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Hope And Change in Derby

Posted by Chris Bowen on November 12, 2013

Last Tuesday, Derby experienced what could only be called an upset: Anita Dugatto challenged a strong, incumbent mayor in Anthony Staffieri, and won. It wasn’t the only upset of the night – Ansonia put David Casetti in over James Della Volpe – but Derby’s election wasn’t just a repudiation on the mayor; it was a Democratic blowout. As of this moment, pending a few recounts1, Democrats comfortably hold the Board of Aldermen (7–2), Board of Education (6-3; all six Dems that ran, won), and Board of Appropriations and Taxation (6-4; all six Dems won again). Laura Wabno was also taken out by former mayor Marc Garofalo. Republican-endorsed Keith McLiverty held onto his Treasurer position, but only by 32 votes.

In short, it was a slaughter.

Normally, I would have a high amount of trepidation about 100% single party rule, and in some areas, I do. But for a few reasons, I actually feel good about the political situation in Derby for the first time since I moved there in 2008. A large reason for that is due to the calming effect Anita Dugatto’s campaign has had.

It should be noted just how small and unassuming Anita when you see her for the first time. I have a vague recollection of her from her time on the BoAT, and she was not someone people notice at first. Meeting her face to face for the first time at Democratic headquarters after it became clear that she had beaten Staffieri, I towered over her, at 5’9″.

And yet, she recognized me, someone she had never met, immediately. She asked if I was indeed Chris, and when I confirmed I was, she held my arm up and yelled “Chris Bowen is here!”. It was a bit mortifying, but it reflected the attention that Anita pays to everything in the City, something I remember from her time as a very inquisitive member of the BoAT. She would ask intelligent, probing questions, and develop a solution from there. Beneath that unassuming appearance lies a sharp, inquisitive intellect that takes in all details.

She also possesses mounds of charm. She visited my mother during her rounds when she was working to gain notice for the Mayorship, and my mother couldn’t stop raving about her, causing occasional consternation. At the time, I was still highly skeptical of a woman who had some weird views on local property rights, a sore subject with us trying to revitalize downtown. Since then, I have been able to look past this honest disagreement on the role of government in local property rights.

Derby has long been run, not just by men, but Men, Men with big egos and bigger mouths, who have fought with each other for decades, waging proxy wars on behalf of their friends and families. Police commissioners have been fired because of spats between the principal parties’ children regarding businesses. A mayor ran for, and won, an election largely because of a personal insult. At a time when economic stimulus is needed, the only stimulant we’ve received is testosterone. In plain English, the Men have fucked things up royally, engaging in their own pissing contest for their own personal gain, and Derby’s citizens don’t have a big enough umbrella to keep from getting wet.

Anita doesn’t impress me because of her genitalia. She impresses me because I believe she’s going to make an honest effort to undo of the damage that the past two administrations – at least – have caused with their interpersonal bickering. 2

Before I go any further in talking about how I expect the next two years to go better than the last four or so, allow me to say some words in defence of Anthony Staffieri.

I like Tony. He’s a good man. And I don’t think his actions that I disagreed with were the result of some kind of political conspiracy; simply put, I don’t think he’s savvy enough to be that cynical. Some of his people are – Joseph Coppola comes to mind, but that’s also his job – Tony is the kind of person who, if you say something he doesn’t like, will go right to your face and tell you to go fuck yourself.

Unlike a lot of people, I like that. One of the reasons I voted for him in 2011 was that he ran an up-front campaign. A little loose with the facts, but I’ve started to view that as status quo in running for a political office; it’s simply my job as a voter and commentator to separate the fact from the BS. It was far better than that which Democrats ran, which involved banning citizens from their Facebook page for asking questions and then denying it, outright lying about things in the Mayor’s record, and in the end, having a sockpuppet account attack a man who was known to be a Staffieri supporter by bringing up a years-old road rage allegation. Tony campaigned like he governed: in your face, here’s my position, and to hell with those that don’t like it. I’m fine with that; it makes me a lot more comfortable to deal with someone coming at me from the front, than someone sneaking in from behind.

The last two years, I must admit, have been a dumpster fire. He did favours for political allies like Joseph Bomba. He vetoed an alderman’s vote to have an investigation done into the Katherine Kulhawik case3. Downtown went nowhere, again. Under no circumstances should Anthony Staffieri have been reelected.

A lot of the reason for the decline in performance, I believe, was that when you’re in a position of power, that means being attacked – for reasons large and small – by people who want to take that power from you and give it to themselves. Fending off those people takes energy, which is in finite supply. Eventually, the effort to ward off political attacks becomes so great that it takes away from the things a politician sets out to do in the first place. It’s a rare politician who can govern while not letting such complaints hamper him one iota – love him or hate him, Shelton’s Mark Lauretti is definitely in this category – and eventually, I think Tony just wore down. He became so preoccupied with protecting his turf from outsiders that he didn’t notice that parts of it were on fire.

I was personally done with Anthony Staffieri as my mayor, but I have no problem with him as a person. Here’s hoping he finds some time to relax now that his time in office is over.

