September 12, 2005
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer
For the first time in - how long has it been? - Democrat John B.
Kennelly is on electoral hiatus. No campaigning. No trips to the
It's not like he's had a tough summer. He spent weekends at his
beach house in Madison, took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Spain and
played tennis. Lots and lots of tennis.
But, oh, would he trade it all for the feel of a hotly contested
"You go out there and there's nothing to do," Kennelly,
a former city councilman, said. "So you go play tennis."
This is the season of no politics in Hartford. A new charter's in
effect, so there's no municipal race for council or mayor. It's an
odd-numbered year, and that means no legislative contests either.
Sure, there's the school board. But the three Democratic candidates
were party-endorsed and no one's challenging those results in a primary.
The only thing left to decide - and this is in November - is likely
whether a Republican, a Green or a Working Families Party candidate
will get the fourth school board seat.
In this Democratic city, that's pretty light fare, like water replacing
beer; bowling supplanting football.
And it's enough to a make an inveterate city politico do crazy things.
Like take a vacation. Play golf. Count days to the beginning of
next year's gubernatorial race.
"It's just so boring," said
Angel Arce, a member of the 4th District Democratic Town Committee.
The void spans political persuasions. Republican Richard Wareing,
lulled by the lack of requests for money, has resorted to planning
his wedding instead. He's getting married in November - an unthinkable
date if he were managing a campaign or running for office this fall.
"I guess the lack of election has changed my life," Wareing
At the root of this malaise is a charter change that took effect
last year that did away with biannual municipal elections in Hartford
and scheduled them once every four years. So while the rest of the
state's municipalities are cranking up for local contests, Hartford
can only watch.
This year, there will be nothing like the animated days of 2003,
when Kennelly, on crutches and rebuffed by his party, was hobbling
for re-election on a public safety theme, after being mugged and
beaten in the West End. (He lost.)
Or 2002, when charter reform activists went door to door trying
to explain the value of district elections and two Democratic state
legislators were forced to compete against each other after their
districts were merged into one.
Or the year before that, when the city made history with the election
of Eddie A. Perez, its first Puerto Rican mayor.
"When's the next governor's race?" asked
chef Thomas Armstrong one morning of the regulars at his Rajun
He and the group of North End politicos who gather there each morning
to talk Hartford over toast and eggs have found little political
to talk about this summer - at least locally.
That bothers former councilman Steve Harris, a longtime member of
that breakfast club, who said that without an election, important
issues - crime, education, quality of life - just aren't being raised.
"What worries me is we have for the most part an apathetic voting
population in an election," Harris said. "Then you get a
time like this and it's harder."
And there's no incentive for voters to take stock of how elected
officials are doing.
"It's like an airplane," was how Steven Bonafonte, former
Republican candidate for council, put it. "You pay attention when
it takes off, you pay attention when it lands. You're not paying attention
at 35,000 feet.
"For all you know, the pilot
can be on autopilot."
Nonsense, said Noel F. McGregor Jr., chairman of the city's Democratic
Party. He insists the school board race is intriguing - and will
raise plenty of issues. The endorsed Democratic candidates, though
they face no opposition, will be mailing literature, knocking on
doors and speaking at community forums, just like candidates do in
any other year.
"It's unfortunate," said Michael Lupo, McGregor's Republican
counterpart and a GOP candidate for school board, "that people
tend to think that the board of education is an election that's not
as important as the mayor's or the governor's race."
And if the school board race does not offer sufficient cudgel-wielding
reality, Wareing said, there are plenty of alternatives for political
observers come fall and winter.
"The MDC is going to hire
a new clerk, right?"
He's referring to a potential political hire at the Metropolitan
District Commission, the regional sewer and water agency.
Oh, and the streets of Hartford will be dug up soon, when the MDC
begins its sewer separation project. That should be interesting,
too, he said.
But then again, why not, as the summer draws to a \close and the
political season begins elsewhere, don't Hartford political junkies
just enjoy the sounds of silence?
"It's good, isn't it?" said
former Mayor Michael P. Peters, as he tended to the lunch crowd
in his downtown restaurant.
"But," he said, turning his attention to the media, "you
guys are always looking for a story, so you have nothing to do, too.
"You're writing a story about
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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