Sunday, July 31, 2011

Brass City Comic Con

I stopped by the Brass City Comic Con at NVCC this morning. What better place for a comic book convention than the city in which the first comic books were printed?

The event was organized by Legends of Superheros, a great local comic book store.

As always with a comic convention, there were more men than women, but it was definitely not a male-only event (just as comic books are not just for guys--I learned to read at an early age, thanks to Supergirl and Wonder Woman comics).

The convention was a mix of dealers and creators. That's one of the best parts of a convention--getting to meet the artists and writers.

Artist Dave Meikis with samples of his work.

Dave Meikis brought both original artwork and copies of his published work for Marvel and DC comics. As you can see from the photo above, he also brought the tools of his trade--artists typically spend their time at conventions creating new art. Meikis has been working as an inker since the mid-1990s.

Dan Moser, Creator/writer of Chaotic Soldiers, and friends.

Most people are probably aware of Marvel and DC comics, mega-publishers of familiar brands like Spiderman, X-Men, Batman and Superman. There are also smaller publishers like Dark Horse, which publishes Hellboy. Then there are the independent publishers and the self-publishers.

Cesar Feliciano working on a drawing.

The large publishers have a tendency to stick to a standard, proven formula with their comics and aren't looking to publish something different. Comic book creators often seek out small publishers for work that is more unique, or if they want to retain full creative control of what they do.

Carl Herring, Jr.

Carl Herring, Jr. is a Bridgeport comic book creator as well as the founder of Three J Productions. He began self-publishing in 1996. The comic book world is largely populated by white men. Female collectors and creators are rare, and black collectors and creators are even rarer.

Prof. William H. Foster III

William H. Foster, Professor of English at Naugatuck Valley Community College, is also a comic book collector and the author of Looking For a Face Like Mine. He has assembled an exhibit of covers from different decades, showing how black people have been depicted--sometimes heroically, sometimes offensively.

Prof. Foster's exhibit, "Changing Image of Blacks in Comics"

Also present, with samples of his work and drawing board at hand, was Milford-based caricature artist T. C. Ford, who was also the last Editor at Charlton Comics in Derby. Charlton was the publisher of some great comics, including work by artist Steve Ditko. Charlton's superhero line was bought by DC Comics in 1983, and Charlton Comics closed in 1985. Ford is now Publisher/Editor/Creator of United Comics, which publishes creator-owned comics.

Caricature artist T. C. Ford.

There were other creators present, but unfortunately I wasn't able to get good photos of them. And then, of course, there were the dealers with their boxes full of comics for sale.

Legends of Superheros table.

Plenty of discount boxes, but also a nice mix of higher-priced hard-to-find comics on display.

The next Waterbury convention will be this September, again organized by Legends of Superheros. The first annual ClassiConn will be held at the Coco Key Water Resort Hotel and Convention Center, September 23-25, which will make for a fun weekend.

ClassiConn will encompass comic books, sports cards and collectibles, as well as Magic tournaments all three days. Confirmed guests so far include Dwight "Doc" Gooden, pitcher for the Mets and Yankees, Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd and Bob Stanley, pitchers for the Red Sox.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Farmers' Market

My favorite lunch-time stop on Thursdays downtown is the Farmers' Market. I've been going for years.

Always plenty of good fruits, vegetables and other items (like fresh pesto and pies), but you have to get there early. By 12:30 they have sold out of most of their produce.

The Farmer's Market opens at 11 a.m. and stays open until 3 p.m., although (as mentioned above) there isn't much left after the first hour or so!

The market is WIC certified, which means food stamps are accepted by most of the vendors.

Since there still is no grocery store closer to downtown than on Thomaston Avenue, it's great for downtown residents to be able to buy fresh produce at the market.

When you shop at the Farmer's Market, you are buying local, Connecticut produce. So you're supporting local farmers, and you're buying "green"--buying produce that potentially traveled a shorter distance to get to you, thereby creating less pollution than produce shipped in from out of state.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Music at the Exchange

I finally made it downtown for the weekly Music at the Exchange program--this week featured Christi Maia-Jones, who has an amazing voice. Every week there is a different performer. Next week will be Angelo Ruggiero.

Music at the Exchange is a free lunchtime program, Wednesday from 12 to 1:30. You can pick up a lunch from Seven Villages, Cafe Europa or the mobile vendor without missing a sound. You can also grab a take-out lunch from one of the other downtown restaurants and bring it to the Exchange. What a great way to spend a lunch break!

