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Former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez in Court Again


By Ann-Marie Adams,  Staff Writer

HARTFORD —  Should former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez keep his pension after being convicted of corruption?

That’s what a judge will decide on Wednesday in Hartford Superior Court.

Attorney George Jepsen sued last year to revoke or reduce Perez’s $2,300 pension. That’s because state law allows for the revocation or reduction of corrupt public officials’ retirement benefits. Perez has been collecting that pension since October 2016.

Perez resigned in 2010 after being charged and convicted for taking about $40,000 in kitchen and bathroom improvements from Hartford developer, Carlos Costa. Costa was a city contractor on a Park Street development project.

Perez’s conviction was overturned by the Appellate Court in 2013 and upheld by the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2016. However, Perez pleaded guilty to taking a bribe and attempted first-degree larceny by extortion last August after the state moved to retry him.

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Hartford Groups Form Coalition to Help Reduce Gun Violence


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — A group of community organizations has formed a coalition in an effort to stave off gun violence in Hartford and will kick off several initiatives at a public safety fair on Nov. 17.

The event will be from 11:a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Wilson-Gray YMCA at 444 Albany Ave. in Hartford. It’s free and open to the public.

The fair will feature  information on ways to prevent and reduce violence, raise awareness and address trauma. The fair will also have information on a range of services for recovery and addiction, re-entry employment and job training, health and wellness information.

Since 2013, Hartford has had 644 gun shootings, officials said. This year’s total number of shootings has increased by 24 percent. For example, in 2018 there were more than 120 shootings incidents by October, compared to 115 total shooting incidents in 2017. The majority of these incidents have been concentrated in poorer city neighborhoods, officials said.

In the midst of this violence, community based organizations have been providing a variety of response efforts to prevent further violence and to save lives.

The coalition includes COMPASS Youth Collaborative, Hartford Communities That Care, United Against Violence, Peace Center of Connecticut and the Wilson-Gray YMCA.

 

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State Rep. Matt Ritter Reelected House Majority Leader


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD —  Democratic lawmakers re-elected Hartford State Rep. Matt Ritter to be House Majority Leader. Ritter will be formally installed as Majority Leader on Jan.9.

The Democratic caucus met on Thursday and selected their leaders.

Ritter(D-Hartford) is a lifelong resident of Hartford who was first elected to the House in 2010, unseating Kenneth Green in a Democratic primary. Ritter served on Hartford City Council for three years prior to his bid for the General Assembly.

On Tuesday, he ran unopposed in for the 1st House District, which encompasses the West End of Hartford. He will serve his third term.

Ritter is among several House Representatives that were reelected on Tuesday, shoring up Hartford’s status as a solid democratic city with 87 percent of the voters for Governor-Elect Ned Lamont.

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Hartford Gears Up for Nov. 6 Election, Check Both Sides of Ballot


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — The election polls on Tuesday will be opened from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Gov. Dan Malloy is asking voters to check both sides of the ballot before they vote. This year, many of the ballots are double sided.

To view ballots before going to the poll, you can look it up at this page by clicking here.

To find your polling place, you can go to  http://myvote.ct.gov/lookup  to find each polling place.

To find out where you can register to vote on election day, click here http://myvote.ct.gov/EDR  and click here for more information: http://myvote.ct.gov/EDRInfo.

In response to Republican Governor Candidate Bob Stefanowski asking registrars to have challengers at the poll, Secretary of State Denise Merrill said voters should not be impeded in any way.

“Although we take great pains to ensure that only eligible voters are allowed to vote, we are also careful to avoid potential voter intimidation,” she said. “Challenges to the eligibility of voters should not be made lightly-they are made under oath and only when there is reason to believe they have merit, for good reason. Frivolous challenges are likely to slow down the voting process, or even cause some eligible voters to stay away.”

 

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New Federal Lawsuit Takes on Hartford’s 30-Year School Desegregation Effort — and Challenges the Value of Integration Itself


By Mark Keierleber

Standing outside one of the city’s high-performing magnet schools, LaShawn Robinson decried an enrollment process she believes was stacked against her black son.