From the standpoint of what I feel needs to be done to Derby, the election could not have gone any better. As I’ve stated in the past, my economic beliefs tend to be Keynesian in nature, so with a depressed local economy, investment is the answer. I’ve been particularly interested in buttressing what is known to be one of the lowest performing school systems in the state of Connecticut with more than just token money that doesn’t stave off cuts. Beyond that, the most damaging thing to happen to Derby politics has been the politicians, or more specifically, the pervasive party politics that have hampered even small moves, with everyone angling to get ahead and screw the other side. What better way to end a two party stand-off than making one of those parties completely irrelevant?

However, single-party rule – and that’s what we have, since the Board of Aldermen now has a supermajority – only works for a little bit of time before problems prop up. This is regardless of political affiliation, as both excessive deregulation and complete ignorance of female and minority rights in the South, and the insidious influence of workers unions and corruption in the Northeast and large cities have made clear. In some places, that majority can’t be broken; the South will always be a GOP because they believe Jesus is a Republican, and big cities will always be Democratic strongholds simply because

I do believe that Dr. Anita is not only sincere about reaching out, but has proven in the past that she will do it. However, also consider what I wrote about the person she is replacing just one section up. She will be attacked by people who want her power, by people bitter about this past election, and by people who just don’t like Democrats because something something socialism. And though it was voter disdain for Staffieri’s leadership that put her into office, the first tax increase of any kind will be met with stiff opposition, particularly on the east end of the city. Staffieri’s reaction to opposition was to bully his way through it; in short, he could be a raging dick. Anita strikes me as more of a thinker, but that will only get her so far in the face of dedicated opposition and opportunism. Will she be able to weather those first few storms? Can she become a hard-nosed bitch when that’s warranted?

All of that is down the road. There’s still transitional work to be done, new boards to swear in, and time for Dr. Anita, who owns her business virtually next door to Staffieri’s old restaurant, to get comfortable in her chair before her political opponents start to put fire under it. Derby voters, including myself, gave her and her team a mandate to do what is necessary, knowing the cost in increased taxes, to make Derby right again. Here’s hoping they have the wherewithal to pull it off, and the discipline to not go to the other extreme.

1 – As of right now, one Democratic alderman has a two vote advantage over a Republican rival. If that holds, the advantage will be 7-2 Democrats

2 – It’s a lot of this that kept me from voting for Ron Sill as my Ward’s alderman. I like Ron, I think he’s a good guy, but being the longest serving alderman in Derby history is not something I’d put in the win column at this point.

3 – It should be noted that the Aldermen eventually saw the report in private, and voted 7-1 to withhold the report from the public. This vote was simply inexcusable on all counts, and credit to Art Gerckens for being the lone dissenting vote.

EDIT: In an earlier version of this article, I incorrectly stated that the count that the Valley Indy had was not accurate. At the time I wrote it – almost a week ago – the state’s numbers weren’t out yet, which is what the site ended up using. I apologize for the error.

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Telegraph Road, Derby CT

Posted by Chris Bowen on November 1, 2013

Spot of the former Derby Billiards

Spot of the former Derby Billiards

The elections are coming back to Derby, as they do every two years. Two years is an infinitesimal amount of time in politics, so it’s easy to become weary at the kabuki theatre we’re subjected to every other year. This side did this, and because they’re fundamentally bad people, be sure to vote for my side on election day. It’s honestly wearying – I’m shocked at how jaded I am to my local political scene, considering I’ve lived in Derby for five years now – but despite what makes sense to anyone, the people who can seemingly do nothing but bicker and make excuses are still in charge of my city. In Derby, stasis is the order of the day, as many of the people on the ballot have been on the ballot, or in power, for a very long time, bickering and arguing and fighting the same battles over and over, many of those battles dating back to their high school days.

When you have so many other distractions that don’t involve getting into, and staying in, a political office, it’s easy to lose track of things. It’s much easier to demonize your opponents and say they’re why everything’s jacked up, and you’ll fix it, than it is to actually fix it. Sometimes, people just need a reminder.

Derby political candidates, consider yourselves reminded.

The Ghosts of Yesteryear

For a brief time in my youth, I lived at 185 Main Street in Derby. It was a second floor apartment above what used to be Club Soda, a low-rent bar. It wasn’t the greatest place to live, but it was home, before I moved to Seymour. Today, that building is largely empty; I’ve heard a rumor that there’s an office on the second floor where we lived, but as far as I know, everything’s empty, including Mario’s Cafe, which seems to have been out of business for years.

Of course, when I was living there in the 80s, there were businesses all up and down the road. They weren’t exactly top-flight retail – the kind of retail we know of now just didn’t exist back then – but they were the kind of small businesses one could expect in a factory town. Next door was a small pizza place, farther down were the usual package and other smaller stores, and Derby Billiards, where I would often be taken to play video games. Just off Main Street was a little grocer called Valero’s. I don’t remember many of the specifics, but could point out areas that I knew about if shown in pictures. The stalwart was Hubbell Brothers shoes, just before the curve that takes drivers to the four-way intersection.

Housatonic Lumber.

