Harp gives first State of the City address

toni harp

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH)– Mayor Toni Harp gave her first State of the City address Monday. She spoke about where New Haven is as a city and where she would like it to go.

She talked about plans to make the city safer with a class of some 40-50 new firefighters that will address the shortage of firemen and cut down on overtime.

She has plans to improve the city’s school system with early education programs and after school programs, and an aggressive new policy to address absenteeism in younger students.

She also talked about big plans to improve the transportation system.

“I will make it clear without more and better buses running, more appropriate routes, we cannot fulfill our promise of jobs and opportunity to the people of New Haven,” said Harp. “I will do whatever it takes to work with the neighbors around Tweed Airport to make it possible for us to support them and have planes fly to Florida, Washington, and Chicago.”

The Mayor also has plans to bring more jobs to New Haven. She says one example of that is the construction at 100 College Street.

Read the whole State of the City Address below:

Good evening, everybody. I’m delighted by this opportunity tonight to join you in New Haven’s aldermanic chambers. Thank you all for making me feel so welcome – you all know I served on this board and I do feel very comfortable here among you.

Likewise, you all know that until recently, I served in the state Senate for an extended period. As a result, I have high regard and profound respect for the relationship between legislative and executive branches of government. I’m grateful for this opportunity to join you – in my new role as part of the city’s executive branch – for tonight’s State of the City address.

With that as a backdrop, I have a few thoughts to share.

President Perez, other board leaders, members of the Board of Alders, members of New Haven’s legislative delegation, other distinguished New Haven residents, special guests, friends, and neighbors. Tomorrow will be my 35th day as mayor of our beloved city. But my concern for its well-being – and that of its residents – has been growing steadily now for some 35 years. In recent months I have been given a new opportunity to channel my energy, direct my thoughts, and share my ideas for our city.

I am blessed with this opportunity.

In my search for just the right word to describe the state of our city I kept coming back to one adjective I think sums up our particular circumstance and our unique place in time: New Haven is poised.

There are some who repeatedly suggest government should be run more like a business, but I have long held that a government operates as a service organization, working to provide – to the best of its ability – equal protection and equal opportunity for those in its jurisdiction.

As a service organization, New Haven’s government is poised – particularly under pressure. And we only have to look at its performance this past month, while harsh winter weather repeatedly threatened the smooth operation of the city and all who live, work, learn, and play here.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the city’s Acting Chief Administrative Officer, Jennifer Pugh, and Rick Fontana, the Deputy Director of Operations in the city’s Office of Emergency Management, and so many others, for their most-impressive response to severe conditions last month.

The comprehensive effort they coordinate, responding to no-heat calls, keeping streets and sidewalks clear of snow, spreading the word about warming shelters, cancellations, and closings, is a remarkably complex effort – they make it seamless and they make it look effortless.

After these first few weeks on the job I would also commend Police Chief Dean Esserman and his department, Fire Chief Michael Grant and his department, Yale University Police Chief Ronell Higgins and his department, and the city’s EMS personnel for helping with a request I made to proactively canvass the city at night and bring people inside from the bitter cold.

Their efforts demonstrate how New Haven is poised in its response to severe weather and compassionate in doing so: the success of these men and women underscore how all those who live in our town, with or without a conventional address, are worthy of shelter and warmth.

In a larger sense, our city’s Department of Police Service is also poised to deliver safer streets for New Haven residents and visitors alike. Chief Esserman’s commitment to community-based policing puts crime prevention on equal footing with law enforcement, and the personal relationships built as a result are bearing fruit. A few weeks ago, just days after a shooting incident at a local high school, an arrest was made because of a mutually respectful, mutually trusting relationship built among residents and police in New Haven neighborhoods. This is community-based policing at work.

In a similar vein, the NHPD remains engaged in Project Longevity to reduce violent crime – and with good reason. Crimes committed in terms of shots fired, non-fatal shootings, and homicides were down 46.6, 48.9, and 41.2 percent last year – respectively – compared with 2011. New Haven is poised to continue this promising trend with an ongoing commitment to these programs.

