Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I've been complaining for years about the reckless way that some people drive in Waterbury. I've seen people doing 50 mph through Fulton Park, I've seen people drive 50 mph down my narrow one-way street. Stop signs and red lights are frequently treated as optional. I've been told that it is unreasonable for me to expect the city police to enforce the road laws.

Tonight, some idiot driving an unregistered vehicle tried to do 50 mph down my street. I didn't see what happened, just heard the noise. The driver smashed into a vehicle parked on the side of the road, pushing it a couple of feet sideways onto the sidewalk and forward into the car parked in front of it. There were three cars that wound up being damaged by the speeding car, as each one was pushed forward. I've added some photos below so you can see how bad it was. Bear in mind that this happened only a few hundred feet from Oak Street. How much acceleration do you need to have, how fast do you need to be going in order to cause that much damage?

The jeep wasn't on the sidewalk before it was hit. The rear axle is now bent,
the tires are flat and bent, and the front is smashed in. Two vehicles in front
of it, also parked on the side of the road for the night, are also smashed up.

The car that caused the accident.

The story gets worse. Three people, standing outside their homes, enjoying the nice evening air after a long, hot summer day, were injured. Two were taken to the hospital. These are people who are good neighbors, people who are respectful towards others, people who are willing to help out a neighbor if there's a problem, people who make this a good, friendly neighborhood in which to live.

The driver and his passenger fled the scene, leaving their car blocking the road. The owners of the damaged cars, and the friends of those who were injured, were furious (and rightly so!). People came out of their homes to see what all the commotion was about, trying to find out what happened and whether or not they could do anything to help.

The fire department (currently the city's first responders) arrived first, then an ambulance and finally the police. After everyone had some time to sort things out and take care of the medical emergencies, Patricia Sockwell, acting Vice-President of the Scovill Homes Association, went to talk to one of the police officers about what happened. I followed her and arrived just as she was asking the officer what can be done to prevent this sort of thing from happening. His answer was the most horrifying, unhelpful, counter-productive answer he could give short of saying something flat-out racist.

The police officer insisted that the only way to prevent people from driving recklessly down our streets is to get rid of welfare. He went on further to state that only poor people commit crimes and use drugs, that if you go over to Middlebury and Woodbury, you won't find any drug users, crime or reckless driving (we suggested that people from Middlebury come here to buy their drugs, but the officer ignored that comment). His final solution is that "we need to get rid of all the poor people." He insisted that anyone who wants a job can get one. I (hotheadedly) pointed out that there are currently some 12 million people in this country who want jobs and can't get them because they don't exist. He raised his voice at us, we raised our voices back. A full-force argument over whether or not only poor people do drugs and drive like maniacs.

This was the last thing we needed. Our neighbors and friends had been injured and their property damaged by some jerk who was driving an unregistered car and fled the scene. We asked the police officer for advice on what can be done to make our neighborhood better, and he tells us to get rid of all the poor people, and then goes on to tell us that if we don't have jobs we're just lazy bums. Many of the residents of this neighborhood are senior citizens who worked hard all their lives and now scrape by on social security payments. Many others are working class who scrape by on minimum wage. Others are students, currently scraping by on low income while acquiring the skills and certifications needed to get good jobs. And I know there is at least one person who is collecting partial unemployment because the economy tanked, her employer let everyone go, and she's been able to find only part-time employment so far despite being highly educated and skilled. This neighborhood is a wonderful, diverse community. Being poor doesn't make us bad people. We have our problems, but overall there are a lot of good neighbors here. When we ask for help, we deserve something better than being told that poor people are inherently bad people and the only solution is to get rid of the poor people.

Monday, June 27, 2011

UConn Dedication

Today I enjoyed the privilege of seeing a project I worked on come to its conclusion. Way back in 2006, I became part of the committee to select an artwork for the UConn-Waterbury campus. (At the time, I was teaching Art History and Art Appreciation there (I wish I still was!), which is how I wound up on the committee.) Today, the University dedicated the completed artwork and surrounding courtyard.

People mingling before the ceremony.

The sculpture incorporates metal and water, both symbolic of Waterbury. The artist, Barton Rubenstein, sees the different tall sculptural elements as being also symbolic of the UConn students.

