Monday, November 29, 2010

Rell Responds

Well, she sort of responds. I was so upset about the proposal to shut down the Waterbury train line, I wrote the following email to Governor Rell and the local CT delegation:

Governor Rell has proposed shutting down the Metro-North branch lines to Waterbury, Danbury and New Canaan. I am strongly against this proposal. The branch lines are a fundamental necessity. The state should be spending more money to improve the service on the branch lines and promoting commuter ridership, which would reduce traffic congestion on the highways.
For the past two years, I was a regular commuter from Waterbury to New York City. I was completely dependent on the branch line. Without the Waterbury train, there is no way I would have been able to keep my job—I either would have had to quit or I would have been fired.
If the Waterbury branch line is shut down, the only way to get to the main line is to drive to Bridgeport. This would increase the morning commute time for anyone leaving from Waterbury, since there is almost always a traffic backup on Route 8 near Derby. This would also nearly double the cost of the commute to New York City, from about $350 a month to more than $600 a month. When I was commuting to NYC, I was just barely able to afford $350 a month. There is no way I would have been able to afford to drive to Bridgeport. Driving all the way to NYC is even more expensive and time-consuming.
Shutting down the branch line will create a severe hardship for the people who commute from Waterbury to New York or Stamford. Some of the commuters might end up losing their jobs if the branch lines are closed—which will increase the number of people who need the heating assistance.
The Waterbury train line is also used by college students traveling to their campus in Bridgeport. It is used by patients who receive regular medical treatment in Bridgeport. It is used by workers whose jobs are in Bridgeport.
The job market in Waterbury is dead. Job placement specialists are advising those of us who have been laid off to seek jobs in Stamford, New York, New Haven and Hartford. Shutting down the branch lines removes our ability to find employment in some of the few places left where companies are hiring.

I immediately received an auto-reply thanking me for my interest. This afternoon I received a real reply, but it wasn't from Rell herself, it was from her assistant:

Dear Ms. Guest:

Thank you for your correspondence to Governor Rell regarding rail funding. The Governor truly appreciates the time you took to write to her office. Please accept this response on the Governor’s behalf.

Governor Rell does not approve or support cuts to the Metro-North branch lines – Danbury, Waterbury or New Canaan. The list of cuts was prepared by the Office of Policy and Management as a menu of options for the Legislature to consider as a way to fill a funding hole in the winter home heating assistance program for seniors and low-income families. The Governor has worked too hard and too long to ensure that Connecticut’s transportation system is upgraded and continues to move forward. Governor Rell is committed to commuter rail and will continue to advocate for it until she leaves office.

Thank you again for sharing your comments and concerns with Governor Rell and do not hesitate to contact our office in the future.

Linda Sandiaes
Staff Assistant
Office of Governor M. Jodi Rell

I like how Rell has swiftly distanced herself from the proposal, even though she was the one who submitted it. Last week, she was content to take credit for the proposed budget cut (along with proposed cuts to other essential items including school bus transportation and the CT Commission on Culture and Tourism). This week she claims that she had nothing to do with the proposal, it was someone else's fault.

I also had very nice email responses from Anthony D'Amelio and Selim Noujaim. D'Amelio assured me that the Waterbury delegation would be speaking to Governor Rell about the issue later this week, while Noujaim wrote that he was appalled by the proposal and will be fighting it "tooth and nail."

Congressman Chris Murphy was also upset by the proposal to shut down the branch lines and held a press conference at the Waterbury station this afternoon, right before he had to leave for D.C.

A full complement of news media was present, as were quite a few supporters of the train line--Reggie Beamon, Peter Dorpalen, Peter Marcuse, Main Street Waterbury, Waterbury Development Corporation, Mayor Jarjura, Alderman Pernerewski, and State Senator Joan Hartley (who sent me an email just as I was finishing this blog post, letting me know she spoke at the press conference today). I was there mainly to represent the commuters who are dependent on the train (the upside of being laid off--I've got plenty of free time!).

I chatted briefly with Congressman Murphy before the formal event began. It was gratifying to have a chance to point at the old abandoned SNET building (now owned by the state) while explaining that tearing it down would reduce the number of car break-ins, and to point to the security cameras and explain that their video feed really should be going to the Waterbury Police Department, not just to the MTA in New York.

It's a long, slow process, but if we keep fighting, we'll keep seeing improvements.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rell's Parting Proposal

I'm having another Homer Simpson moment today, feeling reduced to gibberish because I've been confronted with something so absurd and outrageous I can't get my words out fast enough in response.

