May 2 , 2007
By Ken Krayeske • 1:42 AM EST
A photo of young boys in a monastery from Ladakh, India (I believe), taken by my friend Mike Taylor, who shoots for Lonely Planet. So h/t Mike T. I didn't have time to take a picture of the dump, or of a billboard, and this had young people. And that's what this story is about.
What Mayor are you going to get that is going to be perfect?" asked George Cruz, director of Hartford's San Juan Center.
I suppose he's right. I'm not really thrilled with any of the candidates right now.
And after our conversation Monday afternoon, April 30, Cruz had me thinking: we're all human, and in this particular theatre alongside the muddy banks of the Connecticut, the foibles of our species will dominate the story lines.
So in this week's presentation, "Why do we fight over crumbs while the warmongers escape scrutiny?", our beloved Hartford players act out the theme of divide and conquer, with sub-plots of greed, dishonesty and a dose of hope.
The story begins with billboards, about a half dozen of them up on a hill called Mount Trashmore. Mayor Eddie Perez decided the city could generate revenue for the general fund by plunking a bunch of advertisements into the grassy slope that is the mound of trash on Interstate I-91.
Neighborhoods, the Business Improved District and other groups opposed it immediately, said Linda Bayer, the staff consultant at Hartford 2000, the association of Neighborhood Revitalization Zones.
"Helen Nixon said ‘They're trying to get the landfill closed for 20 years, and now they're going to light it up, what could be worse than that?'" Bayer said.
So for once, the Mayor listened to the community. Mayoral spokesperson Sarah Barr made it clear yesterday that no matter anyone else says, as of right now, the idea for the billboards is dead, cooked, finished.
"The billboard situation is not being resurrected as far as the Mayor's office is concerned," Barr said. "He has listened to the community, the community did not want it. So it is not being resurrected from the Mayor's office. It does not come from here. This is a situation that George Cruz has brought up."
Methinks she doth protest too much.
The situation George Cruz brought up came to me from Joe Barber's comments on a Linda Bayer email. Joe Barber thought this was a classic divide and conquer scheme:
Cruz is organizing a select group of youth development organizations in Hartford to lobby Hartford 2000 and the Mayor's office to change their minds on the billboards, and earmark the resulting money for community policing and that select group of youth groups, rather than the general fund.
Some six groups hand-selected by Cruz will meet on May 9 to discuss how to divvy up the kitty, and then make a presentation to the Mayor, Cruz said. But before I called Cruz, I contacted my old friend Bob Rath, the executive director of Our Piece of the Pie.
In full disclosure mode here, it was about four years ago this week that Bob Rath posted a security guard at the door of the old Civic Center offices of Echoes from the Streets youth newspaper to fire me from the very successful program I built.
I called Bob first. It has been a long time since we talked, and I really wanted to thank him for keeping Echoes alive all these years. Under Doug Hardy's leadership, it is producing a quality magazine.
One of the things about Echoes or any youth development program is that the adults running it constantly have to beg for money to provide valuable services. The best guess of local experts is that more than 100 organizations in Hartford serve youth.
The concept of earmarking public revenue for only six or seven of these is precisely what Cruz envisioned, but as a policy precedent, it concerns me. Rath assured me that wasn't him aim.
"We are raising this policy debate about ongoing resources to support youth work in the city," Rath promised. "There was only speculation about whether it was six people or eight people or how many youth serving organizations would want to participate."
For Rath to get involved, I figured it had to be worth more than $2,000 a year or so. But Bob told me that Cruz never mentioned specific amounts of money.
"I have no idea how much these billboards would be worth," Rath said.
Nor did Rath recall being aware that the NRZs had taken a position opposing the billboards.
Next stop was George Cruz. He claimed ownership of the idea.
"Peter McClary of All Vision (a billboard company) has been a boxing supporter of this center, they had a contract with the city to do the billboard advertising with the city," Cruz said. "The city turned it down because the Hartford Courant raised a ruckus about it. The Courant doesn't run the city, I thought the Mayor did."
So, Cruz saw an opportunity to make money for the Center, and a select group of other youth organizations that produce results. He said the city would have content control over liquor, tobacco and sex ads, and it would earn a lump sum of $2-$3 million and then additional annual revenue.
"It will be helping to keep kids off the streets, all for five billboards that will do nothing but try to hide a garbage mound," Cruz said.
He said he briefed all of the organizations like OPP, COMPASS, CAUSA, Inc. and others about the money involved.
"Oh yeah. We are all on the same page," he said. "Everybody knows what we are doing here. I don't go into something without explaining everything to the participants."
Cruz has met with Linda Bayer, and he said if the NRZs don't want to get behind it, they should come up with other ideas to make money. Bayer has said she is making some inquiries to assist in funding, which is awfully generous of her, because Hartford 2000 itself is scrounging for money, too.
Which is when I asked Cruz about divide and conquer. Rather than beat up other pro-Hartford groups doing their part, why not organize opposition to the Iraq war, which according to latest calculations has cost more than $500 billion.
"George Bush should be tried for war crimes," Cruz said.
Or why not organize and go after the funding to the war on drugs, which is the root cause of so much street violence?
"We can all only do our part," he said. He said this reminded him of the brouhaha over the Pathways to Technology magnet school, where everyone attacked El Alcalde, but no one offered a solution.
"Everybody is quick to criticize, and I would like to see how they would do in the Mayor's position," Cruz said.
Which is why I must applaud Luis Cotto over at IONHartford, who posted his thoughts about this Tuesday. His modest proposal: let's take the parking lot contracts from Abe Giles and earmark those revenues for youth organizations.
Sometimes, simplicity is pure beauty. Yet waste deep in the big muddy, none of us human actors can claim to be clean.