Kerri Provost photo

Wednesday’s Hartford City Council forum hosted by the Hartford Public Library was aired live and will be rebroadcast on Hartford Public Access.

If you missed the thrill of local politicians politicking, let me explain how the forum was supposed to work. Because of the number of candidates—even with Luis Cotto and Urania Petit not making an appearance—only four candidates were allowed a full two minutes to respond to a given question. After they had their say, other candidates could give their one minute rebuttals. Unlike other events I have attended where this method was attempted and poorly executed, it seemed to work well tonight, moving people along. It helped that all of the candidates were respectful to the time, only finishing their sentence after time was called.

Roster of candidates: Pedro Segarra ( D ), Matthew Ritter ( D ), Kevin Carroll ( R ),  John Lupo ( R ), Michael Lupo ( R ), Veronica Airey-Wilson ( R ), Thom Page ( D ), Kenneth Kennedy ( D ), James Boucher ( D ), rJo Winch ( D ), Gerald Pleasant ( R ), Michael McGarry ( R ), Calixto Torres ( D ), and Larry Deutsch ( WFP ).

Education

On the issue of education and the superintendent’s new plan there weren’t any surprises.

Michael Lupo and Thom Page considered school uniforms to be a positive measure, along with the plan to allow school choice throughout the city, in essence turning all public schools into magnet schools. Matthew Ritter, to much applause, promoted universal preschool so that students perform better on tests later in their education. rJo Winch suggested that funding be based on services for the child, not the building; Veronica Airey-Wilson, on the other hand, said that there is a need to break “up these massive warehouses” that are Hartford’s high schools. James Boucher commented that education is underfunded.

Crime

The next question posed was how the candidates would improve public safety besides increasing the police force. There was some debate over the Hartford Police Department headquarters located on Jennings Road, as well as the plans for a new public safety complex in downtown. Michael McGarry said that building the current headquarters in the downtown location was a bad idea, however Gerald Pleasant defended it as being necessary due to economic reasons.

Winch said the new downtown public safety complex will help the cops and kids develop better relationships. Winch cited games as an example of how the two may get to know each other better.

Page, when talking about where he would cut spending, spoke of the need for the council to really consider where the money goes, implying that the complex is either not necessary or too expensive.

Pedro Segarra alluded to an ongoing problem of how “crime and the perception of crime hurts the city.” Though he didn’t sound as convinced as Winch that children would wholeheartedly take up the opportunity to play basketball with officers, Segarra did acknowledge that public safety is a matter of community responsibility, a part of which requires people to work with the police.

Pleasant, a retired deputy police chief, also mentioned the perception of crime issue, and added that “the needs today may change tomorrow,” meaning that there is no promise that crime will remain in any given neighborhood.

Of the more creative responses, Kevin Carroll suggested that there be incentives for police to live in Hartford neighborhoods. Later, when asked about affordable housing options, he suggested that the vacant lots should be given away to those who would develop them, and that he would especially like to see police take advantage of that.

City Services

When asked which two services or programs that candidates would cut from the budget to reduce taxes, Larry Deutsch said that he might cut from public safety anything that does not reduce the causes of crime. In his other responses, he expressed the same philosophy that “prevention and healthy living” is preferable to only dealing with fixing mistakes.

With a background in police work, Pleasant said that some of the work uniformed officers do could be done by civilians, presumably at a cheaper rate. Segarra and McGarry both had unique responses, with the prior suggesting attention be given to mortgage payments and settlements, and the latter proposing that Hartford sell off 75 acres that it owns in Farmington.

Ritter suggested Hartford develop a better relationship with other towns so that there is less competition for corporations; as a result, Hartford can stop offering companies tax abatements and not suffer for it. He claimed that Hartford needs to “build a middle class tax base” and bring in young professionals. Lupo said that Hartford needs to start acting like it is a Capitol city and make the rest of the state share the financial burden for certain legislative buildings here.

Ritter and Lupo said they would cut some of the mayor’s staff. Page said that the mayor’s office jobs should return to public works, where employees get smaller paychecks.  Airey-Wilson would not make such cuts. Later, Winch gave a fiery mini-speech about how 80 percent of Perez’s office is made of Hartford residents and recent college graduates. She wanted to know which of those young people should be fired. This rhetorical question was thrown out to the audience shortly after her insistence that “government is not about personalities, it’s about people.”

Conclusion

In the final segment, questions from audience members were read. Citing the recent Abe Giles contract scandal and change to a strong mayor form of government, one person wanted to know why voters should re-elect any incumbent.

Segarra pointed out that he does not always agree with everything the other council members or the mayor does. Ken Kennedy and Page advocated changing the charter, though Airey-Wilson would not go that far, saying that residents would ultimately decide. Page remarked that the “council has the authority to do things, but hasn’t done them.” McGarry sidestepped the issue, expressing a desire for more Republicans on the council.

One person wanted to know how candidates would reduce or eliminate gang violence. Carroll said that the way to discourage gang involvement is to provide ex-offenders employment opportunities after they’re released from prison. Deutsch also stressed the positive, saying that kids should be given places to go after school so that they can “channel their energy.” Airey-Wilson claimed that the way to stop gang violence is to prevent “children from having children.” McGarry referenced the Cheshire murders, saying that one way to address repeat offenders was to have them wear the GPS bracelets. Calixto Torres called it “sad” how “we revert to 1984,” and Ritter exclaimed, “Putting a tag on someone’s foot? That’s not a plan!”

Looking for a “winner?” It’s hard to say if there was one. As seems to be the theme with political forums in Hartford, there was a contingent of women heckling and saying ‘Amen,’ at random intervals. The audience did not seem to know what to make of Deutsch—no booing, but no explosive cheers either. Unless major scandals break before the election, it would not come as a surprise if each incumbent were re-elected.