Saturday, January 26, 2008


As most people know, the Chamber of Commerce has now hired former-governor and ex-con John Rowland at a salary of $95k/year--money that will have to be taken away from something else, since the job was created just for Rowland. Rowland's job will be to market and sell Waterbury to prospective businesses, to try to convince those businesses to move to Waterbury.

An article by Steve Gambini in today's paper describes a 2005 situation assessment of the city by Baltimore consultants McDearman Associates. The report, according to Gambini, states that most potential new businesses will disqualify a move to Waterbury in part because of the city's poor image--one of Waterbury's greatest weaknesses was cited as "political corruption."

In other words, someone who is known throughout the state for being a corrupt politician is getting paid $95k (in a job that looks a lot like a kickback to outside observers) to convince potential new businesses that there's no political corruption in Waterbury.

I'm torn between laughing at the absurdity or crying over the blow to the city's image. I had been so proud of the work I had done to help get Ken Burns to promote a positive image of Waterbury to the nation, and now we're right back where we were four years ago. I had actually dared to hope that Waterbury's political corruption was in the past, but Jarjura and the Chamber of Commerce have brought it back to life. Image is everything, and our image is corrupt.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Bad Day for Waterbury

Last night the Board of Aldermen was scheduled to vote on the proposed health clinic move to Bank Street. The majority of Aldermen were ready to vote yes. Seventy-five downtown merchants had declared they were in favor of the move. Numerous people were planning to speak in favor of it at the Alderman meeting. At the last minute, Mayor Jarjura decided that the health department would withdraw its proposal, even though the new lease would save the city approximately $200,000 a year. As far anyone can tell, the only opposition came from a small number of people who want downtown to be expensive and exclusive. I absolutely can understand that there might soon be a good development plan put into action, but the situation was not handled at all well. There was a very clear message sent that poor people will no longer be welcome in downtown, and that all decisions will be made only by a select few. The downtown business owners were effectively told that their opinion doesn’t matter, and that they should continue to be patient (and watch their businesses go under!) while the city’s developers try to get something accomplished.

The deserved outrage accompanying the mayor’s actions in that matter has been completely overshadowed by Jarjura’s other executive decision of the day: to create a special new job for former-governor John Rowland as economic developer for the city. This is all anyone has talked about today.

So far, it’s not clear which organization Rowland will for. The articles I’ve read say that Jarjura originally wanted Rowland to take the top post at WDC (which explains, I suppose, why the job application deadline was extended a month). Rowland declined, not wanting to get stuck in an admin job. So now a special job will be creating, presumably letting Rowland work as he chooses, at either WDC or the Chamber of Commerce.

In one article, it was stated that the Chamber isn’t a public organization, but if they’re creating a position for him because the Mayor asked them to, doesn’t that make them a branch of city government?

Rowland’s supporters are blind to public opinion. The majority of people in the state of Connecticut do not like or trust Rowland. I’m a firm believer in letting everyone have a second chance, but this is hurting Waterbury. Remember when Lamont’s aide said that Waterbury was where the forces of slime meet the forces of evil? Waterbury has been called the most corrupt city in Connecticut many times today. Pretty soon this will be a national story. The entire country will once again be laughing at Waterbury. How is Rowland going to promote development in Waterbury if his role as economic developer tarnishes the city’s image?

Rowland might very well have all the right qualifications for the job, but so far he’s doing a lot more harm than good.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sundays Downtown

The city’s buses now run on Sundays, which is a great boon for the thousands of Waterbury residents who either can’t afford a car or are unable to drive. It is also a boon for downtown. Downtown Waterbury used to be deserted on Sundays. Even on a beautiful summer day, there were no pedestrians and virtually no cars. Downtown was a ghost town. Now that the buses run on Sundays, there are pedestrians and, for some reason, a fair amount of traffic. It’s not as busy as it is during the week, probably because the few stores are all closed, but it no longer looks like the city center has been abandoned.

As I wrote earlier, there are some people who think that having 125 poor people visit a health clinic on Bank Street every day will harm efforts to improve downtown. The reality is that those 125 people will make Bank Street look busier and more successful, just as the people waiting for buses downtown on Sundays make East Main Street and the Green look lively.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Holyland U.S.A.

Early in October, I went for a long walk through Waterbury, eventually climbing up Abrigador Hill to Holyland, where I followed a barely-visible footpath along the western slope. I was surprised to see how overgrown Holyland has become. It looked completely different only a couple of years ago. The cross, visible from the highway, is going to be replaced soon with a new cross, so maybe there are plans and funding to fix up other parts of Holyland. It's a shame that it's effectively abandoned and closed to the public. It would make a great park, perfect for an afternoon hike and picnic.

