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Some advice for Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra

Helen Ubinas

June 30, 2010

Dear Mayor Pedro Ernesto Segarra,

So, it's on you now.

No pressure, right?

I'm sure you're getting lots of advice right about now. Don't take it all. But listen to it.

And while you're at it, here's a little more unsolicited advice from someone who has watched one too many leaders start with promise only to implode.

*Don't surround yourself with a bunch of yes-people who are only going to say or do what they think you want to hear, or worse -- disguised as help -- what will benefit them. A true leader keeps people who challenge him close. It may get annoying having someone question you and your ideas, but even if you don't always agree or take their advice, being challenged makes for better ideas and better leaders.

*Admit when you're wrong. Just do it. Seriously, most politicians don't get how far that goes. And then, of course, learn from your mistakes.

*You already know this is a difficult time for Hartford. You said just that after being sworn in as mayor Friday. You also said this:"...we need to join efforts to overcome our current differences and move our City forward. There are too many people depending on us to get the job done and we cannot and must not let them down." Ask for help. People, even the ones who squawk about Hartford being unsalvageable, want the capital city to succeed. It's a good sign that you're already talking about reaching out to the governor, legislators and mayors in surrounding towns and cities. There are some seriously burned bridges to be mended.

*And while we're talking about reaching out, remember that it's a big world out there, much bigger than the city's 18-square-miles. Too many around here are skeptical, or downright disdainful of anyone who wasn't born and bred in the city. Just the other day I heard someone refer to someone who'd just moved here and wanted to get involved as a "transplant" in the same tone as you might say a dirty word. As if you aren't from here, you don't have a right to care or God forbid, have anything to offer the city. Here's the deal. More than ever, this city needs some new leadership, some new ideas, some new blood and energy. That's not to say that the people who are from here should be pushed aside. Of course not. But too often someone is ignored or dismissed or chased out of town because they're, gasp, an outsider. That's short-sighted, and silly and it's got to stop.

*Kudos to you,too, for understanding that this isn't just about government. In your statement, you also said this: "It is about people and positive relationships in the community. I plan to meet with neighborhood leaders with the message that I am here to listen and learn." Mayor, cut that line out -- attach it to your frig, your desk, maybe stick it somewhere in your car. My point is, remember that. Just the other day I found a similar comment from your predecessor, whose doors got a lot less open during his time in office. Something happens to politicians. They start to think they know better than anyone else, they tire of the criticism maybe. Don't shut people out. Remember that this has been hardest on the people who live in the city. They need to know someone is actually listening to them. They have a lot to offer, if you just give them a chance.

*Admittedly this one is a little self-serving. Understand the role of the press. We are not the enemy. In fact, you can use us to get your message out, to keep city residents informed of what you're doing. To explain to them what's going right, why something went wrong. But understand, too, that we're not your boosters. You have well-paid press people for that. Just like you, we have a job to do. It is our role, our obligation, to be the community's watchdogs, to keep officials, to keep you, honest. Don't try to manage a message. Forget damage control. Just tell it like it is. Tell the truth. There will be articles, columns, blogs and TV segments that you and your administration won't love. Deal. Get annoyed, call and complain if it makes you feel better. But whatever you do, don't circle the wagons and suddenly become inaccessible. Don't take on this dangerous and damaging 'us against them' mentality. It doesn't work. You lose most of all. If you and your administration can just remember that, trust me, there can be a balance in coverage.

*You said it best. "There is a lot on Hartford's plate right now and we need to address the City's priorities immediately." The city and its residents have been in limbo for way too long. They deserve so much better.

I don't envy you Mayor Segarra. But I do wish you luck.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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