Tony Harp

Is Toni Harp in Trouble?

Though the heat of August is overwhelming, we must not forget that the primaries are creeping upon us. Yes, that’s right, we are approaching the time of municipal primaries, and they promise to be interesting.

Over 10 years ago, the state did move the statewide elections to August, but September is still reserved for town and city primaries. Some of them are in March, but that’s probably for confusion purposes only.

Three major Connecticut cities all have primaries, and they should all be fun to follow. It seems, however, that New Haven is the one that everybody will observe, and for a good reason. We are not implying that the other two will be any less exciting.

Toni Harp has been the leader of New Haven since 2014, and it has been a turbulent relationship with various ups and downs along the way. By the looks of it, she did a decent enough job and kept her popularity with the Democrats, sufficient not to be challenged in the primaries in 2015 and 2017. The mayor managed to defeat the independent candidates and the Working Family Party in both elections without too much fuss.

The year 2019 brings a different feel towards the City Government. A series of unfortunate incidents and some unpopular financial moves changed the way the public sees the current mayor, and she may have to fight hard to keep her post. An increase in taxes and a few tough budget cycles made the City Hall and the residents a bit disconnected. There was that terrible incident in which over a hundred people suffered from an overdose of K2 (hazardous synthetic marijuana product). It left New Haveners asking: What are we really doing?

Truth be told, not all of it is Harp’s fault. The tax increase was a direct consequence of the cuts to the state aid and absolutely inevitable. The incident with K2 was also out of her control, but she is the face and the leader of the City Hall, and her voters did turn to her for direction and an explanation. Unfortunately, she failed to provide either.

This year, she will have a second match in her career with Justin Elicker. The two have met in the 2013 election ring, and Elicker is up for a challenge once again. His program is getting a positive response from some Democrats because he is rooting for more inclusive and ethical leadership as well as more reasonable budget management. His main focus is accountability, which seems to be the biggest issue with the current Government.

So what suggests that his position is any better than in 2013? First of all, he is raising a lot more money. The Democracy Fund, which is the source of public funding for the campaigns, restricts his donors. They did disburse $10,000 more for this election, but Elicker should not receive donations from government contractors or big donors. Even with all the restrictions, the evidence suggests that he managed to raise an impressive sum. In this round, Harp will not receive any assistance from the Fund.

Some of the Harp’s bastions started to lean towards Elicker. Although he lost most of them in 2013, the challenger seems to be gaining support from many of those wards this year, even Harp’s home ward!? The info is pretty reliable as the Democratic Committee held a straw poll in each ward.

On the other hand, Harp’s campaign suffered a couple of missteps (misstep being an understatement). In June, we saw the City Hall raided by the agents of the FBI, and the current mayor’s campaign chair was right in the center of their investigation. The chair resigned but did not contribute to Harp’s public image at all.

There were also two very wrong decisions from her campaign manager. The first one was to try and connect the mentioned FBI investigation with her opponent’s spouse, who happens to work at a different division within the Bureau. The attempt to accuse the challenger of being the mastermind behind the alleged political hit proved to be an epic failure. Another unfortunate decision was to tie Elicker with Trump on a campaign flyer in May.

The series of misjudged calls left Toni Harp in an unfavorable position in 2019. This may be the first time that a challenger gets to have a serious go on an incumbent mayor. Still, Elicker has a long way to go in this race. With all the setbacks Harp’s campaign has suffered, Elicker is still the underdog. Holding the position proved to be an easier task than trying to take it, and Toni Harp has the support of organized labor.

Whatever the result may be, the primaries are just a soft opening. Elicker’s petition to the ballot was successful, and he will be the independent candidate on the general elections. That is when the real game will start.

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