Luke Bronin

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.

Don Pesci: Hartford is the canary in the Conn. mineshaft

Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum, one of America’s oldest and best museums. The financially and sociologically stressed city still has many impressive cultural institutions, mostly dating back to its long economic heyday as a manufacturing center and “The Insurance Capital of the World,’’ when it had a large comfortable middle class and quite a few rich folks, too. Mark Twain probably was its most famous resident.

Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum, one of America’s oldest and best museums. The financially and sociologically stressed city still has many impressive cultural institutions, mostly dating back to its long economic heyday as a manufacturing center and “The Insurance Capital of the World,’’ when it had a large comfortable middle class and quite a few rich folks, too. Mark Twain probably was its most famous resident.

According to a story in a Hartford paper, the city’s mayor, Luke Bronin, a rising star in state politics, “declined to comment on the dispute” between Hartford teachers and their nominal patron, the Hartford Board of Education. The dispute is about contracts and the inability of the people of Hartford to finance years of overspending.

A few months ago, Bronin, unable to meet his contractual obligations, sought a bailout from state taxpayers. Bronin leapt from the Malloy administration frying pan, where he served as then Gov. Dannel Malloy’s chief counsel, directly into the fire as mayor of a city teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and his former boss was only too happy to bail out his protege by flooding the city with state tax balm.

The Hartford school board is seeking concession from teacher union representatives, and the concessions will, if ever they bear fruit, make future state bailouts less burdensome to an all-Democrat political hegemon that may, under the enlightened administration of newly elected Gov. Ned Lamont, be less inclined to bail out Connecticut cities teetering precariously on the edge of bankruptcy.

The concessions that the Hartford Board of Education wishes to wrest from its teachers' unions are curative, which is to say they will help in overcoming crippling future deficits, while state bailouts are palliative; they simply put off an effective remedy until a more favorable moment – which, of course, never arrives. “Among the concessions sought by the school board,” we are told, “is a reduction in sick days from 20 to 15, two years of pay freezes, followed by a one percent increase in the third year, and a switch from a preferred provider medical plan to a health savings account.” In addition, “the board suggested eliminating a higher tier of pay for workers who have earned a master’s degree plus 60 additional credits, and reducing the number of union officers who are detached, with pay, from day to day district work from three to one.”

All these remedies reduce the municipal cost of labor, and it is the cost of labor that has made beggars of our state’s larger cities.

The state itself should take a lesson from this moment. The cost of labor in state government also produces the same set of seemingly intractable problems. Connecticut’s recurring deficits cannot be traced to an insufficiency of taxes, which have tripled in the course of four governors.

The crunch is coming, and it may arrive on Lamont’s lap during his first term. He would be wise not to pet the tiger. There was plenty of petting during Lamont’s first speech as governor: “I am a strong believer in labor, and now is the time to show that collective bargaining works in tough times, as well as good times. As our liabilities continue to grow faster than our assets, together we have to make the changes necessary to ensure that retirement security is a reality for our younger, as well as our older, state employees, and do that without breaking the bank.”

There are more curves in those few sentences than there are in the usual Connecticut cow path. Will Lamont present in his budget a straight path to prosperity – or not. The price of government in Connecticut has become too costly; how will Lamont reduce it so that the expenditures of the father will not be visited upon the sons, “yea even to the third and fourth generation.”

Executive director of AFSCME Council 4 Jody Barr and other labor leaders met with Lamont at the governor’s mansion a week after he had been sworn in as governor, and how did that go? Barr emerged from the meeting hopeful, according to an account by Christine Stuart of CTNewJunkie, “Barr said the governor has invited labor to be part of the process… his members have participated in the transition and are offering up ideas on how to improve state government… He said they will be at the table, but that it won’t a table where they negotiate more concessions… We’re all hopeful he’s going to bridge this fiscal thing,” Barr said. “It gives us hope we can get through it.”

One cannot drive a straight line through such oracular pronouncements.

Sometime in mid-February, Lamont will be presenting his budget to the General Assembly. If the governor’s bargaining session with union heads over contract negotiations were to be concluded BEFORE that date, the twists and turns in Lamont’s pre-contractual pronouncements will have been straightened out before the legislature decides to sign off on a budget document that very well may visit the expenditures of the fathers and mothers upon the sons and daughters of Connecticut, yea even to the third and fourth generation.

