instead the Mayor provided the following, weaker than water response,

““I stand behind my team. I have to really discuss it with them. I’m over doing the other job [as mayor], so I don’t know everything they do. Just what other job could she be performing efficiency or effectively with a response like that?  “I stand behind their decision to hire her”. The suggestion here is that hires are made in Harp’s name but she doesn’t approve a campaign hire before or after the hire, In addition, Melita had her sitting in the first row right in front of Harp. How did she not know? See no evil, hear no evil?  The Mayor is responsible for upholding the laws of the New Haven charter and the laws of the state of Ct. SEEC. As of today she has failed her constitutional duty and should be recalled.

posted by: pacmen14 on September 9, 2017  10:53pm

I stand by this ex-prostitute, armed robber, convicted drug user, extortionist and confessed committer of fraud. I believe she is an outstanding talent and will make a great addition to my team. - Toni N. Harp, Mayor of New Haven

posted by: RatashaSmith on September 13, 2017  5:14pm

Heads will probably roll.