Rey Harp carried some campaign flyers from one side of Goodrich Street to the other—arguing that the two sides belong together.
On the north side of Goodrich Street begins the town of Hamden. On the other side, New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood.
Thanks to redistricting, both sides now fall in the same state General Assembly District, the 94th. Harp is running in a free-for-all April 24 special election for the 94th District seat, which opened up when its occupant, Gary Holder-Winfield, moved up to the position of state senator.
Stand at corner like Goodrich and Shelton Avenue, as Harp did on the campaign trail the other day, and on the surface you do see two different communities.
South of Goodrich, the houses are closer to together. They have apartments in them. More people are on the street. More activity.
North of Goodrich, where Harp’s standing in this picture, the lots grow bigger. The houses turn into one-families. You don’t necessarily see people walking by.
Unless they’re campaigning for state representative. Harp is one of four Democrats seeking the seat; all are listed as “petition” candidates on the ballot because the party failed to endorse anyone at a nominating convention. A fifth Democrat has registered as a write-in candidate. A Republican, Leonard B. Caplan, is on the ballot as well.
The 94th District used to fall just in New Haven. Now it is almost evenly split between New Haven and Hamden—just like the Newhallville/Newhall neighborhoods divided by Goodrich Street.
Harp has made Goodrich a defining image for his campaign.
“The world doesn’t begin or end at Goodrich Street,” read the beginning of the flyer Harp carried across Goodrich. “And neither should the 94th Legislative District.”
Examine those two sides of Goodrich more closely, he said while campaigning, and you might see one community, not two.
You see people traveling to and from work or stores across the invisible border.
You see some of the blight plaguing Newhallville streets bleeding into some Hamden blocks.
“The problem of gun violence,” Harp observed, “doesn’t stop at Goodrich. We had a Hamden kid that was killed in New Haven, right over the line. The kids go to school together.” They hang out together. The police departments on both sides of the border wrestle with gun and gang violence.
Yes, you might find more homeowners on the Hamden side of Goodrich, Harp said. They may be older. They may like a quieter, less busy neighborhood. But many of them used to live in New Haven. Some still work there. In fact, Rey Harp moved two years ago from New Haven to a house two blocks past the Goodrich town border.
Harp, who’s 64, is an attorney by training. He served as insurance commissioner for the state of Minnesota in the 1980s. He moved to New Haven in the 1990s to work with his late brother Wendell Harp’s Renaissance Management, where he continues to work today. He is the brother-in-law of New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, who has remained neutral in this race. He is a veteran of New Haven political races; he has not previously run for office himself.
If elected, Rey Harp vowed to represent the district as the single community he considers it. “You have to have one voice,” he said. For instance: He called for a transit study of Dixwell Avenue, the district’s “key corridor.” He spoke of how people regularly travel from the Magic Mile shopping plaza in Hamden down Dixwell Avenue through New Haven’s Newhallville and Dixwell to the old Community “Q” House into downtown. He’d like to explore needed changes in the design of travel lanes, the frequency of bus service, as well whether it would make sense to design bike lanes and/or to launch a trolley.
He said that, if Hamden is interested, he’d seek state money to expand New Haven’s street outreach worker program across the border. The program’s workers work intensely with young people at risk of getting shot.
Similarly, Harp called for broadening New Haven’s federally-supported anti-gang initiative, Project Longevity, to expand across the border.
Harp’s pitch resonated the other day with Billy Mewborn Jr.. He lives on Goodrich Street, technically in Hamden. He walks to work every day into New Haven, to Dixwell Avenue’s Willie C’s Barber Shop. Mewborn has cut hair there for 31 years, his father, for 40 years.
“I walk on the [town] line. I live on the line,” Mewborn said. “It’s all one community.”
While the two communities might be more connected on the ground, the political reality might turn out differently. At a recent Democratic Party nominating convention, for instance, all the Hamden delegates were united behind one candidate, Berita Rowe-Lewis. New Haveners have lined up behind New Haven candidates, Charles Ashe III and Robyn Porter. The two communities’ town committees did not meet with candidates from the other municipality.
“People want to call it a ‘Hamden seat.’ People want to call it a ‘New Haven seat.’ It is neither,” Harp insisted. His campaign is banking on voters seeing the matter the same way.
Previous coverage of this campaign:
• Map Discovery Throws Convention Into Disarray