It’s perfectly reasonable for a state to give a low approval rating to a governor who deals in such budget necromancy. Dannel Malloy’s approval rating on his retirement from office, we now know, was 20 percent, the second lowest in the nation. Lamont tells us that he doesn't to wish to lose his shot. If so, he'd better shoot straight.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based essayist.


Chris Powell: In Conn., Dems reject their record and Republicans won't learn

Hartford in 1877, as the nation came out of depression and the Industrial Revolution roared, especially in southern New England.    

Hartford in 1877, as the nation came out of depression and the Industrial Revolution roared, especially in southern New England.


What does this week's primary election for governor say about Connecticut's Democratic Party? 

First, it says that at least the party cannot rationalize Joe Ganim's corruption in office. 

Second, it says that the party has come down with a bad case of schizophrenia, as Ned Lamont, having won about 80 percent of the vote, delivered an extemporaneous and overwrought if not hysterical acceptance speech admitting that the party's eight years in control of state government have laid Connecticut low and it desperately needs to change direction. 

How does a party seek to keep power on a platform of repudiating its own record? 

What does this week's primary election for governor say about Connecticut's Republican Party? 

The victory of business executive Bob Stefanowski says that the party has declined to draw any conclusions from its four recent disastrous experiments with nominating for high office self-funding but unknown dilettantes whose ideology, ability, and character have never been tested in public. Each of those experiments produced damaging discoveries about the candidates in the closing days of their campaigns. Now it easily could happen again. 

Behind every great fortune, the French novelist Balzac wrote, is a great crime. Of course that's not entirely true, but their recent record suggests that Connecticut's Republicans might do better to start believing it. 

The Republican results also should teach all of Connecticut something. Stefanowski won with only 30 percent of the vote and the winner of the party's primary for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Joe Markley, may have won with just less than half. To prevent such impairments of democracy, when the field of candidates is large and the leader has not won a majority, state law should provide for runoff primaries and elections or what is called "ranked-choice" voting. 

A second primary between the two top candidates for the Republican nomination for governor well might produce a different result. In any case a runoff system encourages consensus and discourages candidates who cannot win a majority and indeed may even be extreme. 

Extremism is already the Democratic charge about Stefanowski, though Lamont himself has embraced a far-left agenda and has pledged obedience to the government employee unions. 

PARTY ON, HARTFORD: The Democrats' subservience to the government class was exposed again the other day when the Hartford Courant reported that the Malloy administration's $500 million bailout for Hartford city government has squelched even the tiniest bit of pension reform there. 

Prior to the bailout, Mayor Luke Bronin and the City Council planned to save money by disqualifying new, nonunion city employees from the city's defined-benefit pension plan. The new hires were to be offered a defined-contribution pension, a 401(k) plan. 

Now that the bailout has been secured, city government is no longer inclined to economize with pensions. Council President Glendowlyn Thames says her colleagues are thinking: "These are city employees. We should be providing them with good pensions." 

But since state government is reimbursing half of Hartford city government's budget every year and assuming all the city's long-term debt, the city's employees have become more the burden of all state taxpayers than Hartford's own burden. So thanks to the governor, Hartford, where nearly everyone is a Democrat, can party on. 

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. 

Term limits look better and better in Connecticut

The lame ducks depicted in this  Clifford K. Berryman  cartoon are defeated Democrats heading to the  White House  hoping to secure political appointments from  President  Woodrow Wilson .

The lame ducks depicted in this Clifford K. Berryman cartoon are defeated Democrats heading to the White House hoping to secure political appointments from  President Woodrow Wilson.

Columnist Jim Cameron in the Stamford Advocate has curtly written off  Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy: “Our governor is a lame duck. Because he’s announced he’s not running for re-election, he has the political clout of a used teabag. And even though he’s our state’s leader for another 11 months, nobody cares about him or his ideas any longer.”

Malloy’s lieutenant governor, Nancy Wyman, has decided she would rather be spending time with her family than running for governor, which would necessarily entail a hearty defense of Malloy’s ruinous policies.

After two terms making Connecticut great again, Malloy himself has decided to take a hike.

