Hartford's pathetic response to crime is nothing if not consistent. For decades the city has suffered horrific crimes, followed by bizarre statements from public officials, ending in a flurry of heartfelt inaction. But these periodic sprees mask the true problem in Hartford, and it is not serious crime. It is the tolerance of elected officials for the inappropriate behaviors that occur daily throughout the city. It is this tolerance that has infected Hartford and is choking the city.
The behaviors are well known. It is blaring music or a person urinating in public. Maybe it's the car stopped in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, so the occupants can talk to friends. Perhaps it is the trash thoughtlessly discarded on thoroughfares and side streets. People act this way only because they are allowed to do so.
If these were isolated incidents, then the harm would be minimal. But when they become a way of life, it dramatically affects businesses and neighborhoods.
The failure to draw retail investments to Front Street near the convention center is due to the city's tolerance for these behaviors. There is no other explanation. On paper, the retail location is superb. It is across from a successful convention center and a new hotel; it is down the street from a soon-to-open science center; there is river access; it a short walk from downtown; and the demographics are terrific. Yet year after year, the city can't give the location away.
Adjoining communities have attracted huge amounts of private dollars. It is obvious that private investors have no confidence in people coming to Hartford to shop.
Hartford homeownership is also affected. The backbone of any community is its ability to attract and retain homeowners. They provide stability for a neighborhood, its schools and businesses. Here again, Hartford looks good on paper. It has a large stock of wonderful houses; they are reasonably priced; have good highway access; and are close to wonderful cultural and entertainment venues.
Yet Hartford has an abysmal homeownership rate. No one wants to live with a constant barrage of irritating behaviors. So potential homeowners make herculean sacrifices to live anywhere but Hartford.
The tragedy is that this situation is solvable but for our elected officials' lack of will. The responsibility and blame lie with Mayor Eddie A. Perez and the Democratic majority on the city council. They are the stewards of a once-great city. But they have no reason to rock the boat. They will continue to be elected so long as they stay in the good graces of the Democratic Town Committee. Therefore the will to make Hartford a welcoming place to live and visit doesn't exist at city hall. A recent comment by the mayor is a good example. The mayor called the vicious, brutal beating of a man an "unfortunate incident!"
An unfortunate incident is when my wife finds out that Tiffany's is opening a store in the mall. It is not when a person minding his own business, in the mayor's city, is nearly beaten to death. The mayor's comment shows the disconnect between the people who live, work and play in the city and its elected officials.
Hartford has tremendous potential. There is great affection and support for it in the surrounding communities. Much money and personal energy pours into the city regularly. These people root for Hartford to succeed. But they are tiring. They want to see some sign that Hartford has the will to create a city that is safe and inviting. This is a question of will, not money.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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