Harp Stands Out as Number of Big-City Black Mayors Diminishes Nationally

Last April, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp was sworn in as the first woman selected as president of the African American Mayors Association (AAMA).  In November, she was elected to a third two-year term leading the Elm City, earning more than 70 percent of the vote. In doing so, she ran counter to an apparent national trend – fewer African American Mayors in the nation’s largest cities.  According to an analysis by Governing magazine, in 2000, 19 of the largest cities in the country by population either had, or would soon have, black mayors.  By 2017, that number had fallen to six. Today, the Wall Street Journal recently reported, that number is four.

African Americans, and African American women, continue to be elected to City Hall.  Charlotte and New Orleans both elected their first black women mayors in November.  St. Paul and a number of smaller cities elected their first black mayors ever, the publication reported.

Among Connecticut’s largest cities, the mayors of Bridgeport, Hartford, Stamford, Waterbury, and Danbury are white males.  Hartford, which elected Thirman Milner and Carrie Saxon-Perry decades ago, hasn’t elected an African American since, but has seen two Latino men hold the office.

Carrie Saxon Perry was the first black woman to be elected mayor of a major New England city – in 1987. Milner was the first black mayor in all of New England, elected in Hartford in 1981. There hasn’t been a black mayor leading the Capitol City since Saxon-Perry’s term ended in 1993.

Were the current office-holder, Luke Bronin, to resign the office (a scenario that could result if he decides to run for Governor and if he is elected later this year) the newly elected City Council President, Glendowlyn Thames, could change that, if she succeeds to the office.

New Haven’s first black Mayor was John Daniels, who served from 1990 to 1993.  Like Harp, he previously served in the State Senate.

Across the country, Jacksonville, Memphis, Philadelphia and San Antonia had black mayors until recently, Governing reported.  Detroit elected its first white mayor in 40 years in 2013. The nation’s largest cities – New York, Los Angeles and Chicago – have each has one black mayor, years ago. Atlanta elected a black female as mayor in a run-off election, winning with just over 50 percent of the vote.

Harp is the only member of the AAMA from Connecticut.  The organization was formed in 2014.  Fifty years ago, the election of Carl Stokes in Cleveland in 1967 put him on the cover of TIME magazine as the first black elected mayor of a major U.S. city. Richard Hatcher, also African American, was elected mayor of Gary, Indiana that same year.