In First Year, Harp Reverts To “We”

Paul Bass PhotoA photograph of a woman hangs in New Haven’s mayor office—a photo of Margaret Holloway (a.k.a. the Shakespeare Lady), not of the woman who serves as mayor.

Other photos of New Haven adorn the public waiting area. None of them pictures the mayor.

Toni Harp hadn’t noticed that. She hadn’t thought of it.

Therein lies a defining feature of Harp’s first year in office as New Haven’s first female mayor: She hasn’t used the first-person singular much, neither in conversation nor in the way she has governed.

Reflecting on her first year in office, Harp said in an interview Monday that she has been pleased with the city’s progress, especially with the drop in violent crime and new efforts to keep endangered teens safe and in school. (A month-by-month timeline of her first-year highlights and low-lights appears below.)

New Haven has had 13 homicides this year, compared with 20 in 2013. It had 58 non-fatal shootings as of Dec. 21, 2014, compared with 64 up to that date in 2013 and 84 in 2012. There were 171 reported shots fired, compared with 223 in 2013.

During Harp’s first 100 days in office, two murders of teens shook her and the community. A slew of Harp administration initiatives followed: recreation and educational programs for teens; summer overtime for walking beats; a “restorative justice” disciplinary approach in the schools; vocational training for kids not destined for college; community canvasses of families with kids at risk of getting shot; and a weekly Youth Stat gathering bringing together educators, cops, parole and truancy officers, and mental-health and street outreach workers to share information and plan how to help students who act out.

Lots of energy went into getting projects started in 2014. In 2015 the jury will begin rendering a verdict on the long-term results, beyond the 2014 decline in violence.

“We tried to do everything as a community, together,” Harp said. “That’s what it takes.”

Stat

Lucy Gellman PhotoHarp was used to saying “we” in her 20 years as a state senator, a job entailing compromise with multiple actors to produce results. When she ran for mayor in 2013—a quest that entailed selling voters on her record and personal attributes—she found it difficult to shift to “I.” (Read about that here.) A voter unfamiliar with her work at the Capitol could have watched campaign debates about fiscal experience without learning that, for instance, Harp was responsible for shaping a $40 billion biannual state budget as the legislature’s Appropriations Committee co-chair. That budget includes half the money sent to New Haven each year. A voter also might not know that she had already authored and passed legislation on food, crime, housing, and homeless policies discussed often in the campaign.

After her election—the first transfer of power in City Hall in 20 years—the question was how she would make the transition from legislator, a “we” job, to executive, traditionally an “I” job. From crafting laws to running a government.

Paul Bass PhotoHarp has settled into a routine of 12- to 14-hour days, or about 60 to 70 hours a week, seven days a week. “I probably make about $8 an hour,” she joked. She has rarely if ever criticized anyone in public or picked fights. Neither she nor John DeStefano, her predecessor, have taken shots at each other.

She said she has adjusted to the twin demands of the job, that is, the functional managing of staff, setting goals, and making government decisions, and the more ceremonial tasks of racing around town to store openings, neighborhood meetings, and school assemblies. She lights up at those public events without calling attention to herself in her remarks. Meanwhile, she has dived into the nitty-gritty of policy, scrutinizing budget line items, participating in Board of Ed meetings, and haggling with the developers of the Route 34 West project over architectural details of buildings.

Like any mayor, she also has had to manage sudden crises. She stayed up through the night at Yale-New Haven Hospital directing the city’s response to news of a possible Ebola case. Her appointees learned the hard way how best to dig the city out of snowstorms. Harp negotiated responses to controversies at the fire and police departments.

In the process, Harp has reverted to the first-person plural. Tapping decades worth of contacts with agencies and activists throughout New Haven, armed with a knack for listening to people, she turned “we” to her advantage.

Stat

Melissa Bailey PhotoThat is especially true when it comes to her administration’s top priority: keeping the community and especially young people safe.

She ordered her staff to work through a weekend in April after back-to-back funerals of teens killed by gunfire.