Housatonic Lumber.

Main Street is now unrecognizable, and not because the businesses have changed. They have changed, in that they’ve largely disappeared. My old building is empty, and while the pizza place to my left is now a dance studio, to my right looks like a disaster area. Milardo’s, a place that handled floor coverings, is long gone. Across the street, another business that handled home decor is gone, and has become the headquarters for Derby Republicans trying to reelect Mayor Anthony Staffieri to his fifth term. Most telling is that the buildings that used to house Derby Billiards and Hubbell Brothers don’t even exist anymore; they were condemned and taken down as the first step in Derby’s downtown revitalization project, which is now a bipartisan laughing stock. Derby Billiards lives on in spirit next to Nuts ‘n Bolts in the form of Breaktime at Jak’s, which is every bit as shady as the old place was; Hubbell Brothers, after trying things out in the old Valley Bowl parking lot, finally closed down for good in 2010. Looking to the left, one could be forgiven for thinking they walked into downtown Detroit for a minute. A package store is still open, but barely; on it, rests a sign talking about a future auction of the building. Next to it are dead business after dead business, some of which I can’t place without relying on old Google Maps images. Just before getting on Rt. 8 lie the corpses of both Rio Grande and Lifetouch, the latter of which was used as the campaign headquarters for Derby Republicans in 2009.

There’s a poetic statement to be made there: political head butting caused a lot of this mess, so why not have politicians lie in the mess they created?

None of this takes into account the businesses that aren’t on just this stretch of road – Housatonic Lumber is a statement in and of itself on just what Derby used to be and what it isn’t now – and are off of the side roads, or past Main St. and onto Roosevelt, like Derby Cellular. It also doesn’t take into account the businesses that have died but been replaced by others, such as 500 Degrees, and the never-ending turnover in the restaurant space next to the Nutty Company. The fact is that this stretch of road is indicative of the problems that have hit both Derby, and the Valley in general.

Mario's Cafe. Before, this was known as Club Soda.

Mario’s Cafe. Before, this was known as Club Soda.

A Tailor-Made Financial Crisis

The financial recession of 2008 affected the whole country, from Wall Street to the proverbial “main street” that politicians refer to when they want to reference so-called middle America. It’s easy to blame what happened in ’08 for the problems that are befalling this area, but that’s missing a large part of the story. What we’re going through has been a long time coming; the financial crisis just brought it to a head faster.

The history of the Lower Naugatuck Valley is one of factories, and the blue collar workers that worked them. During America’s period of industrialization, the Valley was one of the most prosperous areas of Connecticut as factories sprung up around the Housatonic River to manufacture heavy metals. As that industry declined, the fortunes of this area reflected the new reality, but the area was still home to enough blue collar jobs to make living in the area worthwhile.

Since the time of my youth, however, a few things have changed.

– Factory work in the Untied States in general has plummeted. This is due to a few factors, including: automation of many routine tasks, outsourcing of work to third world countries, and decreased demand for American made goods.
– Connecticut’s economics have shifted. The state’s tax burden is among the highest in the country, and while that has shifted the state’s work force into being more white-collar, that’s only good news for Fairfield County and Hartford; it’s very bad news for a very blue-collar, conservative area with no technological footprint to speak of.
– The economic collapse and resulting recession of 2008 wrecked harder havoc on the Valley than most other areas because many of those aforementioned blue collar jobs got slashed all at once, causing drastic ripple effects on the communities.

Miliardos. I don't even remember who the other company was.

Miliardos. I don’t even remember who the other company was.

Derby, and by extension other Valley towns, have been fighting the effects of a shifting workplace – where factory jobs have been gradually replaced to shift with the changing manufacturing and workplace landscape – for a long time, decades, but the financial system crashing upon itself accelerated the decline. Nowadays, Derby, as well as the majority of the Valley, has become a bedroom community; a place for commuters working in Norwalk1, Stamford, and New York City to plop their heads and take their kids to soccer practice before going south or north (to Hartford), where the real action is. My girlfriend is probably the best example of what the Valley has become: she lives in Beacon Falls, in an apartment complex that was converted from an old factory, and works on the Norwalk/Darien border in marketing. This is no fault of her’s, and if you were to ask her it’s not even a “fault”; I’d argue it’s merely circumstance.

Seemingly, the only jobs left in Derby are those in hospitality. Restaurants are plentiful, as are jobs in retail, the latter of which are particularly plentiful on the Orange line, but as Derby Democratic mayoral candidate Dr. Anita Dugatto notes, those aren’t careers; those are transient jobs. Anyone trying to make a living off of the vast majority of the jobs in Derby who doesn’t own their own business is struggling, mightily.

What makes the above that much worse is that at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be much hope of that getting better.

Flesh Wounds vs. Crippling Disease

Naturally, with the election less than a week away, the obvious question is: how does someone fix this mess? How does someone not only fix the figurative war zone that is Main Street, or even worse, the (sometimes) actual war zone that is the areas around Olivia and Elizabeth Streets?