Year after year, her oldest son, Jarod, applied to attend one of the city’s magnet schools, which enroll pupils through a competitive lottery. First on a waiting list three times, he was never selected. Without a chance for a quality education, he dropped out of school.

On this chilly October afternoon, Robinson spoke at a press conference outside Kinsella Magnet School of Performing Arts to explain why she is bringing a federal lawsuit against the state, its education department, and Hartford’s board of education.

The legal battle follows years of efforts to integrate Connecticut’s public school system, among the nation’s most segregated, with one of the widest racial achievement gaps.

But this isn’t your typical school desegregation lawsuit. It’s the process to integrate Hartford schools that Robinson is fighting.

In the federal lawsuit filed earlier this year, Robinson and seven other Hartford parents allege the magnet schools employ an unconstitutional “racial quota” that limits the number of black and Latino students to 75 percent of total enrollment while the lottery system to select students gives preference to white and Asian students from the more affluent suburbs.

“There are hundreds of empty seats, and we’re telling kids, ‘No, you can’t come in there because your quota is already met,’” said Robinson, a mother of five.

The suit is only the latest chapter in a thorny legal saga that has dragged on for close to three decades and has raised tough questions about the meaning and value of integration. The magnet school system, Robinson and her fellow plaintiffs allege, violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Relying on that same amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that intentional racial segregation is unconstitutional because “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

The lawsuit could have major ramifications, not just for Connecticut’s magnet schools but for the future of desegregation efforts nationwide as well. Attorneys with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian law firm based in California that represents the parents pro bono, make no secret of their aim to use the case to set a federal court precedent. Should the case progress to the Supreme Court, said Pacific Legal attorney Joshua Thompson, it could set a new standard that education leaders are “not permitted to discriminate against black or Hispanic kids in order to achieve a diverse student body.” In other words, they aim to prohibit educators from considering race as a factor when assigning students to schools.

If some of Thompson’s rhetoric sounds familiar, it’s not by accident. The legal battle in Connecticut is unfolding against the backdrop of a federal lawsuit challenging Harvard University that could reshape affirmative action admissions policies in higher education. In that lawsuit, Asian-American plaintiffs argue that Harvard’s admissions process, which considers a student’s race among other factors, is discriminatory. That case is largely expected to send the question of affirmative-action-based admissions back to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cara McClellan of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, an attorney for the plaintiffs in Connecticut’s decades-long segregation battle, also represents Harvard student and alumni organizations that claim the elimination of race as a factor would lead to further discrimination against applicants of color.

Traveling from Boston to attend a recent Hartford town hall devoted to the Robinson case, McClellan argued that segregation is at the heart of academic achievement gaps between white and minority students.

“As long as we continue to segregate kids and send them to school based on segregated housing patterns, we’re going to continue to see the achievement gap play out,” she said. That inequity, she continued, is present in everything from resource allocations to hiring quality teachers.

A generation-long battle

In order to understand the stakes in the Robinson case, it is necessary to go back almost 30 years to an earlier — and still ongoing — lawsuit. In many ways, the fate of LaShawn Robinson and her son is bound up with that of another African-American family: Elizabeth Horton Sheff and her son, who began the legal fight to integrate Connecticut schools in 1989.

In its decision in that case, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that segregation between the city schools, which primarily serve low-income students of color, and those in the whiter, more affluent suburbs, violated the state constitution. As a result, Hartford’s magnet schools and an interdistrict transfer program, both designed to encourage voluntary integration, were created. A controversial part of the agreement declared a school segregated if its black or Latino student enrollment exceeds 75 percent.

Horton Sheff acknowledges that the magnet system is imperfect — in fact, her desegregation lawsuit is back in court nearly three decades later. But she argues that the plaintiffs in the Robinson suit, if successful, could dismantle years of progress at the expense of thousands of children in integrated schools.

