Political Roundup: Cornell Lewis Defeats DCF / Must Read Article on Stadium Plan

This column appears in the July 17 – 24 edition of the Hartford News… Community Update: On Monday the Connecticut Mirror reported on independent gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Pelto’s budget plan. Pelto, who claims to be an alternative to Democratic Party incumbent Gov. Dannel Malloy and Republican challengers Tom Foley and Sen. John McKinney, rattled off the stale Democrat talking point about standing up for the middle class. Pelto did not mention poverty or low income communities of color once. It was hilarious to hear Pelto, who gave former GOP chairman Chris Healy a petition to get himself on the ballot in November, talk about lying Democrats and Republicans while referring to himself as a “truth-teller.” Pelto should pursue a stand-up comedy career after the elections are over… 
 
Last week CNN’s website posted an opinion piece on urban policy by Foley and Ben Zimmer, the executive director of Foley’s Connecticut Policy Institute. http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/10/opinion/foley-zimmer-fix-cities/index.html The commentary included the usual GOP propaganda about deregulating businesses, privatizing education and locking up more Black people, cloaked in a message about “solutions” for urban neighborhoods. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement Jackson Plan is a truly egalitarian blueprint for addressing the economic plight of the Black and Brown community…   http://mxgm.org/the-jackson-plan-a-struggle-for-self-determination-participatory-democracy-and-economic-justice/
 
Malloy’s first campaign ad debuted on Monday. The biggest lie was Malloy’s claim about fixing the budget. Yes, the current $1.4 billion shortfall is less than the $ 3.7 billion deficit Malloy inherited from former Republican governor M. Jodi Rell. The ad failed to mention how Malloy’s $500 million “surplus” for the fiscal year ending June 30 shrunk to $43 million, due to a tax revenue shortfall of more than $450 million. Malloy’s “balanced budget” was achieved by the Democrat controlled legislature raiding funds (e.g. transportation, tobacco health trust) and other smoke and mirrors tactics  
 
Finally, McKinney’s first TV ad consisted of his usual public employee bashing (I’m a state worker) and the claim about how he’s going to reduce the size of state government. Here’s a reality check from Connecticut Voices for Children. “Connecticut’s state and local government has not grown as a share of the economy since 1970. Connecticut’s state and local government is the 5th smallest in the country, relative to the size of its economy.”  http://www.ctvoices.org/publications/reality-check-connecticuts-public-revenues-and-spending-have-remained-lean-and-stable-d Have I mentioned that the 2014 gubernatorial election is a false choice?
 
Aaron Romano, the attorney for Black transgender teen Jane Doe, has called for her removal from the custody of the Department of Children and Families. Jane Doe was allegedly involved in a confrontation with a male staff member and another youth.  http://www.nhregister.com/general-news/20140714/lawyer-connecticut-dcf-cant-handle-transgender-teens  Last week DCF Plantation posted a report about the incident.  http://dcfplantation.blogspot.com/2014/07/say-it-aint-so-problem-at-girls.html  Stay tuned for updates on this developing story.
 
Last Friday Cornell Lewis won his arbitration case against DCF, who fired Cornell in retaliation for his activism against structural racism at the facility. The decision came almost one year to the day of his termination; Cornell was fired July 17, 2013. Cornell released a brief statement on his DCF Plantation blog. “I feel vindicated after reading that an arbitrator has decided in favor of overturning my dismissal from Connecticut Juvenile Training School over one year ago. It is my hope to return to work soon.”  The Associated Press reported on the story.  Check out the Community Party’s No Sellout blog for reaction to Cornell’s victory.  https://hendu39.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/reaction-to-cornell-lewis-victory-against-dcf/
 
                                                                   
                                                                DCF Ordered to Rehire Agency Critic
 
                                                                              by Susan Haigh

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – An arbitrator says the Department of Children and Families did not have just cause when it fired a youth services officer who has been an outspoken critic of the child welfare agency. Arbitrator Susan Brown directed the agency to reinstate Cornell Lewis to his position at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown. She said in Friday’s ruling DCF must also compensate him for lost wages.

Lewis was fired a year ago for allegedly failing to supervise youth under his care in 2012. The agency also put his name on an abuse and neglect registry. Lewis, who is black, has criticized DCF for having what he calls a racist attitude toward black employees A DCF spokesman said it is reviewing the decision. The agency can appeal the ruling in court.

