Sunday, October 28, 2012

Clinton Comes To Waterbury

Last week, Linda McMahon was able to get the Governor of New Jersey to stump for her in Waterbury. This week, Chris Murphy brought us former President Bill Clinton. Oh yeah! Sorry, Linda, but a former President definitely trumps a Governor from some other state.

I was one of the lucky 2,500 people who got tickets. There was a little bit of last-minute change to the schedule, due to the impending "Frankenstorm." I sympathize with every political campaign being impacted by the storm--they're already exhausted, heading into the last week of campaigning after many months of effort, and now they've got one more thing to juggle. Then again, we did this last year too, only then it was snow!

I wasn't able to get good photos of Clinton. We were told in advance that no cameras would be allowed, and I didn't want to be kicked out or have my camera confiscated, so I followed the rules and brought only my cell phone. Of course, the no-camera rule is completely illogical when you consider that pretty much every audience member took photos with their cell phones, and none of the security guards or ushers seemed to care. Oh well.

For those of you who missed it, here's a random snippet of President Clinton's speech supporting Chris Murphy for Senate:

There were several other speakers: Chris Murphy, Elizabeth Esty, Senator Blumenthal, Governor Malloy, Lt. Gov. Wyman, and Mayor O'Leary.

Chris Murphy had a very good description of how hard this campaign has been (as did Blumenthal, who said that he knows how hard it is to go up against a "$50 million attack machine"). Murphy said that when he got the phone call telling him that President Clinton was coming, he "straightened his spine" and reminded himself that "we can do this."

Governor Malloy started with a speech about the impending hurricane. It was a good speech, in that he successfully instilled fear of the storm in me. When he emphasized that this will be a 36-hour storm, and that normal storms stick around for only 6 to 12 hours, I got very anxious. I started thinking maybe I should run to the store and buy supplies of some sort, I don't know what, maybe a generator and some water. At this point, judging from photos being posted on Facebook, there's no point trying to buy anything. The bread aisles are empty.

I had been hoping to get a really good seat. The event was originally planned for Library Park, which might have been nicer in terms of getting close, but the Palace was definitely warmer. I can't complain too much about where I was seated, except that there was no chance of shaking Clinton's hand. Darn!

The view from my seat on the mezzanine. We were originally one row back.
Half way through the event, the loggia seats opened up, and many of us moved up a row.

The doors were scheduled to open at 2 p.m. We arrived at 1:15, at which point the line stretched from the Palace to WAMS.

Linda McMahon sent some of her campaigners to wave signs at us while we stood in line. Seems like a real wasted effort, considering that pretty much everyone standing in line is a Democrat, and the majority of people standing in line have probably contributed to her opponent's campaign.

Today was also the walk/race held by St. Vincent DePaul. Walk in Their Footsteps/Race for Awareness is a fundraiser for the mission. The racers were cheered on as they passed by the line of people waiting to enter the Palace.

It was cold and a little breezy. We watched the storm clouds roll in while we waited in line.

Here comes Sandy!

The program started pretty quickly once we got inside. Mayor O'Leary was joined on stage by a group of kids from the PAL program. They led us in the pledge of allegiance. Side note: I've been noticing that very few people actually pledge their allegiance. Most people start with "to the flag."

Mayor O'Leary and PAL

 Although I wasn't able to get very close, it was still awesome to be in the same room as President Clinton. I didn't think it would be, but as soon as he walked on stage, I was moved with emotion, thinking "oh wow, it's really him!" I'm not usually much of a groupie. I don't get excited if I see a celebrity in real life. But some people are larger than life, and have done so much with their lives that I can't help being impressed. Bill Clinton is one of those people.

Chris Murphy and Bill Clinton.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Vote Smart

Election Day is just around the corner. If you are planning to vote, please spend some time researching the candidates first. Be informed. Don't base your decisions on campaign rhetoric, party loyalties, or random patterns. Base your decision on solid information about each candidate. It takes time, but it is very important.

One of the best things you can do is to visit the website of each candidate that has one (see my Election Guide post from July for links). Read what they have to say about their platform, see where they stand on the issues.

Think about what you feel is important. What direction do you think the country and the state should be going? 

Think about what you read. Does it make sense? Do you understand what the candidate has stated? If you have questions, do some more research. For example, Romney's website states that he will approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Don't know what that is? Look it up.

Look at the whole picture. If a candidate promises to cut spending to certain programs, like funding for the arts and humanities, while also promising to increase spending on the military, what impact do you think that will that have?

Try doing a side-by-side comparison of the candidates for different issues, researching both what is on their websites and what they have said at debates and speeches. 

Use critical thinking when you read about the candidates. A lot of what they say is pure rhetoric, empty statements that sound good, but have no substance.