Barton Rubenstein's Synergy, without the water feature turned on.

The weather was perfect--so glad the rainy weather finally went away!

It was nice to see many people I know at the event. There were quite a few people present. Many were headed across the street afterwards for the Osher fundraiser event at the Palace Theater. The Osher Life Long Institute program is a real asset for Waterbury, as is UConn itself.

When I taught at UConn-Waterbury, I started every semester by challenging my students to think about what is art. I took them to view the courtyard and asked them if they could identify the tromp l'oeil (fool the eye)"artwork" in front of them. Can you see it in the photo below?

Barton Rubenstein speaking in front of his sculpture, Synergy.

The retaining wall in the back of the courtyard, which looks like a natural rock wall, is actually a concrete wall shaped and colored to look like rock. It's not intended to be seen as an artwork--in fact, it is successful only if the viewer takes for granted that it's natural rather than entirely man-made. It's great for getting my students to start thinking about the definition of art.

Back to the ribbon-cutting ceremony.... speeches were given by Bill Pizzuto, Executive Director of the Waterbury campus, Joan Hartley, State Senator for the 15th District, and Susan Herbst, the new President of UConn.

After the ribbon-cutting, the waterfall portion of the sculpture was turned on. It's a great artwork, well-worth visiting, and a great addition to the courtyard.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Coalition Change

Monday night I attended a meeting of the Waterbury Coalition for Better Government at the WOW Learning Center. The attendees voted unanimously to become the Waterbury Coalition for Economic and Social Justice, a branch of the national organization.

The Center for Economic and Social Justice is based in Washington, D.C. and is "dedicated to a free enterprise approach to economic and social justice for all, through equal opportunities to capital ownership for every person."

Here's the press release issued today about the change:

Jimmie Griffin said he has been thinking about the creation of a local chapter of the National Center for Economic and Social Justice for years, but finally closed the deal last week in a phone discussion with Norm Kurland, a prominent lawyer and economist out of Washington, DC who founded the center some years ago.
Griffin, who founded the local Waterbury Coalition for Better Government in 1995 here in Waterbury to support his efforts to promote the idea of “Electing Alderman by District” some years ago, said he elated that we can now use the educational and research abilities of CESJ to enhance that idea, among others, with direct community involvement of this new improved tax-exempt national education center.
The first thing to do is launch a local membership drive, as we are a membership organization of volunteers. The dues are meager at $25 a year, and provides the chapter the needed support and resources from the national level, to achieve our mission of individual economic independence and social justice. Griffin added, “ one of the most impressive things I see in the formation of the Waterbury Chapter is its ability to be the most diverse non-partisan effort that will cross all political, educational, religious and ethnic bounderies as I envision it as being the true melting pot for success in developing both our neighborhoods and the people who live in them."
Finally, as membership grows and we develop a strong base in the community will surely become a voice for the voiceless and those who seek information or would like to can involved in the transition of the WCBG to the WCESJ can call 203-577-8084 or visit our face-book or website at

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Guess what got a little bit better? Waterbury's unemployment rate! It reached a high of 12.8% in January, then started dropping. The April 2011 unemployment rate was estimated to be 11.9%. Before you start celebrating, bear in mind that labor experts believe that the improvement in the national unemployment rate is partially due to people simply no longer reporting their lack of employment. After a couple of years of being unable to find a job, many people give up. If you no longer qualify for unemployment benefits, there's little reason to continue reporting.

Out of curiosity, I did a little digging and found the following historical data about Waterbury's unemployment rate since 1961. The data prior to 1990 is from newspaper articles; 1990-present is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In most cases I have the average unemployment rate for an entire year, but sometimes all I have is the rate for a specific month.

