Last week I posited an improbable hypothetical: The Connecticut General Assembly adopts a law providing that the state no longer will provide any education aid to any municipality whose population is under 100,000. In other words, state assistance for education would be provided only to municipalities at least the size of Hartford, more or less. Every Hartford suburban town would lose all state support for education.
Then I speculated about how West Hartford would respond; namely, how West Hartford would look for a town with which to merge and get over the 100,000 limit.
After I published last week’s essay, I kept thinking about my hypothetical and imagining the response all around greater Hartford. How would towns find a merger partner to get over the 100,000 threshold and preserve state support for their schools? Of course, it’s impossible to predict how every town would respond, but I will suggest one scenario.
I will readily admit that I’m coming at this question with a bias: I think the response of many white people, enough people to drive this politically inflammatory question, would be the racist response. They wouldn’t say it, they wouldn’t admit, but I think their response would be driven by race. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think my vision is not far-fetched. If there’s any credibility in what I suggest, then greater Hartford has some soul searching to do.
Okay, ready? When the State announces that only municipalities over 100,000 will receive state funding for education, I suggest that greater Hartford would respond as follows:
- Simsbury takes one look at Bloomfield and immediately proposes a merger with Granby, Canton, Avon, Farmington, probably Suffield, and whatever other towns to the west that they need to get over 100,000. Call them the Over-the-Mountain gang.
- Newington and Wethersfield look like natural partners. Newington once was part of Wethersfield, and they share the Berlin Turnpike corridor. However, together they are less than 100,000 people, so they need a third partner, or even a fourth. Enter West Hartford and Glastonbury.
- West Hartford asks into the Over-the Mountain gang and is rebuffed. West Hartford borders Hartford, and the gang would rather keep West Hartford as a buffer. So, Newington and Wethersfield become West Hartford’s only option other than Hartford.
- Meanwhile, Glastonbury is facing the prospect of merging with East Hartford and Manchester, its natural partners to the north. Instead, Glastonbury proposes that it return to its roots and rejoin Wethersfield and Newington, reversing Glastonbury’s split from Wethersfield more than 300 years ago. Most likely, West Hartford wins the beauty contest to wed Newington-Wethersfield, and Glastonbury is left stranded.
- South Windsor, like Glastonbury, turns away from East Hartford and Manchester and begins negotiations with Vernon, Ellington, East Windsor, Enfield, and Somers.
- Manchester and East Hartford are forced to the altar, but they still need help to get to 100,000. They would welcome Glastonbury’s tax base, and Glastonbury would have no other viable choice.
- That leaves Bloomfield and Windsor. With all the other towns lined up, political pressure from the newly merged towns, including some financial incentives from the State, would lead to the merger of Bloomfield, Windsor, and Hartford.
There you have it. You can create your own scenario, but I submit that mine is a plausible outcome.
What would we have? A core city (Hartford, Bloomfield, and Windsor) where Blacks and Hispanics are in the majority, a poor core city relative to its suburbs. We’d have predominantly white suburbs in the Over-the Mountain gang, West Hartford/Newington/Wethersfield and the South Windsor group. We’d have one reasonably integrated small city, at least in terms of population if not geography, in the East Hartford/Manchester/Glastonbury group.
The white towns would have done again what they’ve done for the past 100 years – turned their backs on the poor and the people of color.
I don’t like describing this scenario, because writing it tends to reinforce what I believe is an all too common notion: That towns like Hartford and Bloomfield, Windsor and East Hartford are somehow undesirable. And worse, that the people who live there are undesirable. It’s a hateful lie.
Who lives in Hartford and Bloomfield, Windsor and East Hartford? Our neighbors, that’s who. Our co-workers. Immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Descendants of enslaved Americans who for generations built our country and were not compensated for their labor. People who get married, raise families, and grow old. People who enjoy eating out, sharing family dinners, watching the Super Bowl, reading books. People who vote. People whose lives have been disrupted by COVID-19. They pay taxes, they send their kids to school and to college. They are people who are proud of their lives and what they’ve accomplished. And they’re proud of their towns.
Isn’t it time that greater Hartford ends the racial gerrymandering that created and maintains segregation and white supremacy? Isn’t it time for West Hartford, Newington, and Wethersfield to join Hartford, Bloomfield and Windsor, instead of shunning them? Shouldn’t we create the new Hartford, the racially and economically integrated city that can build a new future instead of perpetuating a tired and outdated racist past?
Isn’t it time for Glastonbury and South Windsor to join with East Hartford and Manchester?
Isn’t it time that all the towns around Hartford, east and west of the river, get together under one government and solve our common problems, our community’s problems?
Isn’t it time that we embrace all of our neighbors? If not now, when?