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Hartford Land Bank Receives $175K Grant to Address Blight


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Blighted properties in Hartford are scheduled to get some much needed attention.

Thanks to a $175,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. The grant will help the Hartford Land Bank to assess about 400 vacant and abandoned properties in the city.

“The Hartford Foundation is proud to support this collaborative community effort that will help to revitalize the City of Hartford to improve the quality of life for residents, attract new businesses and create jobs,” said Hartford Foundation President Jay Williams.

The Land Bank is a new arm of city hall that has the power to buy, manage and dispose of blighted properties in an effort to revitalize the city. It was created in 2017 with the help of a $5 million state grant.  The Land Bank is also a resource to assist vulnerable property owners, including the elderly, by providing resources they need to maintain their properties.

Laura Settlemyer is the enforcement director for the Blight Remediation Team that works with the Land Bank. The remediation team already consists of inspectors and enforcement officers. However, the city plans to hire national experts to survey properties in the city.  They will collaborate with the city’s Office of Community Engagement, Hartford GIS Services and the Hartford Youth Service Corps.

At a town hall meeting in October 2018, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the city has been looking at how it can be more effective in dealing with blight in the city.

Blight is a public health issue. According to a 2017 study by the Urban Institute, families living near vacant homes, abandoned buildings and vacant lots saw lower literacy scores for pre-k children and higher rates of chronic illness, stunted brain and physical development.

Other social impact include decreased property values and increased crime.

“Blighted properties have plagued our neighborhoods for decades, and that’s why we made it a priority from the very beginning to combat blight in an aggressive and systematic way,” Bronin said. “The Land Bank will help us accelerate that work and this generous funding will give us and all of our partners a more detailed roadmap for the entire city.”

Since 2017, 137 of blighted properties have been fixed up, officials said. The plan, they said, is to “use every tool we can.”

Bronin said the team is willing to work with property owners.

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Sen. Beth Bye to Resign to Join Ned Lamont’s Administration


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — State Sen. Beth Bye will resign to take a job with Gov. elect Ned Lamont’s administration.

Lamont picked Bye to lead Connecticut’s Office of Early Childhood, which was created in 2013. She will help to develop a cohesive early childhood care and educational system.

“Beth Bye has devoted her entire professional career to helping to build a more progressive and equitable early childhood system in which all children, regardless of their parents’ socio-economic status, can grow, learn and develop,” Lamont said. “It’s clear that the formative early childhood years are jey to providing children a solid educational base and platform, and I know Beth is the best person to take the helm of this critical agency.”

Bye is a Democrat who represents the 5th Senate District, which includes West Hartford, Bloomfield, Burlington and Farmington. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2007 and then moved to the Senate in 2011. There will be a special election to fill Bye’s seat because she was reelected in November.

Currently, Bye is the executive director of Auerfarm, a Bloomfield-based community farm that hosts 15,000 student trips annually. Prior to that, Bye led Great by 8, a community partnership to develop a program that supports optimal health and educational outcomes for children ages birth to eight. She also worked as Early Childhood Director at the Capitol Region Education Council and was Director at Trinity College Community Child Center and the University of St. Joseph School for Young Children.

She will earn $155,000 in her new job.

“I am grateful to begin this next chapter in my career, leading an agency I helped to spearhead and create,” said Bye. “Connecticut’s children—all of them—represent  the future of our state, and deserve to have the tools and support necessary to develop, grow and thrive.”

 

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Ned Lamont Pledges More Diversity and Inclusion


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Gov. elect Ned Lamont on Saturday reaffirmed his commitment to bring change to the state with diversity and inclusion, saying to a group of African Americans that he will “make sure everybody gets the same opportunity.”

Lamont spoke at the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches’ meeting at the Hartford Hilton Hotel to more than 200 people, including black elected officials, students, clergies, fraternities and sororities.