Quietly a series of initiatives rolled out.

Harp had heard from educators that they could have predicted that the shooter or victim was heading for tragedy. She’d heard superintendents of schools tell her that since the 1990s. That gave her an idea: Identify the young people most at risk of ending up shot or shooting someone. Then throw all the community’s resources at helping them.

Harp’s staff first identified 250 teens in that category. The number grew to 400. Soon her administration had teachers, probation officers, cops, and others fanned out in community canvasses to speak with each of those teens’ families and find out what help they needed. In two cases, the families said they needed to move out of town for safety. Harp’s administration worked with the housing authority to find public-housing apartments in other cities for them.

The other families remained in town, and the city got to work. Harp had observed the way Police Chief Dean Esserman brought dozens of community members and officials from other agencies each week to data-sharing and problem-solving Compstat meetings. Why not, she wondered, do that with kids in trouble?

Thus was born Youth Stat.

“I didn’t come up with Youth Stat,” Harp insisted. “The chief did,” by refining Compstat. She happened to notice.

To make Youth Stat happen, the city needed the heads of state agencies to agree to allow staffers to share information about teens on parole or receiving medical help. Harp said the Board of Ed’s Sue Weisselberg and her colleagues did that, by devising release-of-information forms that parents of 323 troubled teens signed. The Board of Ed’s Gemma Joseph Lumpkin and City Hall’s Jason Bartlett put the program together. Then the heads of the state’s social services, children and families, and mental health agencies all signed off on the info-sharing.

Who made the calls to those commissioners?

“We did,” Harp responded. “We” had relationships with the commissioners.

We?

She acknowledged then that she worked with the commissioners as a state legislator—approving their budgets, for instance—and picked up the phone to make those calls.

Centered for now at Hillhouse and Dixwell New Light high schools, the meetings have led to many teens staying in school rather than being expelled, but making amends with students they’ve hit, helping teachers after class, or performing community service.

 

That’s part of a broader policy of “restorative justice” Harp’s administration is advancing. It aims to have teens work through problems at school rather than be suspended at home, or spend time in jail. To straighten out, Harp said, “you have to feel like you’re giving back.” The teens have to feel like they are able to contribute something. “Often we do things to discipline young people without getting to the root of the matter,” she added.

Meanwhile, teachers have been trained in many city schools to spot when kids start misbehaving and then send them to an on-site social worker or mental-health professional for a 15- to 20-minute chat and assessment. Harp credited the Clifford Beers Clinic for taking the lead on the project along with a post-Newtown “trauma coalition” that formed in town. She didn’t mention that she oversaw the post-Newtown hearings as co-chair of the Mental Health Working Group of the state legislature’s Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety, which helped produce that plan and the money to fund it.

As for a trial restorative justice program now beginning in city schools, Harp credited the Board of Ed and teachers union President David Cicarella for doing that. The teachers union, she noted, got the money.

She credited the state labor commissioner, Sharon Palmer, for inviting New Haven to try out a program called JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates), which starts non-college-bound high-school students in after-school jobs on good career paths. Palmer found matching money so New Haven could qualify without dipping into municipal coffers. Meanwhile, the youth services chief is referring students identified in Youth Stat to a new tech-ed program.

Harp also didn’t issue a press release after her staff snagged a competitive $1 million federal grant to help make Newhallville safer.

Harp credited the leaders of the Board of Alders for helping to craft and signing on to spend $500,000 this summer for overtime walking beats to prevent outbreaks of violence in hot spots. It worked. She credited the Edible Arrangements company for coming through with cash for summer-job programs, and her staff for producing a summer’s worth of activities for kids.

She spoke at length about a program run by a Yale debate coach named David Vincent Kimel, who had previously taught Korean children English through debate clubs. Harp first heard about Kimel’s program when he served as her coach for a 2013 campaign debate. She followed up with him after the election. Kimel helped Yale’s Urban Debate League expand its work this summer with disengaged New Haven kids. It was a hit; now the league is forming clubs at alternative public schools.