The New Haven Fire Department is poised to welcome new talent and new energy to its ranks. A new class of some 40 to 50 firefighters is in the works: within just a few months these new members will start to relieve some of the manpower  shortages – and overtime expenses – we face in that department.

Similarly, the city’s Public Works Department does yeoman’s work to maintain our streets and sidewalks, collect trash, and administer the city’s recycling efforts. In this area discussions are underway about a new generation of heavy equipment that will operate more cost-effectively, even as large-scale projects like improved seawalls, and smaller-scale projects like bio-swales for storm-water runoff, are on the drawing boards.

In each city department it is my goal to make services available in a more customer-friendly, effective manner. Similarly, in every department, the city is poised to deliver services more efficiently as a result of Results Based Accountability – a responsibility standard I promoted statewide while still in the legislature.

Within just a few months each department head will have conducted an inventory and prepared answers to the following questions: ‘how much did we do?’, ‘how well did we do it?’, and, ‘is anyone better off?’ The answers will be quantifiable, to address my strong support for this system. My mantra for city government is this: if we can’t measure it, we can’t manage it.

With regard to our city’s physical location at this unique moment in its history, I believe in 2014 New Haven is literally poised in the right place at the right time. For centuries this town has been a gateway to New England, the home of Yale University, in close orbit of New York. This year, these qualities mean so much more than ever before.

In today’s economic environment, our position as a small, manageable city is very attractive to young, energetic people who in growing numbers are rejecting large cities and long commutes to work. Businesses – particularly start-up businesses in emerging industries – know they need a reliable workforce and recognize the talent we have here in town.

New Haven is poised to capitalize on these concurrent trends: we are working to knit our city together and blend its unique qualities and traditions – adding housing units and making it an even more desirable place to call home. At the same time, we are working to bring more and new businesses – and good jobs for New Haven residents – into town.

New construction underway at 100 College Street is perhaps the best example of this. The new building there will bridge the Route 34 Connector that has done anything but connect our city now for decades. It will help fill that void and link our vibrant downtown with the bustling medical community, the Union Station area – about to be transformed through special arrangement with the state – and the Hill neighborhood and its residents.

The primary tenant in that building will be a New Haven-born pharmaceutical company that left town years ago. The project will bring Alexion home to New Haven from its current, suburban setting in Cheshire.

As an aside, a recent story in the Hartford Courant described how that city – taking a page from what we’re poised to do in New Haven – wants to build over the interstate ‘canyon’ that has been dividing neighborhoods there since the 1960s.

As for Union Station, we are already working with the state to build that long-dreamed-of second garage at the railroad station with funding to increase and improve our rail connections to Grand Central and Penn Stations. I will make it clear that without more and better buses of all types running more appropriate routes we cannot fulfill our promise of jobs and opportunity. Adequate transportation is an economic and civil rights issue – I will not let busses and those who ride them be left behind.

And our city is poised for economic growth elsewhere. Another approved project is set for Ninth Square; Science Park continues to blossom with restored buildings and a welcome sign for high-tech and other companies. Just over the horizon are plans for mixed use at the former site of the coliseum – with another opportunity to conquer the highway that severs the city – along with more parking and a revitalized Union Station neighborhood.

Smaller-scale economic development is in the works on a parallel track. Here’s one example: a company called Affordable Solar Works, LLC is a small, minority-owned business started almost five years ago in New Haven. Its founders were drawn by our city’s highly skilled workforce, proximity to first-rate colleges and universities, the state’s solar incentives, and a bounty of innovative ideas and city initiatives.

This company recently landed its first, large-scale commercial solar project right here in New Haven at the King/Robinson School and completed this solar installation primarily with men and women of color from New Haven, many trained through a homegrown non-profit job training center called the Construction Workforce Initiative. Workforce development organizations like CWI, are an indispensible component of a stable, local economic climate.

I recently attended the graduation of 47 CWI participants, one of whom is the second generation in her family to complete the program. A woman named Irmalee Roberts was trained as an iron worker in the program over six years ago. She has since been working on projects like 360 State Street, the Smilow Cancer Hospital, repairs on the Moses Wheeler Bridge in Milford and at several schools in New Haven.