African Americans voted overwhelmingly for Lamont in the 2018 election. Election results showed that 94 percent of African Americans supported the Greenwich businessman, who pledged to promote diversity in state jobs and to usher in more access to state contracts.

During his campaign, Lamont telegraphed his commitment to diversity and inclusion and followed through with the selection of two African Americans for high level positions in his administration. He recently hired Paul Mounds as his chief operation officer. Mounds, 33, will oversee commissioners and report to Lamont’s chief of staff, Ryan Drajewicz. Lamont also hired Melissa McCaw, 39, as his secretary for the Office of Policy and Management. She is the first African American to hold that job.

Moreover, he appointed State Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport and State Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven to his transition team. Both women are African Americans.

“I think that’s a good move. He’s showing that he’s trying to be diverse and inclusive,” said Greater Hartford NAACP President Abdul-Shahid Muhammed Ansari. “It really was the Democrats’ vote from the inner cities that got him over the hump.”

After Emancipation in 1865, African Americans voted for Republicans. But ever since the 1928 election, they have mostly voted for Democrats. Their allegiance to the Democratic Party was cemented in 1936.

NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile said he wants more return on that investment, calling for more inclusion in all branches of government.

“We want to make sure our people are included at all levels, the commissions, boards and throughout,” Esdaile said.

The meeting was titled “The 94% Black Leadership Summit” because election results showed 94 percent of black voters supported Lamont and the Democratic Party.

Lamont was joined by his running mate, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who invited attendees to send resumes and ideas.

“Send us your best. Go to our website,” Bysiewicz said. “We’re taking all good ideas because it’s for the benefit of our state.”

Lamont and Bysiewicz were coming from another meeting earlier in the day with the General Assembly’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, where they talked about ways to increase the number of black and Hispanic teachers.

He also talked about steering opportunities to the cities, training people for technology jobs, opening up contract bidding to ensure that more minorities have access to those jobs.

“I’m going to make sure everybody gets the same opportunity,” he said. ”Too many of those business opportunities, too many of those contracts seem to go to the same old gang, –and that’s not right.”

Lamont, who defeated Republican Candidate Bob Stefanowski after vote tallies came in from the urban centers the day after the election, said he believes in Connecticut’s cities. He vowed to also direct resources to cities.

“I’m a believer in our cities,’ he said. “Our state will never be great unless our cities are great and I’m going to commit every day to that.”

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Ned Lamont Selects Paul Mounds as First Chief Operating Officer


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Gov.-elect Ned Lamont selected a Hartford native and  public policy veteran to be the state’s first chief operating officer, one of 38 in the nation.

Lamont tapped Paul Mounds, 33,  to be the point person for all the state’s commissioners. Mounds will report to Ryan Drajewicz, Lamont’s chief of staff. The role aims to “enhance cross-agency collaboration and efficiency.”

Lamont, who is filling his cabinet to take the helm on Jan.9, made the announcement on Friday at the State Capitol.

“Paul is a relationship builder and someone who understands how the executive branch agencies can best be leveraged to create lasting and impactful change on behalf of the people of Connecticut,” Lamont said. “I welcome Paul back into state service and look forward to working closely with him particularly as we build our agency leadership teams and take on the challenge of building a more efficient, responsive government.”

Mounds currently works as vice president of policy and communications for the Connecticut Health Foundation. He informs and educates policymakers on issues related to health equity. He previously worked as the senior director of public policy and government relations for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Mounds began his career as an intern at the State Capitol. He worked as a press assistant and federal grants coordinator for U.S. Rep John Larson and a deputy director of outreach with Sen. Richard Blumenthal.  Moreover, Mounds was a member of the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Competitiveness.

He also serves as a Commissioner on the Connecticut Judicial Selection Commission and on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Higher Education Supplemental Loan Authority and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.

A graduate of Trinity College, Mounds was born in Hartford, raised in East Hartford and lives in Glastonbury with his wife and child.