Not surprisingly, the program is organized by Main Street Waterbury and its Promotions Committee. If something good is happening downtown, Main Street is probably involved!

The Wednesday programs are sponsored by TD Bank, which is why they are free.

Here's the rest of the lineup for this year:

August 3
Angelo Ruggiero
Angelo Ruggiero sings a blend of the great standards of Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, and Engelbert, not to mention artists such as Neil Diamond and Billy Joel; as well as the sounds of the '50s and '60s which he sings on tour with the great Doo Wop groups. Angelo also sings his beloved Neapolitan favorites.

August 10
Anita LeBlanc Siarkowski
Anita, a Waterbury native, took accordion lessons around the corner from The Exchange at Mecca Music School - which was at 6 Bank Street near "Bauby's Corner". She played with an all accordion orchestra at the dedication of the Veterans' Memorial Monument (west end of the Waterbury Green) Memorial Day 1958. At Mecca’s she met her husband, Bob, also an accordionist. They played at their own wedding! Bob stills gives private lessons on all keyboard instruments at Bob's Music Center in Plantsville, CT.

August 17
Christi Maia-Jones
Recently married and carrying a new last name, Maia-Jones, a native of Waterbury, CT continues to tour the state singing at various venues, providing live entertainment. If you haven't heard the songstress express her talent, you will have to come and check out her smooth, sultry yet melodic sound- for your own listening pleasure. She exudes passion in every note she sings; from Etta James to Alicia Keys; she brings variety, style and quality! Come and dance your lunch away!

August 24
Wavy Dave’s Stellar Trio
Laid back improv style with Bass, drums, and keyboards.

August 31
Christi Maia-Jones
Recently married and carrying a new last name, Maia-Jones, a native of Waterbury, CT continues to tour the state singing at various venues. If you haven't heard the song-stress express her talent, you must come and check out her smooth, sultry yet melodic sound for your listening pleasure. She exudes passion in every note; from Etta James to Alicia Keys; she brings variety, style and quality! Come and dance your lunch away!

September 7
Wayne J. Levandoski
Wayne sings and plays hundreds of cover tunes plus dozens of original songs influenced by Blues, Country, and Rock n’ Roll. He performs primarily solo, but sometimes with a percussionist, and occasionally with a rock trio known as “HapHazardville. He also performs regularly at The John Bale Book Company and the Institute of Living in Hartford where he volunteers providing music therapy to patients.

September 14
The Irish Minstrels
Enjoy joyful Folk/Classic Irish music featuring Mike Moriarty and Dan "The Fiddlin’ Man” Gardella.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Here we go!

Great night tonight at the A.O.H. Club, where the Democratic Town Committee selected their slate of candidates for this year's election. Also announced tonight is the news that I will be the campaign spokesperson--very exciting! To find out what the campaign is all about, please visit the O'Leary for Mayor website. There will, of course, be plenty of updates soon.

Waiting for everyone to arrive.

There was a strong turnout tonight despite the oppressive heat. Lots of energy, lots of enthusiasm, lots of hope for Waterbury's future.

Greg Hadley and Larry Butler, State Representative for the 72nd District.

I am VERY pleased that my neighborhood has a shot at representation on the Board of Aldermen. Greg Hadley has been director of the WOW/NRZ Community Center for many years and is a candidate for the Board of Aldermen. Now that we have a candidate, the voters of the 72nd District need to show up on election day. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we have three months to reach out to the voters and I know that we can do it.

For even more information on tonight's event, check out The Waterbury Observer website and Penny Overton's coverage in the Republican-American.

Slate of Candidates:

Mayor: Neil M. O’Leary

Town Clerk: Antoinette Spinelli

City Clerk: Michael Dalton

City Sheriff: Steve Conway

Board of Aldermen:
Paul K. Pernerewski Jr., An­thony T. Piccochi, Anne P. Phelan, Ernest M. Brunelli, Ronald Napoli Jr., Joseph Begnal Jr., Gregory Hadley, Ruben Rodriguez, Ryan A. Mulcahy.

Board of Education:
Patrick J. Hayes Jr., Eliza­beth Brown, Gregory Harkins

Monday, July 18, 2011

Candidates Forum

Tonight the Board of Education held the public forum for the three finalist candidates for the Superintendent position. After several revisions, the format was as follows: the candidates were presented one at a time, spending about ten minutes introducing themselves, then roughly 45 minutes answering written questions submitted by the audience before the program started. I thought the forum was very good. We were able to get to know the candidates much better, and we were given evaluation forms to fill out along the way and submit at the end.