Governor Rell, in her final days in office, has proposed shutting down the Metro-North branch lines to Waterbury, Danbury and New Canaan, reallocating the branch lines' $5 million state budget for the Low-Income Home Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This comes a year after she proudly spent $60 million (mostly federal money) to upgrade the Danbury line.

Adding to the absurdity of the proposal is the information (in today's Rep-Am), that the Department of Social Services has reported a $70 million balance in the LIHEAP fund, which suggests that it doesn't need the $5 million from the branch lines.

The bulk of the absurdity is the concept that shutting down the branch lines would be a good idea. Connecticut has close to the highest unemployment rate in the region. The Metro-North branch lines take commuters from places where there are almost no jobs (like Waterbury) to jobs in Stamford and New York City. I spent the past two years working in New York City while living in Waterbury, and my ability to retain that job was completely dependent upon the existence of the branch line. My train pass cost me approximately $350 a month. Parking in Waterbury is free (and I learned to park my car at the entrance to the station, where it can be seen from the road; cars that park near the platform are hidden from the road by an abandoned building, which the state refuses to demolish; the parking spaces hidden by the abandoned building are nearly always full of broken glass from thieves breaking into the cars parked there; Metro-North installed security cameras, after which the break-ins stopped briefly--but then the thieves apparently figured out that the video footage goes to NYC and is not available to the Waterbury police, who would actually be able to identify the thieves).

The downside to taking the train from Waterbury is the limited schedule of six trains each way per day. I tried driving to the main line, parking in Bridgeport, but this was obviously a bad idea. The difference in the fares is negligible--I'd save $19 a month in the train fare leaving from Bridgeport instead of Waterbury. But then you have to add in the cost of driving the 33 miles twice a day between Waterbury and Bridgeport (330 miles a week), plus the cost of parking in Bridgeport, which is not free (I don't know the monthly rate, but the daily rate is $6, so it's safe to estimate at least $100 per month). To sum that up, taking the train from Waterbury to NYC costs about $350 a month. Driving to Bridgeport and taking the train from there costs over $600 a month.

In addition to the cost of driving to the main line, there is also the danger and the hassle. Route 8 can be relied upon to have a massive traffic backup as you approach Ansonia/Derby, adding at least 20 minutes to the morning travel time. Shut down the Waterbury line, and there will be an increase to the number of vehicles traveling on Route 8 in the morning. At night, traffic jams are less likely on Route 8, but after a very long, exhausting day, the chances that I will be in a car accident are higher. When I take the train, I don't have to worry about getting into an accident.

Another alternative to driving is taking a bus. I looked into taking the bus, but that's even more expensive than driving to Bridgeport and taking the train from there. And the bus line is also subject to traffic delays, which the train is not.

I'm rambling a bit here, but I want to clarify that shutting down the branch line will create a severe hardship for the people who commute from Waterbury to New York or Stamford. Some of the commuters might end up losing their jobs if the branch line is closed (and might then increase the number of people who need the heating assistance!).

The Waterbury train line is also used by college students traveling to their campus in Bridgeport. It is used by patients who receive regular medical treatment in Bridgeport. It is used by workers whose jobs are in Bridgeport.

The job market in Waterbury is dead. Job placement specialists are advising those of us who have been laid off to seek jobs in Stamford, New York, New Haven and Hartford. Shutting down the branch lines removes our ability to find employment in some of the few places left where companies are hiring.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Justine Chase

Justine Whittemore Chase (born in 1906) was a daughter of Waterbury's Frederick Starkweather Chase and Elsie Rowland Chase--the same Chase family that founded and owned Chase Brass & Copper. Fred Chase and his large family lived at 165 Grove Street with eight servants (as listed in the 1910 and 1920 Census Records). The family also had a home overlooking Lake Quassapaug in Middlebury. A portrait of Justine's sister, Frederika, is at the Mattatuck Museum.

A few years ago, I picked up a memoir Justine Chase published in 1988, A World Remembered, at John Bale Books. Many of the illustrations were paintings by her mother, Elsie Rowland Chase. It's a lovely little book, with a very nice blurb by May Sarton, one of my favorite authors, on the back cover.

Justine Chase, from the little I can glean (mostly from the book's dust jacket), had a fascinating life. Her poetry was published in the Atlantic Monthly, she collaborated on several plays, and held leading roles in several Broadway plays including Kind Lady. When that play was produced as a film starring Basil Rathbone, Chase appeared as his wife Ada.

Justine Chase as Ada, in Kind Lady (1935)

The movie can be watched on YouTube, broken into nine segments. Chase first appears about seven minutes into the third segment (embedded below), playing the supposedly ailing wife of Rathbone's con artist role.