At this recent graduation her daughter, Quanda James, launched her career as a trained pre-apprentice plumber. She’s also a certified forklift operator. I’m told mother and daughter tradeswomen now have their eyes set – and their tools ready – to work at the 100 College Street construction site we were just talking about.

To expand on this type of training and to create more of this type of opportunity, I have asked our economic development staff to create a business development system as powerful for neighborhood and local entrepreneurs as the one Yale and others have created for multi-national, high tech enterprises. We will not only create and train many new business people – black and brown, women and men – we will give them the skills to success and thrive for generations. With that, we will be poised to attract and grow the strongest new group of urban entrepreneurs in the country.

Rest assured we’re working to deliver economic improvement to the city’s outlying areas, too – we’re poised to put energy and resources into their vibrant future, as well. I see neighborhoods that are not just wonderful, welcoming, historic and homey places for our residents, but avenues of commerce and strong, unique destinations that will resonate as strongly as Wooster Street has resonated regionally for generations.

I see millions of new dollars spent and invested in Grand Avenue and Whalley Avenue, Howard and Dixwell. I see former residents coming back to New Haven and families from Orange and Branford stopping in to enjoy wonderful and special destinations. Our neighborhoods should be much more than our secrets – they should be powerful magnets and destinations for the entire region.

New Haven is a designated Main Street community, which is to say we’re bringing statewide resources to bear throughout the city. Undeniable results are already on display along Whalley Avenue and in Westville, where traffic calming measures, reinvestment in charming, historic properties, and a re-emphasis on pedestrian traffic are paying dividends. For other ‘Main Streets’ in our town the city’s Transportation, Traffic, and Parking department has an array of temporary measures ready to deploy until funding is in place for more permanent improvements.

Huge flower pots can serve the same purpose as curb bump-outs, for instance, and other speed deterrents will create a slower pace to improve public safety, and to provide a more business-friendly atmosphere in these commercial districts. The city, I might add, is poised for new leadership at TTP. As of today, we’re all looking forward to the tenure of now-former Alder Doug Hausladen. The Board of Alders’ loss is New Haven’s gain. And with that the entire city can look forward to a cityscape that will allow and encourage shared use of all of its transportation assets. We are poised to bring real bike lanes – safe and separate – to as many major streets as possible and build safe street crossings and intersections to protect pedestrians as well.

Beyond downtown New Haven, and beyond New Haven neighborhoods, let me describe my vision of New Haven’s place in the world. As I mentioned, our city is poised as the great small city between Manhattan and Boston. We must improve the ability people have to get here and go elsewhere.  I will do whatever it takes to work with the neighbors around Tweed Airport to make it possible for us to support them and have planes fly to Florida and Washington and Chicago – not next century but in two years.

I want young people and investors in China and Chicago, in Bangalore and in Boston and throughout the world to think of us when they think of their own future and their relationship with places in New England and throughout North America.

Closer to home, my administration is poised to deliver for New Haven residents new, important programming to provide both opportunity and responsibility.

In our public schools our city has every right to be proud about progress made to eliminate the achievement gap, cut the dropout rate, and preparing every student for success in college, career, and life. And while there has been progress toward these goals, there is much further to go.

The City is working hard to provide early childhood options and build early grade curriculum. We are intent on providing more openings for preschool enrollment, consistent with the governor’s efforts toward universal pre-K.

Another city-endorsed program directed at young people is in partnership with New Haven Public Schools, the state’s Probate Court system, and the state Department of Children and Families. It is meant to provide opportunity – and give responsibility – to young people at risk, those who are chronically absent from school and missing out on that chance to learn.

To the extent our community accepts, excuses, and condones chronic absenteeism and truancy it is complicit in the behavior. Once a child becomes accustomed to the idea that he or she will not be held accountable, the child loses accountability.

Our proactive, stay-in-school initiative uses a graduated series of family caregiver notifications, home visits, and referrals as necessary, working with families to help resolve problems that may be preventing their children from going to school. Each day of school a child misses is a wasted opportunity for that child to learn, to grow, and to discover more about his or her talents and potential. Our city is poised and ready to step in and help these children succeed.

