Friday, April 20, 2007

Derby downtown demands action

Amid plenty of happy talk about a Naugatuck Valley revitalization, there remain plenty of caveats, and Derby tops the list. Connecticut’s smallest city wants desperately to take part in the development party, but yet another setback in the never-ending downtown debacle raises, again, new questions.
Mouths were agape last week when it was revealed that the city faces a $45 million shortfall in its deal with a contractor for downtown work — a gap that must be filled before construction can begin. City officials now face the prospect of somehow raising more money or, more likely, making wholesale changes to a plan all parties involved have agreed upon.
The project, to include condominiums and apartments, retail shops, restaurants, office space, a movie theater and a parking garage on the south side of Main Street, is projected to cost in the neighborhood of $228 million. But even after factoring in the developer’s share, a federal grant for work on Route 34 and money from a special taxing district, the city remains in a huge hole.
Derby residents can be forgiven for simply rolling their eyes at this latest stumbling block; the downtown revitalization has basically been one giant setback from the beginning. From the crumbling buildings marring the property to the lengthy fight to clear debris from the demolished structures, this has been a study in false promises. And with reconstruction plans, and money, flowing into neighboring communities, the embarrassment is growing.
Mayor Anthony Staffieri, after a meeting with the development team last week, reiterated that officials "all like the plan," and are "looking to tweak it in a way so that the numbers work." Great. Work on those numbers. But you don’t "tweak" your way out of $45 million. That kind of money demands drastic action.
City officials will insist that the gap is actually smaller than the one presented by the developer, and will no doubt try to convince the state to put in more for infrastructure work. But they must know that costs are only going to rise from here — without reducing the size of the project, they can’t expect the price tag to go down.
At this point, after all the broken promises and delayed glory, the city needs to get a deal done and break ground, and soon. People’s patience can eventually wear out, and there’s an election this fall that just might prove that.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Rejection hurts Broadwater plan

For opponents of a natural gas terminal proposed in Long Island Sound, it was heartening news. A major off-shore facility similar to the local project was rejected in California, signaling that public outrage can effectively be mobilized to block powerful, well-funded opponents.
Citing environmental concerns, California’s State Lands Commission two weeks ago turned down a lease for a proposed liquefied natural gas facility off the coast of Southern California. The move seriously damages prospects the facility will go forward. Officials with Broadwater, the joint venture behind the local plan, say the West Coast events change nothing here. But it could be a sign that public opinion has shifted against these monstrosities.
The case against the Sound plan makes sense for many reasons. The top concern is the need for a 7-mile "no-go" zone around the terminal and any ship delivering frozen natural gas there. This isn’t the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the Sound just isn’t all that big. At only 11 miles off Branford and 9 miles away from Long Island, the facility would cut off huge swaths of otherwise navigable water.
Then there’s the safety factor. Apparently, no one has looked into what exactly would happen in the event of a worst-case cascading fire encompassing all five proposed storage tanks. Unlikely though that might be, we ought to know how much danger we — and anything else alive in the area — could be in.
Also, the question of how much the state will benefit if this is built has remained unanswered. The promise of hundreds of dollars off utility bills seems ludicrous — the project has been geared from the start toward Long Island and New York City. The happy talk on savings calls into question the credibility on all aspects of the plan.
Since Connecticut has virtually no sway over the various boards and panels whose approval the terminal requires (it will be planted conveniently just over the imaginary line in the middle of the Sound dividing us from New York) it’s unclear what the next step is. But the lesson of California is a strong one. Connecticut and New York opponents would do well to listen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Nation in shock as a campus mourns

