Black women share pride in Harp’s election as New Haven mayor

14 Nov 2013 10:30 PM | Anonymous
By Shahid Abdul-Karim, New Haven Register

NEW HAVEN >> Vera Esdaile, Nicole Murphy and Doris Dumas said they believe mayor-elect Toni Harp’s victory was a momentous one for woman in the city.

And they are proud that she is black.

“I believe for all women it was awesome to have elected the first female mayor of this city and she is African American,” said Vera Esdaile, 48, a state social worker.

“I felt proud in that moment and proud to be a part of her historic campaign,” she said.

Harp, 66, a state senator, beat Alderman Justin Elicker, 38, last Tuesday in a tough race to fill the seat Mayor John DeStefano Jr. held for 20 years.

Harp won 54.6 percent of the vote to Elicker’s 45.3 percent.

“I felt a sense of pride and I said to her that night while hugging her, ‘you make us all proud,’” said Doris Dumas, 49, a New Haven native and James Hillhouse High School graduate.

“It’s a shame in this day and age we’re still having to see ‘the first of,’ the glass ceiling has been broken and it’s time to get to work.” Dumas said.

Harp is the city’s 50th mayor and is among 138 black women leading city’s in the country, according to Vanessa Williams, CEO/executive director of the National Conference of Black Mayors.

“I’m excited to see someone who looks like me in this leadership role, but more importantly, it’s about the future and how it’s the beginning of a new era for New Haven,” said Nicole Murphy, 37, also a New Haven native.

“This is an opportunity for all of us to rally together and be supportive of her vision to make this city great,” said Murphy, president of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Theta Epsilon Omega chapter.

The image of black women

In some well-known instances in the entertainment industry, black women have been stereotyped, and according to a recent feature in Essence Magazine about a study of black women being portrayed in the media found many negative results, including black women labeled as baby mamas, black Barbie, gold-digger, unhealthy and fat.

But all three women said Harp’s election will help change the image of black women and bring some dignity to the community.

“I think she has a vested interest in black New Haven, she’s not removed from the needs of the community,” said Murphy, also Hillhouse High School graduate. “The image will change, but we have to have patience. I feel like her leadership is sincere and we (blacks) don’t hesitate to reach out to her, because whenever she see’s an opportunity to better the New Haven community she does it.”

Dumas said Harp understands the issues of jobs, economic development and education as it relates to the black community’s interest.

“It’s not going to happen overnight and it’s not magic, I think her vision and leadership will help change the image for us and the city,” Dumas said.

“I hope we (blacks) understand she’s New Haven’s mayor and when she starts doing things, she has to embrace the broader community; not just us,” she said.

Harp, who has been a state senator for the past 21 years, is noted as a consensus builder and received endorsements from the local, state and national democratic political machines.

“I’m humbled by it and had no idea people felt that way,” Harp said when told woman the city are inspired by her win. “When I see little girls they get all excited and it makes me feel really good.”

“I’m glad that finally in our lifetime that African American women can become mayors of cities,” Harp said.

She inherits budget and violence issues, but also a downtown that’s thriving and a public school system that has become a model for national reform.

Throughout the campaign, black voters stressed the need for more jobs, additional resources for youth programs and the need to address the alarming inequalities of wealth distribution facing New Haven.

Yet, Esdaile said she is a realist and that issues in the black community have to be fixed by the black community.

“It’s unrealistic for everyone to think since we have a black mayor now that all of our issues in the black community are going to be fixed overnight,” Esdaile said.

“It’s going to take the village to fix the image of the black community and it’s not going to happen just because we have a black mayor,” she said. “We can’t expect her to work magic for us, we have to do our part with our children making sure we’re on top of what they’re doing,”

Harp has been criticized by her rivals and some in the black community of her closeness with New Haven’s mostly white unions, arguing the unions will get undue benefits in exchange for their support of her campaign.

But Esdaile said people say negative things about Harp, yet aren’t involved themselves.

“Don’t just stand on the sideline and complain, get involved with the community and things that can make a difference,” she said.

Murphy said people in New Haven have a very strong sense of pride for their city, Harp is familiar to everyone and “she has the respect of a diverse pool of people in the city,” she said.

Gun violence in the community

The city’s gun violence has led to 17 homicides to date this year and drew national attention as federal authorities offering assistance this year in Newhallville, after gun fire erupted in their every day for a week.

During the campaign Harp said she was traumatized by what she found in Newhallville, where residents were afraid to leave their homes and felt menaced by youths involved in drug dealing and shootings.

Blacks represent 35.4 percent of the city’s population.

The majority of the homicide victims and known suspects in this year’s homicides are young black men.

Esdaile said the ‘it takes the village’ concept is far removed from the community.

“It’s about empowering parents. Some parents aren’t empowered, that’s one reason why we see so much violence in our community,”she said. “We have so many different resources and programs in our community for parents, but they have to involve kids in the positive things that work.” she said. “The churches could be doing more for the kids in the commuinity as well.”

Murphy said ending violence in the community is a dirty job and some people are afraid to get out into the community.

“We need to talk to those people that are out there in the community and find ways of how we can help,” Murphy said.

“Finding out what’s lacking that causes our youth to have a blatant disrespect for human life is key; it’s like a game for many of them until it’s to late,” she said.

Dumas said she is tired of seeing life lost by homicide or the prison system, as “no one wins’ she said.

Harp said she wants to get the Q House board of directors up and running again with programs offered in schools and other space within a few months. She expects to ask churches and Yale-New Haven Hospital to help with the funding.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Shahid Abdul-Karim at 203-789-5614. Have questions, feedback or ideas about our news coverage? Connect directly with the editors of the New Haven Register at


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