Chris Powell: Hartford mayor's brilliant fiscal overloading; will extortionist ex-mayor return?

Hartford’s Beaux-Arts City Hall.

Hartford’s Beaux-Arts City Hall.

Hartford could do worse than give Luke Bronin another term as mayor, as those who live outside the capital city may realize from former Mayor Eddie Perez's candidacy to return to City Hall.

A decade ago Perez got caught taking kickbacks from a city contractor and was convicted in state court of bribery by extortion. In case anyone had forgotten this, just a few weeks ago Superior Court Judge Cesar A. Noble revoked Perez's city pension. Perez's misconduct, the judge wrote, was "severe" and had caused people to lose confidence in the honesty and integrity of elected officials.

The judge may have overstated expectations of honesty and integrity in government, but at least Bronin seems to have run a clean administration, insofar as it can be done in Hartford. In any case he has performed a spectacular and lasting service to the city. That is, Bronin helped former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy snooker the General Assembly into passing legislation transferring to the state the city's more than $500 million in bonded debt, a measure legislators said they understood to be doing no more than giving the city $40 million in emergency aid. It may have been the Brink's Job of Connecticut politics.

The state's assumption of Hartford's debt will be worth millions of dollars to the city in interest payments every year, tens of millions over time. Of course this will cost state taxpayers the same amount. Governor Lamont's "debt diet" won't help; the damage has been done.

Will Bronin's re-election campaign tout the debt transfer? The mayor's boasting about it may not make friends for the city, but the people who were snookered can't vote there. While by seeking concessions Bronin has alienated the unions representing city government's employees, the debt transfer will save the city far more than concessions ever would. Somebody in Hartford should be grateful for that.

Perez isn't Bronin's only challenger but he is the best known and the only Hispanic in the race, which may mean something to voters if corruption doesn't. Like politics in Bridgeport, politics in Hartford is so grubby and grasping that city voters may consider corruption merely incidental, as voters in Bridgeport did when they re-elected Joe Ganim as mayor four years ago despite his conviction for bribery and extortion and his long imprisonment.

Ganim and Perez are Democrats and it already has been fun to watch Connecticut's Democratic leaders dance around an extortionist's return to power in the state's largest city. Imagine the awkwardness that might ensue if the capital city vindicated another extortionist.

But power will help the Democrats get over it, leaving the challenge to those remaining in the state who would prefer preserving some standards in public life.

That is, what does it say about the last half century of urban policy in Connecticut that city voters have such low aspirations or are so indifferent to integrity in government?

Could Eddie Perez's return to Hartford City Hall shock anyone in authority into suspecting that the state's urban policy doesn't work, that it just impoverishes, degrades, breeds dependence on government, and nurtures corruption? Could Perez's return even shock anyone in authority into suspecting that urban policy \ does work because it is meant to do those things, since they are so lucrative in politics?

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: Raising tobacco-purchase age would do little for city kids


Why do officials in politically correct cities like Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport put so much effort into posturing on issues over which they have no serious jurisdiction? Maybe it's to console themselves for their ineffectuality with important matters like the worsening poverty, ignorance, and demoralization of their constituents.

Last week Hartford was at it again as its City Council prepared an ordinance raising to 21 the age for purchasing tobacco products. A week earlier Bridgeport had adopted an ordinance purporting to outlaw homemade plastic guns.

Even as Hartford prepared the tobacco ordinance, several of its high school students got sick in school after consuming marijuana-laced brownies given to them by other students. Marijuana possession by minors is illegal but of course it has been decades since that prohibition deterred anyone, and now both Connecticut and the country are starting to figure that the prohibition might as well be repealed and marijuana sold legally and taxed.

So why does Hartford think that raising the age for tobacco purchases will accomplish anything? Why does Hartford think that minors won't continue to purchase tobacco through older friends, as they do with alcoholic beverages?

And what about the bigger question of the age of majority? How sensible is society when it proclaims 18-year-olds mature enough to vote, serve in the military, and make contracts but not mature enough just to smoke and drink?

Poor judgment will always be part of youth. But an ordinance purporting to protect kids against tobacco in a city where most kids have no father in their home and many have no real parent at all is worse than poor judgment. It's a sick joke by shameless adults.


VINDICATING THE FLAG: Another flag-salute case has arisen from a public school in Waterbury.

Twenty-five years ago the city's school system tried to punish a black high school student who, calling herself a Communist, refused to salute the flag at the start of the school day. She beat the school system in a lawsuit because school administrators somehow had overlooked or deliberately disregarded a renowned U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1943 forbidding schools from coercing students into making expressions of belief. That decision upheld freedom of conscience, which the country then was defending at profound cost in a world war.

In the new Waterbury case some nonwhite students allege that a teacher has been mocking and shaming them for refusing to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, which they say is their way of protesting racial discrimination.

A trial may be needed to determine exactly what has been happening but there should be no doubt about the long-established right not to salute the flag -- just as there should be no doubt that the right not to salute the flag is a powerful reason for saluting it.

Of course the country has not achieved perfect justice. But it never will. It can only keep improving. With its proclamation of "liberty and justice for all," the Pledge of Allegiance will always be largely aspirational. But the heroes of the civil rights revolution 50 years ago accepted this and always carried the flag into the struggle. They succeeded and changed the country and thereby vindicated the flag.

A good teacher would explain this to his students as he acknowledged their right not to salute the flag. If they still refused to salute, he would let them be undisturbed, since, after all, their liberty still would be pretty good advertising for the country.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: A city cop, now retiring, who didn't get cynical

Hartford, from across the Connecticut River.

Hartford, from across the Connecticut River.

Hartford's deputy police chief, Brian Foley, the department's spokesman for the last five years, will retire this month, so the other day he went on Ray Dunaway's morning show on WTIC-AM1080 for a half hour to reflect on his 23 years with the department. 

Foley recounted riding a bicycle on a neighborhood patrol beat, working in the homicide division, and then explaining the department to the public. He described his love for the city, his family's involvement in police work elsewhere, and his intention to stay connected with Hartford. 

Less than an hour after Foley walked out of the studio, a fellow Hartford officer, Jill Kidik, was repeatedly stabbed in the neck and nearly murdered by a deranged woman at an apartment building downtown, a crime that horrified the whole state. (Miraculously Kidik is expected to recover fully.) That night a man was shot to death a few blocks away on Hartford's north side. 

It was just another day in Connecticut's capital city, and because so much of the news coming out of Hartford is crime, Foley may have become the city's most recognized figure throughout the state. But the good news from Hartford has been the increasing accountability of the city's police. 

This has been far more than the department's timely provision of incident information, the work that has made Foley famous. It also has been the department's striving to connect with the disadvantaged community it protects, a community full of people who are or have been on the wrong side of the law, a community suspicious of law enforcement and not terribly impressed with the law itself. 

Such a community easily can engender rage in those assigned to police it. (Indeed, it is a bit of a wonder that the deranged woman who nearly murdered the Hartford officer the other day wasn't herself beaten to a pulp during the officer's rescue.) Sometimes that rage has burst out among Hartford officers on duty, but it is also a bit of a wonder that in recent years the Hartford department has been quick to identify misconduct and publicly discipline and dismiss officers. 

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin noted this in his comments on Foley's retirement. Foley, the mayor said, "has helped our department set a national standard for transparency, accountability, and engagement, and he has been deeply committed to the mission of building trust between our police department and the community." 

Apart from being candid and accessible, Foley may have been even more remarkable as a police spokesman for his compassion for some of the young perpetrators whose arrests he answered for. He would acknowledge the handicaps imposed on them by their neglectful upbringing, handicaps worsened by their getting stuck in the criminal-justice system. He rooted for their rehabilitation, not their imprisonment. 

