May 20, 2008 * MAY IS NATIONAL BICYCLE MONTH*
By Ken Krayeske • 7:45 AM EST
Yes, loyal readers, it's time for a new quarterly column feature: the awarding of the Franky.
The Franky is a booby prize for the worst abuse of taxpayer dollars to promote a politician's career through propaganda. Dear audience, you know I am talking about the dishonest practice of franking privileges. Here at the 40-Year Plan, we have selected an imaginary panel of experts to come up with awards.
Headlines in mass media shout "Another Hartford Shooting" seemingly daily. But there stands Eddie Perez addressing a militaristic assemblage of the latest round of uniformed Hartford Police cadets. The credit-card headline: "Public Safety is Priceless."
Ushering in the first-ever Franky for the lifetime acheivement of fleecing taxpayers, it's the Spring 2008 installment of the static Eddie-centric universe known as "The Mayor's Update."
Mayor Perez's four-color offset dream arrived in my mailbox last week, competing for Frankies with brochures from State Representative Doug McCrory and Sen. Eric Coleman.
Of course, no one can compete with Perez for sheer audacity in the abuse of the boondoggle contest of publicly-financed schlock. Pictures first, then words, since the intended audience will likely glance at the brochures, and never read them.
Keeping with well-established Narcissistic precedent, Mayor Perez appears in 11 of the 17 photos in his foldout glossy photo spread on thick cardstock. Five of those are straight Perez headshots.
Lest we think he is resting on his laurels, Eddie shows us how busy a beaver he's been: he cuts ribbons, he recycles paper, he talks to constituents, he poses with award-winning city officials and he stands in the street looking leaderly.
The well-oiled Perez machine illustrates Eddie's solid stature with lots of buildings - architectural renderings, cityscape photos, and cranes.
If the traffic-laden streets and bright red business marquees don't convince you Eddie is the man, there's even a bar graph. Strong rectangles and pretty colors show potential revenue streams from the state.
He might as well have printed a picture of blood running from a stone, because that is about the likelihood of the state giving any more money to Hartford.
Rep. McCrory, the underdog with the smallest mailing list, and a scrappy 8.5" x 14" color photocopied piece, earns himself three Frankies. He won't ever be taking the Franky for "Most Gratuitous Overuse of Fake Smiling Mugs" from Mayor Perez anytime soon. Of the seven pictures McCrory uses, his smiling face can be seen in only three.
Doug, you're slipping. Less than half? Come on. How will you ever win anything if you can't invent phony news events?
For his front-page use of a shot of the state capital, McCrory wins the "So that's what that building is!" Franky. McCrory narrowly averted a major catastrophe in Hartford's Seventh District for reminding residents unfamiliar with the gold dome that they probably pass every day, that, yes, that's the abattoir where laws get made.
McCrory was nominated for the "Best Stock Photos" Franky, but the judges saw his bland pictures only cooling down political hot potatoes. "Design for design's sake," one judge said. "The image of one black person in a hospital gown, smiling, sitting closely next to another black person made me feel good about the state underfunding nursing homes. It just didn't work," another esteemed panelist remarked.
Sen. Coleman takes home two Frankies. The first, the honor of "Most Humble" Frank, goes for producing the least visually interesting frank, which features the same Senatorial mugshot on both sides, a smaller one on the back.
Coleman communicated his message in about a quarter of the space of Perez's standard eight-sided foldout, employing a 6" x 11" matte finish, thin card stock mailer to accomplish his propagandist purpose.
Some judges praised Coleman's restraint, and Coleman was thusly awarded his second Franky, the coveted "Know thy Audience" statuette.
Quoth Sen. Coleman: "Many people have said that after the multitude of tragic and violent incidents that occurred statewide, their faith in the criminal justice system was rattled."
"I think he is talking about the home invasion in Cheshire," said another celebrity judge. "But he can't possibly believe that his largely black constituency only now realizes that the criminal justice system is broken."
Another judge's comment card said: "Who in the North End doesn't want to shake Coleman and his copywriter by the shoulders and shout: 'Haven't you ever heard of the war on drugs? Look at the prisons unfairly filled with people from your district. Hello! Is there anyone home?'"
Like the good politician he is, he trumpets his legislature's rapid response to tragedy: create a new class of felony (as if it will stop the next invasion).
To be fair, a home invasion recently happened in Hartford, where the perpetrators were hardened criminals, and not cops bearing search warrants for drugs. So the law does have some gravity.
Yet his other highlighted measures, like GPS tracking for inmates, tougher "persistent offender" laws and enhanced re-entry programs for substance abusers, miss the mark completely.
I'm not expecting a sitting senator from the Democratic party to actually sound like Cliff Thornton and endorse legalization.
But jeez, I'd like Sen. Coleman to discuss what he is doing to deal with the disproportionate racial disparity in Connecticut's prison population instead of playing the tough-on-crime role.
The Franky for "Most Honest Discussion of Race and Politics" goes to Rep. McCrory. Judges awarded the educator and father this superlative, prestigious prize for his reporting on a conversation at the state capital about race and the state Departments of Correction and Public Safety.
Judges expressed reservations about not getting too excited because it was only a discussion about discrimination of how minority state employees face life in those two notorious bastions of institutional racism. Judges were upset that no concrete plans of action for stopping the grind of the prison-industrial complex were included.
"At least McCrory's groping at the periphery of color, disrimination and incarceration merits recognition," said one judge. "Compared to McCrory, Eddie deserves the 'Stinky' Franky for standing in front of a group of largely white HPD newbies. That won't result in an occupying force in a mostly minority city or anything."
And that's the least of the parallel universe he paints for the city of Hartford. Eddie's attempt to convey important functional information about the city reveals a governance by photo opportunity. For that, there is no Franky, only shame. And as always, the expensive propaganda falls flat.
"Hartford is Going Green!" proclaims the first line on the first page of "The Mayor's Update." Last time I checked Mr. Mayor was still driving an SUV, the same one he has been driving for months. Real leadership is personal action with an aim towards inspiring people to join the quest.
I don't see people jumping onto the single stream recycling bandwagon because you pretend to empty a bucket into a trash can and have the image reprinted.
Nor do namby-pamby lines like "Quite honestly, there are some neighborhoods that could do a better job recycling" move us towards a greener Hartford. Which neighborhoods are those?
It's an odd, backhanded shaming of people to follow a boutique environmental project when we have massive corporate polluters in our midst.
Beyond that, the entire country does a lousy job recycling. The Japanese reuse and recycle more than 80 percent of their paper. We here are lucky if we in America reach 30 percent. Set numerical goals for recycling, Mr. Mayor.
We will reduce our paper consumption by in three years, moving ramping up from 15 percent to 25 to 35 percent reductions.
Start with your office. Start by promising that you won't send out any more expensive taxpayer funded propaganda that only ends up in the trash. And then, maybe, will our celebrity panel of judges award you the much-desired "Green" Franky.