 
Thanks to Susan for covering Cornell’s huge victory in the war on structural racism. Congratulations, Cornell! Last week DCF Plantation posted a report about an incident at the DCF girls facility which may have involved a staff member and Black transgender teen Jane Doe.  http://dcfplantation.blogspot.com/2014/07/say-it-aint-so-problem-at-girls.html  Stay tuned for updates on this developing story.
 
Initially I was just going to share quotes from New York Times reporter Benjamin Mueller’s article on the proposed Hartford stadium, but city residents should read every word of what in my opinion is the best piece on this issue.
 
                                                                                      
                                                                                          *****                                                          

One Team, Two Cities, and None Are Happy

Hartford’s Stadium Plan for the New Britain Rock Cats Is a Hard Sell

 
HARTFORD — Two years after a car tore through the St. Benedict playground in this city’s North End, the children’s steel climbing structure is twisted and buckled like a clumsy batter’s legs after he misses a curveball.
 
The park — still boarded up, the equipment yet to be repaired — is just one sign of the decline in a chronically untended neighborhood. Kiddie-pool-size potholes pock the streets; trash bins are overflowing. Hartford politicians have long pledged improvements for the area, including school repairs and a new supermarket. But residents are still waiting.
 
Instead, Hartford has caught minor league baseball fever. The city announced in June that it had lured the New Britain Rock Cats, a Double-A Minnesota Twins affiliate, from its home 15 miles away to a plot of land near the battered playground. But in a reflection of residents’ mounting unease over the steep costs of building a 9,000-seat stadium, Hartford officials on Friday backed away from an earlier plan to use public money to pay $60 million for it. Now, the city says, it will seek private partners to help defray the cost. Hartford has sought proposals from developers, and the City Council is expected to consider revised plans in August.
 
“It’s important for us to expand venues to attract a local population as well as those outside the city,” Mayor Pedro Segarra, a Democrat, said on Friday, adding that new housing and shops would also be built nearby. The stadium, he said, would “spark new development.” But the revisions have not mollified residents. Calling the city’s emphasis on private financing a “rhetorical shift,” Jamil Ragland, a North End resident opposed to the plan, said city leaders were misguided. “The grand goal seems to be to bring in white suburbanites from the outside,” he said, “as opposed to actually addressing the needs of people in the city.”
 
From the start, the stadium stirred resentment in a state that has grown weary of intertown feuds and overly optimistic development plans. In one measure of the deal’s popularity, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, known for trumpeting his involvement in the smallest development plans, has stayed clear of the project. Negotiated in secret, the Rock Cats’ decision to move stunned Mayor Erin Stewart of New Britain, an ascendant Republican who had proclaimed days before the announcement that the Rock Cats would not leave.
 
“It’s certainly a feeling of being stabbed in the back,” Ms. Stewart said last week. “It’s really like one community out against another.”
Hartford officials, however, brimmed with excitement, saying the stadium would galvanize a city still smarting from the loss of its beloved National Hockey League team in 1997. The plan has generated interest from at least two private developers, officials said, raising hopes that revenue from the stadium and nearby shops would help sustain the development.
 
“The opportunity to build a new state-of-the-art facility in the capital city was too great to pass up,” Josh Solomon, the Rock Cats’ owner, said.
Hartford’s push for private financing did not surprise industry analysts, who said that the team-friendly deals that once sailed through city governments were now wilting in the face of concerns over tax increases and cuts to social services. As minor league baseball expansion slows and cities face more trouble drawing outside visitors to stadiums, baseball executives said, Hartford’s plan to draw private investors faces steep hurdles.
“To think they could even come up with a third of stadium costs is not possible,” said Miles Wolff, the commissioner of the Can-Am League and the American Association, two independent baseball leagues. “Ballparks don’t make money. That’s why they’re public facilities.”
 
Richard Foley, a former state Republican chairman who now heads a political consulting firm, said, “I would be surprised if it ever gets built.”
The stadium was initially to be financed by bonds that would have cost Hartford up to $4.3 million in annual debt payments, a figure that far outpaced the $500,000 in annual rent from the team. Plans for a new supermarket, on the cusp of winning the city’s blessing, were derailed by the stadium. The supermarket was much needed: A 2012 study showed Hartford to be eighth worst in the nation for access to healthful, affordable food when compared with cities of similar size. In the last few years, nonprofit financiers had begun to secure money for a new North End supermarket, which would have been only the second in this city of 125,000. A Shop Rite operator signed on, and Hartford promised to start recruiting developers this year.
 
