Unemployment in Hartford is at 10.4 percent, according to the most recent state figures. About 30 percent of residents live below the poverty line. The city desperately needs jobs, housing and other amenities that will bring back middle-class people.
In the 1st Senate District primary on Aug. 12, the candidate most likely to bring state aid to bear on the city's economy in the next two years is the incumbent, Sen. John W. Fonfara.
Mr. Fonfara, 52, has been in the General Assembly for 22 years, having served five terms as a state representative and six as a senator. He has developed the expertise and alliances with legislative leaders that it takes to garner state aid for local projects.
Most veteran legislators in leadership positions are able to take home a piece of the pie. Mr. Fonfara has often used his chits to spur business development in the district, which includes parts of Hartford and Wethersfield.
For example, he was a co-founder of the South Hartford initiative — now the Hartford Community Loan Fund — which helped scores of small businesses and created hundreds of jobs. He has worked with the Spanish American Merchants Association to bring small-business loans, facade improvement and security cameras to the Park Street commercial corridor.
Mr. Fonfara has landed money for housing, schools and environmental projects such as the long-needed cleanup of Wethersfield Cove.
Which is not to suggest he is an ideal legislator. His private business, outdoor advertising, seems to land him in conflict-of-interest hot water from time to time. He has developed a powerful niche as co-chairman of the energy committee, but was criticized last year for battling with his co-chair over a reform bill. Mr. Fonfara also is too quick to blame suburban legislators for the slow progress of cities.
Mr. Fonfara faces a formidable challenge from labor leader and educator Ed Vargas, 59. Mr. Vargas is a well-known figure in Hartford Democratic politics, having served in numerous appointive and committee roles. He can make a passionate case for urban education. His push to keep schools open after school is one the city should embrace.
But Mr. Vargas offers a rather general agenda in favor of health care, strong neighborhoods and lower energy rates, without much in the way of attainable specifics. He promises to be more aggressive than Mr. Forfara; that might not be the right approach this year.
There's going to be less government money available for local programs, at all levels. What money that is available must go, as much as possible, to helping city people train, find work and support themselves.
We think Mr. Fonfara gets this more than Mr. Vargas does.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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