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Those Who Want To Help Hartford Are Getting A Flat Welcome

Susan Campbell

February 01, 2009

If this isn't the winter of our discontent, it's at least a close second.

A person is innocent until proven guilty, but the mayor of our capital city was just arrested on bribery charges. Add to that the sorry case of the head of the state Department of Children and Families, who was recently charged with drunken driving. And then there's the respected judge, also charged with drunken driving, whose actions are under further review because a police-station video shows her using vulgar and racially charged language on the night of her arrest.

Not enough? This past week, the local archdiocese settled yet another molestation case out of court, this one involving a Catholic priest who though no longer allowed to dress or serve as a priest is still receiving money from the church.

That whoosh you hear? That's the sound of too many supposed leaders of the community sucking the air right out of the room. We need fresh horses something different, and not the change of campaign posters, but new ideas from people who love their city and state.

Meet Benjamin Cruse, of Leadership Greater Hartford. That young man came back to Hartford and started stirring the pot in a big way. The recently renamed Mayor Mike Peters Little League, the anti-violence marches, and a Saturday basketball program that draws in more than 240 kids are just a few products of his energy and drive. And he's not alone.

Now meet Joshua Powell, son of a long-time Hartford family whose history ricochets from the South End to the North, and settles in the West End in the Elizabeth Park neighborhood.

Powell intended to stir the pot, too. He still wants to do that, but his plans have been put on hold. A 1996 graduate of Hartford Public High, Powell came back last October with a new wife and the desire to make Hartford his home again after college and a career in New York finance. He was smart about it, too. To reacquaint himself with the capital city, he met just about every Hartford bold-faced name you can imagine. Some were helpful, some were pompous, but few were encouraging.

Imagine that.

When he told people he wanted to come home, they looked at him with a mix of disbelief and derision. Back to Hartford? Really?

But this is home. He sees potential. He even bought the family homestead, in anticipation. Meanwhile, he was fending off job offers in D.C. and New York, and he finally had to take one. He just moved back to the D.C. area to help raise funds for his alma mater, George Washington University. Powell has been giving money to the school since he graduated in 2000 (he also earned a master's in economics there), but he's renting a place on a month-to-month basis, and his wife, a chef, remains in Hartford. Despite the rather flat greeting he received, he wants to come home.

The city was once run by a group of business leaders known as the Bishops. They lived in the city, and were mostly products of the city's schools, but their time came and went, too. These days, too many people have divided Hartford into little fiefdoms. Just try to get something done without stepping on tender toes.

That's not every leader in Hartford. People like Rabbi Donna Berman at Charter Oak Cultural Center, for one, is an exception who proves the rule, but the business-as-usual/I-got-mine mentality just isn't working. We need new ideas. And some of us? We need to simply get out of the way. There are talented people waiting to take the ball and run with it. Let them.

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.
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