Foley, a Tolland resident, didn't get cynical, but cops have to be forgiven for that. In an old episode of Law & Order the detective played by Jerry Orbach enters a squalid apartment with several other officers. No one else is inside except an abandoned and crying baby. Orbach asks, "How about if I just take him to Rikers (the New York City jail} now?" 

Of course, the scene could have been shot in Hartford. 

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn. 

Chris Powell: Halt the sex-abuse hysteria: Distinguish between common boors and the real predators


Obsession with the sexual misconduct of celebrities and politicians has gotten so bad that maybe Inside Edition will report breathlessly tonight that 60 years ago young Howdy Doody was molested by old Mister Bluster.

Scandal it all may be but it is an awfully old one, from the rape of the Sabine women in ancient Rome to Cole Porter's "Well, Did You Evah?," which Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra sang so cleverly in the 1956 movie  High Society, which was meant to be seen as set in Newport.

Have you heard that Mimsie Starr,
She got pinched in the Astor bar?

Maybe the next Dead Sea scroll will reveal that before Adam settled down with Eve he was stalking her cousin Lilith.

Really, is there anyone on the planet who, when young, was not leered at, harassed, molested, seduced, exploited, or worse by someone older, bigger, stronger, or more powerful? A Quinnipiac University poll last week reported that 60 percent of women admit having been sexually harassed. The poll did not survey men, but boys and young men long have been harassed and molested too.

Indeed, lost in last week's hysteria over celebrities and politicians was the arrest of a woman teacher at a high school in Oklahoma who was caught carrying on with a male student.

The county sheriff observed, "I'm no longer surprised by the people who commit these crimes, because predators come from all walks of life."

That is, they're not all celebrities and politicians. They're everybody.

So other than distinguishing the predatory criminals from the mere boors and immediately calling the police about the former instead of being wrongly embarrassed and ashamed, what are we supposed to learn from this stuff?

Yes, the predatory criminals should be prosecuted, convicted, and locked up, but what about the mere boors?

Are even the butt pinchers to be not just rebuked and embarrassed but also driven into darkness forever, beyond redemption, prevented from making a living and supporting their families, forced to beg on the streets and sleep in boxes under bridges?

That seems to be the suggestion of the hysteria -- no "second-chance society" for them.

Meanwhile, the national government is bombing remote villages in the name of civilizing barbarians, destroying the medical insurance system, and normalizing financial and political corruption, and state government is degenerating into a pension and benefit scheme that incidentally if at great expense turns children into ignoramuses for life. Nothing sexy there.

Have you heard? It's in the stars:
Next July we collide with Mars.
Well, did you evah?
What a swell party this is.

P.C. TOPS HARTFORD'S AGENDA:Hartford city government is insolvent, the city's bonds have been reduced to junk status, and the city is about to come under the supervision of a state financial management board as the price of the extra financial aid needed to postpone the city's filing for bankruptcy.

But topping city government's agenda last week was an ordinance proposed by Mayor Luke Bronin to regulate agencies that try to dissuade women from having abortions.

It is said that employees of anti-abortion agencies sometimes impersonate abortion clinics by dressing their employees in white coats as if they are doctors or nurses, thereby misleading women. But this complaint is weak. If any impersonation is going on, it will not take a woman long to figure out that an agency that opposes abortion is not going to give her one. Women are not as dumb as the advocates of the ordinance pretend.

For the real objection is that these agencies have a First Amendment right to exist and to try to talk to women considering abortion. While abortion is never going to be outlawed in Connecticut, even mere criticism of it must be suppressed in the name of political correctness.

Hartford is riddled with crime and government corruption and incompetence. The city can't afford to spend a dollar or a minute enforcing political correctness or defending against the lawsuit that likely will result from enactment of the ordinance, any more than the city could afford $80 million and two years of controversy for its new minor-league baseball stadium, for which state government now is picking up the bill.

Being almost insolvent itself, state government can't afford more political correctness in Hartford either.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.


Chris Powell: As in Detroit and Central Falls, bankruptcy could finally make Hartford responsible

Constitution Plaza, in downtown Hartford.

Constitution Plaza, in downtown Hartford.

Advocates of a financial bailout for Hartford city government warn that a bankruptcy filing by the city will be a "black eye" for Connecticut, as if the state isn't already mortified by the failure of Gov. Dan Malloy and the General Assembly to enact a budget three months into the new fiscal year.

But last week a series of investigative reports by Eric Parker of WFSB-TV3 in Hartford examined the recent municipal bankruptcy reorganizations in Detroit and Central Falls, R.I., and concluded that the cities have greatly improved as a result.

Hartford's situation is much like those in Detroit and Central Falls before their bankruptcies, with debt and pension obligations outpacing revenue. Indeed, the two federal judges who handled Detroit's bankruptcy reviewed Hartford's financial data and recommended bankruptcy. While Hartford's city government would lose authority during a bankruptcy, the Detroit judges suggested that Mayor Luke Bronin could be appointed the city's emergency manager, thereby preserving some democratic supervision in the process.

Detroit, which long had been losing population and was becoming a giant slum, dragging its suburbs down with it, began to revive at the moment of its bankruptcy filing, Parker reported. That's when businesses gained confidence that management of the city would become responsible. Downtown is prospering again and real estate values in the city and its suburbs have risen sharply.

Detroit's bondholders and bond insurers absorbed huge losses, pensioners smaller but still substantial loses. The blow to pensioners in Central Falls was harder. But there probably won't be much private-sector investment in Hartford until the city, which is not only broke but riddled with corruption and incompetence, is reorganized both financially and politically, and that can't be done without pain.

After all, just in the last few weeks former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez pleaded guilty to bribery and a developer, James C. Duckett Jr., was convicted of defrauding the city of hundreds of thousands of dollars in the guise of building a soccer stadium. Of course, Hartford's new minor-league baseball stadium was completed last year at $30 million or so beyond its $50 million budget even as city government had become insolvent and had stopped maintaining its schools.

The $50 million Mayor Bronin wants in additional aid from state government so that the city might avoid bankruptcy -- and probably only postpone it -- would pass the bill for the stadium along to municipalities that are not quite as corrupt and incompetent as Hartford is.

Far from giving Connecticut another "black eye," bankruptcy for Hartford would restore virtue to the city's bondholders and unionized employees, who long have been operating as if the city will be rescued financially no matter how incompetent and corrupt it becomes. For the bondholders and unions have enough political influence to prevent incompetence and corruption. Instead the bondholders have been indifferent and the unions have encouraged city government to keep giving the store away, especially to themselves.  

Imagine how different Hartford might be if, instead of assuming that state government would underwrite its corruption and incompetence forever, the bondholders and the unions were compelled to audit city government constantly to maintain its fiscal responsibility, thereby insuring their bonds and pensions.

But while cities can file bankruptcy, states can't, and the way things are going, Connecticut state government soon may be little more than a pension and benefit society cannibalizing public services.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.


Chris Powell: Lies and betrayal from Vietnam through today; rich school employees

With their 10-part series The Vietnam War just broadcast on PBS, documentary makers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have done a great service not only to history but also to contemporary public policy.

The documentary emphasizes that the famous Tet offensive of Communist North Vietnam and its guerrillas in South Vietnam, launched in January 1968, was actually a military triumph for the United States and South Vietnam but also a political disaster for them. For it exposed the U.S. government's years of lies that the war was close to won. 

Indeed, President Lyndon B. Johnson and his political associates libeled the anti-war movement as disloyal and Communist even as they confessed to each other in private that the war was going poorly and was ill-conceived. So the war was continued for another seven years just to save face.

The series also brilliantly contrasted the astounding courage and heroism of U.S. soldiers with the equally astounding stupidity of the strategy that their generals pursued. 