“I am honored to join Gov. Elect Lamont’s administration and look forward to working collaboratively with agency commissioners and their teams to implement programs that will help support businesses and Connecticut citizens alike,” Mounds said. “In particular, using metrics and data to measure success will allow us to evaluate programmatic effectiveness on behalf of taxpayers.”

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Lamont Taps Hartford Budget Director for Top Post


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD —  A Hartford finance official will become Governor-elect Ned Lamont’s budget chief come January.

Melissa McCaw was tapped on Tuesday to be the next secretary of policy and management to oversee the state’s budget. She will be the state’s first African American budget director.

McCaw, 39, of Hartford, has been serving as the chief financial officer with the city of Hartford for the past three years.  Previously, she served as a budget director for the University of Hartford. She also worked with the Office of Policy and Management as a budget specialist for eight years.

McCaw graduated from Wesleyan University with a master’s degree in public administration and also has a certificate in public financial management from the University of Connecticut.

“To grow our economy, add jobs and give the business community confidence, we have to fix our budget challenges,” Lamont said. “Melissa will help lead that effort, and I’m proud to announce her as a critical member of the team.”

The governor submits a budget plan every two years. McCaw will be working with Lamont to submit a plan to the legislature in mid-February to balance the fiscal years.

“I look forward to achieving the governor-elect’s vision for a budget and policy plan that addresses Connecticut’s fiscal crisis, spreads out economic opportunity and helps grow Connecticut’s middle class,” McCaw said.

McCaw will be tackling a $1.7 billion projected deficit in the coming months.

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How to Get Your Lawmakers to Listen


By Cynthia Gordy Giwa

Hello from the otherrr siiiiide…

You did it! In this month’s midterm election, you and a whole lot of your fellow voters turned out to the polls to make your voices heard. But you’re not done yet. Voting is just the beginning!

The User’s Guide to Democracy has always wanted to help you become not only a more informed voter, but also a more engaged citizen. So, with the winners declared, how do you get your elected representatives in Washington to listen to your voice now?

At a live event on Nov. 13 with the New York Public Library, Derek Willis (my colleague here at ProPublica) and Paul Kane (an ace Congressional reporter for The Washington Post) tackled this question with the help of a panel of Capitol Hill insiders. The event, called “Irregular Order: How Congress Really Works,” was moderated by comedian/actor/writer Wyatt Cenac.

James Wallner, senior fellow for the think tank R Street (and a former Republican Senate staff member); Lindsey Cormack, Stevens Institute of Technology assistant professor of political science; and Stephanie L. Young, communications director for When We All Vote (also a former Democratic House staffer); explained how to get lawmakers to listen to you and act on the issues you care about.

Courtesy of The New York Public Library

Even as Congress seems stuck, there are still things that you can do to influence your lawmakers. Here are a few suggestions from the panel:

  • Vote. Often. “We literally have the power,” Young said of the clout that comes with voting. “I think we forget that, and sometimes you feel powerless. … This is one opportunity for you to go out and make your voices heard, but you have to do it *every time*, and you have to encourage those that you care about, and the people who are influenced by you, to do the exact same. There’s no one who has greater influence than you do.”Even if voting sometimes feels like shouting into the void, the panel also stressed that your elected officials are actually paying attention to who their voting constituents are. “If you email or write something, and they have your address and your name, they’re going to look up your voter file,” Willis said. “The fact that they’re tracking that information should tell you that they’re concerned about hearing from their constituents, and that you’re important.”
  • Visit your district office. Young continued by emphasizing that every member of Congress has a district office you can go to. “There are staff that are there to hear from you. You can write letters. They actually read them; there is someone who is assigned just to do that, and they have to respond to you. I worked for members who were very keen on knowing their constituents — how they felt, what they thought, and they want to read those letters. … Don’t miss those opportunities that we all have because they actually matter. They actually work.”Town halls were raised as another opportunity where you can talk to your legislators in person. Kane recounted the example of Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who was moved by individual interaction with her constituents during the “repeal Obamacare” period of 2017. “She described how, throughout that spring and summer, she would have town halls when she got back to Alaska. Over and over again, people would tell their stories about a pre-existing condition they feared they were going to lose [coverage for], or a husband or wife battling cancer who was afraid to lose health care,” Kane said. “By the end, that won her over, and she voted no.”
  • Write op-eds in your local newspaper. “Senators and members of the house really care about their local newspapers,” Cormack said. “If you write an op-ed that describes why you disagree with what your member did, that freaks them out. That’s where they want their press releases to land. They want that space, and if they have constituents within their own district saying they have a problem with that, that’s a really big red flag for them that they need to come back to the district and figure it out, or they’re going to need to focus on whatever that issue is a lot more, or address it differently.”
  • Work with advocacy groups you agree with.Traveling all the way to D.C., possibly taking time off from work, or putting in the time to write and pitch a newspaper op-ed might feel like a daunting amount of investment to be heard by people who are supposed to work for you. Wallner recommended making use of advocacy groups (i.e. organizations like the Sierra Club or the National Federation of Independent Business).

