Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin announced on Nov. 29 that he would not seek re-election for a third term. Mr. Bronin came into office in 2016 with a push for regionalization between Hartford and its surrounding suburbs. In an appearance in West Hartford, he told that town’s residents that they “couldn’t expect a suburb to thrive if its urban core collapses.” Mr. Bronin was right, both in what he said and his push to encourage regionalization. The next mayor of Hartford needs to follow Mr. Bronin’s lead, and go one step further. Hartford and West Hartford should seriously begin discussions of annexation, combining both municipalities into one.
Annexation is a common practice across the United States. Many states have statutes that cover the process for cities and towns to annex lands that are adjacent to their borders. In fact, some of America’s most well-known cities, especially in the south, have grown through annexation.
In the 1980’s, the Los Angeles Times wrote about the wave of annexations across the south and west. Cities such as Houston, Charlotte, Savannah, Baton Rouge, and Lexington added tens of thousands of residents to their municipalities.
Annexation has several benefits for the towns that choose to combine. First is the pooling of resources that are redundant across town lines. Some services in the capital region are already shared, such as water (which is managed by the regional Metropolitan District) and roads. Combining Hartford and West Hartford would allow other services, such as fire response, emergency medical response and police, to be shared across one larger municipality.
Another benefit is an increased population for the new municipality. Demographics are an important selling point when trying to draw new business and residents to an area. Both Hartford and West Hartford have seen stagnating population growth over the last decade. A new municipality combining the two would have over 180,000 residents, bringing Hartford back to its population height during the golden age of the city. More people means more businesses, more homes, more goods and services being exchanged, and more property under the same umbrella. And that means more taxes to provide better services for the people.
Combining Hartford and West Hartford would also be a major step in addressing the continued problem of racial and socioeconomic segregation that has plagued Connecticut for generations.
While Connecticut did not have the kind of Jim Crow laws that flat-out prevented Blacks, Hispanics and other people of color from moving beyond the city, there were many informal rules and backroom agreements that resulted in the de facto segregation seen across the capital region. Among these agreements were the racially-restrictive covenants that were placed into the deeds to home in West Hartford and other suburbs, preventing people of color from purchasing homes in many areas. These deeds were eventually ruled illegal and struck down, but their legacy persists. The result of those covenants? Despite being right next to each other, Hartford is 70% people of color while West Hartford is 70% white.
Besides, annexation of West Hartford would simply be returning the two municipalities to their previous arrangement. West Hartford was originally known as the West Division of Hartford during the 18th and 19th centuries. Residents of the West Division petitioned for independence from Hartford in 1792 and 1797, and were denied both times by the city.
West Division residents tried a new tactic in 1854, when they went to the co-capital city of New Haven and petitioned for independence again. The Connecticut General Assembly granted their request, and West Hartford became its own municipality.
There have been several attempts to bring West Hartford back into its original home, including an effort led by West Hartford citizens in 1895 to petition Hartford for annexation. In 1923, Hartford leaders hoped to create a “Greater Hartford” by re-absorbing West Hartford. Both of those efforts failed.
Mayor Bronin’s push for regionalization is the perfect springboard to revisit annexation as he exits the political stage. Imagine the power that a diverse, populous, vibrant and reunited Hartford would have as the state and region move deeper into the 21st century. Too often any talk of annexation is dismissed out of hand as an impossible pipe dream. The next mayor should push seriously for annexation in the future.