The easy answer is the political process. The Democrats will do this thing that the Republicans didn’t do, but the Republicans do that thing better, and whatever side I don’t like, they are fundamentally evil people, whereas I and my people on this side are God’s gift to politics, and in this election–

STOP. It’s not about this election. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. Here’s a dirty secret: the 2013 will not fix what is ailing downtown Derby. The problems in Derby are much deeper than any one election can fix.

To me, the problem breaks down easily into three major points:

This tile business is now the home of Anthony Staffieri's reelection effort.

This tile business is now the home of Anthony Staffieri’s reelection effort.

An Inbred Political Environment That Rewards Certain Connections – Everyone who works with, or close to, City Hall seems to be a friend, ally or husband/wife of someone else in power in Derby. This results in more questions than answers when it comes to former Republican aldermen being given jobs, directly on the Mayor’s order, among other issues. So and so’s wife has this job. Such and such’s friend holds another job. Even if situations like these lead to no problems, the optics are problematic.

Even beyond that, there’s a dynastic approach to local politics. Ron Sill’s wife worked at City Hall until her recent retirement. Three members of the Szewczyk family are running for various positions. Three incumbent politicians work in City Hall as their day job. Marc Garofalo’s rearing his head around again. It’s the same people, or the same peoples’ friends, and it’s getting ridiculous, especially when so many problems are affecting the City and many of these people were at the helm as things started to turn.

Broken Trust Between City Hall and Derby Citizens

The case of former tax office employee Katherine Kulhawik showed the complete and total lack of transparency in City Hall, and the resulting lack of respect voters feel they’re getting. Tax scandals are nothing new to the Valley – ask Oxford and Shelton – but whereas both Shelton and Oxford were very aggressive in taking care of their internal strife, Derby attempted to sweep everything under the rug, culminating in the Mayor vetoing a party-line request by Derby aldermen to investigate just what happened, and everything else has been handled in an executive session where minutes aren’t recorded. The implication is clear, and occasionally has been stated: if news got out how bad the damage was, residents would be very upset. Frankly, residents should be even more upset now.

The trust issue isn’t limited to Republicans. When transitioning to the Staffieri administration after former mayor Mark Garofalo was voted out of office, the latter’s administration decided to do a full shread – delete everything to the point where forensic software couldn’t recover it – of all hard drives within City Hall. In a hostile relationship that has embarrassed Derby, it was just one of many “fuck you”s between the two.

Derby voters have virtually no reason to trust anyone that they elect to office, and they are consistently given new reasons why.

A Tale of Two Derbys – I got a good earful of something at a recent meeting at Bradley School to determine the temperature for redistricting. Simply put: Derby is completely divided.

At the Bradley School meeting, the cafeteria was standing room only as parents came in to 100% slam the proposal. Good intentions on the part of Superintendent Conway were reacted to with something that was one step below a lynch mob, with many parents concerned that the Irving kids being in the same school as their children would negatively impact their own kids, as well as bring down their property values. The implication was clear: keep those poor people on the west end of town away from us.

Unfortunately, the impression that there are two Derbys was also in effect at the Irving meeting, where it was brought up by parents on both sides, with one Bradley family even noting they were intimidated to come out to Irving, and others from Irving saying the same thing about Bradley. They felt unwelcome.

The two schools are separated by five miles.

We cannot figure out what’s wrong with Derby and how to fix it until these key issues are rectified. Who’s in City Hall is irrelevant. The downtown development will forever be a fantasy. Main Street will continue to look like a shanty town. Everything that residents currently argue about is a distraction; the real issues are deep, and one two-year term before another election will barely scratch that surface.

Rio Grande Restaurant & Bar.

Rio Grande Restaurant & Bar.

Six Lanes of Traffic… Three Lanes Moving Slow

The residents that one sees when they walk on Main Street are the kind that have always lived and worked there. The immigrants who run the convenience store are every bit as hard of workers as the second generation resident who worked at Housatonic Lumber after graduating from high school. The demographics have changed, and the jobs have changed, but the makeup and character of the residents and workers hasn’t.

The major things that have changed is the condition of the remaining buildings. The population is starting to show the effects of the changes. Derby High School graduated just over 60 people in 2013; to put that in perspective, I graduated Emmett O’Brien Tech in 1999 – always smaller than the main high schools – and my class graduated 98. The population is getting progressively older, and the kids are leaving, either before high school or just after it. The thirty somethings – my age bracket – aren’t coming in, either; the ones who grew up in Derby that I know couldn’t be happier that they left, and the ones who have children in elementary school are avoiding one of the lowest scoring school systems in the state of Connecticut like the plague.

Those are the conditions of a ghost town. When the young can’t wait to get out, and the old can’t stay alive, there’s no one left.

Until those trends are reversed, and until the underlying causes for the symptoms are addressed properly, people will continue to flee. Conditions will continue to get worse. Poverty will continue to increase. And there will continue to be more boarded up windows than window shoppers on the modern Telegraph Road.

1 – Despite my extreme distaste for my city being nothing more than a glorified hotel, I’ve become guilty of perpetuating it too; I work in Norwalk.

