Today, thousands of people a week go into Walmart and visit other stores in the Charter Oak Plaza, and hundreds are trained at the Hartford Jobs Academy, all mostly oblivious to the history of that land.
Let's go back about 60 years to a public housing complex called Charter Oak Terrace. It was completed in 1942 when the first family moved in. By the early 1990's, the Los Solidos ran one side, the Latin Kings the other.
Then, in 1993, Hartford had a new mayor, Mike Peters, a democrat, and a cobbled together majority of three Republicans and two Democrats on the City Council. Back then, five votes on the Council meant everything. However, a strong personality made a strong mayor and Peters was certainly that.
Another bigger than life Hartford icon was the Executive Director of the Hartford Housing Authority, John Wardlaw. John was a big fellow with a big vision: change public housing forever. He detested what public housing had become - warehousing for the poor, and all their problems. Powerful political forces were in his way. Let's face it, many in office were happy with the plantation of democratic votes in a dozen or so locations in the city. Those votes meant power at the national, state and local level. Charter Oak Terrace always had heavy democratic majorities.
But, with a third factor coming into play, three conservative Republicans, one of which, yours truly, ending up as the cities housing committee chairman, the time was finally right for John Wardlaw to change Hartford forever and he did. Month after month, he came to the city council for resolution after resolution affirming city support for his visionary plans. The climate and the times were right, but constant action and movement were needed. So, today, instead of police sirens, rodents and trash, we have jobs, goods and services, and tax revenue generating properties off the Flatbush exit.
And John Wardlaw wanted everyone of every circumstance to be able to be part of the American Dream. Work hard and you'll get ahead. No excuses. That was John Wardlaw.
Now, he is gone to his reward but his dream lives on with the Hartford Job Corps Academy, located just yards from his old workplace. They serve almost 300 students a year with healthcare, manufacturing, insurance and banking training. Most graduates find jobs right away. We hope that somebody remembers, and tells these grads that close to where they stand, stood John Wardlaw.