Chase moved to England after World War II.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Little Bit of Excitement

I was (and am) sitting at my desk in my home office just now, researching the history of Chase Collegiate School, when I heard a noise at the window. The cat sleeping next to me heard the noise too, and boy did he wake up fast! The noise was being made by a White-Breasted Nuthatch, a regular visitor to my birdfeeder, but one of the more difficult birds for me to photograph. He moves quickly when he's at the feeder, and tends to stay on the far side of the feeder. But now, after months of trying to photograph him, here he is, posing sweetly for me.

He must be feeling extra brave today, because he stuck around for a full minute. Maybe he couldn't see well through the window. He seems completely indifferent to my cat, who was so excited to be this close to a bird.

Below us, I noticed the Mourning Dove hanging out in her usual spot on the branches. I've never seen a dove try to eat at the bird feeder, but there's almost always a dove hanging out while the smaller birds feed. There's a Blue Jay, also large, that swoops in, grabs a sunflower seed, then flies back to a tree branch to crack it open and eat it. I'm not sure what the doves do. Maybe pick up discarded seeds that fall on the ground?

After I photographed the dove, I realized there was someone on the ground also staring at her (not one of my cats).

I've been trying to buy one of those seed-shaped bells for my other birdfeeder, which I keep just outside the dining room window, but the stores don't seem to be carrying them. But I guess everyone is happy with the sunflower seed feeder!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Missed a Spot!

Last month, the city finally sent a crew over to my neighborhood to repair our crumbling sidewalks. We've been requesting this for years, so we were happy to finally get a result. But it turns out that it wasn't much of a result. The first bit of disappointment was learning that the city would be slapping a  layer of asphalt over the sidewalks--if we're lucky, this will last five, maybe ten years before it needs to be redone. There's a section of asphalt sidewalk that was put in on Long Hill Road after a washout in 2008, and it looks like it won't last another winter, already bubbling up, cracking and otherwise showing that it is just about ready to be washed away again. Slapping a layer of asphalt on sidewalks is ultimately a waste of money. Carefully laid-out, professionally installed concrete sidewalks last decades. They are more expensive in the short run, but significantly less expensive over the long term.

We weren't pleased to be getting asphalt instead of concrete, but we figured it was better than nothing, would improve public safety, and would help us in our efforts to improve our neighborhood. Our next disappointment came when we realized that the city was not going to do a thorough job. Not every stretch of sidewalk needed to be repaved, but they completely missed numerous sections that are a wreck. The other week, I watched a small child ride his tricycle along the new sidewalk on Carpmill, but when he got to Wood Street, where the sidewalk was a disaster, he switched to riding in the street.

Here are a few examples of sidewalk that should have been patched but weren't. There are a lot more sections, some of which are far worse than these.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Walk in the Park

I'm under doctor's orders to get regular exercise, even if it's just walking. I'm not good at getting regular exercise. I don't cope well with the monotony. So I've decided to make it interesting by combining things I do enjoy: exploration, photography and blogging. On a regular day, I'll walk 30 minutes. Once or twice a week, I'll go on a long walk about Waterbury, exploring the city, finding photogenic scenes and then blogging about it later. Today I started with what turned out to be a two hour walk. After 45 minutes, I was feeling sore and sat down for a few minutes in Hamilton Park.

There are plenty of photogenic scenes in Hamilton Park. Cameras can be deceptive. You'd never guess (unless you've been here) that the first photo (above) isn't in the middle of the countryside, that directly behind me is heavy traffic congestion and exhaust fumes. You can see a hint of the traffic in the next photo, of the cannon in front of the Liberty House.

Winter is almost here, but there are still a few roses in bloom.

Most of the trees in Hamilton Park are fairly generic Connecticut trees, but there are a few more distinctive ones.

The Liberty-Victory House:

A long view towards the cross at Holyland, with the new indoor sports complex a little closer up.

The Hamilton Park swimming pool. Shouldn't it be covered up for the season? Wouldn't a cover help protect it from vandalism?

Beautiful birch trees:

A great little detail on the fence, sadly neglected and allowed to rust.

The pond, with Seven Angels theater in the distance.

Many geese, but no one was feeding them. And they didn't seem to expect me to feed them. But they did pose for me.

A light game of soccer. I don't know why there's so much fence around the playing fields. Chain link doesn't keep out people, it's easy to climb. Maybe to keep out dogs?

I took a lot more photos of other places on my walk, but I'll save them for future blog posts.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Holiday Season Downtown

Everyone is gearing up for the holiday season, and this year there will be a special one for Waterbury's downtown. The newly renovated City Hall building will be open for special guided tours in December, leading up to the grand rededication ceremony on January 1st. You can stay updated on the City Hall events through the official website (still being fleshed out).