There’s nothing to be done except offer our deepest condolences. There’s no explanation; nothing that can make things right; nothing, even, to prevent it from happening again.
The massacre at Virginia Tech on Monday goes beyond anything we are prepared to handle. Not just the number of deaths, which is itself astonishing, but the calculated manner in which they were carried out, and the helplessness of anyone involved to stop the insanity leave nothing but unanswered questions. How could this have happened?
It’s tempting to extrapolate larger points from a tragedy like this. We need more security, random bag checks, better gun control, more people with guns — there are any number of positions that can be furthered by cherry-picking facts from this horrifying event. The greater lesson may be that there is no lesson.
It’s a sad fact of life that a person who has no regard for his own life is capable of almost anything. If someone wants to kill large numbers of people and doesn’t care whether he lives or dies, there’s very little to stop him. Not every building can have metal detectors, not every entrance can be guarded, not every potential harm can be prevented.
A local politician on Monday said the shooting underscores the need to re-examine gun control laws. Maybe it does, but all kinds of potential weapons can bring mass death, from a car to a plane to a homemade bomb. We can’t legislate our way to perfect safety.
Some things will surely change. Colleges around the country will work harder on the ability to get word out on events as they happen. Even hours after Monday’s rampage began, many people at Virginia Tech didn’t know what was happening. Communities need to do more to keep everyone informed.
Similarly, for a long time to come, no college president will hesitate to enact a campuswide lockdown at the first sign of trouble — better to have innumerable false alarms than repeat this horror.
But there’s a limit to what can be done. Almost a decade after the Columbine High School killings in Colorado, that school’s name is synonymous to most of the country with violence and mass death. For the thousands of the school’s students and alumni, it’s just something they have to live with. Virginia Tech already has a nationally known name, but students and faculty rightly fear that their school will also forever bring to mind senseless killing. To the dozens of victims and family members, and everyone who lived through the worst day of their lives, a nation grieves with you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

O'Connor steps into a tempest

As the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut, Kevin J. O’Connor has made official corruption his top target. His list of successfully prosecuted politicians is littered with big names, including former Gov. John G. Rowland, former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim and former state Sen. Ernest E. Newton II, also of Bridgeport. As he tackles new responsibilities in Washington, he must maintain his office’s vigilance in keeping state leaders honest.
O’Connor was tapped by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to serve as his chief of staff; he officially takes the position next week.
While dual job positions certainly are not advisable, it’s a great opportunity for a successful prosecutor. However, O’Connor is stepping into a Justice Department in turmoil.
Gonzales is facing withering scrutiny over his role in the dismissal of eight federal prosecutors around the country in the aftermath of the 2006 elections. Evidence produced thus far indicates the fired prosecutors did not have poor performance records, but rather would not tailor their work to meet political objectives. If proven, it is a shocking abuse of the judiciary.
U.S. attorneys are federal appointees, and the president has the right to bring in his own people at the start of his term and dismiss them at his discretion. But if it is proved — and evidence is piling up by the day — that some U.S. attorneys were forced out for targeting Republicans and others for not targeting enough Democrats, then this is a much bigger scandal than it has thus far appeared.
These are political appointments, but they serve the law, not a political party. Add in growing indications that the White House was directly involved, and this has all the makings of a major embarrassment.
This is the situation into which O’Connor is stepping. Calls for Gonzales’ resignation are ringing from all sides of the political spectrum, and were he not a longtime confidante of President Bush, he would likely be gone already. O’Connor will have his hands full trying to manage and implement the department’s policy initiatives and keeping the Connecticut office going, all while a major Washington scandal swirls around him.
It’s a lot to ask, and it could be a rough few months for him. It is hoped he knows what he’s getting into.

Valley entering an era of change

Just how much money is there? How far will it spread?
It starts, of course, in New York City, and spirals out from there. Westchester County in New York, northern New Jersey and most of Fairfield County were subsumed years ago. Now the tentacles of wealth are working their way into Bridgeport and northward up Route 8.
Development in the state’s largest city is well documented — downtown and its environs have so many plans on the drawing board that the area could be unrecognizable in a few years. But just as active are the towns and cities just to the north, along the long-neglected Naugatuck River. The Valley is hot, and development dollars are pouring in.
Formerly a manufacturing mecca, the Naugatuck Valley has seen the majority of those jobs disappear, through closures, outsourcing and attrition. An entire way of life for scores of years has faded away, leaving empty storefronts and vacant warehouses. And those jobs show no sign of coming back.
But keen-eyed investors recognized that the raw materials of a sought-after location remain intact — the river (cleaner than it’s been in decades); the tightly packed downtowns; the brick buildings, which look authentically worn because they are authentically worn; and the easy access to transportation (Route 8 and the much-maligned Metro-North Waterbury Line).
So in flows the money. High-end condos on the river, wholesale downtown makeovers, even luxury towers — the face of the Valley is changing as an in-depth series of articles that began in Sunday’s Connecticut Post and continue today illustrate.
Local officials couldn’t be happier; some communities have struggled for decades to spark an interest among developers and investors, and something to fill the hole in the tax base can only be considered a boon. But amid the celebrations, leaders need to keep a few things in mind, including:
l What about the people who already live here? Much of the housing and retail slated to come to town is slanted toward the higher tax brackets. It’s up to local governments to make sure current residents aren’t shut out of the potential bonanza or, worse yet, forced out.
l Can the infrastructure handle it? Route 8 can’t be allowed to go the way of Interstate 95; that road’s perpetual traffic crawl is in large part what prompted the money’s move north. If Route 8, which has fewer lanes to work with, is similarly swamped, it will be a short-lived boom for the Valley — mass transit alternatives must be in the forefront of regionwide planning. Waiting until everything has been built and everyone has moved in will be too late.
l Will it last? That’s the biggest question. The Valley has seen flashes of change in the past, but it’s been a long time since the stars have lined up like this. With every community from Fairfield to the state line out of most people’s price range (tried to rent an apartment or buy a home in southwestern Connecticut lately?) the Valley has a real opportunity to fill a niche.
Time to jump on that money train.

