Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy's prospects for a second term may be determined by how many more times before Nov. 4 that troublesome 118-year-old railroad drawbridge in Norwalk malfunctions and stops traffic on the busiest commuter rail line in the country, Metro-North. Accidents and other breakdowns on Metro-North in the last year have discredited state government more than anything else has.
While Metro-North is a New York state agency, Connecticut is responsible for the maintenance of its own tracks and rail cars, whose neglect is acknowledged and arises far more from the administrations of Malloy's predecessors than from his own.
While the railroad was being neglected, Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. found millions of dollars for subsidizing a professional hockey team in Hartford and buying the Bridgeport zoo. Gov. John G. Rowland found hundreds of millions for the Adriaen's Landing project, in Hartford, and the Rentschler Field football stadium, in East Hartford. And Gov. Jodi Rell found hundreds of millions for the ineffectual bloat she called education and for stem-cell research. Now the financial and political bills have come due under Malloy.
But the current governor isn't entirely innocent. For he found hundreds of millions for the bus highway from New Britain to Hartford, and its imminent completion is corresponding embarrassingly with the trouble on Metro-North. The governor also has found hundreds of millions for what he calls economic development, grants to politically favored corporations, what others call corporate welfare. And he has worsened the education scam.
The obsolescence of the Norwalk drawbridge has been known for many years. So if upon taking office the governor had decided that fixing the railroad rather than building the busway would be his signature transportation project, Connecticut would not now be facing a problem he admits is outrageous.
And just as Malloy is getting stuck with the financial and political costs of his predecessors, he will bestow on his successors his own financial and political costs, like the foregone taxes and loan repayments from the politically favored companies; the operational expense of the busway, whose buses likely will run mostly empty even if New Britain's minor-league baseball team leaves for the $60 million stadium proposed by Hartford officials; and worsening social promotion from elementary school to college.
Governors are not really peculiar this way. Municipal officials neglect basic maintenance of everything from schools to sewers so that money can be diverted to increasing the compensation of unionized municipal employees. The assumption is that roofs will leak and heating systems fail on someone else's watch, or at least after the next election.
There is just nothing glamorous about maintenance and there is no fun in budgeting for it, nothing shiny to put one's name on, no heroism in proclaiming that something that long has worked and has been taken for granted will continue working because it was properly cared for. What has been taken for granted will continue to be.
Dazzled by office and the deference of supplicants, politicians need the public to keep them grounded in the real world, even as civic engagement in Connecticut, as measured by voter participation, long has been declining.
But at least a few dozen Hartford residents turned up at this week's City Council meeting to scold Mayor Pedro Segarra and council members for their stadium scheme. The people complained that stadiums never produce municipal revenue, that they amuse mainly outsiders, and that the urgent needs of the city are prosaic --such as maintenance of schools and roads.
Having arrogantly pronounced the stadium a "done deal" just a few days earlier, the mayor and City Council President Shawn T. Wooden quickly backtracked to say that more communication about the project is needed. This got them out of the meeting alive but scrutiny can only kill the stadium plan.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.