For older students, New Haven Promise is opening doors and helping more students graduate in four years than ever before. Our 4-year graduation rate is 70% – up 8 points from five years ago but that still means too many students are dropping out.  Only 3 in 10 of our high school freshman are in college 6 years later.  We can and must do better.

I know the issues of education aren’t simple or easy, and will take years of continued work. I am committed to work hard on education, to support it as a priority.  And we need to take our next steps in education now. I’ve asked the city’s new Superintendent to absorb my priorities, and help translate them into action by working with City Hall.  And he has agreed to do that – agreed enthusiastically, as he shares these priorities. I look forward to working with the superintendent, my fellow Board members, and the wider community to ensure that every New Haven Student receives a top quality education.  No other urban area has done this successfully – and I believe we can here in New Haven if we work together.

In the city’s Youth Services department, we have also made early strides toward setting up an after-school Public Safety Academy to foster a sense of volunteerism among young people that we hope might also direct some of them toward a career in public service. The academy would include civil service exam preparation, lessons about how to be involved with the city’s emergency preparedness and response operations, serious classes in first aid training and fire safety techniques, and even certification in some of these areas.

The list of benefits for the city includes productive, after-school activities for disengaged youth, a core group of volunteers to help out in emergencies, and hands-on experience for those who will comprise tomorrow’s workforce in crime prevention, law enforcement, fire safety, and emergency medical services. Benefits for young people include a place to go after school with an opportunity to learn vitally important public safety skills and a head start on plans for after high school and life as an adult.

Other examples of how and where we intend to engage young people and address their needs include development and piloting a ‘six-to-six’ school – open 12 hours, just as the name suggests – to accurately reflect both the childcare needs of working parents and the opportunities for socialization all children need. In a similar vein, we continue working to reopen and revitalize the Q House so there are options in the Dixwell Avenue neighborhood for young people with time on their hands.

We are also working to expand our full-year Youth Employment and summer Youth Employment programs. This approach – combining new and established programs – is poised to yield positive outcomes for our city and even more importantly, hope for our children, that they can participate in a positive way in the New Haven of tomorrow.

At the other end of the spectrum, New Haven is poised to address the needs of its booming population of elderly residents. As you all know, I’ve asked another member of your board, Migdalia Castro, to focus her energy and assume responsibility for the city’s Department of Elderly Services, committed to helping senior citizens stay active in our community and maintain their independence.

Older adults have earned the city’s full measure of attention: they are entitled to the time it takes to care for them and the dignity each of us would bestow upon our parents and grandparents.

To that end, I want to expand the number of senior centers in our city from three to five, with a corresponding increase in programming and activities, and the transportation necessary to connect seniors with them. One of our plans would engage students from Southern Connecticut State University in a work / study program to supplement staff and assist these older city residents.

Another plan is to expand computer access and training for senior citizens so they are better able to stay connected with family members and other loved ones. All it takes is one chance to see a senior’s eyes light up at a picture of a granddaughter or grandson on a computer monitor to know the value of this initiative. New Haven is poised to try and make this happen for more of its older adults.

In a similar vein, we are working to ensure cultural sensitivity throughout all city departments and ready access to all city services with regard to the vibrant, growing number of Latino-Americans in our city. As an example, this month was the first time the Elderly Services newsletter was published in both English and Spanish. In thirteen years since the turn of the century, New Haven’s Latino population has grown by more than one-third. We are poised to embrace the presence of our new neighbors, welcome their contributions, and address their needs and concerns.

Tonight I have shared with you just a few examples of how New Haven is moving forward and of how we are poised to continue moving our city forward. I know we are the financial, economic, educational, and cultural hub of this region, with businesses and schools and museums and restaurants and music venues to attract people from all corners of Connecticut and beyond.

I know we have a world-class arts and ideas festival; I want all of this to work together, I want to synthesize all this excellence so New Haven becomes a shining beacon of the best anyplace has to offer. We will be known not for one event or a few great destinations – but for the amazing confluence of greatness that is our city’s promise to people who live, visit, and move here.

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