Clean water bill a must for state

Heavy rains take a toll on the public interest, and not just by washing out youth soccer games. When too much water gets into storm drains, many of which are connected to sewer lines, untreated overflow makes its way into lakes and rivers and eventually into Long Island Sound.
A bill before the Legislature could go a long way toward changing that. At $100 million, it won’t be cheap, but it’s a good opportunity to make a statement on the importance of the environment. It’s not about feel-good measures or far-in-the-future worries; these are concerns that affect people every day. Policies make a difference in our health, and water quality is a top priority.
Separating storm and sewer lines will be just one result of the spending bill, approved unanimously by the Legislature’s Environment Committee. But it’s a key factor, especially close to the Sound in Bridgeport. And with Fairfield and Trumbull connected to the city’s wastewater system, surrounding towns have an interest, as well.
State Rep. Richard Roy, who represents Milford — another community that stands to benefit from improved water quality in the Sound — says he is optimistic about getting the money in the budget this year. In addition to work on the storm drains, the bill would also bring the state’s Clean Water Fund back up to speed after losing its top-priority status over the past five years.
It’s hard to find a higher priority that clean water, and it’s up to the state to make sure our system is first-rate. Summer’s coming; keep those beaches open.

Ruling on Arena tough to swallow

In a ruling that was not unexpected but is still difficult to accept, Bridgeport was hit with a $10 million bill on Monday over a final payment on the Arena at Harbor Yard. The city had argued that it shouldn't have to pay the money because the contract had been reached through corruption, but the court didn't see it that way.
It's difficult to accept for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the amount due has more than doubled during litigation. The original bill was for about $4 million to C.R. Klewin Northeast to finish some last-minute work on the Arena, but since 2001, interest and legal fees have added about $6 million to the total. The city could now turn to the state Supreme Court, but, with two strikes against it, there's little reason to suppose the highest court would rule another way.
The decision against the city says nothing about corruption, but rests on what is usually called a technicality. City lawyers did not raise the issue of corruption during the initial arbitration process over the unpaid sum, and therefore, so the courts have ruled, they could not raise it in a lawsuit after the fact. The only problem there is that this specific corruption came to light during the trial of former Mayor Joseph P. Ganim; until he was found guilty, there was no proven corruption in the deal.
But the timing didn't work out, so by the point the Ganim trial was over, the arbitration arguments had passed, and the corruption angle was closed off. It's a tough blow for the city, where efforts to lower the mill rate have taken a big hit with the large jump in liabilities.
But it's also a blow for good governance. Transparency and openness ought to be the hallmark of the city administration as development grows and new projects take shape. The Harbor Yard deal is (we hope) a leftover from the past, when doing business in the city meant giving a little something on the side to grease the wheels. If this is still standard operating procedure in City Hall, don't expect much in the way of a Bridgeport rebirth, no matter how many projects break ground.
But this appears to be a case where the city tried to follow the rules and got nothing in return. Nothing, that is, but a bill for $10 million.

