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Abolish 2-2-2, or Maybe Make It 66-15-12-4-1-1-1

Ken Krayeske

December 02, 2010

Since nobody will find this shocking, only one member of the Hartford Court of Common Council – Larry Deutsch - has spoken with outgoing councilman Matt Ritter to discuss who his replacement should be.

Ritter won election to the Connecticut House of Representatives, and will be sworn in as a legislator on January 5, 2011. He will resign from the Court of Common Council on January 3, 2011.

I called Matt the other night in a fit of “This can't be true” when I heard a rumor about his possible replacement, a Democratic Party retread seeking to be the white guy who fills Ritter’s seat under the 2-2-2 system.

The unwritten 2-2-2 system demands that the Democratic members of the Council majority must consist of two white, two black and two Latino members.

The 30-year-old rationale for 2-2-2 is that Democratic members of Council should look like the city’s three main skin colors and/or ethnicities; thus precisely even numbers should give the appearance that Council resembles those it purports to represent.

Given the crappy voter turnout in this city, the people of Hartford don’t seem to give two turds about who represents them, so I see 2-2-2 as a failed attempt to bring self-governance to the masses.

Ritter himself said he sees the 2-2-2 system as eventually falling into disuse. One day, he said, perhaps Council and the Democratic Party will choose candidates based on qualifications, and not membership in a group.

For now, though, 2-2-2 remains unfortunately strong, considering that it drove Alex Aponte’s appointment to fill Mayor Pedro Segarra’s Council seat, and it will dictate who replaces Ritter.

Deutsch called Ritter seeking advice about Ritter’s possible replacement. Ritter said they spoke for 10 minutes. For his part, Ritter – like Segarra – is keeping his distance from the process. He said he did not think he should have any input as to who should replace him.

Ritter told me that he told Deutsch if he were involved, rather than looking at people – taking 100 names and throwing them against the wall to see who sticks - council should start with a job description.

“What criteria do they want?” Ritter asked. “Do they want someone who is a fresh face to government, or do they want someone who has experience in dealing with city budgets, and can step right in to the budgeting process in such a bad budgeting year?”

Once Council determines what they want, attaching names is an easier process than looking at personalities, Ritter said. For anyone familiar with Hartford politics, the concept of floating names would be a sure way to create disunion and factitiousness.

For certain, the free for all among Democratic “leaders” – and I’ll use the term loosely – as to who will replace Ritter are keeping the process close to the vest. Ritter himself doesn’t even know who his replacement will be.

But it appears, based on names being floated, that Ritter’s replacement will be a white Democratic man. Why not a white woman, because there isn’t 50 percent representation of women on Council?

More importantly, why do city political hacks slavishly follow an unwritten rule that says the most effective representative will look like those they serve?

For many in the Tea Party, the logic of the 2-2-2 rule says Presidents should be white. This kind of thinking will also infect the replacement of Veronica Airey-Wilson, the sole Republican member of council. City Charter says her replacement must be Republican.

Council leaders will search far and wide for a black, female of West Indian lineage to replace Airey-Wilson. It is identity politics at its worst, affirmative action gone awry.

In fact, there seems to be someone already campaigning for Council in 2011 who fits that bill ready to replace Airey-Wilson. How convenient! Or, we have Airey-Wilson’s nephew to fill her seat. If father and son can be president within years of each other, why not aunt and nephew on council?

Identity politics don’t stop at City Hall. For many in unions and Hartford’s North End, 2-2-2 logic says the legislative seats currently held by Sen. Eric Coleman and Rep. Doug McGrory’s belong to African-Americans.

Thus, I have been told, a white person like myself should never consider running for Doug McCrory or Eric Coleman’s seat because I would never get support from various community sectors, be it African-American or liberal/union intelligentsia.

But then were I to move to another district to run, I would be a carpet-bagger. So I can’t win, and this system of preserving racial balance and alleged harmony in our legislative branches wins out over genuine democracy. Yet take away this taboo, and maybe Connecticut’s legislature looks like Oklahoma’s virtually all-white, all-male senate.

Were Hartford Democrats more like the United States Senate, they wouldn’t care about skin color, and only be focused on who has millions of dollars. Although realizing that the United States Senate has no black members right now, maybe 2-2-2 and forced balance isn’t a bad idea.

What if the U.S. Senate adopted 2-2-2 for its 100-member august club? The U.S. Senate would have a 66-15-12-4-1-1-1 rule, for white, Latino, black, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander and other?

The black Senators would have to come from the South, where the black population is at its largest. Since Connecticut has wealthy tribes of Native Americans, perhaps one of our Senators should be the Native American representative. And of course, California’s two Senators could both be Asian, given the high population of Asians in the West. Other should come from Hawaii, Alaska, or perhaps even New York.

But states would no sooner accept that idea than North End power brokers would accept losing their African-American representatives in the state house.

Last week, this column supported without reservation a watered-down version of an anti-racial profiling ordinance floating around City Hall. Perhaps Councilman Luis Cotto should have directed his anti-racial profiling ordinance at 2-2-2.

Because in short, that is what 2-2-2 is. A small cabal of Hartfordites will determine who replaces Ritter based solely on the fact that this person is white (like Ritter) and has paid their dues in the Democratic gang, the same way Segarra’s replacement had to be a Latino member of the Democratic club.

If this leaves a sour taste in your mouth, you’re not alone. But this is how Matt Ritter’s replacement will be chosen. One hopes for a day when the question to ask is: who is most qualified?

Reprinted with permission of the The Hartford News.
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