The program was scheduled to start at 5:30, and anyone who wanted to write a question was asked to arrive at 5:15 (but they continued to collect questions until about 5:40).

The room at 5:15, seats filling up fast.

There were many supporters of Portia Bonner in the audience. By luck of the draw, she went first. You can see some of the audience in the photo below--there were many extra seats being set up just after 5:30, out of shot in the photo, and there were a dozen or so people watching from the balcony. Definitely a standing-room only event.

Anthony Mazzullo was the second candidate to "interview" with us...

...which meant Kathy Ouellette was the last. The entire program lasted until 8:30. Kudos to everyone who stayed through the whole thing (those chairs are not the most comfortable ones to sit in for three hours!).

Although everyone in the audience was pretty tired by the end, there were quite a few interesting conversations about the educational issues raised. One major issue to be discussed was the importance of standardized test scores. Mazzullo and Ouellette were polar opposites on the topic. Mazzullo feels that there is too much emphasis placed on test scores, whereas Ouellette seemed to be a firm believer in basing all action on test score data. I'm not a big fan of test score data, since I rarely tested well. Certainly tests can be an indicator of progress or lack thereof, but information needs to be acquired from other sources. For example, surveying college professors to find out what skills are consistently missing from students coming from the public schools could be very helpful.

I'm not going to try to cover the entire Q&A at the forum (in fact, I missed a chunk of it when I had to step out to a meeting of the Hall of Fame committee). But for more information, you can check out Bryan Baker's Twitter feed. There will also be a write-up in the Republican-American.

Friday, July 15, 2011

State Budget Cuts

 I've just been reading the budget cuts proposed by Governor Malloy. If the cuts are approved, they will be disastrous. Ironically, people outside Connecticut think this is a wealthy, prosperous state. After all, Fairfield County is full of millionaires and Fortune 500 companies. But the wealthiest and most successful have very good accountants who find all the tax loopholes for them. Which is why GE in Stamford does not pay income tax.

Here's the rundown of the proposed cuts that have caught my attention. They might not be the cuts that will be getting the most media attention; they are the cuts that resonate most for me. They are the tip of the iceberg. My comments are italicized. I'm pretty cranky about the economy and the total failure of the state and federal governments to focus their energies on job creation, so my comments are loaded with attitude and sarcasm.

Office of Governmental Accountability
Citizens' Election Fund Admin: -$377,149 in 2012; -$471,507 in 2013
Elections Enforcement Commission: -$97,851 in 2012 and in 2013
Freedom of Information Commission: -$148,967 in 2012; -$178,176 in 2013

Attorney General
Layoff of 8 people. Don't we need them?

Department of Consumer Protection
Eliminate 49 positions: -$2,425,871 in 2012; -$3,094,963

Department of Labor
Reduce CETC Workforce, which assists in developing and maintaining an educated and skilled workforce.

Reduce Youth Employment in 2013, applies to eligible youth whose family income is below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level. In other words, stop providing opportunities for youth growing up poor to escape from the cycle of poverty.

Reduce 21st Century Jobs, which helps to sustain Connecticut's high growth occupations and economically vital industries and assists workers in obtaining skills to start or move up the career ladder. Oh good, let's cut programs that strenghten the state's economy.

Reduce STRIVE, which is an intensive job-readiness program for ex-offenders, non-custodial parents, veterans and people with disabilities. Why are we cutting programs that reduce the number of people needing welfare?

Reduce Apprenticeship program: -$81,349 in 2012; -$127,920 in 2013. We could support programs that teach skills. Or we could hand out more welfare checks to people who were never given the chance to succeed.

Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities
Close the Waterbury Regional Office, laying off 9 people who work to eliminate discrimination by using and enforcing civil and human rights laws. There are four regional offices; if you live in Waterbury and your rights have been violated, I hope you have a way to leave town to seek help!

Department of Economic and Community Development
Reduce Basic Cultural Resources Grant and Culture & Tourism Grant: -$782,349 in 2013. Do you know what this funds? This funds museum exhibits and publication which teach our history. It funds After School Arts Programs.

Reduce Economic Development Grants. Oh yeah, that makes sense. Hey, we're in financial trouble because our economy is struggling. I know! Let's cut programs that help the economy!