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The Police State Came To Greenwich

Posted by Chris Bowen on August 29, 2013

metronorthPeople ask me why I have such a strong, visceral distrust – at best – for the police. “They’re there to help you!” “You should respect their sacrifice!” “They’re just doing their jobs!” I am told this by the people closest to me in life; the mother who was protected by the third shift police she served while waiting tables to raise me, the girlfriend who comes from a family of Irish cops, I catch flak for my stance often. “But Chris, not all cops are like that!”, I’m told. Well, I guess we’ll just put neon “bad cop” signs on the ones that aren’t.

Today showed a pretty good exhibit A on why I feel the way I do.

My daily routine includes getting on what is currently the 5:26 train from Westport, meeting up with my girlfriend on the train, dropping off in Bridgeport, and then getting on the Waterbury bound train for our destinations; her’s in Beacon Falls, mine in Derby. Today, that was shot to hell as we heard, as soon as my bus shuttle got to the train station, that the 5:26 train was delayed due to “police activity”. I later found out what it was: police searching for a bank robber. To be fair, locking down Metro North – especially with the report of an armed person potentially riding the train – was the right move. It was the way they did it that I find particularly galling:

“At one time, when the SWAT team arrived in full gear, they said, ‘Everyone get off your seat and on the ground and put your hands in the air,’” Paschos said.

(…)
“Something major going on at #Greenwich train station,” Jennifer Garcia, of Long Island City, posted. “Cops have guns drawn, searching every car on my train.”
In another tweet, Garcia said passengers were forced to keep their arms raised as police searched the cars.

Let’s review: a train full of people just trying to go home, who have no clue what’s going on, are told by armed thugs with huge guns and vicious dogs to stand up and keep their hands up, prone, until further notice.

If that doesn’t chill you to the bone, you are a special kind of coward, and deserve no security or liberty. There’s really no middle ground.

If you support having to keep completely prone and vulnerable, hands high, in full submission, assumed guilty until proven innocent, you stand for exactly the opposite of the freedom that this country was founded upon.

There’s this mindset – usually among caucasian, white collar civilians, I’ll note – that the police are infallible, and even if they make a mistake, they have to be trusted to protect you. Speaking out in opposition to this mindset brands one a troublemaker who deserves watching. This is a notion that has been systematically destroyed over the past 50 years. Police officers armed with very large guns and very bad attitudes – weather in homes, on the road, or on a train – have been treating the citizens they’re supposed to protect like an insurgent force that must be dispatched. It’s dissipated down to regular patrols, where three cops and a K9 seem to be necessary to do anything; that was the composition of the team that tied me up, before saying a single word, like a pork dumpling, with my wrists shackled to my ankles behind me, for the grievous offense of driving my car onto an unused football pitch at 1.5 MPH with the intention of using my headlights to look for a discus. This wasn’t in Bridgeport; this was in small-town Seymour, CT. I got off easy; the news is filled to the brim of people and pets who were shot and murdered by police forces – who would go on to do their utmost best to cover up their crimes – simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, moving in a subtle way that made a psychotic individual fire and forget. The most recent case is that of six cops using a taser to detain one (1) 18 year old skateboarder, and then high-fiving over his twitching body, one that would soon become a corpse. His offense? Graffiti.

These are the people who I am supposed to trust with my life? These are my “protectors”?

If one thinks that in this specific case, such an awful, fascist mindset is plausible, take yourself through the mindset of what it takes to actually acquiesce to such a degree. A SWAT team officer, a regular police patrolman, you, I, everyone, we all put our pants on the same way. Anyone not reading this from a penitentiary is a competent, fully-grown adult who is capable and expected to conduct ourselves in a way that takes care of ourselves and our own, as long as we don’t infringe upon the rights of others. In short, I am no less of a man than anyone who had those guns today. I am supposed to bear my proverbial belly just because another man says so? And to do it not only without complaint, but with a smile, safe in the knowledge that my goodness, my saviors are here to save the day? I am now officially viewed as so inferior that I am automatically a threat just by being somewhere? I am a law abiding citizen; why should I be treated like a criminal until some higher power determines that I am worthy of my inalienable rights?

My country has become an Orwellian parody.

Technically, I don’t even really have a right to complain. After all, even though I’m a large, athletic man who can do some damage in a fight, I’m still a young white man who rides in a predominately affluent area; Westport is basically Greenwich for old people. Imagine if I was black? Or hispanic? Or – God help me – of Middle Eastern origin!? It’s pretty obvious how I’d be treated.

However, a funny thing happened on the Waterbury train. My girlfriend and I sat across from a couple of middle-aged women in business attire – caucasian, because despite our “post-racial” society, this matters – were reading the story about the bank robbery, and paid particular mind to the part about everyone having their hands up waiting for their heroes to let them go home. To them, the mindset was appalling; one even noted that it would be frightening, and that they hadn’t really thought about it before.

Everyone’s a sheep until the manger’s on fire, I guess.

