The Failing Narratives about Connecticut Cities that Undermine Democracy and Why They Are Wrong

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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.

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Robert Cotto Jr.

Robert Cotto, Jr. is currently the Director of Urban Educational Initiatives at Trinity College and a Lecturer in the Educational Studies department. Before his work at Trinity, he was a Senior Policy Fellow in K-12 Education for CT Voices for Children where he published reports on Connecticut’s testing system, public school choice, and K-12 education data and policy. He taught for seven years as a social studies teacher at the Metropolitan Learning Center for Global and International Studies (MLC), an interdistrict magnet school intended to provide a high-quality education and promote racial, ethnic, and economic integration. Born and raised in Connecticut, Mr. Cotto was the first in his family to go to college and he earned his B.A. degree in sociology at Dartmouth College, his Ed.M. at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and an M.A. in American Studies at Trinity College. He is serving his second term on the Hartford Board of Education and in the past has served as Secretary and Policy Committee Chair. Since returning back home to CT from college, Robert has lived in the Frog Hollow neighborhood and he recently moved to the Forster Heights area of the Southwest neighborhood.

One thought on “The Failing Narratives about Connecticut Cities that Undermine Democracy and Why They Are Wrong”

  1. The narratives are not mutually exclusive. There has been poor leadership (regardless of ethnicity) and decades of state and federal policies that have undermined cities.

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