“It is a voluntary system, so if people choose to stay in segregation, that is their right,” she said. “But they should not try to thwart the efforts of people who want a different kind of education, of families who seek choice.”

Elizabeth Horton Sheff speaks during a recent town hall event at the Hartford Public Library about her 30-year fight to desegregate the city’s public school system. A new federal lawsuit challenging the schools’ enrollment process threatens to derail efforts to integrate the city’s schools, she said. (Mark Keierleber)

Over the past decade, Connecticut has spent $3 billion on the desegregation effort. Nearly half of Hartford’s students — 22,000 in total — are enrolled in integrated schools, said Deuel Ross, an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Although the Defense Fund deems the effort a success, several recent investigations by the local media have offered a more critical appraisal.

One report by the Hartford Courant challenged whether half of Hartford students actually attend integrated schools, putting the percentage closer to a quarter. Another found that the state hasmanipulated the enrollment lottery to benefit white and Asian students at the expense of black and Latino students in segregated neighborhood schools. Because some magnet schools struggle to enroll enough Asian and white children, the investigation found, some minority students have been stuck on the waiting list.

The result is that some schools have eliminated entire grades and others have lost their magnet status altogether. Critically, according to the Courant, some magnet schools that are unable to attract enough white or Asian children leave desks unfilled rather than enroll additional minority children, in order to maintain diversity. Meanwhile, the Connecticut Mirror found that while more suburban students applied to attend the schools last year than children from the city, Hartford youth have better odds of winning than those from the suburbs.

A state education department spokesman didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the lawsuits.

The Courant investigations drew the attention of Pacific Legal’s Thompson. “I thought it was a grave injustice,” he said, adding that children should be able to attend the magnet schools without race being a factor. “Schools are there to educate the kids, and the kids that are most in need of this education are being kept out because of their skin color.”

Ross rejects the notion that Hartford’s schools are constrained by quotas set in the Horton Sheff agreement. Schools are under-enrolled, he said, because the state caps the number of magnet seats it’s willing to fund. Moreover, he said, a handful of magnet schools each year are noncompliant, enrolling minority students at rates higher than 75 percent.

This year, with thousands of students on the magnet school waiting list, state officials aimed to increase the 75 percent segregation threshold to 80 percent but were rejected by a Hartford Superior Court judge.

“Does anybody like the lottery?” Horton Sheff asked during the recent town hall. “The devil himself doesn’t like the lottery. Give me an alternative way to provide this opportunity. I can name one: Have the state fully fund all of the seats that are in demand.”

‘Unintended consequences’

Just hours after the press conference in front of Kinsella Magnet School, plaintiffs and attorneys from both the Horton Sheff and Robinson lawsuits sat at the same table and offered their perspectives to a crowd of about 50 people who showed up at the public library on Main Street. The town hall discussion was designed as an opportunity to hear arguments from both perspectives and to reach some common ground.

Dubbed “The True Cost of Integration,” the event, if anything, seemed only to underscore the pervasive divisions between the two sides. Participants vehemently disagreed, not only about the facts surrounding Hartford’s magnet schools and the state’s desegregation efforts but about the value of integration itself.

Horton Sheff believes that integration helps children become global citizens, regardless of their race and ethnicity. “If you are in a diverse setting and you are exposed to people who think differently than you, then that promotes your own awareness,” she said. “You can’t do that in isolation.”

That notion, however, was not self-evident to some who were featured at the event, including Chris Stewart, a Minnesota-based education reform advocate.

“Nobody goes to Idaho and goes to all-white schools and says, ‘Y’all need some Negroes in here,’” said Stewart, who noted that a similar desegregation lawsuit is ongoing in his state. “I don’t want this, and I don’t want it for you either.”

On a national level, a significant body of research supports the notion that integration offers educational benefits for students of color and from low-income families. One study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that desegregation increased educational and occupational attainment among black youth and improved adult earnings while reducing the probability of incarceration.