A former soldier summarized that strategy this way: Walk into the jungle and see if you can draw fire. Of course, our soldiers did draw fire, suffered terrible casualties, and then withdrew to remote and poorly defended fire bases without ever holding the territory that they had won with so much blood. The United States dropped more bomb tonnage on the Vietnam War theater than it dropped on Europe during World War II, but that didn't hold territory for long either. That former soldier said he especially resented having to fight to take the same ground multiple times.

Of course, this is pretty much the "strategy" now being used in the 17th year of U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan: Draw fire and then retreat with your casualties. 

At least the Trump administration, unlike the Johnson administration, doesn't pretend that the war is going well. But like the Johnson administration, the Trump administration continues the war anyway without any plausible plan for winning it -- and this time the American people and even supposedly humane members of Congress are indifferent to another endless war of attrition in Asia. 

So maybe in a decade or so Burns and Novick will be able to make a documentary called  The Afghanistan War. They could quote the quatrain from Kipling that belongs at the graves of Johnson and Nixon and will belong at Kissinger's:  

And the end of the fight is a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased,
And the epitaph drear: "A Fool lies here
Who tried to hustle the East."

LUXURIOUS EDUCATION: A community activist in Hartford, Kevin Brookman, notes that the city's school system employs about 70 people with salaries of $100,000 or more, many of them above the governor's salary, $150,000, not counting insurance and retirement benefits. The city's new school superintendent is paid $260,000.

If the Connecticut General Assembly doesn't quickly pass a state budget he likes, the governor, operating the state by executive order, may divert to Hartford and a few other cities all the education money state government has been giving to the rest of the state's municipalities.

What will Hartford do with it all? Create more $100,000-a-year positions? Build another stadium? 

If experience is any guide, the city won't improve education with it, since student educational performance is almost entirely a matter of family cohesion, of which Hartford has little.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Connecticut needs to fix its cities

Aetna's headquarters in Hartford, but not for long: The company is moving its home office to Manhattan.

Aetna's headquarters in Hartford, but not for long: The company is moving its home office to Manhattan.

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com:

Derek Thompson, writing in The Atlantic’s online service, has some interesting takes on Connecticut’s current fiscal problems. The state government has a huge deficit,  some cities are effectively bankrupt, taxes are amongst the highest in the nation and some big companies have fled. And yet the state remains the richest on a per-capita basis in America, albeit largely because of New York City-connected rich folks living in Fairfield County. (Massachusetts is the second-richest; New Jersey the third.)

He notes some remarkably little reported reasons for the state’s ills: One is that Connecticut, like America in general, has lost much of its high-valued manufacturing, a sector for which  Connecticut was once famed around the world.  (I lived near Waterbury for four years in the early and mid-‘60s, from when I well remember the busy factories up and down the colorfully polluted Naugatuck River.)

Very highly paid people in finance, many of  them commuting to Manhattan but many doing their thing in Stamford and Greenwich, have offset some of this loss. However, finance, which of course follows the ups and downs of Wall Street, is more cyclical than manufacturing. And the latter provided a wider range of well-paying jobs to many more people than does finance.

Another important change  that Mr. Thompson cited is that the big cities close to Connecticut --- especially New York and Boston – have become much safer and more attractive. Rich people and Millennials have been moving back into them, having grown bored with suburbs, even those as attractively sylvan as some on Connecticut’s strip of the Long Island Sound shoreline.

Conservatives who seem obsessed with high taxes above all else should note that some of the big companies pulling their headquarters from Connecticut are not exactly moving to low-tax venues. Consider that Aetna is leaving Hartford for Manhattan and General Electric has left Fairfield for Boston. They want the dynamism of those cities and are happy to pay for it.

The Nutmeg State has poor, high-crime and often badly run cities. If the state is to improve its long-term prospects, I and Mr. Thompson would agree, it needs to fix its cities. Hartford, which used to be a vibrant and mostly middle-class city before bad municipal government, ill-considered“ urban renewal’’ and other factors drove it into the ditch, is expected to go into official bankruptcy soon. That should let it start cleaning up its act and make it a place that people, especially young adults who might otherwise go to New York, would want to live and work in. That could help turn around the whole state. After all, Hartford is the state capital.


Chris Powell: Hartford has run out of options; time for bankruptcy

Last week's conviction of a developer who defrauded Hartford city government of a million dollars in the guise of building a soccer stadium should crush the city's efforts to obtain more financial aid from state government so that the city can avoid bankruptcy.

The soccer stadium scandal echoes Hartford's recent baseball stadium scandal, in which city government spent about $80 million to get the stadium done a year late and 60 percent over budget even as the city was going broke. So it may not have been entirely coincidental that just as the jury in the fraud case delivered its verdict, Mayor Luke Bronin announced that the city has engaged a bankruptcy law firm to pursue the city's options.

Yes, Hartford's financial condition is not the mayor's fault. He is new to the job and he has not just been seeking $40 million more from state government; he also has asked state government to establish a commission to supervise the city's finances. Neither request has been granted, the first because state government's financial position is as bad as the city's. But no matter, since more state money won't make Hartford competent politically and administratively. That's because the city lacks the prerequisite of such competence -- a large, independent middle class of people who are not on government's own payroll.

As a result city government has grown far bigger than the civic virtue available to manage it in the public interest. On top of that, Mayor Bronin's diagnosis of Hartford's basic problem is mistaken. The mayor argues that the city is hobbled financially because half its land is occupied by government or nonprofit institutions and thus exempt from city property taxes. But state government already compensates for that by reimbursing half the city's budget. Further, even as the mayor complains about property-tax exemption, he celebrates the imminent relocation of the University of Connecticut's West Hartford branch to the former Hartford Times building downtown, which will keep still more property off the tax rolls.

The mayor celebrates UConn's move because the tax-exempt government and nonprofit operations bring the city thousands of jobs and much commerce and thereby give huge support to the taxable valuation of the remaining property in the city. Indeed, this is the rationale used by the mayor's former boss, Gov. Dannel Malloy, for awarding state tax breaks to big companies just for staying put

For decades state government has poured ever-larger amounts of money into Hartford only to worsen the city's poverty and corruption. State policy has done the same to Connecticut's other cities. Maybe different policies might do better, but state government cannot even recognize its failure, so there is no chance of different policies.

So what Hartford needs most is just to stop pretending that spending more money makes things better and, instead, to slash its financial obligations to match its resources. This can be accomplished only by bankruptcy, a court-ordered cancellation of the city's big debts, primarily those to its employees and retirees as well as the bondholders who long have enabled the city's mismanagement, confident that state government would always underwrite any amount of exploitation and stupidity in Hartford.

Mayor Bronin has failed to obtain necessary concessions from most city employee unions, but given the depth of Hartford's disaster, he shouldn't have to ask permission from the unions to do what must be done. Only bankruptcy can set things right.

 Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: Insurers may be joining the state in enabling Hartford's bad habits

Hartford from the other side of the Connecticut River.

Hartford from the other side of the Connecticut River.

Hartford's three biggest insurance companies -- Aetna, The Hartford, and Travelers -- are being hailed as the city's saviors for their pledge last week to donate $50 million, $10 million per year for five years, to help city government out of its financial disaster.

But rather than saviors, the companies more likely have just become the city's new enablers, joining state government in that counterproductive work. The companies say their gift will be "conditioned" on making it "part of a comprehensive and sustainable solution for Hartford -- a solution that allows the city to stabilize its finances and support quality services."