Ultimately, the only real cost to my day was that I got home later than I wanted to, too late to make it to play basketball. My girlfriend missed an appointment, but it’s one she’ll be able to make in two weeks with no damage. For us, who were stops ahead of Greenwich, this was nothing more than an inconvenience. However, we need a societal upheaval against the very notion that our police can detain and completely incapacitate hundreds of people to catch one guy who’s dressed like a rejected Bond villain and didn’t even fire a shot (by the way, this would be a good time to mention that they didn’t catch him. They failed in their goal. They used a nuke to kill a fly, and the fly lived). It’s dangerous to a free society to have this mindset, and in all honesty, modern police forces have not even come close to earning this level of trust. It is everyone’s duty to try to apprehend someone who can put the lives of others in danger, but it is an equal duty to fight back against the vice of the police state.

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The Conscience of a Liberaltarian

Posted by Chris Bowen on July 1, 2013

My political awakening – the merger of ideas, ideals and learned experiences that have morphed into my internal belief system – is notable in two aspects. The first is that I’ve managed to become at least semi-sophisticated when it comes to political issues despite possessing virtually no formal education of any note in that regard. While my state-run high school and locally run public schools could – and did – teach me math, English, science, and in the case of my high school, a vocational trade that I apply to my job every day, the system is fundamentally broken when it comes to teaching history and political theory. To put it bluntly, most of what I was taught is either whitewashed or outright wrong, as the majority of my 20s was spent learning that most of what I was taught about America’s selfless benevolence was wrong, usually with the same zeal that a child reacts to the news that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are fictitious. The second notable aspect is that it’s in no way complete. Unlike the college educated people that I tend to associate with, my formative adult years were spent in the military, where even someone as resistant to jingoism as I am can get caught up in the jet stream frequently. Therefore, everything I know, and everything I believe, is the product of self-teaching, asking the right questions to people I respect, being open-minded, and having the courage to admit that I’m occasionally wrong.

Like most young people from Connecticut, I started out as a solid Democrat. I adored Bill Clinton1, supported easier immigration, and supported a lot of social welfare programs. Miraculously, I managed to make it through my military career as a Democrat, despite being stationed in Norfolk and Portsmouth. However, I learned that I didn’t fit in well with Democrats; I supported the second amendment, didn’t think much of Affirmative Action, and thought it was wrong for a local zoning board to tell a private property owner how they were allowed to use their legally owned space. However, joining the Republican Party was unthinkable, so after looking at their list of ideals, I decided to formally become a member of the Libertarian Party. This was kind of like going from missionary sex to ball gags and swings, but bear with me. The thought process was that I had some very libertarian views even as a Democrat, so why not join the party that saw things like I did? Unfortunately, the reality was more grim. The Libertarian Party, as I would painfully learn during the 2008 Presidential Election, is less about ideals than it is about a bunch of rich, white, C-list Republicans trying to find another way to remain relevant. I’ll go into more of what I learned while dealing with the Party later, but I became a man with strong political ideals, but without a political identity.

Ultimately, I was less comfortable with that than I should have been. Someone running for a local office once made the point that “indies get laughed out of the polls”, and while I think he’s a buffoon, he’s right. Nothing can marginalize even good political points more than simply not being a part of some hive mind or another, which became my fear. Thankfully, I was able to meet a good combination of people from across all political spectrums, who seemed to be in the same boat. From the dedicated Democrats, to the dedicated liberals, the libertarians, a couple of conservatives I haven’t wanted to strangle yet, and one or two odd ducks with similar views to mine, we all debated our points, disagreed, and then did something that seems impossible at times in today’s charged atmosphere: we would shake hands and move on. It’s hard to find a group like this, but I’ve succeeded, and it’s helped mold a lot of what I think, either solidifying existing beliefs or making me take an alternative tack or – unthinkably, to some – causing me to change my position.

It was Jeremy Kolassa who coined the phrase that I have since come to use to describe me: Liberaltarian. Read the rest of this entry »

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Educatin’ On The Mind

Posted by Chris Bowen on September 11, 2012

As anyone who knows my dealings in local politics can attest, education is my cause celebre, an ironic statement considering the fact I was a poor student in school myself. Today, education news and tidbits hit me across the bow throughout my day.

The first one was an interview I was listening to on WICC in my never-ending quest to try to avoid the endless meandering about the NFL that comes from every Monday in the autumn. It was Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, once again making his point for an appointed Board of Education in Bridgeport during an interview by Mike Bellamy, something he attempted this year until the State’s Supreme Court ruled it was illegal to do that. I didn’t hear the whole interview, but the gist of Finch’s point: democracy is hard! To summarize: the minority party system (read: you can’t just have a bunch of Democrats. Derby has the same setup, you can’t have, I believe, more than two Democrats than Republicans, meaning 5-3 is good but 6-3 is bad) is bad because it’s not-democratic, but that’s OK because democracy doesn’t work anyway as Bridgeport’s voters are too stupid to know quite what the Board of Ed does, only voting for them every four years. And hell, if Finch appoints focused (read: Democrat) people to get politics out of the way, the CHILDREN~~~ benefit! If not for those evil Republicans, who the voters spoke about! Why not just be like Chicago! If the people don’t like how the schools are doing, just vote the Mayor out!