The city started putting up the holiday lights on the Green yesterday. The lights will be turned on during the Tree Lighting Ceremony the day after Thanksgiving. It's always breathtakingly beautiful, and the perfect thing to dispel the gloom of winter. I wish they would keep them on until February. The Waterbury Spirit Committee will work with Main Street, the City, the Brass Mill Mall, and Ryan Gomes to provide ice skating during the tree-lighting and for the rest of the season. Following the ceremony, artificial ice will be set up behind the library, on the enclosed courtyard, and skates will be available for free for young children.

Many of the downtown businesses also get into the festive winter spirit and decorate their store windows. Main Street Waterbury will once again this year be holding a Holiday Window Display Competition to encourage and celebrate the spectacular displays. Photos of previous years' displays are in some of my older blog posts--2008 (also with images from the Tree Lighting Ceremony), a few 2007 displays and 2006 displays.

John Bale Books on Grand Street will be hosting a series of free Saturday programs in December: Regina Laudis Scola will perform on December 4; Elaine Schieffer will be doing Christmas Karaoke on December 11; and a wonderfully talented Sacred Heart student will be singing her original songs on December 18.

Also coming up this season is Shakesperience's production of A Christmas Carol, which will be performed Dec. 16th-19th 7pm every night with a 2pm matinee on Saturday and Sunday. And keep an eye out for information about the Festival of Trees and the classic displays at the Howland Hughes Center. Below are some photos from the Festival at Howland Hughes last year. If you've never taken your kids there, you should--Hank Paine does such a great job, especially with the animatronic "activation".

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Election 2010, Florida-Style

Two days after the election, and we still don't know who our next Governor will be.  There has been a lot of confusion and turmoil throughout the state as people try to understand what's going on. Reading and listening to people's comments, I think the biggest source of confusion has been the sources of information. We've become accustomed to knowing who has won an election before all the votes have been counted--candidates often concede when fewer than half the votes have been counted. In the case of this year's gubernatorial election, we won't know who won until every vote has been counted.

This afternoon, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz announced that we're still waiting for the Bridgeport numbers. Yesterday she felt confident enough about the tentative numbers to declare Malloy the winner, which heightened the statewide frenzy. The Associate Press initially declared Malloy the winner, then undeclared it following a screw-up in which the AP actually thought that only 8,000 people voted in New Haven. Since realizing their mistake, the AP has since refused to declare a winner and has emphasized that they don't jump to conclusions.

Not including the Bridgeport votes, Foley is ahead by about 8,000. It's hard to think that Foley has lost when the numbers so far show him winning. Eight thousand, however, is not that large a number when more than 1 million votes have been cast, nor is it that large a number when there are about 30,000 votes from Bridgeport left to factor into the equation. Tentative numbers suggest that Malloy has won a large enough majority of the Bridgeport votes to win the overall election. Odds are, given Bridgeport's political leanings and the size of their turnout following Obama's visit, that Malloy has won a majority of the votes there.

I tried to access the official Bridgeport results from the 2006 election, to get a feel for how Bridgeport voted in the last gubernatorial race, but the website of the Secretary of State crashed my computer (what do you want to read into that!). Then I tried to find the 2006 results on the city of Bridgeport's website, but they aren't listed there (unlike Waterbury, where past election results are available online).

The biggest debacle of the election has been the dearth of ballots in Bridgeport and elsewhere. When Connecticut began switching over to the new optical scan (fill-in-the-bubble) system four years ago, Bysiewicz promoted the new machines as having security from fraud or outside intrusion. What she apparently forgot to prepare for was the possibility that a town's registrar of voters might not order enough ballots.

Ballots are not free. Naugatuck reported in today's Rep-Am that they paid between 25 and 35 cents per ballot. Waterbury had a two-side ballot this year, to accommodate the charter revision questions, so that might have cost a little more. The cost of purchasing ballots comes out of each town's budget. Bridgeport's registrar felt the need to pinch pennies, ordering only 21,000 ballots for their 69,000 registered voters.

Again, I would like to be able to access official voter turnout numbers from 2006, but I can't, so I have to rely on secondary sources. According to an October 26 article in The CT Mirror, Bridgeport's turnout was 40,682 voters in 2008 and about half that in 2006. If there were only about 20,000 people who came out to vote in Bridgeport in 2006, you can almost see that the registrar was correct in ordering 21,000 ballots. Almost.