But such a solution is nowhere in sight. Mayor Luke Bronin has been trying to negotiate concessions from the city's government employee unions but he hasn't yet gotten nearly enough to close a projected city budget deficit approaching $50 million. The mayor also has been touring Hartford's suburbs in pursuit of financial contributions but has not yet come back with a check, a pledge, or more than sympathy for the thankless job he has been stuck with. And while Governor Malloy has proposed to slash state financial aid to suburbs and rural towns and transfer it to Hartford and other cities, his proposal's prospects in the General Assembly are not strong, since many legislators know how incompetent and corrupt city governments have been, even if the legislators don't recognize state government's shared responsibility for this.

With perfect irony the $50 million gift from the insurers happens to match the original estimate of the cost of the minor-league baseball stadium city government just built and botched, a cost now believed to approach $75 million not counting litigation expenses. Indeed, even as the insurers announced their gift, the stadium contractor fired by the city announced that it is suing the city for $90 million,

A few days earlier the state child advocate's office revealed that the city's school system long has failed to act against school employees who harassed and molested students. A "comprehensive and sustainable solution" for that problem is not yet in place either. So with their huge gift the insurers may have only 1) rescued city government from some of the expense of its irresponsible decision to build the stadium as bankruptcy approached, 2) reduced the pressure on the city employee unions to make the concessions the mayor wants, and 3) reduced the pressure on state government to stop subsidizing the anti-social behavior that is worst in the cities and has turned them into poverty factories.

As Aetna, The Hartford, and Travelers are big companies doing business throughout the nation, they might concur in the advertising slogan lately being used by another big insurer, Farmers: "We know a thing or two because we've seen a thing or two." Surely the insurers should know that in Connecticut, as elsewhere, when supposedly liberal government gets down to its last dollars, it will kick the innocent needy out of their hospital beds, open the doors of the prisons, and stop plowing the roads after snowstorms so what's left of the money can be paid as raises and pensions to government's own employees.

Saving Connecticut and Hartford requires overthrowing this mindset, and as major employers and taxpayers that are exceptionally able to relocate, the insurers have great leverage over both state and municipal policy. Having just bestowed something for nothing on the city, and, really, state government, the insurers have squandered their leverage. Instead of showering millions on incompetence, they should have threatened to move if state and city government don't quickly start pursuing the public interest instead of the usual special interests.

Chris Powell, a frequent contributor, is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: Bad manners at 'Hamilton'; Hartford is bankrupt

For the sake of argument assume that the vice president-elect, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, is an awful person, as are Donald Trump and everyone who voted for them. That still would not excuse Pence's treatment the other week by the cast of Hamilton during his attendance at the show on Broadway.

As the show ended and the cast took its curtain call, one of the actors stepped forward, called attention to Pence's presence in the audience, and, addressing him, said the cast is "alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us," adding that they hoped that the show "has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us."

It was as if there had not just been an election campaign full of rhetoric about "American values" and as if Pence hadn't heard it and responded to it already, if not to everyone's satisfaction. The cast's stunt was only self-righteous posturing and bad manners from people who are a little too full of themselves.

Pence should have expected it and he claimed not to have been bothered by it, though, of course, Trump couldn't wait to inject himself into the issue indignantly, as if he had finished assembling the new national administration and had run out of things to do.

"The theater must always be a safe and special place," the president-elect proclaimed. But in a free country the theater doesn't have to be anything. It can be like a presidential campaign: safe or unsafe, special or mediocre, vile or sublime, stupid or thoughtful. Anyone can put anything on the stage and anyone can attend or not.

But one doesn't pay extravagantly for a ticket on Broadway to be singled out as the target of the political grievances of actors who can't bring themselves to let the audience draw its own political conclusions from their work.

The Hamilton cast indicated that its main concern about the coming Trump administration is immigration, Trump having campaigned against illegal immigration and having at first equated all Mexican immigrants with criminals and all Muslim immigrants with terrorists. But Trump has been reprimanded pretty well for resorting to such stereotypes and as a result has begun moderating his position, while his critics have not yet acknowledged any problems with immigration. No, Trump's critics seem perfectly happy with the uncontrolled immigration that the country has tolerated in recent years, despite its threats to the working-class wage base, national security and the country's democratic and secular culture.

The refusal of the governing and intellectual classes to acknowledge those threats is one reason the election turned out as it did.


Hartford is supposed to get Gov. Dannel Malloy's permission before filing for bankruptcy, but in effect the city has already gone into bankruptcy without it. That is, the city is threatening to stop paying its dues to the regional water and sewage-treatment agency, the Metropolitan District Commission.

Hartford's threat has caused the MDC to instruct its other member municipalities to put money aside to cover the city's share of the agency's budget, amounts that for some towns will exceed a million dollars a year.

This is silly because Hartford does have the money to pay the MDC. The city is just choosing to divert water and sewer money to pay others instead, like city employees, vendors, and lenders. City government figures that it's easier to stiff fellow MDC members.

But if the MDC responded to Hartford's delinquency by turning off the city's water and sewer service, the city instantly would come up with the money, nothing being more important than water and sanitation. The suburban delegates to the MDC should stop being such patsies and instead tell Hartford to stiff someone else.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn., and an essayist on social and political issues.

Chris Powell: Subsidize social disintegration and blame Walmart


Some Connecticut state legislators are just wringing their hands and shrugging about the latest court decision in the latest school-funding lawsuit. That may be enough, since state Atty. Gen. George Jepsen is appealing the decision, considering it judicial overreach, and may prevail at the state Supreme Court.

Other legislators express concern that, because of state government's deteriorating finances, any extra state money for failing school systems will have to be taken from successful school systems, terminating the longstanding political consensus that it's OK for state government to put zillions more into failing schools without accomplishing anything as long as appropriations are maintained at current levels for successful schools -- the "hold harmless" policy.

But ending the "hold harmless" policy might be the best thing that Connecticut could do. For change may come only when more people have to start paying more for educational failure.

If, for example, West Hartford, Fairfield, Woodbridge, and Middlebury were told that they must lose millions in state grants so the money can be given to Hartford, Bridgeport, Waterbury and New Haven, where education never improves no matter how much more is spent -- because most city students lack the prerequisite of education – PARENTS -- then Connecticut's focus might start changing.

People then might be less inclined to accept poverty and child neglect as a way of life and a business. People might be more inclined to demand results and accountability from the cities and their residents, and, upon realizing that good results are impossible when policy is only to subsidize social disintegration, they might clamor to change policy so it discouraged rather than fostered child neglect.

Indeed, while that school funding decision, issued by Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher, overreached as a matter of law, it should prompt Connecticut to reconsider far more than school funding. It should prompt Connecticut to reconsider its whole political economy. Apart from subservience to the government employee unions, that political economy consists mainly of three things:

1) State government taxes people who took education seriously, gained work experience, achieved self-sufficiency, lived responsibly and married before having children.

2) State government transfers that money to people who disregarded education, learned little but were advanced from grade to grade and given high school diplomas anyway, and, though uneducated, unskilled, unmarried and incapable of self-sufficiency, had children in the confidence that state government would give them EBT cards, food credits, housing vouchers and medical insurance.

3) And when the "illiterates" -- the judge's candid term -- grow up and can find only menial employment that won't support families, the state's intelligentsia blames Walmart and McDonald's for not paying their employees enough.

A century ago Theodore Roosevelt, while regarded as a flaming liberal, nevertheless argued that the first duty of a citizen is to pull his own weight. The collapse of schools, cities and the state itself is what happens when public policy disagrees.


MORE REGIONALISM, ANYONE? Last week Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin pitched his plan for more regionalism during an interview on a radio station in New Britain -- the city whose minor-league baseball team Hartford stole last year by promising to build it a $50 million stadium, only to make a mess of construction and prompt litigation that may cost the city a lot more money.

Also last week a court ruled that Hartford must pay $6.3 million in damages for failing to comply with state law on assisting people displaced from their homes, a ruling that came with a contempt finding against the city administration.