Take action to halt flow of illegal guns

Connecticut's cities are on the rebound, but public safety remains a top concern. No one is going to spend time downtown after dark if security is a question.
And after years of decline, homicide rates are back on the rise, especially in cities. The deadliest weapon, the handgun, is easily available for almost anyone looking to acquire one. The state must do everything it can to keep illegal guns off the streets and keep people safe.
Bridgeport Mayor John M. Fabrizi was in Hartford this week asking the Legislature to close a loophole in gun policy. Under current law, gun owners are not required to report lost or stolen weapons to police, making it easier for unauthorized firearms to make it to the streets. Changing that requirement won't end gun violence, but it's a start — and anything that could make life safer should be pursued.
If just a few more of the hundreds of lost and stolen handguns every year were quickly reported to police and tracked down, maybe guns wouldn't be overflowing our cities. And with gun violence up 78 percent in the state since 2002, the need to act is more pressing than ever.
It's not an easy fight, as the backers of absolute rights for gun-owners are powerful and well-financed. But this is not about taking away anyone's legal firearms, or about limiting the right to legally acquire a deadly weapon. It's about keeping criminal violence off our streets as much as possible — a goal that should have widespread support.
And the problem is not going to solve itself. When violent crime decreased through the 1990s and into the new century, people were comfortable assuming that the trend would continue, and that gun violence would be an ever-diminishing footnote in our lives. But it hasn't turned out that way. The tides have turned back, and unless we act, the carnage will only get worse.
For Bridgeport, it's a matter of continuing a citywide rebirth, with new life downtown potentially imperiled by safety concerns. But the problem extends into the suburbs and into rural areas. As Fairfield state Rep. Kim Fawcett noted during Fabrizi's testimony, "a wall does not exist between our cities and their surrounding towns." Safety matters to everyone, and illegal guns are a public safety issue. It's up to the Legislature to take decisive action.

Change the date of school hearing

The Bridgeport City Council should show some respect for the school system and change the date of a public hearing on the education budget.
The council will hold the hearing Friday night in City Hall to discuss school spending for the next fiscal year. Friday also happens to be the last day of school before the annual April vacation. It's disrespectful; the city should encourage as much public participation as possible, not bury the hearing at a time and date that will attract the fewest people.
School board Vice President Maximino Medina Jr. is right to express his concerns. "This is outrageous, even by Bridgeport standards," he said, calling the hearing date an "insult" to parents. He's correct, and it ought to be changed.
For a city that proclaims itself in the midst of a renaissance — and that never tires of asking for more money — transparency should be the rule. Throw open all the books, let the sunshine in and reduce the suspicion that officials are trying to put something over on people. Deliberately scheduling hearings to attract fewer people has the opposite effect, and only increases concerns that, as Medina said, the council wants "to continue to do business the old-fashioned way, where they decide that the children are the enemy and not the ones to be protected."
There's an easy solution here. Change the date of the hearing, and make it clear the city wants to hear from as many people as possible. Parents and children here deserve at least that much.

Development hire makes good sense

Proving that it takes the idea of transit-based development seriously, the state Department of Transportation recently named an official to run point on that issue. It's a good idea, and worthy of praise.
Albert Martin, named deputy commissioner of mass transportation and transit-oriented development, took office after a nationwide search. He promises to keep a keen eye on issues that will lead the state away from the old model of car- and highway-based development.
It's a problem that ought to be at the top of the state's list, because traffic tie-ups on major arterial roads hurt business, and drive industry away. Bad business means fewer opportunities for workers, combining with high prices to drive young people out of state.
Furthermore, a complete auto-based economy contributes vast quantities of pollutants to the air, clogging up our lungs and contributing to global warming.
A switch toward transit-based planning isn't a cure-all, but it could help lead the state in a new direction. If every trip outside the house did not involve getting in a car, the population would be better served. Walkable communities not only make for healthier people, what with everyone forced into at least some exercise every day, they also make for tighter neighborhoods. It's a lot easier to get to know your neighbors when you're out on the sidewalk together.
Martin's appointment is just one step, but that's the only way the state will make any progress. Now we need to continue to insist on a new model for development, and hold our officials to it.

