At a recent talk, my colleague Professor Davarian Baldwin, explained that the Detroit bankruptcy was interpreted by the mainstream media and whites as (paraphrasing), “blacks got control of the city and ruined it” rather than the structural strangulation of insufficient resources and revenue to run the city. The same racialized narratives operate in Hartford and Connecticut as the Hartford’s mayor uses the specter of bankruptcy as a bargaining chip and the primarily white Legislature again considers the anti-democratic idea of an unelected oversight Board to review and govern Black and Latinx Hartford’s finances.
One dominant and incorrect story seems to be, “(corrupt) Black then Latino politicians ruined Hartford after the (supposed) White gilded age of the past.” Read the comments page on any online article about Hartford or other CT city and you will see evidence of this thinking. Other narratives including the “Hartford/cities spends too much” tale. And the governor’s story, a combination of the first two stories, is that Hartford needs to “help itself”.
I would argue that another more compelling story, one that can be defended with evidence, is that Hartford as a public entity generates great private wealth, yet the city and its residents are often cut off from that wealth. State policy plays a major role in maintaining this situation in which private wealth abounds while city and even some suburban governments are starved of revenue.
Don’t believe me? Maybe you’ll listen to the managers of global capitalism like the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. Here’s what the Boston Federal Reserve Bank/NE Public Policy Center had to say about Connecticut’s cities and towns: “Our results show large nonschool fiscal disparities across cities and towns in Connecticut. These disparities are driven primarily by differences in revenue-raising capacity.” In other words, the cities can’t capture the revenue needed to administer the cities that the suburbs and everybody else require to generate wealth.
These competing narratives matter because they lead to different responses by people in power. If you believe the failing story about Black and Latinx inability to govern the cities like Hartford, and that they need to “help itself”; then you might propose an anti-democratic and unelected oversight Board or push for a court-managed bankruptcy, which would sell off city assets like parks, trusts, and property. If you believe that Hartford creates great wealth for the region but is starved of revenue to operate the city, then you might raise revenue and direct it to the city.
Over the next few days, we’ll see which narrative and response prevails.