Another place to look for information are fact checker sites. Be careful: many sites claiming to be fact checkers are partisan, supporting one side over the other. You may need to fact check the fact checkers (crazy world!).

Fact checker sites that seem to be trustworthy include The Washington Post,,, and, of course,, which has tackled some of the more popular political rumors make the rounds of Facebook and email.

Don't forget to research the local-level candidates. They may not get as much media coverage as national-level candidates, but they are just as important.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Landlords vs. Tenants

I've been waiting months for the new laws regarding blighted rental properties to take effect. Connecticut's new law (Sections 3 and 4 of HB 5319) became effective on October 1 and imposes harsher fines for landlords who refuse to clean up their properties, and places liens on the properties. It also establishes willful violation of blight regulations as a misdemeanor criminal offense. This is the part I like best--a slumlord who lives in Stamford and refuses to clean up his rental property in Waterbury can be forced to come here to be held accountable. Before this legislation, nothing could be done about that Stamford-based slumlord.

Today's Rep-Am had a very disheartening article related to this topic. Each municipality with an existing blight ordinance is required to update it to reflect the new laws. Waterbury's Board of Aldermen are dragging their heels on this, after being told by landlords that they shouldn't be held accountable for the messes created by their tenants.

There has been a growing tension between landlords and tenants in recent years. As cities have grown tougher on blight, landlords have begun fighting anti-blight ordinances.

Before any landlords get upset at what I'm writing, let me say that I know what they are talking about. I know there are bad tenants out there. I know there are tenants who will trash the apartment, rip out copper pipes, smash holes in the walls and doors, leave a foot-thick layer of dog feces and urine in the basement, pull ceiling fans out of the ceiling and claim it fell on them and injured them. I know there are tenants who leave behind furniture, clothing, garbage. I also know that in every case I know of a tenant trashing an apartment, the landlord never did any sort of background check before renting to them. I hope all landlords at least require a security deposit to pay for the cleanup. That's what a security deposit is for.

Landlords: if you know your tenant is trashing your property, if you are there regularly to clean up after them, REPORT THEM. Don't sit back and wait for the city to come after you. Be pro-active. If your property is blighted enough for the city to get involved, you should have done something about it long before the city noticed. If your tenant is creating blight on your property, call the Police Department at 203-574-6920 and ask for the Blight Enforcement & Control Division. If your tenant trashes your property and you don't take action, then you should expect to be held responsible.

My interpretation of the new state ordinance is that it is intended to target slumlords. "Willful violation" of anti-blight laws is very different from landlords who need help with bad tenants, with illegal dumping on their property, with lack of resources. The law is intended to target the landlords who just don't care.

Take, for example, the owner of 76 Oak Street. The property has fallen into a blighted state over the past five years, after having been acquired by someone in Stamford in 2006. I have been complaining about the blight for years, but because the owner is out of town, the city hasn't been able to do much.

This summer, a new tenant moved in and made an agreement with the landlord to clean up the property. The tenant came in with a machete, a weed whacker, and some friends and made huge progress in clearing out overgrown weeds and trees that had grown up through the fence and were leaning precariously over my garage. The next step was to haul away the mountain of debris that fills up a quarter of the back yard. The landlord suddenly reneged on his promise to pay the tenant for the labor and the cost of removing the debris. The tenant can't afford to haul away the debris on his own, so all cleanup work stopped. The tenant has also complained to the landlord about the tree branch that has fallen on the roof and appears to be causing the roof to leak, which in turn appears to have caused part of the second floor to collapse. The landlord refuses to do anything about the leaking roof.

There are a lot of bad landlords in my neighborhood. One neighbor has told us that the heat duct no longer goes to the second floor, and her landlord refuses to fix it. The neighbor also says that the landlord has threatened them with eviction if they complain to HUD.

One of the houses across the street has been owned by Abreu Realty since 2007. Until a few weeks ago, there was a massive dead tree in the front yard that made everyone nervous, wondering if someone would be killed by a falling branch. The landlord refused to get rid of the tree, saying it wasn't his responsibility. It took a lot of pressure, but the tree is now gone. Meanwhile, however, take a look at the some of rest of the property:

254 Wood Street

The gutter on the porch has foot-tall grass growing in it (or did before the cold weather started). The porch slats are broken and have been for years. The porch steps are slick with mold. What kind of tenant does the landlord think he will attract when the property looks like this? Why would a tenant care about keeping the property clean when the landlord clearly does not care about how it looks?

We absolutely need to have an ordinance making blight a criminal offense. I have seen first hand that the city can't enforce anti-blight laws if there are no real penalties involved. There are too many landlords that just don't care.