The main entrance, with the remnants of a miniature city on the hillside.

The woodlands are a real contrast to the surrounding city. I've been told that there are dozens of cats that roam Holyland first thing in the morning, but all I saw was a black squirrel.

Most of where I walked was overgrown with this thorny plant. It seemed appropriate....

[UPDATE, April 5, 2008--The word is that the cross will be coming down soon, to be replaced with a new cross this summer. This will be the third cross to stand on the site. In February, Ned Lamont offered to match whatever funds are raised for the project, up to $25k (a nice gesture, considering what his aide said about Waterbury during the last campaign). Still no news on the future of the rest of Holyland.]

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Being Poor Doesn't Make You a Bad Person

The latest furor in Waterbury is over the proposed move by the city Health Department to Bank Street. The merchants on Bank Street are happy about the move, but the heads of Main Street Waterbury, the Chamber of Commerce, and Webster Bank are horrified by the proposal. As it has been explained to me, having a street-level clinic for poor people on Bank Street will prevent any new retail from moving in. Having poor people right next door to Circa is, I've been told, a terrible thing.

I've tried to look at this situation impartially. I understand that there is a plan to bring upscale businesses to Bank Street. I know that business owners prefer to avoid ghettos (but Bank Street, even with a clinic, is very extremely removed from being a ghetto!). Business owners also prefer streets without empty storefronts, and I think the boarded up and vacant windows will continue to be far more noticeable than a clinic.

I think the farmer's market on the Green this past summer is an excellent example of how the Health Department clinic on Bank Street won't be a bad thing. The farmer's market was frequented by upscale office workers and by people using food stamps. And they all got along fine. The wealthier folks showed no sign of being scared off by the poor people.

The argument against the clinic claims that this will prevent new businesses from moving in. But there haven't been any new businesses moving in, and there are no new businesses on the horizon.

Another facet of the argument is that there is a plan for smart growth. This is the only argument that makes sense to me. It makes sense to have medical services grouped together near the hospital. It makes sense for Bank Street to have more arts-related organizations and businesses. But the people who are fighting the clinic move could be using that same energy and resources to do more to promote the smart growth. Why, for example, doesn't Main Street move into one of the vacant storefronts?

Bank Street would be a perfect location for an artists' co-op gallery or association. There are dozens of artists in Waterbury, and dozens more in surrounding towns, who would participate. It's something that's fairly simple to get started--the only tricky part is getting funding for rent and utilities (ideally, there would also be funding for a director, but these sorts of organizations can run successfully as co-ops). Artists would be able to show and sell their work from the storefront, and make additional money offering art classes in the same location. Some of the artists might even want to rent upper floors as gallery spaces.

Artists are often among the first groups to revitalize urban areas, so why isn't anything being done to lure them to our downtown?

I recently visited Hot Springs, Arkansas, the 4th largest art town in the country. Hot Springs, like Waterbury, saw its major industry go belly up in the 1970s. The outskirts of the town are all hideous strip malls, but the town center is beautiful. There is a centrally located visitor's center, just a small building with an information desk, maps, brochures & menus, and public restrooms. The shops are a mixture, with a large number of galleries (including an artists' co-op), a few restaurants, some dollar stores, a "gentlemen's" club (featuring strip karaoke!), antique stores and book stores. Some of the businesses are very upscale. Most are not. But the key element is that there are no vacant store fronts.

There are too many people with power who want to gentrify Waterbury. I once overheard a lunchtime conversation in which was discussed a plan to tear down buildings at the intersection of North Main and East/West Farms. The plan is to claim that the road needs to be widened, but the true goal, as I overheard, is to get rid of the undesirable "element" that live and shop in that location. I've been there numerous times. Bertie's West Indian restaurant is there. More important, a poor community is there. The women I overheard want to destroy the community because it is poor. Wouldn't it be better to help build up the community so that it can thrive?

There is a discrimination problem in Waterbury, but it has nothing to do with race or religion. It is entirely about poverty. The signal being put out over the Health Department clinic makes it clear that if you are poor, certain people want you to stay out of sight.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Rumor Mall

Someone I know, who lives in Litchfield County, recently asked me "if it's true that the Waterbury mall is going to be closed because there have been too many thefts." The person who asked me this is normally a highly intelligent person, but I guess she didn't stop to think about this one. It reminded me of when the mall opened ten years ago--there was a rumor going around the suburbs that "if you go to the Waterbury mall, someone will hide under your car, slash your ankle, and steal your purse." I don't know if there ever actually was an ankle slashing incident. The logistics seem a little too complicated to succeed, even if some idiot did try it. Even more unlikely is a scenario in which undercar ankle slashing is a regular occurrence. But, for whatever reason, people in the suburbs were eager to believe the rumor. After all, cities are dangerous, crime-ridden places, not at all like the suburbs, where nothing bad ever happens, right?

