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Thursday, April 26 News

New Haven’s Toni Harp a popular choice for running mate

The mayor of Connecticut’s second-largest city, New Haven’s Toni Harp, could play kingmaker in next year’s governor’s race.

Fresh off her landslide election to a third term last month, Harp is said by Democratic insiders to be a top choice of Bridgeport’s Joe Ganim and Hartford’s Luke Bronin as a potential running mate should the mayoral rivals take the next step toward a candidacy.

No other city boasts as many Democratic delegates as New Haven, which will have 100 votes for the eventual nominee at the state party convention next May.

Harp would bring diversity to the ticket and an institutional knowledge of the law-making process from her tenure as Appropriations Committee chair in the Legislature. Harp is the first woman mayor of New Haven and the city’s second black mayor.

“Mayor Harp could be easily running for governor,” Ganim said Tuesday. “Any partnership that could be developed there, if one could, would be a hugely dynamic team, not just for the cities but for Connecticut. That type of discussion is not something that you do in the press.”

It’s no wonder that Ganim has teamed up with Harp on a pair of major job-creation initiatives. One is MGM’s Bridgeport casino project, which calls for an employee training center to be built in New Haven. The other is a joint bid between the cities for Amazon’s second headquarters.

Like Ganim, who is expected to formally enter the race in January, Bronin has set up an exploratory committee for statewide office. The former Treasury deputy secretary under Barack Obama and one-time general counsel to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is in his first term as mayor of the capital city.

“It’s much too early to be talking about lieutenant governor candidates,” Bronin said. “That said, I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Toni Harp, both for her long career as a legislative leader and her work as mayor.”

Harp, who served as a state senator from 1993 to 2003, downplayed the scuttlebutt about her political future in a statement to Hearst Connecticut Media.

“While it’s an honor to be considered a viable candidate for statewide office, and while it would certainly be a privileged opportunity to serve the people of Connecticut as lieutenant governor, I’m presently immersed in my work as mayor of New Haven and look forward to beginning a new term in this office in three weeks,” Harp said.

Quinnipiac University political science professor Scott McLean said Harp would be an asset to the Democratic ticket. He brought up Ganim’s comeback from a bribery scandal that sent him to prison for seven years and the state’s recent $40 million bailout of Hartford.

“I think she would go a long way in softening the image that those two candidates might bring to the top of the ticket,” McLean said. “I can almost visualize the Republican talking points. ‘The Democrats will bring to state government what they brought to city government — bankruptcy and corruption.’ ”

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At the same time, McLean said, an all-mayoral ticket could be problematic for Democrats in the suburbs.

“I think that’s going to be something that the Republicans are going to be able to pounce on,” McLean said.

While black and Latino voters have overwhelmingly favored Democrats to lead the state and its largest cities, there has been a glaring void of minority candidates for Connecticut’s six constitutional offices, five House districts and two U.S. Senate seats. Denise Nappier is the exception, having been elected five times as state treasurer.

“Treasurer Nappier is weighing her options and has not announced whether she is seeking re-election,” Nappier’s spokesman David Barrett said.

Vincent Mauro Jr., the chairman of New Haven’s Democratic Party, said he can see why other mayors are trying to cultivate an alliance with Harp.

“Toni Harp has an amazing record as a public servant and the success of New Haven only enhances that,” Mauro said. “New Haven is obviously the largest vote-getting city in the state. It’s is no question that everyone would like Toni Harp to join them on the ballot.”

Ganim said the cooperation he’s had with Harp has been unprecedented and that their two administrations spent “hours, days, weeks together” developing their joint pitch to Amazon for its second headquarters. There was also a joint appearance of the mayors at the September ground-breaking for MGM Bridgeport, a $675 million privately-funded casino and resort project that still must gain state approval. Ganim referred to himself and Harp as “co-mayors.”

“That’s something, no matter how we work together in the future, we’ve shown that the state’s two largest cities can work together and set a very positive example for the state,” Ganim said.

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