Harp Goes On The (East Rock) Record

Markeshia Ricks PhotoWhen a reporter for the East Rock Record asked Mayor Toni Harp her thoughts on the anti-vaxxer movement, he got more than a policy answer — he learned about her own childhood, when she battled polio.

The question came from 13-year-old student reporter Dave Cruz (at left in photo). He was one of the nearly 30 student-journalists from the school newspaper armed with notebooks, pens and lots of questions who put Harp in the hot seat Thursday during a press conference in the school library.

Harp is a survivor of childhood polio who contracted the disease at 4. She told Dave that when she hears about the anti-vaccine movement she thinks about all the young people who don’t have polio today because they were vaccinated against the disease.

“I couldn’t walk,” she said. “It also afflicted my lungs. I think people ought to have better info and understand the public value of not having these diseases.” (Click here for a previous story about how she wasn’t expected to walk again and had to use an iron lung.)

Harp said her brother contracted a disease around the same time that left him with permanent intellectual impairment.

“Measles, mumps, and rubella are things you don’t have to have if you’re vaccinated,” she said. “There is no reason for us to go back to young people being sick.”

Dave, who has fielded the question to other candidates, said after the press conference that he didn’t know that the mayor had as a child contracted a disease that has long since been eradicated by vaccination. He said he thinks she could be a voice for encouraging parents to prevent their children from suffering because they weren’t vaccinated.

“I think it would help a lot to have a mayor who has gone through that,” he said.

During the nearly one-hour press conference, reporters quizzed Harp on a range of topics including how she manages the stress of being the city’s top executive, her run for reelection, her thoughts on climate change and the value of student testing. The reporters have already interviewed people who have filed papers to challenge Harp in this year’s election, Justin Elicker and Wendy Hamilton.

Isabel Faustino asked Harp if she considers Elicker a threat. The 11-year-old sixth grader pointed out that Elicker had run well against Harp in their previous matchup.

“I think everyone who runs is a potential threat,” Harp said. “I take every race seriously and he did do very well last time.”

Isabel (pictured above with Dave) said she was “looking for more depth” in Harp’s answer but thought she sufficiently answered the question.

Fifth-grade reporter Jayden Lis (pictured) made his question more personal: Can Harp help his neighborhood?

He lives on Henry Street, where, he said, there’s always a car parked on the sidewalk. He said people tend to think they’re allowed to park there but they’re not and it’s dangerous.

Harp promised Jayden that she’d have her staff check it out.

One hard-charging reporter was 9-year-old Jaden Martinez (pictured). The fourth-grade reporter asked which school is Harp’s favorite. Harp said she doesn’t have a favorite school. They are all important, she diplomatically responded.

Jaden asked whom Harp would pick to replace her as mayor. Harp pointed out that she is still very much hoping to be the next mayor.

The reporter said he was “a little disappointed” in the mayor’s answer.

“She didn’t really answer who she would pick and said she would pick later because she wants to be mayor.”

The East Rock Record Journalism Project is in its sixth year of putting out the news twice a year, with more than 3,500 copies of the paper going out to New Haven schools and the surrounding neighborhoods.

About 35 student journalists get out the paper with the help of Yale University mentors, staffers of the Yale Daily News, a handful of city high schoolers, and the general supervision of veteran journalist Laura Pappano. And Pappano said Thursday that the students came up with their own questions for the mayor and decided on what story ideas to tackle. And like journalists across the world, they’re on a deadline to get out the next edition.

The biggest thing the students learn? “How to ask questions,” Pappano said.

Click the play button below to check out the East Rock Record’s press conference in action.

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posted by: robn on March 7, 2019  7:12pm

Man tough crowd…can we get these cubs to moderate the mayoral debates? I’d enjoy that.

posted by: Patricia Kane on March 7, 2019  7:12pm

It’s incredible that the anti-vaxxers are all over the internet, so a big thank you to Mayor Harp for defending the value of vaccination.
  She many not have mentioned it, but others have told me of the many years she struggled with polio and the dire predictions as to her future impairment. Clearly she exceeded expectations.
  It must have been very hard to watch her brother’s impairment at the same time.

posted by: CityYankee on March 8, 2019  6:47am

No worries, ROBN:  our education system with beat all the fight out of these cubs by the time they finish high school.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on March 8, 2019  8:52am

AMDC, I’ve interacted with several of these students over the past four years as a volunteer at East Rock. They’re still as inquisitive as when I met them.

posted by: George Polk on March 8, 2019  11:08am

Pardon my skepticism and the headline but the anti-vaxxer question the description of Harp’s in-depth response seemed a bit planted. I did not know The Mayor suffered from polio but she obviously would have a personal story to tell rather than the obligatory and “diplomatic” responses to the rest of the questions.Good luck in the field of journalism you will need to be writer, photographer and editor and work on building Your Brand!

posted by: public defense on March 8, 2019  12:06pm

Great effort by these young journalist!  I hope they follow up with testing the veracity of this Mayors answers and compare to those of the other interviewees.

posted by: rbmurphy on March 10, 2019  11:09am

@AMDC, I hope that’s not the case! Our high school journalists do great work, and their tenacity and inquisitive spirits are to be admired. You can check out a few high school publications here:

Co-Op Voices: https://www.coopvoices.com/
Wilbur Cross Proclamation: http://schools.nhps.net/wcross/proclamation.html
HSC’s Justice Journal: https://bit.ly/2ENvB2v
Career Panther Press: https://careerpantherpress.weebly.com/

Nice work, East Rock Record students!