Connecticut’s efforts to encourage integration have been lauded as a national model, including by John King, who served as education secretary under then-President Barack Obama. But earlier this year, the Trump administration scrapped Obama-era guidance that outlined strategies for schools to consider race as a way to promote student diversity, such as by looking at the racial composition of neighborhoods — a strategy used in the Hartford magnet school lottery.

What’s clear is that the continued negotiations have major implications, not just for Hartford children but for desegregation efforts nationwide.

For Robinson, victory in the federal courts would eliminate a system that’s keeping black and Latino students from quality schools. Although Robinson’s son Jarod dropped out of school after being denied admission into a magnet school, he now attends an adult education program. Meanwhile, her three youngest children had better luck and now attend Kinsella Magnet School.

Magnet schools were designed to encourage integration, and Horton Sheff worries that a Robinson victory would come at the expense of children currently enjoying an education at one of the city’s integrated schools.

“You’ll totally destroy the magnet school system and disrupt the lives of 22,000 children,” Horton Sheff said, pivoting to a Pacific Legal video that was presented during the town hall. “When the video said, ‘No racial quotas will mean Jarod can go to a magnet school,’ well, there won’t be any magnet schools for Jarod to attend.”

At the end of the day, both sides may be right, said Hartford School Board Chairman Craig Stallings, a defendant in the Robinson lawsuit. In Hartford, he sees a system beset by unintended consequences. Although he recognizes the value of integration, he said the district’s students would be better served if the system focused on improving quality in all district schools.

“Those unintended consequences translate to young men and women being stranded in the inner city,” Stallings said. “You can go to any desolate, blighted block in our city and you’re going to find young men and women standing there because they didn’t get a quality education.”

Mark Keierleber is a senior writer-reporter at The 74, where this was first published.

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Merrill: Final Day to Register to Vote is Oct. 30


HARTFORD — The final day to register to vote in Connecticut before Election Day is Oct. 30.

Citizens have until 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday to register online at www.myvote.ct.gov . Election Day is Nov. 6.

Potential voters can also register at their local town hall, the state Department of Motor Vehicles, or other state agencies.

Registration applications sent by mail must be postmarked by Oct. 30.

Democratic Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is encouraging people to register in advance, even though Connecticut has an Election Day registration program. She says that will enable the new voters to skip lines that may form at the polls of people wanting to register on Election Day.

Connecticut residents can check if they’re registered by visiting voter registration lookup.

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Halloween Hysteria Over Sex Offenders Unwarranted


Dear Editor,

After the salacious onslaught of sexual abuse news from the Brett Kavanaugh accusations, we should breathe a sigh of relief that focus might turn elsewhere, at least until the next round.

Not so.

Halloween is here and once again, false and misleading information will be disseminated regarding “saving” children from sexual predators – read: anyone on the CT sex offense registry. It’s an annual event when maps are often published about where people on the CT registry live, inviting vigilantism and public shaming including shaming of family members, disallowing persons on the registry from trick or treating even with their own children and all too often repeating false information about danger posed.

Of course, parents should look after their children closely. Most bad things that happen on Halloween are injuries from cars or wet roads, too much of a good thing ie:  candy or ill-fitting costumes that cause accidents. When it comes to sexual predators, the statistics are nowhere near these totals:  theft (32 percent), vandalism (21 percent), assault 19 percent, burglary 9 percent.

In fact, a study was done by highly regarded academic researchers to find out if parents should be especially alert to the dangers of abduction or assault of their children over Halloween. The study, “How Safe are Trick-or-Treaters: An Analysis of Child Sex Crime Rates on Halloween” found, “no significant increase in risk for non-familial child sexual abuse on or just prior to Halloween.

This emphasizes the fact that upwards to 95 percent of sex crimes are committed by persons known to the child, such as a family member, relative or trusted acquaintance – NOT persons on the registry.

Halloween hysteria is far out of proportion to actual fact. The State of CT Office of Policy and Management Study on Recidivism of Sexual Offenses cites the conviction rate for sexual re-offense after 5 years of leaving prison is 2.6 percent. Yet according to current Connecticut law, they often must stay on the registry for life.

