Wednesday, September 12, 2007

City can be democratic while being Democratic

The only people who were surprised by the Democratic-primary results in New Haven yesterday (Sept. 11, 2007) were those who also are surprised that the sun comes up each morning and always rises in the East.

That still doesn't mean that the city has to move politically in lockstep.

In my home ward, the 26th, Sergio Rodriguez handily beat Alan Felder in a vote against background of a federal investigation into whether Rodriguez's running for re-election while holding a job with the New Haven Housing Authority, which gets federal funding, violates federal law. That law forbids people who work for agencies getting federal money from running for public office. Eight of the other nine races ended with mayoral-backed candidates defeating those backed by unions or otherwise running against City Hall. New Haven is that kind of town.

As a journalist in Meriden and Hartford and Westhersfield and Southington, I had never registered with a political party because it's a conflict of interest. That rule is waived for reporters, editors, columnists and editorialists who live in New Haven because to be anything other than a registered Democrat in the city is to disenfranchise yourself.

The Democratic party that has a stranglehold on New Haven politics has almost always had one head -- boss has such a negative ring. New Haven and Connecticut have a long tradition of united leadership. In Connecticut during the good old days, If you wanted a job in state government or to run for state office, you saw John M. (Bailey). If you wanted to run for office in New Haven, you went to see Arthur (Barbieri). That's just the way it was.

The leaders made sure you weren't a complete idiot and that you knew which side your bread was buttered on. so jerks like John Rowland and Joe Ganim and especially Phil Giordano don't get caught with their hands in the cookie jar and gum up the works.

So New Haven is and probably will always be a one-party town. There used to be about one-tenth the number of Republicans registered as Democrats, with about three times the number of independents as Republicans.

That doesn't mean that the Board of Aldermen has to go along. There were some pretty nasty intramural spats during the development craze of the 1980s in New Haven, as I remember.

The aldermen who signed off on (rubber-stamp has such a negative ring) the Shartenberg giveaway can start by looking critically at what the mayor offers. That includes you, Sergio.

In shining the light of publicity on your employment situation with the Housing Authority, Alan Felder did you a big favor. It's out in the open now. You can go from here with no fear or favor, except to the people of the 26th Ward.

It's the same with all the aldermen and alderwomen. Just because you sit one the same side of the political aisle with the administration doesn't mean you have to agree with everything they do. I wish the Republicans in Congress would learn that lesson -- there would be fewer Americans dying and being horribly injured in Iraq while Osama bin Laden thumbs his newly darkened beard at us from Afghanistan or Pakistan or wherever he's hiding out.

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Just a note about yesterday.

Six years ago, another Democratic primary had to be postponed on Sept. 11 because of the unwarranted and dastardly attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and Flight 93 over Pennsylvania.

As a journalist, I had worked on coverage of such events as the deaths of three popes, the Challenger disaster, TWA 800, Lockerbie, a number of wars around the globe, Entebbe, innumerable elections and the like, But Sept. 11 was was more personal. I was working for Gannett in Westchester. I remember driving to work on Sept. 11. I don't think I ever got below 85 mph. The cops seemed to know, and although I must have passed a half-dozen sitting on the side of the road, nobody challenged me.

We put out an extra that afternoon. Usually, reporters and photographers put on their armor when they covered an event in which people have died, but this time, they came back shell-shocked. You could see it in their eyes. They were covered with a grey or white ash-like substance, especially the camera people. Few talked about what that was and when someone asked, we said it was all cement and building materials and paper residue. One photographer had snapped his shutter 10 seconds after the famous flag-raising shot was taken by a New Jersey shooter. He got the scene with the flag already up. That picture was Page 1, and it was a crap shoot about which was the better photo. The other one got the nod, not because it was a better photo but because someone picked it up.

After the press rolls on most major stories, you sit in your chair and are exhausted but also exhilarated. You want to have a drink somewhere with colleagues and swap stories, savor the moment.

It was different with Sept. 11. On Sept. 11, you just wanted to go home and take a shower. Although you didn't get any of that grey-white sustance on you physically, you needed to wash it off emotionally.

There were weeks and months of coverage after Sept. 11. Newspaper colleagues from Oklahoma City sent suggestions on coping. They were experts after covering what had been the nation's greatest terror disaster up until that time. Mental-health professionals were brought in. Human resources distributed materials on stress disorder.

Despite all that, nobody who went into that pit during those first hours and days or anyone who talked to or even looked at those who had descended into that pit will ever be the same. The families of those who will never return, victims whose bodies or clothing or hair made up part of that awful grey-white ash, are still trying to cope.

Six years later, we are all still trying to cope.

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Tonight (Sept. 12, 2007), Jews all over the world will mark Rosh Ha'Shana, the start of the High Holy Day season. This year, the two-day festival runs into Shabbos, so observant Jews will not work, or write, or be plugged into the world.

This blog is therefore shut down until after Shabbos, which probably means Monday.

To all of those in the Tribe, have a wonderful New Year celebration and a great Shabbos.

For those who have read the first two installments of the travelogue, please be patient a few more days for the next installment: Heading into the Heart of Dixie. It will come. Really.
For those who have not read it, please see

Until next time...

1 comment:

Daniel Sumrall said...

Your analysis of the primary and of the one-horse town that is New Haven seem dead-on. As someone who wants to serve the public, such a reality disappoints me. One of the reasons I'm running for alder and not as a Democrat is because I don't want to be part of their dirty guild. The idea you have to get an "okay" from some entrenched oligarchy that never justified itself in the first place...

Anyway, here's hoping. Point is, I liked your essay.