Eliminate 21 positions by reducing museum hours and associated staffing. It's always the arts and humanities that get cut first. The things that make our lives richer and give them more meaning. 

Reduce Small Business Incubator Program: -$275,000 in 2012.

Phase out Line-Item Funding for Certain Grants (I'm listing only a few). These cuts will almost certainly result in more people collecting unemployment checks, and/or the elimination of public programs and education programs. Some of these cuts are large enough to threaten the continued existence of the organizations. I recently attended a workshop on nonprofit fundraising. Fewer people are donating now than they were in the past. Maybe because of the high unemployment rate and rotten economy? Anyway, this is the worst time to cut these funds.
Discovery Museum: -$53,235 in 2012; -$378,712 in 2013.
Connecticut Science Center: -$76,987 in 2012; -$630,603 in 2013.
Amistad Vessel: -$72,432 in 2012; -$378,712 in 2013.
New Haven Festival of Arts and Ideas: -$123,687 in 2012; -$797,287 in 2013.
Palace Theater: -$53,235 in 2012; -$378,712 in 2013.

Eliminate Funding for Main Street programs in New Haven and Ansonia. The Main Street program is a proven economic generator. The only justification I can see for this cut is the example set by Main Street Waterbury, which is doing very well with fundraising at the Brass City Brewfest.

Reduce funding for the CCAT-CT Manufacturing Supply Chain program that assists at-risk small and medium manufacturers. Ooo, another brilliant plan--cut programs that help keep manufacturers in business.

Eliminate Subsidies for Culture and Tourism Line Items:
CT Trust for Historic Preservation: -$210,396 in 2012 and in 2013.
Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe Homes: -$95,674 in 2012 and in 2013.

Reduce Tax Abatements for privately owned non-profit and low and moderate housing projects.

Eliminate Funding for the Connecticut Humanities Council: -$2,157,633 in 2012 and in 2013.
This one really upsets me. The Humanities Council is one of the most important nonprofit organizations in Connecticut. They fund exhibits and programs in possibly every museum in the state. They provide educational resources for our public schools. They have provided vital funding for almost every museum exhibit and project I've ever worked on. In Waterbury, at the Mattatuck Museum, they have provided funding for the Fortune's Story website, for the "Ties that Bind" traveling exhibit created from the African American History Project, for the exhibit and website about Waterbury's Jewish communities, the exhibit and website about John F. Kensett, the exhibit and website about artists of the Northwest Corner, and many aspects of the new history exhibit at the Mattatuck. 

Eliminate State Subsidies for Local Tourism Districts: -$1,660,000 in 2012 and in 2013. Remember when Malloy was getting good press about funding tourism in Connecticut? So much for that.

Department of Public Health
Reduce funding for HIV prevention services: -$819,420 in 2012; -$851,406 in 2013.
Reduce Lead Testing for Uninsured Children: -$76,984 in 2012 and in 2013.

Department of Education
Eliminate the 16 Library Media Department Heads at the Vo-Tech Schools.
Eliminate 7 social workers in the Vo-Tech Schools.
Eliminate Music and Art from the Vo-Tech Schools.
Reduce Head Start funding for the Bridgeport ABCD program: -$1,000,000 in 2012 and 2013.
Reduce funding for Neighborhood Youth Centers, including Boys' Clubs, Girls' Clubs and YMCAs.
Eliminate New Charter School funding.
Suspend athletics at Vo-Tech schools.

State Library
Eliminate funding for program providing refurbished computers to low income families.
Eliminate Grants for Public Libraries.
Reduce Funding for state-wide database program, and eliminate the union catalogue providing libraries and residents with the location of library materials throughout the state.

There are also millions of dollars in cuts to the colleges, to the department of corrections and the DMV.

The Shore Line East train service will canceled between New Haven and Old Saybrook on weekends.

The plan for night service on the Waterbury bus system is "delayed", even though there 80% is funded by a federal grant.

MetroNorth tickets will cost 15% more.

As depressing as all of this is, I don't lay the blame solely at Malloy's feet. We had many years of Connecticut's government spending money without worrying too much about where to find the income to support the programs. Now that the entire country has hit hard times, everyone's in trouble.

