Give Bob Stefanowski credit for getting one thing right: Connecticut’s cities have major problems. Other than that, this guy who seems to still want to be Governor of Connecticut is clueless or lying.
In case you missed it, the Wall Street Journal published a Stefanowski opinion piece on Saturday morning (https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-isnt-the-matter-with-hartford-11609537200?st=j7myp0xw8wlubzj&reflink=article_email_share). In it, he lashes out at Hartford, its residents, its students, Mayor Luke Bronin, Democrats in general, government employee unions, everything.
It’s difficult to describe Stefanowski’s take on this as anything other than ignorant and racist.
At its most basic, Stefanowski apparently doesn’t understand that national rankings of cities in various categories are meaningless where Connecticut cities are concerned because demographically, Connecticut cities are unlike cities almost anyplace else in the country. Comparison’s are meaningless. Metropolitan areas around the country that are the same size as greater Hartford, places like Richmond and Louisville and Raleigh and Nashville, include within their city limits large residential areas like West Hartford and Wethersfield. The equivalent of West Hartford’s schools and wealth is included in data about those other cities, because those residential areas actually are within the city limits
Trying to make the case that Hartford is failing because of fundamentally flawed statistical comparison is stupid or disingenuous. Either way, if that’s a measure of Stefanowski’s thinking (dare I say modern Republican thinking?), then we’d better look elsewhere for leadership. America and Connecticut must no longer allow itself to be misled by hate, falsehoods and fools.
Channeling his best Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, Stefanowski pillories Bronin for failing to correct “decades of fiscal mismanagement,” when in fact Bronin has been running a quality, bare-bones budget in Hartford for years. With limited tax revenue, Bronin’s administration has more than kept the lights on. Under previous administrations, Hartford was in almost constant turmoil, as first the school system, then the first responders, then one politically motivated group or another generated the latest crisis. All of that stopped under Bronin. Hartford is a functioning city with a reasonably balanced budget. Stefanowski is correct that Hartford has great needs, but Hartford is not the dumpster fire that Stefanowski would have you believe. Hartford’s problem is that it is an underfunded ghetto.
Stefanowski obviously thinks that Democrats are responsible for this (real and imagined) mess and to be clear, Democrats have been in charge in Hartford for a long time. Politics isn’t the problem; if the Republicans somehow had the magic bullet, why have they been unable to muster anything more than the slightest bit of opposition to the Democrats for decades? Stefanowski would like us to believe that Republicans are the model for good government. Before he convinces us of that, he needs to account for the events of the past several days in Washington, D.C. Our country is in crisis precisely because Republicans have lied and ignored the truth in just the ways Stephanowski ignores the truth about Hartford.
Why do I care about this? Because Stefanowski’s primary attack against Bronin is focused on regionalism, and regionalism is in fact the only long-term solution to the problems our cities face. Stefanowski’s defense of Connecticut’s municipal structure is, in a word, elitist, or in another word, racist. His position clearly is that the poor people in greater Hartford, and make no mistake about it, the poor people are by and large the people of color, have to take care of themselves. The rich people in the community can keep their money for themselves. How is that accomplished? By segregating people of color and white people into separate municipalities and hiding behind town boundaries.
Our municipal governance structure makes effective urban government almost impossible. Connecticut has, or had, four large metropolitan areas: Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Waterbury. The core city of each is among the tiniest core cities in the country. Each is a ghetto for people of color, each is underfunded because most of the wealthy residents in the metropolitan area live outside the core city. More or less no similarly sized cities around the country have this problem. If it were possible to govern our way out of the problems created by this structure, it’s a good bet that over the past sixty years one of those four cities would have figured out how to do it. It hasn’t happened because it can’t happen.
Town boundaries seem to be sacrosanct to Stefanowski, who apparently doesn’t recognize that the boundaries are just fictions that human beings created. Stefanowski apparently doesn’t understand that communities are not defined by boundaries; communities are groups of people who come together in a commom space. Communities are supposed to operate for the collective well being of everyone in the community. Hartford is not a community separate from West Hartford; both are part of a greater community. Hartford is separate only because people drew lines on a map. Those lines make it easy for people like Stefanowski to turn their backs on their communities. As far as he’s concerned, it’s okay for all of Wethersfield to function like a gated community for 25,000 white people, with nice, quiet, comfortable streets and schools for white kids and a police force that obediently targets Black people who dare drive through town.
When people in Richmond and Louisville and Raleigh and Nashville talk about what needs to be done about the poorest neighborhoods in their cities, they don’t dispense with the problem by saying “let the poor people in those neighborhoods figure it out. Let them pay more in taxes or go without; it’s their problem.” No, many of the people in those cities are just like the people in West Hartford and Wethersfield and Newington – white and wealthy. They see their community as one whole, and they have a government that deals with the whole. Those people understand that problems like housing and education in the poorest parts of town are their problems, not someone else’s.
Responsible people all over the state know for a fact that our current municipal governance structure represents an enormous waste of resources and talent. Oz Griebel, one of Stefanowski’s opponents in the last gubernatorial election, had studied and worked on this problem for years. Griebel knew that merging Hartford and the towns was the correct solution; for Griebl, the practical impossibility of achieving the result politically was the problem, not regionalism itself. It doesn’t have to be impossible.
Bob Stefanowski and his misrepresentation of reality is not what greater Hartford needs. People ignoring the pernicious racial segregation in our community is not what greater Hartford needs. What greater Hartford needs is for all of us white people, comfortably situated in our segregated towns, to recognize the reality of the community we live in and to start working with people of color to solve our community’s problems. We will not do it segregated – we must do it together, under one government.