At the heart of the matter is the incredibly important right to vote and its sibling, the opportunity to vote. Interestingly, the right to vote is not generally protected by the Constitution. Several Amendments to the Constitution state that the right to vote can't be denied or abridged on the basis of race, color, previous condition of servitude (slavery), sex (gender), failure to pay any poll tax or other tax (that's right, poll tax--the thing that should guarantee there are enough ballots purchased), or age if 18+.

An unknown number of Bridgeport voters were denied their right to vote because there weren't any ballots left. Other towns also ran out of ballots and switched to xeroxed ballots. I haven't heard about any voters in other towns being told they couldn't vote. I have read accounts of total chaos in Bridgeport, which led to a judge granting Bridgeport the right to keep their polls open an extra two hours, to allow the voters who were denied the right to vote enough time to try again. Word is 500 people voted after 8 p.m.

Republicans, fearing that Foley will lose, have been making noise about not allowing at least some of Bridgeport's votes to count because they were cast on xeroxed ballots. This seems like poor sportsmanship to me. The new optical scan voting system, and the penny-pinching of registrars in Bridgeport and elsewhere, created a situation in which there weren't enough ballots. The registrars were trapped in a crisis and came up with a reasonable solution: create more ballots by copying blank ballots. Which is more important: protecting everyone's right to vote, or quibbling over a technicality?

Throughout the past three days, the debacle in Bridgeport has reminded everyone of Florida and the hanging chads. There are some similarities to that election, in which Bush was declared the winner of the Florida election following a Supreme Court decision giving authority to the original certification by the Secretary of State of 537 more votes for Bush than Gore. This was a very disturbing case, since Bush's own brother was the Governor of Florida. The results have been disputed by numerous authorities, and unofficial recounts have given the majority of votes to Gore. If nothing else, the Florida case shows the complexities of counting.

Connecticut Republicans in Foley's camp have said, if Malloy is declared the winner, they will fight the results in court. Just like Bush did in Florida. Interestingly, Foley is an old friend of George W. Bush. I wonder if he's been getting any advice from Bush since Tuesday. Then again, Foley is a banker specializing in leveraged buyouts, so he has plenty of experience playing hardball.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Vote Today!

Even if you vote for only one person or topic on the ballot, please go vote today.

When Chris Murphy spoke at the WOW center on April 17, he tossed out a few factoids: 20% of twenty-year-olds vote; 80% of eighty-year-olds vote; and there is seven times as much federal money spent on eighty-year-olds as there is on 20-year-olds. You know what that means? That means if you don't vote, the politicians will ignore you.

You may not like any of the candidates. You may not think that any of them represent your concerns. But the only way you will ever get candidates who represent you and care about your issues is to vote.

Remind your family to vote. Remind your neighbors to vote. It's important.

If you're not sure where to go, call the Registrar of Voters, (203) 574-6751, or any of the campaign headquarters in Waterbury (just check the flyers you got in the mail for their numbers).

Here is the complete list of Waterbury polling locations:

71st Assembly District (Asamblea de Distrito)
71-1 Kennedy High School, 422 Highland Ave.
71-2 Portugeuse Sport Club, 1966 Baldwin St. (moved from Gilmartin School due to renovations)
71-3 Tinker School (Congress Avenue entrance), 809 Highland Ave.
72nd Assembly District (Asamblea de Distrito)
72-1 Mount Olive AME Zion Church, 82 Pearl St.
72-2 WOW Community Learning Center, 308 Walnut Street  
72-3 Woodrow Wilson School, 235 Birch Street
72-4 Regan School, 2780 North Main St.  
72-5 Edward D. Bergin Apartments, 70 Lakewood Road
73rd Assembly District (Asamblea de Distrito)
73-1 Our Lady of Loreto Church Hall, 12 Ardsley Rd.
73-2 Silas Bronson Library (branch), 192 Bunker Hill Ave.
73-3 Kingsbury School, 220 Columbia Blvd.  
73-4 Waterville Recreation Center, 1433 Thomaston Ave.
73-5 Blessed Sacrament School, 386 Robinwood Rd.
73-6 Chase Park School, 150 Sunnyside Ave.
74th Assembly District (Asamblea de Distrito)
74-1 Chase School, 40 Woodtick Rd.
74-2 Crosby High School, 300 Pierpont Rd.
74-3 St. Peter and Paul School gym, 116 Beecher Ave.
74-4 St. Peter and Paul School gym, 116 Beecher Ave.
75th Assembly District (Asamblea de Distrito)
75-1 Willow Plaza Community Center, 60 Elmwood Avenue  
75-2 Washington Park Community House, 283 Sylvan Ave.
75-3 Maloney School, 223 South Elm St.  
75-4 Hamilton Park Pavilion, Hamilton Park  
75-5 Washington School, 685 Baldwin St.