It's not even the worst thing that's happened in all his years of living and working in Hartford, Stanley Gutt admitted. But it's got him thinking that it might be time to move on.
The other day, some kid was fishtailing all over the shared driveway between two of the multifamily homes he owns on Seymour Street. He asked the kid to stop. "Nicely," Gutt said.
The kid, who didn't even live there, left - but not before cursing him out. Next thing Gutt knows, he's got four slashed tires on his truck and a message from one of the kid's friends: "It's going to cost you a lot more than four tires before it's over."
He told police, but doesn't expect much to come of it. He's got no complaints with city cops, he said; they can only do so much. But he's lost count of the times he's seen some thug get picked up only to be back out on the streets in a matter of days, if not hours.
Even before we met Wednesday, I heard the frustration in the voicemail he left. "I'm a lifelong Hartford resident," he said by way of introduction. "A longtime business owner." Translation: He's not one of those drive-by anti-Hartford types. But, it was clear, he's close to being done.
He's seen a lot in Hartford, he later told me when we met on Seymour. He's tolerated even more as a resident and landlord. "Punks, drug dealers, lack of services, high taxes." He ticks off a long list while eyeing a skeleton of a dogwood tree he'd been tending to earlier - a casualty of a tenant's angry son.
"God's honest truth," he said, gesturing across the street. "There was a pile of garbage right there for five months." He says he called the department of public works, the city's 311 hotline, two or three times. The neighborhood beat cop even called it in, he said - and nothing. The garbage was finally picked up after he called the mayor's office.
There are so many things that aren't working in Hartford, he said. But hands down, the biggest issue is persistent crime and a deteriorating quality of life that's chasing people out of the city every day.
"I don't care what the crime stats say," Gutt said. "Crime is the biggest problem here and there don't seem to be any real consequences to committing any in the city."
Actually, as much as city officials like to tout declining crime stats, homicides and aggravated assaults continue to be a problem. Hartford has had 15 homicides so far this year, compared with 10 at this point last year.
Following the city's 15th homicide - of a 74-year-old man police believe was an innocent bystander - Mayor Pedro Segarra and Chief Daryl Roberts held a brief press conference Wednesday at city hall. Mayor Segarra said that as someone who lost his father to gun violence, he takes the recent rash of violence extremely seriously. Roberts said it's going to take collaboration among cops and residents and state agencies to combat violence.
In short, nothing all that new. In fact, it seemed as though the city's top brass was just as lost as the rest of us about how to end city violence.
And yet, back on Seymour Street, Gutt was clearly still holding out hope even while talking about giving up. "If we could just clean up the streets," he said. "If we could just get rid of the drug dealers."
After his third or fourth, "If we could just," I had to stop him. How many times have we used those words when pining for a better future for Hartford? If. We. Could. Just. Except, we don't - not in any meaningful, lasting way, anyway.
Gutt nodded. He's been waiting on Hartford to improve for decades now. He's hung in while friends and family have given up, chased out by squandered potential. Another landlord Gutt knows who was recently brutally assaulted in one of his buildings just told him he's getting out. He suggested that Gutt do the same.
Gutt and a neighborhood merchants association have asked for a meeting with city officials. He's not sure what will come of it. But he wants them to know that some of the very people who have invested the most in Hartford are about to bail.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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