Mayor Bronin has yet to explain why anyone else should want to pay for the city's incompetence, nor how there can ever be any accountability if someone else does pay.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer,  in Manchester, Conn., and  a long time essayist on political and socio-economic matters.

Don Pesci: Waiting for the burial of bankrupt Hartford

It’s more than a whisper. Hartford, Connecticut’s capital city, already is bankrupt; no one as yet has bothered to read the last rites over the corpse.

The city’s formal announcement of bankruptcy can be deduced from the math, and there is no quarreling with math, as Mr. Micawber, a character in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, well knew: “"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds, nineteen shillings and six pence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."


Misery is what happens when your expenses exceed your income. A crisis is what happens when you are unwilling to cut your expenses permanently and you have no means of increasing your income, which perfectly describes the state of Connecticut. The Democrat-dominated General Assembly, having imposed on Connecticut both the highest and the second highest tax increases in state history, Gov. Dannel Malloy has, perhaps for election purposes, forsworn future tax increases, and the state’s red ink continues to rise to knee level.

To be sure, there are reasons why state  revenue continues to plunge downward: high income salaries are diminishing; the stock market continues to under-perform, and Connecticut is more reliant than most states on taxes drawn from financial institutions; home-grown Connecticut companies either have left the state or have their eyes fixed on the exit signs; revenue from the gas tax in down because gasoline prices have been low for a long while thanks in part to fracking, and Connecticut is the only state in the union that has not yet fully recovered from a major recession that ended elsewhere more than  five years ago.

Late in August, Governor Malloy stepped before the TV cameras and declared – with as straight a face as he could summon – that his innovative crony capitalist “First Five Plus” program had been a crashing success. Outside the state’s hegemonic one-Party bubble, tittering could be heard. For the last quarter century in Connecticut, success has taken on the appearance of abject failure.

Rating the fifty states according to fiscal solvency, a June 2016 Mercatus study placed Connecticut dead last:

“Connecticut’s fiscal position is poor across all categories. With between only 0.46 and 1.19 times the cash needed to cover short-term liabilities, Connecticut’s revenues matched only 94 percent of expenses, producing a deficit of $505 per capita. The state is heavily reliant on debt to finance its spending. With a negative net asset ratio of −0.88 and liabilities exceeding assets by 34 percent, per capita debt is $9,077. Total debt is $20.88 billion. Unfunded pensions are $83.31 billion on a guaranteed-to-be-paid basis, and other post-employment benefits (OPEB) are $19.53 billion. Total liabilities are equal to 53 percent of total state personal income.”

Within the six years of the Malloy administration alone, General Electric, a fixture in the state since 1974, pulled up stakes and moved its headquarters north to Massachusetts, not south to Texas or Florida; Sikorsky, spun off from United Technologies, was purchased in July 2015 by Lockheed Martin Corp. for $9 billion in cash; Aetna Insurance, founded in Connecticut in 1853 and a beehive of employment activity in the state, appears to have its eyes on the exit signs; and – not that anyone in the Malloy administration cares all that much – gun manufacturers in a state known since the Revolutionary war as “the arsenal of the nation” are moving operations  to other move friendly states.

In 2013, Mr. Malloy gave the back of his hand to Connecticut gun manufacturers who had been begging for a place at the table before the General Assembly passed its restrictive regulations. “What this is about,” Mr. Malloy told CNN, “is the ability of the gun industry to sell as many guns to as many people as possible—even if they are deranged, even if they are mentally ill, even if they have a criminal background. They don’t care. They want to sell guns.”

In the age of crony capitalism, some businesses in Connecticut – “First Five Plus” awardees selected by the Malloy administration for crony capitalist treatment – are more equal than others. When Mayor of Hartford Luke Bronin, once Mr. Malloy’s legal counsel, petitions the governor and the General Assembly for assistance prior to declaring bankruptcy, one may be certain his petition will not be so summarily dismissed.

And just for the record, it may be proper to point out here that the Malloy administration has, through the state’s Bond Commission, provided $22 million in grants and loans to the largest hedge fund in the world in order to prevent Bridgewater Associates from moving jobs elsewhere, as gun manufacturers have done, while at the same time Mr. Malloy’s “caring” government has reduced tax outlays to Connecticut’s disabled.

Don Pesci (donpesci@att.net) is a writer who lives in Vernon, Conn

Chris Powell: Arrogant "undocumented immigrants'' out of the shadows; fictionalizing parking for the handicapped

As they blocked Main Street in downtown Hartford by unfurling a 50-foot banner protesting deportations and an unfavorable (to them) U.S. Supreme Court decision, "undocumented immigrants" -- the politically correct term for illegal aliens -- and their supporters declared last week that they were "coming out of the shadows."

"I'm undocumented, unafraid, and here to stay," one announced through a bullhorn.

Nine protesters were charged by police with disorderly conduct.

Their disappointment was understandable but their indignation was misplaced and their presumption of a right to inconvenience and bully everyone else was contemptible. 

After all, few illegal aliens are "living in the shadows" in Connecticut. Hartford and New Haven have declared themselves "sanctuary cities," formally committed to nullifying federal immigration law, as state government itself is committed more or less, now that it is providing driver's licenses and college-tuition discounts to illegals. All Connecticut's members of Congress favor amnesty for illegals. 

Besides, "living in the shadows" is what lawbreakers do, although it's not as if any immigration-law violator is in danger of being persecuted for innocent characteristics like ethnicity, homosexuality or left-handedness. Every nation has the right to immigration law -- indeed, controlling immigration is the definition of nationhood -- and illegals have violated the law just as much as anyone else has.

Yes, the country's failure to enforce immigration law, induced by pressure from unscrupulous employers and groups that don't want any immigration-law enforcement, has contributed to the extenuating circumstances of millions of young people whose illegality was the responsibility of their parents. Politics has been obstructing legislation that might give them a "path to citizenship" -- and not just the politics of legislators hostile to immigration but also the politics of legislators hostile to achieving border control before amnesty. But that's democracy for you. Building consensus can take time.

Breaking a perfectly legitimate law and then demanding that it be changed in one's favor while one bullies innocent people on the street is pretty arrogant. Who do the illegals think they are -- Citigroup or Tribune Publishing, which undertook illegal corporate acquisitions in Connecticut, confident that they were influential enough to get the laws and regulations repealed?

If their arrogance is going to extend to blocking traffic, the illegals should go back in the shadows.

* * *

Because of legislation signed last week by Gov. Dannel Malloy, Connecticut's official emblem for reserving parking spots for the handicapped has been what the governor calls "modernized." It's more like fictionalized.

The old emblem showed a stick figure sitting in a wheelchair. The new emblem has the stick figure leaning forward in a racing pose as if engaging in a game of wheelchair basketball. The idea is to dispel the supposedly retrograde idea that the handicapped are handicapped and instead suggest that people with disabilities can lead active lives -- as if anyone thought there was some law against it.

But of course if the handicapped were not disadvantaged in some way, they would hardly need preferential parking, and most of the people whose cars are equipped with handicapped parking permits are not athletes but old folks unsteady on their feet, carrying canes, or lugging oxygen canisters.

So the new emblem is just another symptom of the political correctness plaguing Connecticut under the Malloy administration. In this respect the collapse of state government's finances is fortunate, for nothing will be spent to replace the handicapped parking signs just to get rid of the old emblem. The signs with the old emblem will be replaced only as they wear out. For the time being the PC brigades may have to settle for taking the signs off bathroom doors.

Chris Powell is a Connecticut-based columnist on politics and society and managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: Let suburbanites vote in cities

With Connecticut’s state tax revenue declining, those who consider themselves big thinkers have been advocating more regionalism, as if having towns share a dog warden will save them much as long as their municipal employee union contracts remain subject to binding arbitration and thus exempt from serious economies. In fact,  advocacy of regionalism long has been just a cowardly evasion of Connecticut's most expensive policy failures.