People with ideas have found City Hall a welcoming place in Harp’s first year. There is the Italian big-data-mining couple who worked on New Haven “human ecosystem” maps. There are ambitious young appointees like City Engineer Giovanni Zinn, Controller Daryl Jones, and transit chief Doug Hausladen, who have been encouraged to team up on long-range plans for results-based management, a modernized fire department, greener buildings, bike lanes, and “calmer” streets.

“I listen to people,” Harp said when pushed to describe her performance in the first-person singular. “I know really good people. I know people who know how to do the work and have great ideas. Collaboration always works, especially in a town the size of New Haven. I try to give people who are smart and committed an opportunity to lead.”

Harp may find herself being coached to use more of those “I” statements once the budget season ends in mid-2015: All signs point to her running for a second two-year term. (She has previously said that she would like to serve two or three terms in office.)

In the meantime, the following is a look back at Harp’s 2014.

A Year Of Transition

January

• At Career High School, Toni Harp is sworn in as New Haven’s 50th mayor—the first female to hold the job and the city’s first new mayor in two decades.

• One of the unions that supported Harp’s election challenges the method by which she appointed a political supporter, Jackie James, to a City Hall post. Harp agrees with the criticism and to a different process.

• The police chief assigns an officer to drive Harp for her security, a decision that provokes public criticism.

• Harp revives a stalled plan to accept money to plan construction of a trolley/streetcar system, calling better public transportation a “civil rights issue.” The idea eventually wins approval.

• Harp announces she will reappoint Erik Johnson as executive director of her neighborhoods anti-blight agency, the Liveable City Initiative.

• Harp takes a seat on a local charter school board, along with her seat on the Board of Education, and begins playing an active role at meetings.

• Harp discloses she might not reappoint Garth Harries as schools superintendent, then reverses course hours later after an emergency meeting requiring that a projected $4 million deficit be wiped out. It is.

February

• The administration stumbles in responding to heavy snowstorms, in part because of confusion over whether or how to enforce no-parking rules needed to clear streets. Harp orders her team to come up with solutions while visiting Department of Public Works headquarters to thank plow drivers for their hard work during the emergency.

• Harp fires her prison reentry chief after he is refused entrance to prison to work with prisoners because of outstanding criminal charges.

• Harp proposes a 3.8 percent tax hike and promises to avoid budget gimmicks like reliance on one-time revenues.

• Harp lures a municipal official from D.C. named Michael Carter to serve as her chief administrative officer; convinces a health policy expert named Martha Okafor to move here from Georgia to become head of social services; and taps a retired firefighter, Allyn Wright, as the new NHFD chief.

• In the wake of protests by black cops over alleged racial discrimination in the police department, Harp orders cultural sensitivity training.

• At a City Hall party for cyclists to promote the annual Rock-To-Rock ride, Harp promises to support bringing protected lanes known as “cycletracks” to town. Her transit chief, Doug Hausladen, follows up with plans for several, the first on Edgewood Avenue.

• Harp joins top officials at a two-and-a-half-hour Sunday community meeting at Career High to hear out and respond to members of the public critical of her decision to proceed with selling 5.37 acres along Route 34 to developer Robert Landino to construct new offices, a hotel, a garage, and stores.

April

• In the wake of two murders of young people, Harp orders officials to pull together an emergency plan for stopping the violence. As part of the resulting plan, hundreds of city workers, teachers, cops, probation officers, and others fan out into neighborhoods for canvasses to reach families with kids at risk of getting shot.

• Inspired by the police Compstat weekly data-sharing sessions, Harp creates a weekly Youth Stat meeting for city, Board of Ed, parole, and state officials to share information about kids in trouble and to strategize about how to work together to help them. She convinces state agency heads to relax rules to permit the information-sharing. The meetings eventually get established at Hillhouse High School for an initial focus there.

May

Paul Bass Photo• Harp discovers that New Haven has the authority to remove a fence that has blocked the West Rock public-housing developments from Hamden—and announces that the fence will come down. The first section of the wall comes down May 12, as Harp gives a speech about the moment’s broader significance.