“We talk about advocacy groups like they’re a bad thing, but it’s usually just the ones we disagree with,” he said. “They have people who care about the same issues, who focus [on them] and are paid to go down to D.C. They make life difficult for members; sometimes they help members. … See what they’re doing and try to participate with them. Their voice is going to amplify your voice, and it’s going to make it harder for Congress to ignore the issues that you care about.”

One thing many advocacy groups do is lobby Congress, both by encouraging members to visit their representatives and by hiring their own lobbyists. You can find advocacy organizations working on issues you’re interested in using Represent’s database of lobbying arrangements.

You can watch the full discussion here, thanks to the New York Public Library, or listen to it on NYPL’s Library Talks podcast. I promise, not only will you learn something, you’ll laugh too.

We’ve come to the end of the User’s Guide to Democracy — but, hopefully, this marks the start of your increased participation in our system of government. From Representto the Facebook Political Ad Collector, you have tools to track what your representatives are actually doing, as well as tactics to hold them accountable. Don’t hesitate to use them. And, remember: Congress works for you.

This was first published on Propublica.org. Cynthia Gordy Giwa is ProPublica’s marketing director.

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CT Latinos Voter Turnout Signals New Political Engagement


Across the nation there was a significant jump in Latino participation in the midterm election, and most likely in Connecticut, too.

Latinos have for years had the potential to become a powerful voting bloc. But their failure to turn up at the polls has historically hurt their political clout.

In this year’s midterms, however, they helped give Democrats key wins in Senate races in Nevada and Arizona. In  Texas, turnout rose dramatically in heavily Latino precincts and was also high in Latino areas of California, Florida and New York. There will be 43 Latino representatives in the next Congress — a record number.

In Connecticut, it’s much more difficult to pinpoint Latino voting participation. But an analysis by the Connecticut Mirror determined that cities and towns in the state where Latinos make up 25 percent or more of the population all experienced a significant increase in voter turnout.

 

And, in some of those towns — including Meriden, Ansonia, Stamford, Norwalk, Danbury, New Haven, New London, Windham and Waterbury — the growth in turnout exceeded the boost in voter turnout in the midterm election statewide.

The statewide turnout in the 2014 midterm was 55.6 percent and 65.2 percent in the latest midterm. In New Haven, for instance, turnout was 38.3 percent in 2014 and 58 percent in 2018. Nearly 30 percent of the city’s residents identified themselves as Hispanics or Latinos to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Many of the more than 540,000 Latinos in Connecticut live in the larger cities, which historically have lower turnout.

“People tend to be more transient in cities, and that leads to lower voting rates,” said Gabe Rosenberg, spokesman for the Connecticut Secretary of State’s office.

However, the gap between those larger cities and smaller, higher-turnout towns shrank in the midterm.