Yes, it honestly came off that way. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ernie Newton Destroys Intention of Public Financing Law

Posted by Chris Bowen on June 3, 2012

Ernie Newton II, who was sentenced to five years in prison in 2006 for accepting bribes and misusing campaign funds, is close to being able to use public financing in his attempt to return to the seat he had to give up due to his malfeasance.

After Republican Gov. John G. Rowland left office amid a corruption scandal, Connecticut lawmakers in 2005 passed a voluntary public campaign financing program to remove special interest money from elections.

Now a former legislator sentenced to prison for taking a bribe and misusing campaign money wants to take advantage of public financing to fund his return to the General Assembly.

“We’re close. We’re very close,” Ernest Newton II said last week when asked about collecting the $15,000 in small $5 to $100 contributions necessary to qualify for public financing.

A 17-year veteran of the Legislature, Newton was sentenced in February 2006 to five years in federal prison and three years probation for taking a $5,000 bribe to push through a state grant, diverting $40,682 in campaign contributions to himself and others and failing to report the money on his income tax return.

Somehow, Newton received Democratic endorsement for the election, though there was enough support for incumbent Edwin Gomes and state representative Andres Ayala to force a primary on August 14.

What’s been most interesting for me is watching people tap-dance around the issue.

Arthur Paulson, a political science professor at Southern Connecticut State University, said any effort by the General Assembly to restrict felons from participating in public campaign financing would likely run up against the 14th Amendment providing equal protection of the laws.

“I can’t see a scenario … where you can allow a felon to run for public office but can’t allow them public campaign funds,” Paulson said.

(…)

Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause, a good government group that has backed campaign finance and ethics reform, said she understands how some individuals might question Newton’s eligibility.

“It’s difficult for me to imagine voters want to send him or anybody else (who) abused their office for their own purpose back,” she said.

But Quickmire added, “If you do your time you should get your rights restored. Not just some of your rights … And then the decision beyond that is up to the voters of that community.”

I don’t see what’s so hard about this. It’s one thing to say that felons who have had their voting rights restored, and who are allowed to run for public office, being able to use public money. But when that felony we’re talking about is misusing the same type of money you’re trying to get, no, that’s not going to fly. It’s easy: if you were convicted of either accepting bribes, or misusing campaign funds for your personal expenses, you can never, ever use public funds again.

Of course, people like Ernie Newton are exactly what’s wrong with politics in the major cities in Connecticut, particularly in Bridgeport (where he’s from) and New Haven. These cities – largely either union or poor – vote Democrat to the point where one has to wonder if some form of coercion is going on. 80% of Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport voted for Governor Dannel Malloy, and that is literally the only reason he squeaked out a victory against Tom Foley. The graft and corruption in Bridgeport in particular is so widespread and so ingrained that it’s become almost a sort of banana republic in its own right. It should be noted, of course, that Bridgeport’s schools are so poor that the state had to come in and take them over.

Ernie Newton getting the Democratic nod for his old senate seat that he literally sold away should be a cause of concern for everyone, and if he wins his primary, it should come as a shock.

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Derby Settles Yearly Tax War, Citizens Continue War On Education

Posted by Chris Bowen on May 31, 2012

Last night, in a contentious meeting, the Derby Board of Appropriations and Taxation settled on their budget for 2012-2013.

After an emotional public comment session that pitted Derby senior citizens against Derby school parents, the city’s Board of Apportionment and Taxation approved a 2012-2013 budget Wednesday totaling ($37,050,868).

The new tax rate is 35.5 mills — an increase of 2.4 mills, according to the tax board, if you adjust the current budget to reflect this year’s revaluation in Derby.

As usual, the education budget was the item that was most hotly debated.

Almost everyone in the audience at Wednesday’s meeting were there because they received a robocall from either the Derby school district or Mayor Anthony Staffieri. It was standing room only, with some 60 people in the Aldermanic Chambers in City Hall.

The debate over how much to fund Derby schools was really the only bone of contention, as it has been for at least the past three years.

The arguments took two different sides. On one side were the education advocates, of which I’m included, who advocated for the education budget to be left alone. On the other side were homeowners and conservatives who felt that the school budget was big enough, and that they couldn’t pay any more in taxes (once the home reevaluations were concluded, it was determined that the city would be going up 2.4 mills).

My own stance, which I stated again last night, was twofold. For one, I don’t believe that we can keep going up in costs every single year. Something must be done to address the constantly increasing non-discretionary costs that occur every single year. The vast majority of every budget that has union workers around it is based around payroll; I don’t have the Derby education numbers in front of me, but Chief Gerald Narowski told me last night that 94% of his budget is payroll, an absolutely astounding number. Unfortunately, things are not in Derby’s favour in this regard. From the information I received at this time last year from Dr. Steven Tracy, Derby’s soon to be former Superintendent, the way contract negotiations go is that every three years, they go to arbitration, where it’s done on a last, best offer; both sides produce their last, best offers, and an arbitrator picks one of those numbers. There’s no middle ground; it’s one or the other. So Derby would really be risking it if they went in and gave three straight zeroes; they’d likely get laughed out of the room. So a middle ground must be reached, preferably prior to that point. Due to this, there will always be rising costs associated with at least the education budget. This MUST change, but I fear that’s a pipe dream. The teacher’s unions are, to put it bluntly, too powerful, and if anyone knows that, it’s Governor Dannel Malloy – ostensibly their ally – who just about ruined his efforts at reforming this state’s education system, and have contributed mightily to the problems in big cities, especially Bridgeport.