• Harp invites urban retail consultants to town to help start planning a campaign to revive the city’s neighborhood commercial districts.

• Harp recites “Parting is such sweet sorrow” from the City Hall balcony for a video to help promote a local “I Am Shakespeare” event.

Harp’s LCI dismantles a tent city erected on a city-owned lot in the Hill. Meanwhile, Harp announces that a community-wide campaign to end chronic homelessness has found homes for 86 people.

• The Orchard Street Shul honors Harp at its 100th anniversary celebration for getting them state money to rebuild and reopen.

• A $508 million budget, Harp’s first, passes into law for the fiscal year starting July 1. The proposed tax hike has been shaved from 3.8 to 1.8 percent, in part by flat-funding education and thanks to an unexpected $2 million in estimated building permit fees. (That ends up being a conservative estimate, thanks to a surprise $7.5 million payout by Yale for its new residential colleges.) The budget includes money for a new grant-writing and policy position at City Hall.

• Harp receives a national award in New Orleans for creating a first-in-the-country medical respite program for the homeless.

June

Thomas MacMillan Photo• LCI Director Erik Johnson takes a job in Hartford without telling the mayor. Harp asks him to reconsider.

• Johnson agrees to stay at LCI after Harp promises him a $22,000 raise and an expanded portfolio.

• Harp and alders agree to a boost in summer police-patrol overtime to curb youth violence. A relatively quiet summer ensues.

Thomas MacMillan Photo• Harp’s administration snags a $9.7 million grant—one of 12 given nationwide—for physical and mental-health “wraparound services” for children and families.

July

• After the governor turns down a federal request to house 2,000 out of 57,000 child refugees held after crossing the U.S. border, Harp organizes Connecticut mayors to offer an alternative plan.

• Harp announces a test site for a campaign pledge to keep schools open from early in the morning until after dinner for kids of parents who are busy working. Beginning in the fall, Lincoln-Bassett School in Newhallville will stay open from 7:20 a.m. to 6 p.m., with after-school enrichment programs run by the Connecticut Center for Arts & Technology, thanks to some financial help from the state.

August

• Harp lets go of public works chief Douglas Arndt, saying she wants to take the department in a new direction, including doing more work in-house rather than contracting out.

• Harp joins an announcement that a community campaign has found homes for 102 chronically homeless people in 100 days.

September

Paul Bass Photo• Harp promises Westville help in rebuilding the corner of Central and Whalley avenues in the wake of the Aug. 25 fire that destroyed Delaney’s Restaurant and Tap Room.

• Meanwhile, her administration reacts to a bevy of controversies at the fire department—including allegations of racial discrimination and of a dangerous call that could have cost firefighters’ lives in the Delaney fire—by moving to fire Assistant Chief Pat Egan.

• When a possible Ebola case is reported (it later turns out to be negative), Harp spends all night at Yale-New Haven Hospital directing the city’s emergency response.

• Harp helps cut the ribbon on a firefighter’s new home on Putnam Street, marking the completion of an LCI effort to rebuild a rundown stretch of the Hill.

• Harp taps an up-and-coming official, Giovanni Zinn, as the new city engineer, with a mission to promote “green” ideas.

Paul Bass Photo• Summer ends with statistics pointing to early successes in curbing youth violence.

• The administration convenes a community meeting in Dixwell to unveil architectural plans for a new Q House, a top promise from the mayoral campaign.

October

• Harp invites other Connecticut cities to join a New Haven-led effort to build a high-speed fiber-optic network that transfers data at up to 1,000 megabits per second.

• The mayor goes shoe-shopping to kick off a fall tour of neighborhood businesses to urge people to head there instead of suburban malls for the holiday season.

• Harp’s administration snags a competitive $1 million federal “Byrne” grant to devise a plan to make Newhallville safer.

• Fiscal corner turned? Harp announces her administration has wiped out an $4.7 million negative general-fund balance from the year before and ended fiscal year 2014 with a surplus.

