Hartford, Connecticut skyline
View of the Hartford Skyline at night from the Connecticut River in 2016. Credit: Bruce Peter / Shutterstock

I’m running for mayor of Hartford.

Well, not really. I have no interest in being a politician. After several people suggested to me that I should run for mayor though, I spent some time thinking about what my platform would be. I decided to dream big. These ideas are not impacted by their likelihood of receiving voter support. They’re just a starting point for my theoretical campaign.

1. Annexation of West Hartford: I’ve written at length about this topic in the past. I strongly believe that the annexation of West Hartford would be a beneficial development for both municipalities. While we’re at it though, why stop with West Hartford? Eventually, I would like to see Bloomfield, East Hartford, and Windsor as part of a new, bigger, more vibrant Hartford. Annexation is a major reason why southern cities have grown so dramatically and continue to attract new residents and businesses, so it’s high past time that we learn from them.

2. Housing: According to Rent.com, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Hartford is $1606 a month. In a city where the annual median household income is $37,477, that means that at least half of the households are at risk of spending more than 30% of their income on housing (in fact, $1606 represents 51% of the median household monthly income). The solution that is most often shared to fix this problem is to build more affordable housing in Hartford, but the city already far outpaces the rest of the state in terms of how much affordable housing is available.

I think there is another approach to this problem. If I were mayor, I would advocate at the Capitol for a state law that allows municipalities to establish rent controls. Our neighbors in New York and New Jersey already allow for rent controls at the municipal level. What might surprise some though is that Connecticut once allowed rent control, but the laws were repealed in 1959. As rents continue to skyrocket, I would urge the state legislature to give that power back to the cities and towns, and then use that power to establish fair rent practices in Hartford.

3. Education: As someone who has worked in schools his entire adult life, the conversation around education is one of my greatest frustrations. Deficit thinking plagues the constant education reforms that well-meaning educators and politicians propose. The solution is essentially always the same: more. More funding. More certification requirements. More testing. But if more was the answer, the problems in schools would have been solved long ago.

I would propose a more radical solution based on the writings of Ivan Ilych. Instead of large, comprehensive high schools where some students don’t excel, my solution would be to reorganize the physical structure of the classroom. Every classroom would be capped at 10 students, and every school would be capped at 100 students.

In my experience, almost every problem that reformers point to would be solved if teachers had the time to focus on students more individually. Behavior issues are easier to manage with fewer students, and teachers would be able to focus their instruction to meet students’ needs. There are dozens of buildings across the city that can be repaired and refurbished to serve as sites for these smaller schools. 

There are of course more challenges facing Hartford, but these three are the ones I’d want to tackle first. I believe that Hartford needs a wholesale reimagining of the systems it relies upon, and I think dramatic changes are possible. We’ve seen it happen in the past. The current structure of the urban core with suburbs connected by highways didn’t exist 70 years ago. It was all built on the vision of key stakeholders, and it revolutionized where people work and live. Such transformations are possible now as well, but require the same level of vision and support.

Of course, the catch-22 is that massive changes require political sacrifice to make them happen. I don’t really want to be mayor, so I’m fine with suggesting ideas that I think would be helpful, even if unpopular at first. The question is, how do we get someone who does want to be mayor to seriously shake up the status quo?

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Jamil Ragland

Jamil Ragland writes and lives in Hartford. You can read more of his writing at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com or any of the author's other employers.