Three weeks after Hartford surgeons reconstructed his face, Nick Carbone was back in his sneakers walking through the park in the backyard of his high-rise apartment to where he was viciously attacked.
He retraced his steps this week, this time using a cane, through the parking lot of the United Way onto the sidewalk on Laurel Street. It was there that he remembers first noticing the three young men, wearing large white T-shirts, trailing behind him.
Truants on their way to school, he recalled thinking at the time.
That morning, June 2, the 71-year-old former former deputy mayor and long-time political activist had left his home in the Park Place Towers about 8 a.m. to speed-walk for about an hour, before heading to breakfast.
"I was waiting for someone to get to the restaurant for breakfast."
At 9:05 a.m., the call he expected came, and he headed toward The Pantry, his favorite eatery on Capitol Avenue.
He didn't speak to the youngsters who had interrupted his reverie, he said, but glanced back at them so they knew that he knew he was aware of them. He kept walking, faster, from Laurel onto Capitol.
"They found me around here," he said pointing to the sidewalk in front of the state office building just east of Columbia Street.
"I got hit from behind," Carbone said. "I remember going to the ground and trying to get up. This was like at 9:15 a.m.
"The attack in itself was more violent than it had to be," he said. "I don't know who did it."
His attackers took his wallet — later found near the train station — and headed up the stairs near the highway overpass on the opposite side from the state office building.
A security guard, Izzy Medero, called an ambulance. Carbone met Medero for the first time while showing a reporter the scene of the attack on Monday.
"You're the one who called?" Carbone asked. "Thank you," he said firmly shaking Medero's hand. "Thank you."
A few days after Carbone's attack, Hartford police released security video captured May 30 that showed a 78-year-old pedestrian struck by a hit-and-run driver on Park Street, about a mile away. For a moment, traffic continued and passers-by looked on, but no one stepped forward to check on him.
The two incidents thrust the city's problems with random street violence into the national spotlight, and left Harford's frustrated police chief, Hartford native Daryl K. Roberts, lambasting the city's incivility.
Detectives assigned to the two cases are actively following up leads, said Hartford Police Department spokeswoman Nancy Mulroy. There have been no arrests.
Carbone fared better than hit-and-run victim Angel Arce Torres, who is paralyzed from the neck down and can no longer breathe on his own.
Doctors at Hartford Hospital were able to stop Carbone's internal bleeding. The incident left tattoo-like marks on his head and chest. Surgeons rebuilt his forehead and nose using skin from the top of his skull. The scar on the crown of his head spans from ear to ear.
He spent about 15 days at the hospital before he was allowed to return to his spacious apartment on the 23rd floor at Park Towers. "I'm just trying to get well," Carbone said. So many flowers and plants came that he started giving them away, and the cards and letters continue to fill his mailbox.
"We joke about his fan mail," said his granddaughter Nicole Carbone, one of his 16 grandchildren by six children.
She has been assigned to "24-hour watch," joked Carbone, who has become steady on his feet, but his vision is still too blurry to allow him to read.
Politician, developer, agitator, Carbone grew up in the South End. He joined the city council in 1969, was elected majority leader in 1971 and remained a powerful council figure who spearheaded the construction of roads, schools, garages and a police station during his tenure at city hall. Under his leadership, the city filed lawsuits over utility rate increases, discriminatory suburban housing practices and the state property tax system. He oversaw the reorganization of administrators at city hall. Carbone ran for mayor in 1979 against George Athanson, and lost.
A professional political strategist who led the Connecticut Institute for Municipal Studies, a state-financed think tank devoted to helping "communities in crisis," he said he has often used his morning walks to mentally map out his political initiatives.
On the morning of his attack, Carbone said, he was thinking through how state lawmakers could assist people losing their homes because of predatory lending practices and subprime lending. The subject was one of the many issues Carbone has taken on in recent years. He has also been a significant player in the federal court dispute between city officials and citizens who have complained about police brutality.
His attack has not left him bemoaning his fate, but instead thinking about the root causes of urban pathology.
For about two hours Monday, Carbone focused his conversation with a reporter on factors that he thinks have fueled urban violence: predatory lenders; teenage pregnancy; incarceration; the release of inmates into the city by the state Department of Correction; failing schools and judicial systems.
"The issue that concerns me is the city is getting poorer. The systems created to deal with poverty in the city are outdated. I think my attack was random.
"There's a correlation between violence and poverty," said Carbone. "We've created a social service system that is dysfunctional. If we had had proper systems dealing with these kids in first and second grades, they wouldn't become so hardened."
Who's to blame?
"The individuals who beat up on me [participated] in a violent and inexcusable crime. I'm not the only person this happens to. It happens systematically every day. We failed to address the pressing needs. Violent crime is happening in too many communities. There's too many cracks in the structure. We've got schools that don't work. I've watched it for too many years. I know it's broken. Not to blame the system is a misdirected play," Carbone said.
"The act itself to me is senseless. I can't be mad at everyone in the world. I believe the entire system is broken. Until we have the guts to change it, people are going to fall between the cracks."
Carbone said he escaped feeling like a victim by his interpretation of what the word means. "You become a victim when you let the event control you. I believe as a country we are in deep trouble. We ought to keep focused on the real struggle."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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