Thursday, November 30, 2006

Police Academy

Every so often, late in the day (most recently around 7:30 p.m.), as I'm sitting in my apartment, I'll hear the distinctive sound of a group of men (and a lone caller) chanting while jogging through town. The first moment is usually surreal, since the sounds of a military base are so very foreign to this city. I think they must follow a lot of different routes, because months will go by before I hear them near my home. This is why it takes me a moment to remember that there's a police academy in Waterbury. Or, to be more correct, there's a "Recruit Training Facility" run by the Waterbury Police Department. It was started almost two years ago and trains new recruits for Waterbury and other cities in the state. I read about it in the newspaper back when it first opened, which is a lucky thing, otherwise I'd be completely mystified (I can just imagine the stories made up about the joggers by people who don't know we have a police academy!). The funny thing is, there's almost no information about its existence online. A google search pulled up no information; I had to go to the Waterbury police website (which really needs a new webmaster...) and click through a few pages before I found the information.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ken Burns's "The War"

About six years ago, the Mattatuck Museum here in Waterbury was approached by researchers from Florentine Films, the Ken Burns documentary group, with questions about World War II. Burns had decided to do a documentary about the war effort on the homefront, and they were looking for representative cities. They needed an industrial northeastern city, and they needed a city whose historical society could help them gather up hundreds of still images and historic film strips, as well as residents with interesting stories about life in their city and factories during WWII. The Mattatuck, realizing what a great opportunity this was for the city and determined to do what they could to ensure that Burns chose Waterbury, supplied them with everything they needed, and Waterbury was chosen to be in the documentary. Three other cities, representing the south, the midwest and the west coast, were also chosen for the 14-hour maxiseries.

Burns has started playing teaser clips from the documentary at events around the country, and it was recently announced that the full documentary will air on PBS in September 2007. This is going to be a huge event for Waterbury. We'll be getting a lot of positive press, which I hope we can build on. I think a lot of city residents have a tendency to be very negative about Waterbury, because we've had so much bad publicity. Bad press is almost always more memorable than good press, but I think this is something that everyone will notice and remember.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Now Chickadees

Today my bird feeder attracted a pair of chickadees. At least, I think it was a pair. I'm fairly certain there was more than one. Chickadees, I discovered, flit about rapidly, swooping back and forth, stopping a moment here, a moment there. The cats were delighted.

The chickadee knew the cats were in the window; at one point the orange tabby punched the glass in an effort to get the bird, but the chickadee didn't care.

The chickadee never sat still, but he did keep returning to the same set of perches.

I think he was teasing the cats...

The sparrows turned up in a large group after a while. It's interesting to see the different behaviors. The sparrows are never the first to arrive; they always wait until someone else is eating the bird seed, then they flock down and devour as much as they can before something startles them and they fly away.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Oldest House in Waterbury

There's a house on North Main Street in Buck's Hill that was built in 1703/04, which means it almost certainly is the oldest house still standing in Waterbury. I think there are one or two others in Waterbury built in the 18th century, but I don't think they are as old as this one. Eventually I'll do some investigating, but for now I think it's safe to assume that the Buck's Hill house is the oldest. The photo is taken from the assessor's website, which incorrectly says that the house was built in 1829. The house now has vinyl siding, but the interior still has the fabulous original exposed timbers. It's been modernized a couple of times--once in the late 19th or early 20th century, when new wood flooring and a staircase were put in; and then at least once recently, when it was converted to two apartments--but it's still very cool.

Right now, the house is for sale. If my finances were more stable (I decided to try self-employment last year), I would make a serious effort to buy it. As it is, I'm still tempted... if I could find a friend to go in with me on it, I'd be even more tempted... but maybe it will be back on the market in a few years, when I'm in a better position to buy a home. Then again, maybe in a few years I will have found an even better house to buy.

The truth is that I sort of have love affairs with houses. It's turning out to be an annual event. Waterbury is full of beautiful old homes, most of which are within a reasonable price range. It's like being a kid in a candy store. Every year I come across another house for sale that I absolutely fall in love with, even though I'm still in love with the previous houses... I'm a house-lotharia!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Country Club Neighborhood

The "nicest" neighborhoods can be the most unfriendly, and it seems like people become less charitable when they have more money.

The Republican-American ran another article today ("Praying for Acceptance") about the on-going wrangling over the new home for mentally retarded people on Country Club Woods Circle. This time they interviewed one of the people living in the home. He seems like a nice kid, not really all that different from any other boy his age. I like a point his father makes--the opponents of the home have said that it will bring down their property values, which is pretty much the same as saying this boy will bring down property values simply by standing in the yard (essentially the same argument made by white residents a few decades ago if blacks tried to move into their neighborhood). The opponents are better organized than they were at first; now they insist that they never said anything like that. Someone must have warned them against being openly bigoted.