But when plans showed the new stadium across the street from the proposed supermarket, a major funding source bailed out and the Shop Rite operator withdrew, saying the store would not turn a profit with stadium traffic clogging the road. For more than a year, as discussions about the stadium went on, Hartford officials did not tell those planning the supermarket about it. Rex Fowler, executive director of the Hartford Community Loan Fund, a nonprofit that coordinated financing for the supermarket, said his group’s plans had been “geared toward benefits for the low- and moderate-income community.” But, he added, “that doesn’t seem to be the new focus of Downtown North anchored by a minor-league baseball stadium.”
 
Public outcry over the stadium escalated in recent weeks, prompting some city officials to temper their support and turning local political races into what some have called proxy battles over the stadium. Shawn Wooden, the Hartford City Council president and a Democrat, signaled his support for the deal when it was announced, but said more recently that he would refuse to support the stadium if it did not also include private money.
State Senator Eric Coleman, a Democrat who is facing a primary challenge from Mr. Wooden, said of Mr. Wooden’s recent comments, “I would describe it as backpedaling in a manner that would probably cause Michael Jackson to be a little bit envious.”
 
Sitting in his North End apartment on a recent afternoon, Mr. Ragland, 28, said the priorities of the city’s politicians were misplaced. Boutique fragrance shops and upscale groceries that have recently opened in Hartford seem like a bid for the business of “mobile, middle-class, white people,” he said.
“If we don’t have money to spend on $30 soap or $9 spaghetti sauce or handcrafted beer from a brewery,” Mr. Ragland said, “we just don’t exist then. You don’t want me here.” That same evening, New Britain Rock Cats fans discarded peanut shells on concrete splattered with beer. It was “Bark in the Park” night, and the hundred or so assembled dogs complied with each crack of the bat in the game against the Binghamton Mets.
People were feeling snubbed in New Britain, too. “It doesn’t sound right,” said Connor Noel, 12. “It’s the New Britain Rock Cats.”
 
Even in an era when dashed stadium dreams litter the Northeast — the once-beloved Newark Bears recently held a liquidation auction in their vacant stadium — fans in New Britain still held onto the notion that minor league baseball promised lasting attachments. Between innings, the Rock Cats fans piled on top of one another dressed as hamburger buns and patties, and rode through the outfield in dinosaur costumes.
For some, a move by the Rock Cats would spoil the camaraderie between the team and its fans. “There’s no loyalty there,” said Jim Langlois, a season-ticket holder. A fresh evening coolness rose from the grass as a group of boys gathered behind an empty Rock Cats dugout after a 9-6 win. They were hoping for a souvenir from a player — a pack of bubble gum or a shard of broken bat — to preserve memories of their team. But they left empty-handed, looking dejected as their mothers coaxed them toward home.
 
                                                                                      *****
Mueller’s article underscores the Hartford Democrats’ total disregard for the poverty stricken North End, and the anger residents in that neighborhood feel when they observe the elitist, tone deaf indifference of Segarra and Wooden. Many people in North Hartford don’t have disposable cash that they can donate to the Democratic Party war chest, so elected officials aren’t checking for them. As Ragland said, poor people in Hartford are invisible to the likes of Segarra and Wooden; the interests of low income communities of color don’t factor into the policy decisions being made at City Hall. I’ll keep it real. I would love to see Wooden lose the August 12 primary against Sen. Eric Coleman, because it’s obvious that Wooden is a mercenary who is only concerned about his political career. That being said, conditions in the North End have only worsened during Coleman’s time in office; his criticism of Wooden regarding the stadium plan, while accurate, is clearly self-serving. North Hartford loses no matter who wins the Coleman vs. Wooden primary.   
 
 
Follow CP on Twitter for state, national and global headlines and updates on the status of our Trayvon Martin and Safe Work Environment Acts. https://twitter.com/CommunityParty1  Check out CP’s No Sellout blog for the archive of our Hartford News columns. https://hendu39.wordpress.com/  Listen to WQTQ 89.9 FM for CP’s public service announcements on our racial justice initiatives. https://www.facebook.com/wqtqfm Contact us at 860-206-8879 or info.community.party@gmail.com    
 
Resources
 
Cornell Lewis Legal Defense Fund:
 
 
Coming in 2015: Jane Doe Act:
 
 
The truth about stadiums and economic development: 
 
 
 
 
David Samuels
Founder
Community Party
 
                                                                             
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
                               
 
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