In the '90s, Gov. John G. Rowland, Lt. Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Hartford Mayor Mike Peters, I and many others worked hard to rebuild our beloved capital city. Now I am concerned about problems that could harm the city.
Rell headed the task force that recommended the "Six Pillars" of state investment in Hartford, including riverfront revitalization, parking, a new convention center, moving the community college downtown, putting housing into the Civic Center, Lewis Street, Sage Allen and other places, and $25 million for the demolition of old and decrepit buildings. Those hundreds of millions of dollars did not come easily or without political strings attached.
The Rowland administration was concerned with expertise and staffing levels in city government. So it created the Capital City Economic Development Authority to oversee much of this spending. The state also took away many impediments that could slow the projects.
Just before the 1998 announcement of the Six Pillars plan, the state took over the school system. Under orders from the General Assembly, a separate committee was formed to oversee an ambitious school building program. Indeed, when I left the legislature in 1999, it was often said that the state was running the city.
The Six Pillars plans put into place have been a resounding success. Downtown is being rebuilt and has many new residents. Private capital is following public dollars. There is a new convention center and hotel attached to it, and other neighborhoods are seeing new housing and building projects.
With a strong mayor and accountability in place, the city is gradually reacquiring many of its old powers. This has created a strain, as the recent flurry of letters between the governor and mayor attests.
Ironically, Hartford benefited more by being an appendage of the state. But Mayor Eddie A. Perez proudly and rightfully stands up for the city's right to make its own decisions.
Now, however, Hartford has matters that need to be resolved immediately. With 19 residents shot since May 24, we need additional resources from the state. In addition, although Rell stepped in and saved the United Church of Christ convention, we have lost many other events, most recently, the Connecticut Housing Coalition's annual meeting.
State and the city officials must agree on their roles in these matters and not leave Hartford limping along while their own dispute festers. These issues need to be addressed now.
Thomas D. Ritter, a resident of Hartford, is a former House speaker and a former chairman of the state-appointed board of trustees that oversaw the Hartford school system.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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