During the Great Depression, the WPA was created to provide jobs and help stimulate the economy. We could use something like that again. Creating a land full of unemployed people will only cause harm.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

See, Click, Fix is an interesting website, created with the goal of increasing citizenship, empowering citizens, and providing a forum for problem-solving. It's not really active in Waterbury--a few problems have been reported, but I'm not sure anyone knows about it. It seems to be much more active in New Haven. The website has partnered with the New Haven Register to help publicize the problems identified by citizens. It looks like a few reported problems have been addressed directly by the city through the site, while others are handled off-site, with the person who reported the problem taking on the responsibility of posting the follow-up to the site.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Poor Communication

[UPDATE 7/7/11: As announced in today's Republican-American, the format for the July 18 forum has been changed due to public demand. Anyone in attendance will be allowed to ask questions of the three candidates.]

The search for and hiring of the next Superintendent of the Waterbury schools has been an increasingly hot-button topic. On June 29, the Republican-American ran an article with the headline "School chief search: Don't ask." In the article, we were informed that the final hiring decision will be made public on August 8 and that there will be a public forum on July 18 at which only a select few will be allowed to ask questions of the three finalists. Nowhere in the article was information about how the members of the public who will be allowed to speak will be chosen, just a passing mention of having already chosen people who had previously expressed interest.

At tonight's Board of Education meeting, it was announced that anyone who wants to meet with the three candidates and ask them questions at the July 18 meeting should leave their name with the Board of Ed at the end of tonight's meeting, or call the Board of Ed office first thing tomorrow morning. Letters informing people that they have been selected to ask questions will be mailed out tomorrow (Wednesday).

This was the first I had heard of this process. I double-checked with some friends who have been following more closely than I have, and they knew nothing about this either. I checked the Board of Ed webpage and the public schools' website. Nothing.

Those of us in attendance tonight were somewhat tersely reprimanded for not showing up to earlier meetings to discuss the hiring of the Superintendent, and we were somewhat tersely reprimanded for complaining that the hiring process has not been public enough. There may not have been any intention to keep information from the public, but that definitely is what has happened.

We live in an age of amazing communication. Many of us spend a ridiculous amount of time online and expect to be able to get whatever information we need from the internet. I even stopped buying printed newspapers years ago and have online subscriptions instead. Between blogs, Facebook, Twitter and the city's website, there are many easy ways in which the public can be accurately informed and updated. They are also good ways to engage the public more.

If the public tells you that you haven't been keeping them informed, maybe it's time to update your communication methods.

If you would like to ask questions at the July 18 forum, call Carrie Swain at 203-574-8009 tomorrow, Wednesday, July 6. After that, it will apparently be too late.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Where Are the Women?

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one who notices that only 2 of the 15 members of the Board of Aldermen are women. Both are Democrats, Joyce Petteway and Anne Phelan. Petteway and Phelan were the only women candidates for Board of Aldermen in 2009, out of a grand total of 24 candidates from three parties. The Republicans and the Independents did not have even one woman candidate.

2007 was a banner year for Waterbury women in politics, one of the best in recent years (but still not that great). The Democrats had four women out of their allotted nine candidates: Petteway, Phelan, Sandra Ramirez and Laurie Singer Russo. The Republicans still had no women candidates, while the Independents had one, Allyson Modica.

I'm not sure how to interpret this data (more research is needed). Do women in Waterbury lack interest in being on the Board of Aldermen? If so, why? Should there be some sort of tripartisan outreach program to get more women involved? Alternatively, are women being shut out of Waterbury politics by men controlling Town Committees? (hey Republicans: no women Aldermanic candidates in years? really? none?)

It would be nice to believe that we live in an enlightened era, that since it is 2011, nearly 100 years after women were given the right to vote, women would be viewed as equals by men. Unfortunately, there are still many men who marginalize women, who don't think of them as leaders, who make jokes about women being inherently inferior to men, and who are intimidated by strong women. The situation certainly has improved over the decades--thank goodness we are finally in an era when women are taken seriously as candidates for President even if they are embarrassingly clueless about U.S. history--but we still have a ways to go. The demographics of the Board of Aldermen is stark evidence of that.

I'm looking forward to seeing what happens this year. Will the Republicans, who have been struggling for years, finally realize that half the city voters are women and should have representation in city government? Will all three parties put at least four women candidates on their Aldermanic slates to better represent the city residents, or are there simply not enough qualified women who are interested? I'm going to be looking for the answer to that last question, and I'm going to be looking to get more women involved in local politics.

To the women reading this (including those not in Waterbury): if you're not involved in local politics, why is that?  Please share. (anonymous comments are fine)