As for the mall closing because of "too many" thefts... even though this was the first time I'd heard this rumor, I flatly denied the possibility. I wish I had thought to ask what kind of thefts. I assumed she meant people stealing from the stores, but maybe the rumor is pickpockets and purse-snatchers. Actually, considering how rumors work, I'm sure the type of theft varies depending on who is telling the "story". In either case, the rumor still doesn't make sense.

The mall is always packed full of shoppers, which suggests that the many stores are all doing good business. If an individual store doesn't have enough sales to sustain itself, then that individual store will close. Not the whole mall. If an individual store is having trouble with thieves, then the store will improve its security system. If all of the stores are having trouble with thieves, the odds are that it's a specific group of people causing the problem, and it won't take long for the mall to identify them and ban them from the mall (not to mention having them arrested). The same applies to pickpockets and purse snatchers.

Maybe the mall-closing rumor got started because Shaw's closed (which had nothing to do with Waterbury or the mall--Shaw's had to close several of its stores) and because the mall couldn't afford to open early to accommodate people who were there to walk and not shop. But since the mall is always packed during regular hours, and because there don't seem to be any vacant store fronts, I can't see why anyone would believe that the entire mall is going to close. Remember the old mall? It stayed open long after it "died", and when the last store moved to the new mall, it was torn down and replaced by a Wal-Mart.

It's very easy for suburbanites to believe the worst of a city, even if crime happens in their towns. I would expect theft to be more likely in a town like Southbury or Cheshire, where residents assume that it's safe to leave doors unlocked and purses in unlocked cars. Waterbury is stuck with a bad reputation, even though it's one of the safest cities in Connecticut. People who don't worry about going to New Haven at night are afraid to come into Waterbury, even though there are often random shootings in New Haven and none in Waterbury. As recently reported, Waterbury's crime rate is the lowest since 1980. Makes me wonder how the mall can be suddenly suffering from "too many" thefts.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Eat Your Art Out

This year's Eat Your Art Out is scheduled for Thursday, April 3, 5:30 to 8:30 at the Armory on Field Street. It's a great event, with food samplings from dozens of restaurants. Proceeds help fund Main Street Waterbury.

Full details about the event are on the official website, If you are interested in helping out with or participating in the event, please fill out the comment form on their website. Tickets for Eat Your Art Out are being sold through the Palace Theater box office starting Monday, January 14. Buy early and often!

Sin City

Just a quick thought while I procrastinate--I don't know why anyone would be upset that a new Waterbury nightclub will be called Sin City. I have never heard this name used to describe Waterbury. Most people associate the name with Vegas. If you want to be upset about a city moniker, pick on "Dirty Water" (Waterbury's actual nickname).

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Holiday Windows 2007

Here are some photos of downtown Holiday Decorations, December 2007.

Cafe Europa:

The Connecticut Store (at Howland-Hughes)

Zia's Cucina:

Santa at Zia's:

Property Assessment

The new year has started, and I'm already wondering how much income tax I'll owe in April. Meanwhile, today's paper informed me that the new assessment for my house is available at

(On a side note, I have to say I greatly prefer the old assessor's has more information, and the information is much easier to understand.)

I've been a little stressed out about the increase in property taxes this year. There's nothing like being told you're taxes might double. As it turns out, if Waterbury's mill rate stays at 55.4, the taxes on my townhouse have increased from $1098 to $1939. Spread out over a year, that's not a significant amount of money, but it's still going to wreak havok on my mortgage payments. For reasons that I don't understand, when I bought my house in June, I was starting with insufficient escrow. My payment amount was increased to compensate; now it's going to increase again. It's a little disheartening, even if the amount isn't all that large. As is the case for many Waterbury residents, I'm living on a budget, and any increase in expenses causes stress.

I'm sure there will be a lot of grumbling throughout Waterbury over the next few months!

UPDATE, March 31, 2008: The mayor's budget for the next fiscal year has the mill rate at 39. I can't imagine the Board of Aldermen will be opposed to that.

UPDATE, June 3, 2008: The budget has been approved, and the city's mill rate is set at 39.92 mills. To figure out your property tax, take the assessed value, multiply by 39.92, then divide by 1000.