“Latinos saw there was a lot at stake, so they came out,” said Marie Bertrand, the incoming president of the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association.

Nationally, a record 29 million Latinos were eligible to vote in this year’s election, according to the Pew Research Center. Preliminary data suggests there was a significant jump in Latino participation.

Speaking at a panel discussion in Los Angeles, Tom Perez, the first Latino Chair of the Democratic National Committee, was quoted as saying the turnout of first-time voters, including Latinos, was “a remarkable phenomenon.”

Since Latinos, in general, favor Democrats over Republican candidates, their increased participation in the midterm bolstered a “blue wave” that helped Democrats seize control of the U.S. House of Representatives and a number of other political offices, including the U.S. Senate seats in Arizona and Nevada and governorships across the country.

The week after the Nov. 6 election, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Latino participation surged 174 percent in 2018, compared to the 2014 midterms.

“Latino voters played a pivotal role in taking back the House,” Lujan told reporters during a conference call organized by the political action committee Latino Victory. “Evidence is clear: Early and active and robust outreach to communities of color — in this case, into the Hispanic community — clearly pays off.”

In Connecticut, it’s harder to decipher the impact of the more energized Latino electorate, but it may have boosted Democrat Ned Lamont’s bid for the governor’s office and helped Democrats boost their numbers in the general assembly.

“Latinos may have helped Lamont, especially in the cities,” Bertrand said. “Most likely they did.”

A coalition of Latino groups has emerged in Connecticut to capitalize on the increased political participation of the state’s Latinos, and ensure that they are represented in positions of influence and power.

COURTESY OF SEN.CHRIS MURPHY
Graduates of the Hispanic Leadership Academy with HUD secretary Julian Castro, center, and members of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus.

The newly formed CT Latino Task Force, a coalition of about 20 individuals and groups that includes the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association, the Connecticut Chapter of the Hispanic Federation and NALEO, is collecting resumes from whom they say are qualified Latinos who want to work in the Lamont administration and is making sure they are reviewed by the governor-elect’s transition team.

“We want to really put a little pressure on the incoming administration to make sure that we can be adequately represented in government positions, but also on boards and commissions,” Beltran said. “We want to make sure that at the end of the day they can’t say ‘We did not receive any applications from qualified Latinos’.”

Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London, said the formation of the CT Latino Task Force is a first and an indication of maturing Latino politics in the state. He also said Connecticut’s Latinos may have come out to vote in greater numbers this year because they are opposed to President Donald Trump’s policies, but noted that wasn’t the only reason for turnout.

“People are starting to see the importance of being locally engaged,” he said.

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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 Democratic Incumbents Win Races


HARTFORD — Democratic incumbents easily trounced challengers in thier quest to return to the General Assembly.

Incumbent Sen. John Fonfara, a Democrat who represents Senate District 1, easily won his seat over Republican Challenger Barbara Rhue and Green Party Challenger Barbara Barry. Fonfara garnered 10,860 votes over Rhue’s 1,945 and Barry’s 259.

Incumbent Sen. Doug McCory ran unopposed.

Democratic Reps. Matt Ritter and Minnie Gonzalez, both of whom ran unopposed, will return to the General Assembly to represent District 1 and District 3 respectively.

Rep. Julio Concepcion in District 4 beat his challengers Republican Bryan Nelson, and Working Families candidate Kennard Ray. Concepcion garnered 2,659 votes over Nelson’s 330 and Ray’s 309. Mary Sanders of the Green Party garnered 57 votes.

District 5 Rep. Brandon McGee beat Republican candidate Charles Jackson. McGee captured 6,474 votes over Jackson’s 1,144.

Democratic State Rep. Edwin Vargas beat Republican challenger Michael Barlowski. Vargas of District 6 had 3,368 votes over Barlowski’s 485.

District 7 State Rep. Joshua Hall beat Giselle Jacobs, who was a petitioning candidate. Hall captured 3,742 votes over Jacobs’ 92.

Check back for updates.

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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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