Atty. Gen. George Jepsen, whose time in office was spent avoiding media notoriety -- unlike his predecessor,  Dick Blumenthal, for whom fawning media attention was the River Styx in which he bathed frequently – has called it a day after two terms as Connecticut’s AG. And no, the former chairman of the State Democratic Party has no plans to run for governor. Both Blumenthal and former Atty. Gen. Joe Lieberman used the AG’s office as springboard to a U.S. Senate sinecure.    

Mayor of Hartford Luke Bronin, once Malloy’s chief counsel, having said he would need a couple of terms in office to turn the U.S.S. Hartford around, has rushed into the vacuum created by Malloy’s departure.  Connecticut’s capital is taking on water. Only a few weeks ago, Bronin was palavering with lawyers about a bankruptcy declaration, and if he now feels the governor’s office is a politically safe haven compared to the mayoralty of Hartford, he’s one bright cookie. Most lawyers are not dummies. despite the usual bad rap on the comic circuit. Question: What do you call a lawyer with an I. Q. of 50? Answer: Your honor.

An open Democrat gubernatorial field has yanked Ned Lamont from the shadows. Lamont, a cable millionaire and great-grandson of a late chairman of J.P. Morgan & Co. Thomas Lamont, successfully challenged then U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in a Democrat primary; he then lost to Lieberman, who successfully defended his seat as an independent in a general election. “Lamont spent $26 million of his cable television fortune on his run for the Senate and for governor,” Neil Vigdor of CTPostreminds us, and Lamont was, of course, supported by former U.S. Sen. Lowell Weicker, who is still recovering from his 1988 loss to Lieberman.

“I just care about whether I think I can make a difference and get this state back on track,” Lamont said. “We’ve got so many amazing assets. We’re just not making the best out of our potential.” Lamont indicated that he would decide by January whether he would throw his hat into the gubernatorial ring. By that time, the floor on both sides of the political barracks will be littered with hats.

These bow-outs of Malloy, Wyman and Jepsen have kicked the doors open on an election that promises to be alarmingly interesting. If anyone wants to know how term limits might introduce into Connecticut’s sclerotic political system the verve and energy of a new day, they have only to look about them. Had term limits been in force midway between Dick Blumenthal’s agonizingly long 20-year term as the state’s attorney general he might have been a U.S. senator or possibly governor more than 10 years earlier; for it is not true that term limits would end political careers. They would simply move the pieces on the political chessboard toward different political functions. PAC committees, easily captured by incumbents, would have to decide, upon a governor or a senator leaving his post, who they might want to corrupt in the future; in the absence of a healthy turn-over in various offices, corruption has become routine, predictable and automatic. Term limits would invigorate political parties, and awaken all the nerve tingling juices of reporters during election cycles.

This is precisely what is happening right now that three prominent officeholders have decided in effect to term limit themselves.

Jepsen’s political career has been well rounded: In 2018, he will have put in eight years as attorney general. But Jepsen also served in the State House for  four years and the State Senate for 12 years. He served as chairman of the  state Democratic Party for two years. These terms in different political offices approximate term limit spans. Jepsen circulated himself through a now sclerotic political system, and no one is complaining that the state Senate, for example, has been irreparably damaged because Jepsen did not spend as much time there as Blumenthal had in the attorney general’s office.

Had term limits been in operation for the last few election cycles, no one in the Democratic Party would be wincing at the prospect that a Bridgeport mayor who spent years in prison for corruption might become the next governor of Connecticut. The gubernatorial field on the Democratic side would now be crowded with recirculated Democrats, some of whom just might be able to pull Connecticut out of its progressive mire by its former moderate and pragmatic bootstraps.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnisf.

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.


Don Pesci: Weicker back with more incoherence; Hartford's dilemma and opportunity

Downtown Hartford, once famed as the "Insurance Capital of the World.''    --  Photo by Sage Ross

Downtown Hartford, once famed as the "Insurance Capital of the World.''

--  Photo by Sage Ross

Former Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker surfaced recently and both condemned, unwittingly, and complimented lame duck Gov. Dannel Malloy.

Every so often, Mr. Weicker, intent on working the dents out of his legacy, pokes his head above the fox hole, scans enemy territory for a friendly face, and spills some political beans. Ken Dixon of the Connecticut Post asked Mr. Weicker to comment on Mr. Malloy’s decision to pack it in, and he obliged. What Weicker said was, as usual, confusing and contradictory.

