Author’s note: I wrote and planned to publish an optimistic commentary on the covid-19 situation (some might have called it Pollyannaish). Then I considered writing about a series of interesting and pessimistic thoughts I’ve had about the future and how we should be responding to the current crisis. I decided it was best to do neither and to write once again this week about our local governance. We can use the diversion from the steady drumbeat about the virus. More importantly, the world will have changed and will continue to change when we emerge on the other side of the virus, and we should be thinking now about how we, those of us who live in central Connecticut, want to be organized to respond to what will be the new modern world.
I had lunch last week with a couple of old friends and readers of my blog. Smart guys with vast amounts of community and political experience.
Eventually, as it always does with my friends, the conversation came around to this blog. The first thing they said, practically in unison, was something like, “You understand, don’t you, that there is no chance that governance will change in Connecticut?”
I assured them that from the beginning, I’ve had no illusions about my ability to effect change simply by pointing out the dozens of reasons why greater Hartford would be better off if we merged the city and several surrounding towns. Still, they agreed when I said that our governance model is ineffective and is a barrier to Hartford once again becoming an exciting and growing community. It’s common knowledge and as I said, they’re smart guys.
The problem, they said, is that nobody wants this change. The proposal is a threat to all politicians. The suburban voters don’t want Hartford’s problems, and the Hartford voters don’t want to be controlled by the suburbs.
Isn’t that amazing? Everyone’s protecting their turf, even though they know that by protecting their turf they impair the long-term vitality of their community.
The interchange from I-91 north to U.S. 5-15/I-84 east created significant traffic problems almost from the time it opened after the reconstruction of the Charter Oak Bridge 30 years ago. Everyone knew it. Now, after literally decades of traffic jams caused by the interchange, Connecticut is doing something about it. DOT is in the middle of a $200 million project to change the on-ramp from I-91 north. Relief is long over-due, but we finally are addressing the problem. By the way, DOT also is developing plans to eliminate the maddening traffic signals on Route 9 at Middletown.
Just like an outmoded highway, our governance structure creates problems for our community, subtler perhaps than a daily traffic jam but more significant. We waste tens of millions of dollars annually. We have small, duplicative, inefficient systems. We perpetuate de facto racism. We compromise the future of our children. Still, no one talks about it, let alone considers solutions. Whenever the subject comes up, people simply say “you’ll never change it.”
In addition to local governance, lunch conversation with me also usually comes around to the Buffalo Bills, and this lunch was no exception. I told my friends that besides my blog, during the NFL season I write a weekly column about the Bills. They asked where they could see this column. I told them it appeared on the Bills Mafia website, which caused them to ask what the Bills Mafia is. How could they not know about the Bills Mafia? I guess they aren’t real football fans. (My Bills commentaries are at Mark’s Bills commentary. My latest is about Stefon Diggs. You should know about Stefon Diggs; he’s quite a good player.)
Anyway, they quickly realized the common theme in local governance and the Buffalo Bills – I write about lost causes. Maybe it’s more than a coincidence that with only occasional exceptions, the Bills have been the poster child for NFL futility since about the time Connecticut got rid of county government. However, unlike local governance in Connecticut, things are changing with the Bills. They’ve been to the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, they have a young head coach who has quickly gained the admiration of coaches and general managers around the league, and they have a promising young quarterback. The national sports press has begun talking about the Bills as one of the up and coming teams, especially now that Tommy boy has decided to leave New England.
I-91 will be fixed soon, and if we the people of greater Hartford get to work now, we might be able to fix our governance before the Bills win the Super Bowl.
Stay safe, be kind, and do what’s best for all of us.