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Democratic Unity

By Jeffrey B. Cohen

July 17, 2009

The city council's Democrats don't often work well as a team of six.

But when it came to doling out money from its $400,000 civic and cultural affairs account earlier this week -- each council Democrat got to allocate over $50,000 -- it was all unity, all the time.

"We have a Democratic city, overwhelmingly Democratic, and I think this is a prerogative of the Democratic majority on the council," Councilman Kenneth Kennedy said at Monday's council meeting.

The council's three minority-party members weren't part of the discussion and they were miffed. Their Democratic colleagues told them they'd get to spend roughly $20,000 each. Just when they told them that, though, is unclear.

Still, they said the process wasn't fair, that some council members were "more equal than others," that there was no transparency, and that this was "business as usual."

"We weren't privy to any type of splitting up of anything before the meeting," said Councilman Luis Cotto of the Working Families Party. "There was a failure to communicate."

The city also has recently approved a good deal of money for various city organizations, including nearly $5 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds, another roughly $3.6 million in federal entitlement funds, and $1.1 million in arts stimulus money.

On the organizations getting paid a total of nearly $340,000 from the council Democrats, much of Monday's discussion focused on the process. Just as interesting, though, is who got the money.

The $400,000 pot of money is typically used throughout the year as needed. But the Democrats this year decided that a better way to use it would be to spend much of it at the beginning of the fiscal year largely on community organizing groups that need staffing. But that list grew to include little leagues, sports centers, senior centers, and the Monday Night Jazz Festival.

Some of the biggest winners: North Hartford Strategic Alliance ($59,000), CT Puerto Rican Forum ($25,000), PAP Parents Opening Doors ($22,100), and the Blue Hills Civic Association ($17,000).

"My priorities were all over the place," said council President Calixto Torres, who used to work for the Puerto Rican forum. "We all contributed to all of them."

Kennedy gave more than $40,000 of his allotment to the North Hartford Strategic Alliance -- an organization he said is intended to fill the void left when ONE/CHANE, the neighborhood's defunct advocacy and organizing group, went bankrupt. But the alliance ran out of money last year and has no money to pay a staff.

"There's no organization in Northeast Hartford," said Kennedy, whose council aide, Jean Holloway, is also on the alliance's board. "Let's see if we can get them on track."

It even came as a surprise to the organization's board Chairman Larry Williams that the council gave the alliance $59,000 earlier this week.

"We've been looking for funding and we have a goal for our neighborhoods," Williams said. "But as far as the money that came through the city council, I wasn't aware of it until you told me."

Reprinted with permission of the CityLine blog of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the CityLine at http://blogs.courant.com/cityline/ and the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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