They can't legally chase out their new neighbors on the grounds that they might commit crimes (one opponent was quoted as saying that one of the retarded residents could prove to be a rapist--well, gee, so could someone who isn't retarded, for example, John Regan, who would have been warmly welcomed to the neighborhood three years ago). Instead, they've got the state attorney general trying to determine if proper bidding procedures were followed in the purchase of the house, and they claim that this is their only complaint. Yeah, right. If that really is their only gripe, then why hasn't anyone bothered to say hello to the new neighbors? Why ignore them? Why treat them like they don't exist, or have a plague? I can certainly understand the desire to preserve the character of your neighborhood, but you don't do it by banning people who are different. If they are worried about the group home becoming overcrowded, then find a way to address that issue without forcing them to move. Develop some human compassion. Try talking to the people who live in the home. Get to know them. Find out what they really are like before making bigoted generalizations.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Waterbury City Hall

Waterbury's City Hall building is one of our great treasures. It was designed by Cass Gilbert (architect of NYC's Woolworth Building and the U.S. Supreme Court building) and built in 1914. Along with the four other Cass Gilbert buildings surrounding it, City Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places. The building, however, is now yet another victim of our unpleasant recent past. Maintenance of the building was neglected for a long time, and it was further damaged by flooding from a sabotaged water pipe.

The ceiling of the front lobby. This looks like it mostly needs some fresh paint.

A proposal to appropriate and issue bonds for $48 million, to be used for the renovation of the building and the construction of a new firehouse on East Main Street, was rejected by voters on election day. I can certainly understand why some voters are afraid that the funds will be misappropriated, since that sort of thing happened frequently when Giordano was mayor. However, Giordano is long gone, and current-mayor Jarjura has not done anything to suggest he would misappropriate funds.

The ceiling of the stairwell... more fresh paint needed.

When the Palace Theater was still in worse shape than City Hall is now, there were plenty of people in Waterbury who didn't want to see it restored. They said it would cost too much, that it wasn't worth the effort, that the money would just get stolen by crooked developers, that we would be better off tearing it down (this idea makes me angry--we have these fabulous, beautiful, historic buildings; replacing them with something of equal quality would cost more than renovation; replacing them with something cheaper would be a tragedy).

A view up the main stairwell of Waterbury's city hall. How could anyone in their right mind suggest tearing this down???

All the same arguments against restoring the Palace are now being put forth against renovating City Hall. The Palace Theater was successfully renovated and is something we are all proud of. We should do the same for City Hall.

The bottom of a flag pole in front of City Hall.

The clock tower--it looks like the columns need to be scraped and repainted, and the dome might need some fresh gilding.

The window in the main stairwell. Again, how could anyone suggest destroying this? I'm very relieved that Jarjura has flatly stated that tearing it down is not going to happen. It would be such a nightmare if that were to happen! Waterbury would once again be ridiculed by the entire nation, and there would probably be a prolonged legal battle to prevent it from being destroyed.

The mayor will be meeting with the Board of Aldermen and the state oversight board on Tuesday next week to discuss options for saving city hall. At the very least, they need to bring it up to code so that it can be reoccupied. Renting office space is predicted to run as high as $800,000 a year. I don't like proposals to go ahead with the bonding even though it was voted down. Overriding the election results sets a bad precedent. If bonding really is the only way to go forward, then Jarjura should put some of his considerable funds into a campaign to save city hall and hold another referendum.

UPDATE 1/2/2011: Here are a few more shots I took the same day as the preceding images. For whatever reason, I didn't include them at the time.

Here's hoping we never see those vending machines return to the hallways!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

For the Birds

A couple weeks ago, I set up a bird feeder outside my living room window. It took almost a week before any birds noticed it. And, as it turned out, it wasn't a bird that found it first. The birds didn't notice the food until after a squirrel had started tearing into the seed bell. At first I was annoyed at the squirrel, but then I realized that he was eating only one type of seed and scattering the rest onto the roof for the birds to eat.

There seem to be only two types of birds here: sparrows and one blue jay. The blue jay sits in the tree and yells at the sparrows until they make room for him. The squirrel pretty much ignores the birds and focusses on getting his prefered type of seed out of the little cage they're in. I had to use a metal twist tie to keep him from opening the cage door. I tried a string, but he pulled that open.