• Harp taps her grant-writing office and uses the bully pulpit to pursue an initiative to curb childhood obesity and urge domestic-violence victims to call for help.

• The administration breaks ground on a long-delayed $11.6 million redo of Bowen Field.

• Erik Johnson takes a new job again—this time for real—leaving LCI and his raise to work for a development company in California.

• The governor, facing a tough reelection fight in which New Haven voters prove crucial, delivers $21.5 million to the mayor’s administration to redo roads around the former Coliseum site and pave the way for a $500 million new development.

November

• A civic leaders’ “perception task force” directs Harp’s public information office to spin positive stories about the city.

• The Harp administration works with community leaders to put together an application for a federal “Promise Zone” application.

• After weeks of planning, Harp tries to get in front of the ongoing NHFD mess and unveils recommendations from a working group to rescue the troubled fire department.

December

• Harp taps Serena Neal-Sanjurjo, who grew up in the Florence Virtue Homes co-ops and held community development posts in New Haven, Baltimore, and New Orleans, as the new chief of LCI.

• Harp administration scores a $4 million federal grant to prove that providing integrated physical and mental health services improves outcomes for the city’s youngest children, particularly those who live in the Dwight neighborhood.

• In the wake of the Ferguson controversy, Harp addresses an NAACP peace rally and visits Compstat to praise cops’ handling of local protests.

Paul Bass Photo• Harp helps break ground on an $11 million new Continuum of Care headquarters launching the Route 34 West development; and on a State Street Lofts project bringing 232 apartments and 4,000 square feet of retail to the old Star Supply factory, a new iteration of a plan that had previously stalled amid neighborhood opposition.

• In wake of revelations about an abusive encounter at the Yale Bowl, Harp issues a written reprimand and warning to Police Chief Dean Esserman, while asserting her overall confidence in him.

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Comments

posted by: Keldo on December 31, 2014  10:35am

I’m no journalist but this strikes me as a sycophantic. Looks like Harp has an exhaustive (and exaggerated) list of her “accomplishments” for the re-election campaign.

Hard hitting stuff, Mr. Bass.

posted by: TheMadcap on December 31, 2014  10:50am

Seems pretty objective to me, unless listing stuff that in fact happened is now sycophantic.

posted by: connecticutcontrarian on December 31, 2014  11:21am

Thanks for this article.  I was unaware of many of these achievements. We’ll done Mayor Harp

posted by: yim-a on December 31, 2014  11:27am

A peculiar read, in praise of Harp, but with little real analysis or critical commentary.  There must be more going on in City Hall.  Seems to me that internet journalism demands so much content at such high speeds that the in depth pieces on city hall that Paul Bass wrote in the golden days of the New Haven Advocate are simply not possible.

posted by: HewNaven on December 31, 2014  3:34pm

It’s hard to believe that with such a divided electorate at this time last year, Harp and the new administration were able to accomplish so much in the past 12 months. I hope the progress continues. She’s a good leader.

posted by: Ex-NHPD on December 31, 2014  3:40pm

When you read those end of year lists about notables who passed away in 2014, you can now add to them the New Haven INDEPENDENT, December 30, 2014.

The Manner of Death was Journalistic Suicide; the Cause of Death was Overdose by City Hall Talking Points.

To call this article a result of an INTERVIEW is quite shocking.  It reads more like a City Hall Press Release or the Transcript of a Mayoral Monologue.

To the Staff of the “NHI” and fellow readers, my Condolences on the loss.  When is the wake?

posted by: Bradley on December 31, 2014  5:04pm

Sycophantic is perhaps a bit harsh, but the article does read as though it was written by the mayor’s press guy (a friend of mine).

posted by: Stephen Harris on January 1, 2015  10:53am

And yet the City Plan Department is being held together with duct tape and bailing wire. A modern, progressive city, as New Haven likes to call itself, cannot properly function or plan for the future without a fully staffed   City Plan department.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 1, 2015  11:43am

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give them power over you, you almost never get it back.”
― Carl Sagan