But at the same time, while we figure out just what the hell to do about that problem, we can’t just take this money away from the kids. It’s not like we’re cutting frivolous programs; we’ve already cut staff members, librarians, an assistant superintendent (that dastardly “overhead” opponents keep talking about), and with about $100,000 less in the school budget than intended, other programs will likely be cut, or hurt; it’s likely that Derby will have to go pay-to-play for sports or music, something I’ll tackle in the future. My opponents on this issue like to talk about making sure the money gets to the kids, and it’s a valid complaint, as I noted a paragraph ago, but I’m unwilling to cut my nose to spite my face. The past few years, Derby has gutted their school system, which was already struggling, and now it’s so bad that we’re getting money from the state because we’re an underperforming school. Or, as I put it on Tuesday night, it’s “we stink” money, because we STINK. Our scores reflect our effort, and as a Derby resident, I am insulted by it, more so that the Mayor was considering using the money to write it into the budget as an excuse to give the schools a zero increase.

What bothers me the most are some of the people who have come out against this budget who are either not even bothering to be educated, willfully wrong, or flat-out selfish. Some of the worst I’ve heard:

* “I don’t care, we can’t raise taxes!” (So we’re willing to cut our noses to spite our faces? There’s nothing left)
* “We need to cut overhead! There’s too many administrators!” (That might be true. But name one. Find out what that person does.)
* “We need teachers who teach! Our teachers are failing!” (This is flat-out wrong, and ignorant. Our teachers are doing amazing * things, considering the crap they put up with. It’s why I have some cognitive dissonance about slamming the unions which, by the way, I did while literally standing next to the union president. She’s offered to present her side, and I will take her up on it)
* “If students use something, they should pay for it! Sports should be pay to play!” (Self-defeating. Derby is already a city of haves (largely, Bradley School) and have-nots (particularly the transient areas closer to downtown). Our children should at least be afforded the opportunities while they’re in school to achieve something. Take away sports, or similar after school programs, and you’re taking away any incentive they have to stay focused. If you think crime around Anson St. and similar areas is bad NOW…)
* “I put my kids through private school!” (Good for you. My points above still apply. Though I am at least educating myself further on voucher programs, something I’ve opposed on the grounds of religious freedom)

It also bothered me that people – on both sides – had virtually no respect for anyone. I understand people are upset, and frustrated. But speaking over people – including one person, who literally spoke above the treasurer and the chairman of the tax board, outside of the public portion – gets nothing done. I had very respectful conversations with people I disagree with last night, including Mayor Stafferi and former tax chair Judy Szewczyk; I respect these people and their opinions. We have to put our anger aside and get to solving these problems. Until then, we’re just going in circles.

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Ansonia Complains About Methadone Clinic In Classic NIMBY Case

Posted by Chris Bowen on May 30, 2012

A company is once again on the road to bringing in a methadone clinic into Ansonia, even if their landlord hasn’t heard until now:

John Hamilton, the CEO of Recovery Network of Programs, stood in the lobby of 158 Main St. last week and detailed his plans to bring a methadone clinic to the downtown office building.

Hamilton envisions treating about 285 Valley residents who are recovering from addictions to heroin and prescription pills at a clinic on the first floor of the building.

But while Hamilton spreads the word about the company’s planned expansion to Ansonia, the owner of the building said he hasn’t heard from Recovery Network of Programs since 2010.

Tonino Mavuli, the building’s landlord, said he has even leased out some of the space Hamilton planned to use.

Of course, anytime you mention the word “drug”, unless it’s attached to a CVS or a Walgreens, residents don’t want to hear it.

Although Hamilton has not signed a lease yet, or sent any formal application to the city, his plans for the building have been circulation among downtown vendors — some who say they are not happy to be calling a drug clinic a neighbor.

The city has been trying to attract new businesses. In the last few years, popular restaurants like Crave and The Original Antonio’s have opened to large crowds.

Lanza’s, another restaurant, is on East Main Street. A new coffee shop and a cigar shop opened on Main Street as well.

The drug clinic doesn’t fit in well, merchants said.

This is as classic a NIMBY case as there is. “Yeah, I guess they need help, sure… but not Main street! Oh heavens to Betsy, what will the neighbours think!?”. What I don’t get is this: is this clinic just going to have a bunch of crackheads wandering around, pissing themselves while scratching for a fix? The people in these clinics want to get better, and with drugs like this, I’m fairly sure you can’t come off them cold turkey. Yes, Griffin Hospital would be a more apt location for this type of building, but they have the right to go wherever they want.

Granted, the landowner has the right to reject the business from being a tenant. Bit it would be a shame if they did it because of the selfish complaints of a few scared people.

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