Frank Barrows insists he's running for mayor of Hartford in 2007.
He says it's too early - and I couldn't
disagree more - to start getting his campaign together. Barrows
has an ambitious agenda to return his birthplace to its glory as
a city of first-rate schools, plentiful jobs and a bustling downtown.
The affable former state senator, a
Vietnam veteran who has worked as a correction officer for the past
12 years, is among the names churned out as potential challengers
to incumbent Mayor Eddie Perez. Councilman Kenneth Kennedy, council
President John Bazzano, former Councilman and retired fire Capt.
Steven Harris, city Treasurer Kathleen Palm, state Rep. Kenneth
Green and state Treasurer Denise Nappier, a former city treasurer,
are others - all Democrats, like Barrows - who have popped up in
The prediction here is that Barrows
will be all alone next year in taking on Perez. Too bad, because
this diverse city needs meaningful debate, from a variety of voices,
about its future and the strategies to get there. And that debate
should be starting now.
Barrows turns 60 in March. He was born
on Windsor Street and is well-known particularly in the North End,
where Perez's base has been soft. He is the husband of former city
Police Chief Deborah Barrows and has a grasp on the issues undermining
Hartford. He could actually generate votes if he got serious. Then
again, that seems to be a problem with Hartford politics. A lot
of people talk a good game, but no one seems willing to do the hard
work of taking on Perez, the incumbent Democrat, and the party machine.
When the current strong mayor government
was implemented two years ago with a four-year term, $125,000 salary
and unquestioned authority, conventional wisdom was that the job
would intrigue a cadre of eager, erudite and well-equipped professionals
in subsequent years.
Maybe it's too early to judge whether
the '07 election will fulfill that expectation. For now, the lack
of substantive engagement for a city on the brink of a resurgence
- or a relapse - is disheartening.
"I'm really disturbed at how quiet
it is," said Harris, the former councilman who sees his role
as more of an adviser than a candidate. "These are critical
times right now. There's talent out there. People are reluctant
to step up because I think the luster of elected office to a lot
of good people isn't appealing anymore."
Long hours, media scrutiny, ongoing
FBI investigations of state politicians and the challenge of raising
money and taking on a party machine have made one of Connecticut's
more desirable elective positions not that inviting.
With a little organization, some cash
and a lot of door-to-door campaigning, a guy like Barrows could
make a competitive candidate. He was a student at Weaver High in
the 1960s and recalls Hartford as a melting pot, heralded for many
of the assets - good schools, jobs and safe streets - that it's
criticized for being deficient in today.
"A lot of people don't know about
Hartford the way it was," said Barrows, who plans to make a
formal announcement after this year's gubernatorial elections. "A
lot of people only know about the guns and violence. ... A friend
of mine said you have to be out of your mind [to want to run]. I
said there are a lot of problems, but problems can be resolved if
we all develop the same mindset. We have to make people believe
that this is their city. There's a lot of people who live in Hartford
and feel bad about it. Once you make people feel good and positive,
you can stabilize communities under distress because of drugs and
To Barrows, the crime and violence
on Hartford streets reflect the deep despair and lack of jobs for
people in poor communities.
Despite Perez's moves to improve public
safety and the public schools and to create jobs, Hartford is still
one of the country's poorest cities, with a confounding spate of
neighborhood shootings, schools that are still sliding and more
big companies exiting than entering.
The mayor didn't cause the problems;
he inherited them.
That doesn't mean he gets a pass on
his leadership in solving them.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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