In any case try to find someone who will argue for more regionalism in the context of recent developments in Hartford. The city is beyond insolvent, with the new mayor, Luke Bronin, having to slash its budget and seek concessions from the city employee unions. Meanwhile the minor-league baseball stadium the city last year decided to build is now not only 20 percent over budget but also months late in completion. The entire home season of the baseball team seems likely to be lost.

Of course, few observers are surprised by this, competence not being expected from city government. Asked last week about the troubles of the Hartford stadium, even Gov. Dan Malloy remarked that he had not been enthusiastic about it. But the governor could have killed it with a word before it got started. He could have declared that if Hartford, while its school system and police protection were collapsing, really thought that it could afford $50 million to build a minor-league baseball stadium, the state administration, which covers half the city's budget, would reduce financial assistance to the city by whatever amount the city appropriated for the stadium.

Instead the governor, a Democrat, was silent, reluctant to alienate the city's Democratic organization, and now Hartford is out at least $60 million, and instead of a stadium and minor-league baseball the city more likely can look forward to years of expensive litigation with the developer.

Meanwhile The Hartford Courant disclosed last week that even as the city's school administration was closing schools and eliminating services to economize, it was also paying $61,000 for having sent 33 school employees to a conference in Miami, where the school system got an award, which might as well have been for obliviousness.

Such scandals are typical of Connecticut's cities and they happen because the cities long ago lost their independent, self-sufficient, politically engaged middle class employed in the private sector, becoming dominated instead by the government and welfare classes, dominated by takers rather than producers.

As a result people who are self-sufficient or aspire to self-sufficiency and aspire to get their children away from the pathology of government-created poverty relocate to the suburbs, where people who pay more in taxes than they receive in income drawn from taxes want nothing to do with regionalism, insofar as regionalism means fluff like overpriced stadiums and Florida junkets.

Though this situation offers suburbanites an escape, it is hideous all the same, since it lets Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, and Connecticut's smaller cities remain corrupt and exploited dependencies, free of political pressure or incentive to change.

So the regionalism that Connecticut needs should recognize that the state pays too much for its cities for them to function mainly as generators of poverty and patronage. The regionalism that Connecticut needs should enfranchise suburban residents to vote in city government elections and referendums, since suburban residents are already paying half of city government expense.

Connecticut's cities do not have a big enough private sector to bring city government under control, to make it pursue the public interest. But if city elections were actually regional elections, city officials might behave more responsibly -- might not even think of spending money on stadiums and trips to Florida.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.



Chris Powell: Don't blame the NRA or Yale


Connecticut saw four of the five remaining presidential candidates on the eve of its primary election.    

On the Republican side, Donald Trump, having admitted that he doesn’t want to seem "presidential," went to Bridgeport and Waterbury to revel in the buffoonery, mockery and contempt that have made him so appealing to so many. In Glastonbury, Ohio Gov. John Kasich easily contrasted himself as thoughtful and respectful.   

On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders complained to a rally in New Haven that 36 percent of that city's children are not just living in poverty but doing so within sight of Yale University's $26 billion endowment, as if there was some connection.

Hillary Clinton visited Hartford, emphasized the problem of gun violence, and pledged to confront the National Rifle Association and strive to "change the gun culture."  

But repugnant as the NRA may be, it has little to do with gun violence, and the"gun culture" Clinton deplored -- presumably the NRA’s 5 million purported members -- is not the culture doing the most damage with guns.   

Rather, the "gun culture" that does the most damage is the culture of poverty,  unconditional welfare, drug dealing and drug prohibition. Most shootings --  from Hartford to Chicago to Los Angeles -- are not committed by NRA members but by fatherless and uneducated young men, products of the family-destroying welfare system who see drug dealing and crime as their best career options.    Sanders’s silly linking of child poverty in New Haven with Yale’s endowment only emphasizes the difficulty of pushing the political left out of its ideological dead end.   

Since Yale is such an awful influence, the expropriation of its endowment and the resulting smashing of its political influence under the assault of Sanders’s socialism would be positive. But all Yale’s money could be spent in the name of alleviating poverty and, if it was spent as the hundreds of billions of dollars before it have been spent, there would be only more poverty and dependence afterward.   

Amid this half century of policy failure it is hard not to suspect that poverty and dependence are actually the objectives of the political left generally and the Democratic Party particularly. For poverty and dependence fuel the need for government patronage and become not afflictions to be eliminated but profitable businesses and ends in themselves.   

A few decades ago it was possible for a few on the left and a few Democrats to acknowledge this failure of policy, as the sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan did before becoming one of Clinton’s predecessors as a Democratic senator from New York.   

Moynihan wrote in 1965: "From the wild Irish slums of the 19th-century Eastern seaboard to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable  lesson in American history: A community that allows a large number of men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future -- that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence,  unrest, disorder -- particularly the furious, unrestrained lashing out at the whole social structure -- that is not only to be expected; it is very near to inevitable. And it is richly deserved."  

In the Senate 20 years later, Moynihan elaborated: "The institution of the family is decisive in determining not only if a person has the capacity to love another individual but in the larger social sense whether he is capable of loving his fellow men collectively. The whole of society rests on this foundation for stability, understanding, and social peace."   

To end poverty and gun violence, government needs first of all to stop manufacturing them. 

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn. 

Conn. Democratic Incumbent Mayors Drubbed; Now What?

In three large Connecticut cities, incumbent Democratic mayors were drubbed by primary challengers. Hartford’s Mayor Pedro Segarra was outhustled and outspent by Democratic Party endorsed challenger Luke Bronin, formerly general counsel for two years to Gov. Dannel Malloy. In Bridgeport, Connecticut’s largest city, former mayor and felon Joe Ganim defeated Mayor Bill Finch in a three-way primary. And in New London, Mayor Darryl Finzio, more progressive than Leon Trotsky, lost to Councilman Michael Passero. One publication noted that the primary defeats of the three incumbent Democratic mayors indicated a “hunger for change” in cities long dominated by the Democratic Party. Three questions arise: What changes are in the minds of Democratic voters who turned a frozen face to incumbents? To what extent is change possible within cities dominated for decades by a single party? And why has the hunger for change not moved more voters toward the Republican Party?

The answer to the last question should be obvious: There is no serious and permanent Republican Party presence in large Connecticut cities. So small has the Republican Party footprint been in the three cities mentioned above that, it has been acknowledged by both major parties, Democratic primary elections in large urban areas determine victors in general elections.

Mr. Finch has taken the precaution of allying himself with an all-purpose third party and may challenge Mr. Ganim in a general election. However, the still intact Democratic Party machine in large cities gives Democratic Party endorsed candidates a leg-up over their competitors. Mr. Segarra is not likely to challenge Mr. Bronin in the upcoming General Election. Mr. Bronin had been blessed with a friendly nod from Mr. Malloy, the nominal head of the Democratic Party in Connecticut, during the primary and a fulsome endorsement after the primary. Mr. Malloy declined to endorse incumbent Mayor Finch, but lately he has signaled his disapproval of Mr. Ganim, without announcing that he would support Mr. Fitch over Mr. Ganim in any possible third-party challenge.

Following the election returns in Bridgeport, Mr. Malloy, according to a piece in CTMirror, hedged in response to Mr. Ganim’s victory. Was he willing to embrace Mr. Ganim’s, or would he support a challenge from Mr. Fitch?

“I’m not doing anything on that race today. I have to have some conversations and take a look at it,” said Mr. Malloy, “tersely acknowledging that Mr. Ganim’s return as mayor of Connecticut’s largest city would be awkward.”