Mr. Malloy’s decision to withdraw his name for re-nomination, Mr. Weicker said, “unties Malloy’s hands.” Really? Malloy’s hands have not been tied during his entire term in office. All the heights of power in Connecticut’s government – the governor’s office, the General Assembly, the state’s constitutional offices, Connecticut’s U.S. Congressional Delegation, important courts appointments made by Mr. Malloy – have been in Democrats' hands since Mr. Malloy had first been elected governor. Indeed, so untied were Mr. Malloy’s hands that he felt comfortable denying Republican leaders in the General Assembly any voice in union contract negotiations with SEBAC, the union conglomerate authorized to fashion contracts with the governor; and when budget deliberations began during Malloy’s first term and second terms, he shooed Republicans out of the negotiation room and slammed the door in their faces.

One thinks of Cromwell marching into the British Parliament and shouting, “Gentlemen, go home!” There is not a hint of “tied hands” in any of this?

Mr. Weicker then added that, were he governor, “I would to the best of my ability deny the spending spree in the legislature. We’ve got to stop spending. That’s our huge problem. Every legislator has their pet project. We’re probably in the worst financial condition of any state in the union, and we’re known for that, rather than being the wealthiest.” He rounded out his thoughts, such as they were, by commending Mr. Malloy, whose approval rating in Connecticut is among the lowest in the nation, at about 28 percent: “Dan’s had two terms, which is heavy-duty in Connecticut. I would say he still wants to leave a positive legacy. I admire the man. I like him. He’s a good governor.”

So let’s see: in 20 months, Mr. Malloy will have been in office for two terms; he is the author of both the largest and second largest tax increases in Connecticut history, outperforming even Weicker on this score; the Connecticut legislature, dominated by Democrats for a half century or more, has, even by Weicker’s reckoning, spent the state into a hole; state deficits are about what they were during Weicker’s first term in office – which, everyone will recall, necessitated the imposition of an income tax; Connecticut is “in the worst financial condition of any state in the union” Mr. Weicker pronounces, adding, implausibly, “I admire the man. I like him. He’s a good governor.” What work, if any, does the word “good” do in that sentence?

In Mr. Weicker's mind -- not that anyone need bother too much with Mr. Weicker's mind -- spending is not a function of taxation, and taxation is not a function of spending. That is why Mr. Weicker can say, both and at the same time: a) spending is a problem; if I were  governor, I would put a stop to spending, and b) Malloy, who has not done this, is, nevertheless, an admirable governor. Malloy and Weicker have increased spending because they increased taxes. These two operations being detached in Weicker's mind, Malloy is a “good governor.”

Mr. Malloy is a good governor for much the same reason Mr. Weicker was a good governor: facing deficits, both raised taxes permanently – inflicting permanent damage upon the state, while satisfying progressive legislators and unions. Mr. Weicker likes Mr. Malloy because Mr. Malloy is like Mr. Weicker.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin -- who, as chief counsel to Mr. Malloy, learned his politics at the feet of the master --is cut from the same progressive cloth as Mr. Weicker and Mr. Malloy. In fact, Connecticut’s capital city, is a microcosm of the state. Whatever is wrong in Hartford is wrong in the state; whatever is right in Hartford is right in the state.

Hartford has been a one-party town for more than 50 years. The presence of the Republican Party in the city as a political force is a whisper in the wind. Mr. Bronin replaced Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, who, before leaving office, gifted the incoming mayor with a financial mess and a new ballpark that will be losing millions of dollars two years out from opening day. The school system in Hartford, laboring under a court order that requires schools in the city to maintain an “equitable” ratio of 25 percent whites to 75 percent minorities, is in continuing crisis.

A charter school in Hartford that provides to African-Americans and Hispanics an education that does not require remedial courses for those of its students who graduate and go to college has been forced to turn away African-American and Hispanic students because it must preserve a 25-75 percent mixture of white and non-white students that a Connecticut court whimsically considers constitutional. No one in the city even blinks at this obvious example of court-ordered educational discrimination against minority mothers who want a better education for their children.