When the bird seed was all gone, the squirrel climbed up on the metal bar, looked at me somewhat insistently, and made a loud knocking noise. Pushy little critter. Smart too. He knew that the cats couldn't get him through the glass, and he certainly seemed to know that I was supplying the food. The birds were just opportunists, but the squirrel makes things happen.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Palace Marquee

Here's another thing I would have missed out on if I were driving instead of walking. On my way home from work last Friday, I wandered into the opening ceremony for the new Palace Theater marquee.

Here is the crowd waiting patiently through half an hour (or more!) of speeches. I had trouble with the acoustics where I was standing. The speakers' voices were loud enough (and Jarjura's was overly loud), but it was difficult to make out the individual words. I think that one of the speakers said something about gathering here again on New Year's Eve. I hope that's true. I would love to see a NYE celebration in downtown Waterbury.

Just after 7 p.m., the sign was turned on. Bright lights on East Main Street! It was very cool.

Palace Theater Marquee, Waterbury, CT
I was amused by the number of people, at least 30, taking photos of the sign with their cell phones. Plenty of news cameras were present as well.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pine Grove Cemetery

I'm walking a lot more than I used to, and I'm seeing things that I would miss if I were driving. For example, this sign posted at the entrance to Pine Grove Cemetery. It sounds like there are plans to build a "telecommunications facility" (a 60x60 foot compound, including a cell phone tower) in the center of the cemetery. There is a public hearing scheduled for November 21st at City Hall. Full information is online at the CT Sitting Council website.

Here's the plan for the compound from the CSC website.

I wonder how many other things I miss when I drive instead of walk?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

We Need a Better System

I did my duty and voted this afternoon. With two exceptions, I did not feel good about any of the candidates I voted for. Put simply, I did not like my choices. I was talking to someone about this yesterday, and we came up with an idea (for all I know, someone else has already put forth this idea) that might result in a better quality of public servants.

For each candidate, we should be able to vote Yes or No. Any candidate receiving more No than Yes votes is automatically disqualified. For each of the remaining candidates, should there be any, subtract the total number of No votes from the total number of Yes votes. Whoever ends up with the most number of Yes votes wins. If no candidate has more Yes than No votes, then we go find some new candidates.

In addition, there should be a clear job description for each position. The job description should be posted online and in the newspapers, accessible to everyone. The candidates would apply for the jobs in more-or-less the same way everyone else applies for a job--post resumes and references on their websites and in their mailings, and answer interview questions on television.

I think this would be a much more professional, responsible and civilized approach to elections. Any candidate trying to run a smear campaign against their opponants would be penalized.


The Republican-American has an election website up with some information about candidates, polling places, etc. I decided to give it a look this morning before going to to vote, just to make sure I'm decided about who I'm voting for. The website has an Election Day Countown clock, letting you know how many days left until Election Day. Today, which is election day (and it's only 10:15 in the morning, so I know the polls are still open), the clock reads "You missed it!"

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Lieberman, Lamont & Schlesinger

We're a week away from the election, so things are starting to get ugly. Lieberman is retaining a significant lead in the polls over Lamont, and Schlesinger barely even registers, with only 8 percent of the presumed votes. For reasons that are completely a mystery to me, Waterbury is now being "blamed" for Lieberman's success, with Lamont supporters citing our recent history of convicted criminal politicians (ref. today's issue of the Republican-American).

I don't know what the demographics are for Lieberman's district, but it seems highly unlikely that all of his supporters are in this one city. Maybe there is a higher percentage of Lieberman supporters here than elsewhere in his district. The polls indicate that he has 73 percent of the Republican vote, and Waterbury probably does have more Republicans than the suburbs do. However, I think the real issue is that the Republican party, at least around here, never seems to have a viable candidate. How many people know or remember that Schlesinger is running? Come to think of it, remember when Giordano was the Republican candidate running against Lieberman? Even before his corruption charges, everyone knew that was a joke. It's not just Lieberman, either. Joan Hartley never has competition from the Republicans. Most years there isn't even a Republican candidate at all. In the Waterbury region, the Republican party is pretty much dead, even though there are plenty of registered Republicans (and in this case, I suspect most of them are voting for Lieberman in order to maintain the status quo). Is it like this in other places?

After reading today's article (about an article in the Providence Journal blasting Waterbury), I have the unpleasant feeling that Lieberman's win, should it happen, will be attributed to the support of "that evil city" Waterbury. It's unfair, not to mention irresponsible. If a journalist wants to talk about this being a politically corrupt city, then he should do some research and attack our current situation and politicians, not the ghosts of our past.