Awkward indeed: Mr. Ganim, convicted of bribery, had spent seven years in prison before he audaciously sought to recover the position from which he was expelled. And his endeavor will likely be successful. In a one-party Democratic town, a party endorsement is tantamount to election. After the Great Fire at Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, the Queen was asked what she thought of the fire. “Awkward,” she said.

“Obviously,” Mr. Malloy added, “the situation is an unusual one by national standards,” but not, presumably, by the operative standards in Connecticut’s larger cities, many of which have been run by the state’s dominant Democratic Party for decades.

A report by WNPR noted: “Bronin raised over $800,000,” about twice as much as Mr. Segarra, “which allowed him, among other things, to advertise heavily on television and to send out an impressive number of political mailers. (Some recent ones included images of and praise from Governor Dannel Malloy, who campaign aides say hadn't approved their use.)”

This disclaimer – that Mr. Bronin’s former boss had not approved the subtle gubernatorial endorsements included in the mailers – follows hard on the heels of a suit brought against Mr. Malloy by the State Republican Party that claims the governor made use in his own campaign of mailers that may have run afoul of Connecticut’s stringent campaign finance laws.

Bridgeport, labeled by Ken Dixon of the Connecticut Post, formerly the Bridgeport post, "a seething mass of patronage," presents Mr. Malloy, the Queen mother of the Democratic Party in Connecticut, with a taxing problem. Should the father of the state’s “second chance” society torpedo Mr. Ganim’s march to the mayoralty perhaps, as columnist and Managing Editor of the {Manchester} Journal Inquirer Chris Powell has suggested, by threatening to turn off the patronage tap in Bridgeport? Or should Mr. Malloy simply bow to the fait accompli Mr. Ganim has managed to pull off and count himself lucky that the Republican Party is so weak and inconsequential in Democratic cities that, taken together, have assured both his election and re-election to office?

Either way, Mr. Malloy wins. But one can see in Mr. Malloy’s furrowed brow his political conscience tousling furiously with his political opportunities. Tammany Hall boss George Washington Plunkitt, tortured by such tugs and pulls of conscience, most often yielded to his opportunistic good angel: “I seen my opportunities, and I took’em.”

Don Pesci is  Vernon, Conn.-based political writer.

Don Pesci: Political monopoly and the plight of young men

Hartford, Connecticut’s capital city, has been a one-horse town since 1971, when the last Republican mayor, Ann Uccello, was recruited by then President Richard Nixon to serve in the U.S. Department of Transportation. Since that time, more than 44 years, Hartford has languished in the grip of the Democratic Party hegemon. Hegemony always has and always will produce aberrant and corrupt government, largely because in one-party systems there are no political checks and balances, the administrative state is captive to an easily manipulable single party, and there are fewer eyes looking through the windows.

Former Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, convicted and sent to prison on numerous corruption counts, once again is running for mayor in his old bailiwick; and three years after former Hartford Mayor Edie Perez had been convicted of corruption, an appellate court has overturned his hastily arrived at  conviction.

The Perez case now lies before Connecticut’s Supreme Court, three of whose justices have been appointed by Gov.  Dannel Malloy, the nominal head of Connecticut’s Democratic Party.

In addition, Mr. Malloy has appointed three justices to Appellate courts and thirty-nine judges to Superior Courts. The wheels of justice in Connecticut grind exceedingly slow, and so there is little chance that Mr. Perez will any time soon follow in the footsteps of Mr. Ganim and announce his candidacy for his old mayoralty seat.

More than four decades is a longtime for any hegemon. It seems proper at this late date – better late than never – to ask what progress, or regress, Hartford has made during these years of one-party rule?

Although Mr. Malloy and his crime czar, Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Mike Lawlor, lately have  tried to take credit for a national drop in crime rates, Connecticut cities need much improvement. 

Based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report statistics released in September 2013, three Connecticut cities were listed among the top 10 most dangerous cities in the United States with populations fewer than 200,000: New Haven was second, Hartford fourth and Bridgeport sixth. Among the Top 101 cities with the highest percentage of single-parent households in a population of 50,000 plus, Hartford ranked number two, and we know from reliable studies that single parent households in urban areas link with disruptive social pathologies such as teenage pregnancies and the incarceration of young males.

Researcher Sara McLanahan,  at Princeton Universitysuggests that boys are much more likely to end up in jail or prison by the time they turn 30 if they are raised by single mother. Her study shows that even after controlling for differences in parental income, education, race, and ethnicity, boys raised in single parent households are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated than boys raised within a traditional intact two parent household. Hartford is now the murder capital of New England. As July gave way to August, Everett Scott, 47, was brought to Hartford Hospital with a hole in his chest, apparently another drug-related murder. He did not survive. The usual meeting was held, attended by the usual politicians, who promised to do something. In 2014, there were 19 homicides in Hartford; in the first seven months of the 2015, the death toll was 19.

From the back of the room, Pastor Sam Saylor called out, “We stand at the number 19... In 2012, on Oct. 20, a 20-year-old boy, my son, died. Here we are now at the end of July facing number 20." For the benefit of the politicians seated at a table at the front of the room, Mr. Saylor asked his audience, “How many of you have lost a loved one to gun violence?" Twenty five hands were raised.

The politicians -- among them U.S. Representatives John B. Larson, and Elizabeth Esty -- no doubt well intended, nodded empathetically. Fewer illicit guns among drug dealers might be helpful; the General Assembly already had promulgated to little purpose new gun laws regulating sales among the sort of people in Connecticut who do not join drug gangs, and such regulations obviously had not diminished the death tally in Hartford. More cops might help. Call in the National Guard?

For obvious political reasons, one is not likely to find among Democratic or Republican Party campaign planks measures that will redress this problem; the war on young blacks in cities is a hard political nut to crack, because it would require a courage and honestly politicians find it difficult to muster. It would require, among other things, an acknowledgement that all the palliatives we have over the years thrown at the problem have worsened the lot of young blacks and Hispanic boys.

The black protagonist of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, published in 1952, was a specter because people refused to see him. The plight of boys and young men in early 21st Century is likewise invisible.

Don Pesci (donaldpesci@comcast.net) is a Vernon, Conn.-based political writer.

Chris Powell: Hartford protesters just irritated the public


Yes, as the protesters chanted and their signs read in downtown Hartford last Monday, "Black lives matter." But the protesters were in the wrong place.

For of course all lives matter, and the protesters were blocking afternoon rush-hour traffic as if no one else mattered.

The protest was nothing like the brave civil-rights protests of old, the lunch-counter sit-ins, where the targets were perpetrators of injustice. No, on Monday everyone passing through downtown Hartford was punished.

Further, despite its many faults, state government lately has been sensitive to the concerns of the protesters, quite without any prodding from them, as those concerns are widely shared among state residents of all races and echoed by newspapers.

With support from legislators of all races, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy has been advocating his "Second Chance Society" legislation to eliminate felony charges for simple drug possession, charges that disproportionately snag city residents, who are disproportionately from minority groups and live disproportionately in the silly "drug-free zones" around schools. Also a major issue in the General Assembly's recent session was legislation to equip police officers with body cameras.

Both bills might have passed if the legislature had been well-organized and will be considered again soon in a special section.

The legislature's recent session did pass a bill to restore the accessibility of police arrest records and to require disclosure of police body and dashboard camera video of arrests. Meanwhile, police departments throughout the state are generally recognizing the public's right to observe and record police work.

Last Monday's protesters would have helped their cause by showing up at the state Capitol a few weeks ago to speak at hearings and approach legislators for earnest discussion. Their blocking rush-hour traffic didn't call attention to any particular culprit and didn't win sympathy. To the contrary, it merely alienated and was just an exercise in self-righteousness.

