Video report by Laurie Perez, FOX CT
Text by Jenna Carlesso, Hartford Courant
HARTFORD — The city has weathered the blows of corrupt leadership and a flagging economy, but must step up its efforts in education and crime reduction to become one of the country’s top capital cities, Mayor Pedro Segarra said Monday.
In his fourth state of the city speech, Segarra packaged Hartford’s highs and lows as a brand he said could catapult it to become one of the nation’s hottest destinations. But more work must be done.
“America’s best capital cities are where people feel safe, where people can find good jobs,” the mayor said, addressing residents, politicians and business owners at city hall. “America’s best capital cities have a quality of life you simply can’t find in the suburbs, including night life, restaurants, arts and culture and historic institutions known throughout the world.
“Hartford has a lot of this already. We just need to get better. And we need to get out of our own way.”
Segarra noted several recent successes: A housing market on the rebound; a dip in violent crime; a rise in companies relocating or expanding to Hartford; and the numerous establishments springing up on Front Street.
But Hartford also has problems. Segarra pointed to the perception that violent crime is prevalent, and the need for more job readiness and early education programs.
“The reality is that Hartford has a disproportionate number of individuals who do not meet the qualifications of the jobs that are available,” he said. “We have a lot of adults that have not completed high school, adults who have interacted with the criminal justice system and young mothers who are entering the workforce. Good jobs are hard to come by anyway, but even more so with these types of challenges.”
As city leaders craft a budget for the coming fiscal year, they will bring a renewed focus to public safety, schools and quality of life issues, Segarra said. To that end, he said, they’ll hire a new school superintendent by July 1 who has “a proven ability to engage students, parents and other stakeholders;” refine Hartford’s community policing plan; and shift more funds to programs that help residents prepare for the workforce.
The city’s board of education in June voted down current Superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s request for a two-year contract extension. Her three-year contract with Hartford public schools ends June 30.
The mayor also pledged to put more resources behind the police department. In September, officials said the number of shooting victims had increased about 9 percent from a year earlier, at least in part because of budget cuts that caused the shooting task force to shrink.
That same task force, when staffed with twice as many members, had helped bring down gun-related homicides by more than 40 percent from 2011 to 2012.
“We have seen what happens when we don’t commit sufficient resources to our police department,” Segarra said. “The budget that I submit will not compromise public safety. We cannot lose the momentum we have gained in reducing crime.”
The city will expand its Police Athletic League, make additional improvements to its emergency dispatch system and boost its efforts in fixing sidewalks, clearing snow, cleaning streets and covering potholes, he added. There also is a plan to ensure that all Hartford students are enrolled in early education programs over the next five years, though the mayor did not provide specifics.
Segarra called on residents to work with law enforcement officials to help solve and prevent crimes, and asked that parents push their children to attend school “every day and on time.”
“We’re going to do our part but we also need you to do yours,” he said. “This is a great city to live in. There are more young professionals coming here because they know that. … But our job is not finished.”
Members of the city council, state legislature and residents said Monday that Segarra gave a mostly accurate picture of where Hartford stands.
“He hit on all the important areas of concern,” Rep. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford, said. “It was a good synopsis of where we’ve been and where we need to go.”
Larry Deutsch, a city councilman and member of the Working Families Party, said Segarra should have touched on the struggles the city has had with its hiring practices, specifically the need to give more candidates with criminal records a chance at jobs. “The city should do a more thorough job of hiring people with criminal records,” he said.
City council President Shawn Wooden, a Democrat, agreed with Segarra’s priorities. But he said actions must follow the words.
“I thought he outlined a very positive vision for the future,” Wooden said. “Now it’s about execution.”