Urbanites hoped that because he had been mayor of what is arguably the state's most successful large city, Gov. Dannel Malloy would bring some of the Stamford mojo to the Capitol — be a friend and champion of the state's large and mid-sized cities.
How has he done?
He didn't start well in 2011, from Hartford's perspective, when he chose to expand the UConn Health Center in Farmington and not in Hartford, which is home to 85 percent of the region's hospital beds. There were very strong arguments for putting at least some of the facilities in Hartford and not adding to the traffic and sprawl in Farmington.
But he was new to the job and UConn, which usually gets what it wants, wanted the expansion in Farmington.
Since then, however, Mr. Malloy has quietly engaged the cities, in a different way than his immediate predecessors did. Gov. John Rowland and his successor, Gov.M. Jodi Rell, made significant investments in Hartford and some other cities, but mostly to make them better places to visit. Most of the big-ticket items — convention center, science center, theaters, stadium, etc. — are aimed at bringing suburbanites and tourists downtown.
Mr. Malloy, on the other hand, has focused on making the cities better place in which to live.
"He's been good for cities," said New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who defeated Mr. Malloy in a hard-fought gubernatorial primary in 2006 but lost the general election to Mrs. Rell. Mr. DeStefano said Mr. Malloy's commissioners have been accessible to mayors, and cited education, economic development and law enforcement as areas where Mr. Malloy is helping cities.
Mr. Malloy is putting a major and perhaps unprecedented effort into improving the state's low-performing school districts, most of which are in urban areas. The education reform bill that passed this spring calls for state intervention in 25 of the lowest-performing schools over the next three years. The first candidates for the program are schools in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and Norwich, with plans for Waterbury and Norwalk schools in the works. If they have a choice, parents of school-age children won't stay in cities unless there are good schools.
Mr. Malloy also is attempting to make the big cities safer, last month announcing a new strategy of "focused deterrence" aimed at reducing gun violence in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport, where 94 of the state's 129 homicides in 2011 took place. The idea is to make a major push on the relative handful of people — almost all young men — who are doing the shooting. This is important on both the human and economic levels; few will invest in cities that are thought to be dangerous.
Mr. Malloy has also shown willingness to invest in economic development opportunities in cities, most recently the expansion of CareCentrix from East Hartford to Hartford and Alexion Pharmaceuticals from Cheshire to New Haven. The cities need jobs more than they need anything else. Mr. Malloy's support for the new Capital Region Development Authority to direct state investment in the region may turn out to be one of his best contributions to Greater Hartford.
Mr. Malloy understands that good transit helped Stamford take advantage of its proximity to New York, and has supported transit improvements such as expansion of Shore Line East, New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail and, against intense opposition, the New Britain-to-Hartford busway. Now he and his staff, working with cities and regional planners, must take advantage of this investment by helping create transit-oriented development along the routes.
As former Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut said; "You can't be a suburb of no place." Regions need strong central cities. Mr. Malloy is off to a good start in his first year and a half, but the story is still being written.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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