What should we be more scared of – a nonexistent bogeyman or misuse of taxpayer money enforcing laws based on bogus fears?

Cindy Prizio

Executive Director, One Standard of Justice

New Canaan

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Hartford Police Arrest Robbery Suspect


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford Police on Wednesday arrested a teenager suspected of masterminding several robberies in the city.

From September 2017 through November 2017, Hartford Police have been investigating more than a dozen internet armed robberies in Hartford. The internet web sites that were used to coordinate the robberies were Offer Up, Let it Go and Craigslist.

During the robberies, three victims were shot, several victims were pistol-whipped, cash, jewelry and phones were stolen.

Police arrested the 17-year-old suspect on Wednesday and charged with conspiracy to commit robbery.

More arrests are expected.

Hartford Police are asking everyone to use a safe transaction site such as one provided in front of the Hartford Police Department on High Street for all online transactions.

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Joe Biden to Visit Hartford, Stump for Candidates


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Former Vice President Joe Biden is coming to Hartford Friday to campaign for a few Democratic candidates: Democratic Gubernatorial Nominee Ned Lamont, Congressional Candidate Jahana Hayes and Incumbent U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy.

The pre-election rally will be held at Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy on Vernon Street. It is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m.

Earlier this month, Biden endorsed Lamont, saying: “Ned Lamont has dedicated his life to making sure middle-class families have a fighting chance to get ahead and stay ahead. He’s a person of character and integrity, who is in the public arena to make a positive difference.”

In the latest poll, Lamont was almost tied with Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Bob Stefanowski. The Sacred Heart University and Hearst Media found that 39.5 percent of those polled favor Lamont and 36.1 percent favor Stefanowski. Independent Candidate Oz Griebel garnered 8.4 percent. And 14.8 percent of those polled were unsure.

Two weeks earlier, a Quinnipiac University Poll had Lamont leading by eight percent.

Hayes is challenging Republican Manny Santos for U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s 5th Congressional District seat. After much criticism for how she handled a former staffer who accused her chief of staff of misconduct, Esty decided not to seek reelection. The district includes 41 municipalities, including the city of Waterbury.

Hayes is the 2016 National Teacher of the Year and hails from Waterbury.

Murphy, who is up for reelection after serving his first term, will face Republican Challenger Matthew Corey. A Quinnipiac Poll in August shows Murphy with a 59-31 lead over Cory.

 

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Hartford Raise Minimum Age for Tobacco Purchase


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford City Council on Monday voted unanimously to raise the minimum age for tobacco purchase from 18 to 21.

In a vote 9-0, council members banned the sale of cigarettes, cigars, vaping products and other forms of tobacco to anyone below 21.

The law is effective immediately. Enforcement will begin in April. Store owners who violate the law will be fined $250 for each violation. Their tobacco licenses may also be suspended.

Hartford officials are hoping other towns will adopt similar laws.

After a rally at city hall earlier this month, the nine-member council heard overwhelming support for the idea of raising the age for tobacco purchase in an effort to prevent nicotine addiction.

Advocates said that about 95 percent of smokers begin smoking before the age of 21 and become addicted as adults. By delaying the age when people begin using tobacco, it reduces the chance that they become lifelong tobacco users.

In Hartford, 23.5 percent of people 18 and older smoke, compare to 15.3 statewide. Hartford has the highest rate of smokers in the state.

So far, six states and more than 350 cities have raised the age requirement to 21.Hartford has joined California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine and Massachusetts and Oregon in adopting the new law.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 4,900 Connecticut residents will die from smoking-related causes this year. And more than 1,000 children are expected to become new daily smokers under the current law.

Earlier this year, advocates for raising the minimum age testified before a committee in the General Assembly, saying the annual health care costs directly caused by smoking are $2.03 billion and Medicaid costs are $520.8 million.

Raising the age to 21 has been proposed before the General Assembly several times but the measure has always failed.

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