If this exercise is repeated in Hartford or anywhere else, the police should not indulge it as long as they did last Monday before arresting the 17 protesters who refused to get out of the street. No one has the right to shut society down.

* * *

Serving a population that is largely impoverished and drawn from ethnic minorities, Hartford's police department long has worked not to seem to be an occupying army. This hasn't been easy, especially lately amid an increase in deadly violence in the city as the warm weather has brought fatherless and predatory young men outside to go after each other with guns.

Maybe because they live among so many predators, most Hartford residents seem to appreciate their police. But an incident of police misconduct in April, recently reported by The Hartford Courant, has left a serious question.

A pedestrian using a cellphone to take video of a trap that police had set up to catch drivers using cellphones was rushed by a police officer who yelled, "Turn the phone off before I smash it." Fortunately the officer's threatening and illegal behavior was captured by the pedestrian's cellphone and shown to the newspaper and then to police administrators.

In no way had the pedestrian interfered with the police, and the police department quickly repudiated the officer's misconduct, summoning him for "retraining" and affirming that police must accept being recorded.

But that wasn't enough.

For any police officer who would lunge at and threaten an unoffending observer that way is not just oblivious to what is going on in police work around the country. He is also psychologically unfit to be a police officer and should be fired -- and would be fired if government in Connecticut weren’t controlled by the government- employee unions.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: Conn.'s casino and ID nightmares

MANCHESTER, Conn. Alka-Seltzer commercials touting the product's supposedly soothing form of relief used to ask: Why trade a headache for an upset stomach?

That's the question that Connecticut faces with the legislation pending in the General Assembly to authorize a few more casinos near the state's borders to try to keep state residents from visiting new casinos in Massachusetts and New York. (The two Indian casinos in the southeast part of the state already have the Rhode Island border defended as well as it's going to be.)

Yes, revenue at the Indian casinos, shared with state government, has been declining and will continue to decline as Connecticut's neighbors keep more of their gamblers home. The racket that Connecticut and the Indian casinos have enjoyed for 20 years, drawing most gamblers from out of state, is nearly over and soon gambling won't be a winner for any state in the Northeast. Instead states will be plundering mainly their own people.

When its casinos were fleecing so many out-of-staters, Connecticut could rationalize the antisocial behavior engendered by casinos -- addiction, family destruction and theft -- and presume to recover its costs. No more. Casino gambling is becoming just another method of taxing the local population, the revenue drawn disproportionately from the poor and troubled, the very people government supposedly means to help.

Who wins in such a system? Only the casino operators and those employed by state and municipal government. The poor and needy might be helped as much just by getting rid of casinos entirely and imposing better priorities on state government, redirecting its resources more according to the needs of the population rather than those of elected officials and the special interests that control them.

But the legislation authorizing more casinos almost certainly will be enacted. Why? Because while it will mean more headaches and upset stomachs for ordinary people, none will be suffered by government's own employees. That's where most state tax revenue goes now and where most revenue from any new casinos will end up.


Hartford, a "sanctuary city" like New Haven -- a city that refuses assistance to federal immigration enforcement authorities -- soon may follow New Haven in issuing its own identification cards to city residents to facilitate illegal immigration. Only illegal immigrants need such cards, other forms of identification being easily obtainable by anyone who can demonstrate citizenship or legal residency.

According to the Hartford Courant, Mayor Pedro Segarra estimates that as many as 20,000 of Hartford's 125,000 residents are illegal immigrants -- a sixth of the population -- and advocates of the ID cards say those people are "living in fear in the shadows." But then anyone violating the law may have reason to live in fear. That someone lives in fear does not necessarily make him virtuous.

An official of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says the city ID cards would "ensure that our friends and neighbors are embraced as equal citizens and residents." But most of those obtaining the cards would not be citizens at all; the cards would just allow them to pose as citizens so they might enjoy benefits meant to be reserved to citizens.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform notes that Hartford's ID cards, like New Haven's, probably would be used by many to create some false identifications, since the cities have little ability to verify whatever documents would be presented to obtain the cards and less interest in verifying them.

Indeed, the ID card project is meant only to nullify federal law, the sort of thing that was so contemptible when segregationist Southern governors did it to deny federally established civil rights a half century ago.

But these days liberal nullification has become respectable even though it aims to devalue not just citizenship but nationhood itself.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.




Don Pesci: The unmentionable 'F' word


Wander into the badlands of any large city in the U.S.,  shout out “Father” and nothing will stir. Fathers are rare in this environment; far rarer, shall we say, in the north end of Hartford than they are in posh New Canaan. What happened to them? Have they all fled to the Left Bank in Paris to become expatriate artists?
The problem is cultural, say most sociologists. Just as F. Scott Fitzgerald once said of the  very rich – “They are very different from you and me” – so is the underclass very different than the middle class or the upper class. No one pauses very long to entertain the question: Why are they different? That is one among many questions assiduously avoided whenever well intentioned liberals get together with equally well intentioned professors of raceology to discuss the equally absorbing question: Why can’t we have an honest discussion on race in America?
Answer: We can’t, among other reasons, because we shy from answering the all-important question posed two paragraphs above: Who killed fathers in the African-American community? Indeed, we refuse to acknowledge its importance. This question cannot be properly probed without mentioning the “U” word – underclass -- and its connection with households without fathers.
“Poverty” is the polite word most often used by polite liberals and more earnest progressives to describe the plight of the unmentionable underclass. And, no, people who discuss these things are not racist for having so brashly mentioned the unmentionable; namely, that there is an underclass under the noses of most well-intentioned liberals and that this underclass has become a permanent feature of modern day America.
Poverty in the United States has never been, with some rare exceptions, permanent; in fact the impermanence of poverty is what has driven the desperate poor to the United States since its founding. The boast engraved on the edestal of the Statute of Liberty -- “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/ The  wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door” – is a celebration of the impermanence of poverty. But an underclass has since become a permanent fixture of our social order; it is that very thing the huddled masses were hoping to escape in their desperate flight to America, where a steady advancement up the ladder of success was impeded by speed bumps rather than the fortress walls of a class system that in Europe kept the rich in splendor and the poor in rags, more or less permanently.
It seems ages ago that the late New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan  warned us all that the African-American family – dad, mom, kids -- was becoming an endangered species. Part of the problem was – and is – that the welfare system replaced Dad with a kind of sustenance that imprisoned people within the system; welfare clients were held in welfare cages on the periphery of poverty. The more they were helped, the more secure and inescapable their prisons became. A welfare state that was supposed to allow movement from temporary dependency to self-sufficiency became a more or less permanent holding cell, a purgatory whose doors, unlike the door mentioned in the Emma Lazarus poem, never opened upon more hopeful vistas.
How many fatherless children are there in our welfare system? Lots and lots and lots. For the most part, fatherlessness is a precondition for receiving welfare. And some of the younger “fathers” of children born out of wedlock – how ancient that word sounds – have never made it to the alter. Many of them are in prison. Brought up without fathers themselves, they drifted – like ships without rudders, blown here and there by every ill wind. Their children will drift also, unless they are made of very stern spiritual stuff.
Grandmothers and grandfathers, if they have been lucky enough to remain together, may help. Ministers, priests, rabbis, imams, social workers, other siblings and teachers may help. Still, the chance that a young African-American boy whose caretakers have relied on a social-welfare system that strives to “play father to the child” will be able to avoid the pitfalls that lead to gang affiliation, poor marks in school or a prison cell, is considerably more remote than would be the case if the boy were reared under the watchful eyes of a self-sufficient, responsible and employed father who would love and guide him down sure and well-marked paths.
Sons need fathers. And a society that cared for fathers and sons -- and its own welfare -- would not so perversely ignore the ruin at its door.
Don Pesci (donpesci@att.net) is a political writer who lives in Vernon, Conn.