Hartford derives its revenue from property taxes, but there is a hitch: about fifty percent of the property in Hartford cannot be taxed. When the city wades into red ink, it makes an effort – only partly and temporarily successful much of the time – to reduce costs by reducing expenditures and begging state union workers for givebacks. In both the city and the state, union givebacks have been insufficient to balance budgets without additional revenue increases. Mr. Bronin’s present budget is running a deficit in part because savings from past “givebacks” have not been given back. The budget Mr. Bronin just presented relies on a generous gift from the state’s lame-duck governor than may not materialize. Both Hartford and state budgets are “balanced” by revenue projections that may never materialize.

Here is Mr. Bronin’s dilemma in a nutshell: He cannot increase taxes without incurring business flight and a consequent diminution of revenue, and he cannot – dare not – institute permanent cuts in spending by courageously confronting powerful unions. Yet spending continues to outpace revenue collections. For this reason, both he and Malloy find themselves in the same position as Mr. Micawber in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery."

Hartford has an insuperable advantage over the state. The city, as a default strategy, can and likely will declare bankruptcy, which will have the beneficial effect of forcing Mr. Bronin to do what he, Mr. Malloy and Mr. Weicker were loathed to do – cut spending by reducing contractual “fixed-cost” expenditures.

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

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: 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: Of Flint, Hartford and a stadium

With the city’s water system contaminated by lead, this was the headline last week on a news story from Flint, Mich.: "Mothers of Flint Very Frightened for Their Kids."   

The story lacked even one reference to the fathers of Flint, presumably because there are few if any fathers there, the city of 100,000 being, like so many other U.S. cities, more or less a concentration camp for the poor, hapless and fatherless.  

As a result since 2011 Flint has been operating in administrative receivership by Michigan state government. The city was also in state receivership from 2002 to 2004 but it did little lasting good.     

The catastrophe resulted from the current state receiver’s decision to save money by switching the city’s water supply from the metropolitan Detroit system to the Flint River, whose water leached lead from the city water system’s old pipes. As signs of trouble grew, Flint lacked the competent political class needed to take care of itself or evoke the concern of state officials.

So now many children in Flint are at risk of irreversible lead poisoning, a national scandal.   

But Flint’s circumstances, political incompetence arising from comprehensive and perpetual poverty, are common in many cities, including cities in Connecticut,  as indicated by the latest incompetence in Hartford, the $10 million cost overrun in the minor-league baseball stadium the city is building to steal New Britain’s team.  

Nearly everyone outside Hartford knew that the lack of minor-league baseball was not among the city’s problems and that city government would botch the project.  For like Flint, Hartford lacks the independent and engaged middle class necessary to make government work in the public interest. Instead, most ofHartford’s politically involved people are members of the government and welfareclasses -- the dependent classes.

While some Hartford residents have complained about the decision to build the stadium and the cost overrun, there are not enough to make a difference politically.  

Hartford’s new mayor, Luke Bronin, who had nothing to do with the stadium decision, has made what he says is the best settlement available for the cost overrun. The city will split the expense with the minor-league team and the mayor will pursue more financial aid from the state and federal governments to compensate for the city’s unplanned extra contribution.  

Thus Bronin, until recently an aide to Gov. Dan Malloy, inadvertently has exposed the dodge that his former boss hid behind when Hartford began contemplating  the stadium -- a statement that state government would not help fund it.

But like Connecticut’s other impoverished cities, Hartford long has drawn half its budget from state government reimbursement, far more than most municipal governments get, and thus for many years whenever Hartford has wasted money,  half the waste has been state government money.

With the stadium Hartford already has wasted a lot of state money, and if Mayor Bronin obtains more aid from the state and federal governments to reimburse the cost overrun, the city  will be wasting still more.   

The disaster might have been prevented if, instead of purporting to be indifferent to Hartford’s stadium plan, the governor had candidly acknowledged the city’s disproportionate financial dependence on state government, declared the stadium a luxury, and announced that every dollar the city spent on the stadium would be matched by a reduction in state aid to the city.

That instantly would have scuttled the stadium and brought much-needed clarity to Connecticut’s dysfunctional political economy.    Instead, exploding the governor’s pose of neutrality, state government now will be subsidizing not only Hartford’s theft of New Britain’s team but still more ofHartford city government’s incompetence, thus giving all municipalities more incentive for their own incompetence.

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.