UPDATED 6/21/11: I've added some context with national unemployment rates since 2001, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Sept. 1961     between 6 and 8.9%
1964                    7.1%
1965                    6.7%
April 1970          7.0%
Sept. 1971        10.1%
March 1975      11.5%
1976                 15.5%
March 1983     10.0%
Dec. 1984           6.8%
March 1985        7.0%
1986                   5.8%
1990                   6.7%
1991                   8.7%
1992                   9.5%
1993                   8.0%
1994                   7.0%
1995                   6.3%
1996                   6.4%
1997                   5.8%
1998                   4.1%
1999                   3.3%
2000                   2.9%     National Rate
2001                   4.3%          4.7%
2002                   6.0%          5.8%
2003                   7.2%          6.0%
2004                   6.3%          5.5%
2005                   6.3%          5.1%
2006                   5.7%          4.6%
2007                   6.0%          4.6%
2008                   7.5%          5.8%
2009                  11.1%         9.3%
2010                  12.1%         9.6%
Jan. 2011           12.8%         9.0%
March 2011        12.2%         8.8%
April 2011           11.9%         9.0%

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Albanian Festival

It's summer in Waterbury, and you know what that means--festivals! Music, dancing, and (most important) food!

I stopped by the Albanian Festival this afternoon, as did Governor Malloy. Small crowd during the day, but the place will be packed tonight.

Governor Malloy arrived after 3 p.m.

Besa dancers

Everybody has to get a photo of the Governor.

My photo of the Governor.

The ladies who served up my food.

The food! Marinated lamb, spinach pie, feta cheese,
meatballs, pepper sandwich. YUM!

Albanian coffee made to order.

What best to eat with coffee? Dessert sampler tray!
My favorite is the one in the upper left corner.
I think it is shredded phyllo soaked in honey.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Thank You!!!

Waterbury Thoughts has been voted Best Local Blog 2011 by the readers of The Waterbury Observer!

Pick up your free issue of The Observer to see who won in the other categories.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

WOW/Scovill Homes Tour

Until you get out and walk through a neighborhood, you can't really see what the problems are. Today, thanks to the persistence and determination of Patricia Sockwell, several key city leaders walked our streets as a follow-up to the community meeting held at the WOW/NRZ Community Center last month.

In attendance today were Mayor Jarjura, Board of Education Commissioner Neil O'Leary, Bryan Baker, President of the Board of Aldermen Paul Pernerewski, Alderman Ryan Mulcahy, Alderman Larry DePillo, Jimmie Griffin, Richard Wood, Nelson Simoes (Health Department), Deputy Chief Vernon Riddick, Michael Gilmore, Officer Andrew Abney and Lt. Scott Stevenson. As Pat Sockwell pointed out later, she and I were the only women present.

Staring in disgust at the remaining dilapidated building on the corner of Walnut and
Wood Streets. Now that he's seen it, Mayor Jarjura agrees it needs to be torn down.

We started at the WOW center, walked down Walnut to Wood Street, up Wood to Oak Street, down Ives Street, then went down the length of the common area behind Ives Street (lots of dumping, in one case many years worth of dumping), back across Carpmill and Young Streets, pausing to talk to residents at the intersection of Young and Rose Streets, continuing on to Webb Street, pausing to look down Vermont Street (arguably the worst street in the neighborhood), then back up Walnut Street.

Wood Street, in front of abandoned triple-deckers.

Several triple-deckers on Wood Street went up for auction by the city recently. Minimum starting bid of $3,000. No bidders. Given the state of the economy and the condition of the buildings, this is not too surprising.

A beautiful old building that's getting ready to fall down.

I think you get the idea of how bad it is (and how little they realized it before now) from some of the expressions on their faces.

Lots of discussion of the problem, lots of discussion of the need to find a solution.

Sockwell led the group through some of the most run-down, trashed-out areas. "Watch your step" was repeated many times.

There are 110 Scovill homes. I need to do an inventory to find out how many are abandoned.

During the tour, talking with Nelson Simoes, I learned an important little detail about the fight against blight and litter: the city can't set foot on private property in order to see if there is blight. In other words, if the property next to mine has a yard full of trash and overgrown weeds, and I complain about it, all the property owner has to do is push the garbage back to where it can't be seen from the street. I can still see it, since it's up against my fence, but the Health Department can't--unless, of course, I invite them into my yard to see the trash (which I have now done).

So at the end of the day, what do we have? Certainly there is now better awareness of just how bad it really is here, which of course comes with many good intentions to find solutions. Some specific actions have been promised: cleaning up overgrown weeds and falling trees behind the rowhouses on Ives Street, getting the abandoned building on the corner of Walnut and Wood Streets torn down, going after the owners of certain trash-filled properties. We'll be holding another community meeting later this summer to assess where we are and what's been accomplished.