Dodd should push bill on detainees

It's a valid question: Just what is Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut doing in the presidential race? It's not uncommon for a respected veteran senator to make a run at the country's top job, but Dodd lags far behind in fundraising and name recognition.
But what he may offer is visibility for a push to reverse recent policy regarding detainees in the "war on terror." Dodd several months ago introduced a bill to restore to detainees held on suspicion of terrorist activities the right to question the charges against them. In the wake of a recent Supreme Court decision, it's a battle worth fighting.
The court last week declined to hear a claim from detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that they were being denied the right to habeas corpus protected by the U.S. Constitution. Justices said the prisoners had not exhausted all other legal possibilities, and therefore it was not proper for the court to rule. It is widely expected that the case will make its way back to the highest court next year.
In the meantime, though, Dodd should continue to support his measure to restore basic rights. The detainees at the U.S. military base are among "the most egregious terror suspects," a Navy official said. But this is a distinction that should be made by a court, with full rights for defendants, including the rights to an attorney, to view evidence and to question witnesses. Anything less falls short of the standard that has served America well for more than 200 years.
Of course, it's too late by this time to get a fair trial in the U.S. court system for most of the detainees, what with widespread allegations of torture and illegal questioning at secret CIA "black sites" around the world. It boggles the mind how far outside the legal system our pursuit of absolute safety has taken us.
And for those who would argue that we face a new kind of enemy that our legal system is ill-suited for, bear in mind that our nation has in its day withstood war, foreign invasion, civil unrest and the potential for worldwide nuclear destruction — we've handled worse than whatever these terrorists can throw at us. And we didn't at any point sacrifice our most precious liberties.
So Dodd has an opportunity here. Push this bill through, restore a measure of sanity to our legal system and reverse the sham of a law that stripped those rights in the first place. With the loudspeaker that comes with a presidential bid, there's no better way for him to make his voice heard.

Transit programs could have real impact

Since the need for transportation isn't going away, the state is pushing alternatives beyond the one-person automobile. Traffic jams are long enough the way they are, thank you. A new push to expand bus service and encourage carpools could have a real impact.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell last week unveiled a program in which Connecticut, New York and New Jersey endeavor to encourage commuters out of their solitary cars and into a ride-sharing arrangement. The goal would be to take the equivalent of 5 million miles driven on roads from the three-state region.
Some people are justifiably antsy about the notion of sharing a ride, but it's one of the few workable solutions out there that could have an immediate impact. Expanded bus service is a sound proposal, but limited in terms of routes — not everyone will live or work on one. More trains on Metro-North and Amtrak are another good idea, but are again quite limited in terms of usefulness.
And once people get past their initial reservations, they'll find it's a program with real benefits. Not only could traffic ease, but the consequent drop in air pollution produced and oil burned will be a boon for everyone. It deserves a real chance, and businesses and organizations sponsoring participation deserve plaudits.
There are also advances in bus technology that could make ridership easier and more convenient. A push to expand MetroCard-style fare cards that could be used on all Connecticut buses — and others in the Northeast — is a positive step. As tokens in the subway have given way to swipe cards, so could bus fare take a step into the future.
Anything to encourage people onto mass transit deserves a shot. It's not as though we're building any more highways.

Presidency by fiat strikes once again

In the end, it doesn't matter much. One more example of the Bush administration flouting Congress and conventional decency doesn't really come as a shock anymore.
Still, the "recess" appointment this week of Republican fundraiser Sam Fox as ambassador to Belgium is irksome. Before he withdrew his nomination, he was certain to be voted down by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Democrats had excoriated him for his contributions to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the 2004 presidential race. That group had introduced wholly unsubstantiated notions that Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry had fabricated the incidents that led to his commendations in the war in Vietnam.
Kerry and Connecticut's Christopher J. Dodd worked to make sure Fox's bad deeds wouldn't earn him any plaudits, at least not in the diplomatic arena.
But the Bush administration, as is its wont, circumvented the process. The idea of a recess appointment is to allow presidential nominees to take office even while Congress is not in session, thereby allowing key positions to remain filled. But the Senate is out for only one week, and this is hardly a vital job ( U.S.-Belgian relations are, at last check, pretty solid). This is a move whose only possible justification is spite.
It's of a piece with the entire presidency. The administration acts as if it is the government, not just one co-equal branch of it. We're not talking about indefinite detention or illegal wiretapping, but it's all the same pattern.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Corruption trial one more setback

It’s the kind of news Bridgeport is hoping to move past. With the conviction of Jeanette Foxworth, the latest link in the corruption case involving former state Sen. Ernest E. Newton II, prosecutors are rooting out remnants of the bad old days. But continuing incidences like this will keep the city where it has been for decades — left behind.
Foxworth, who owns a computer company, was convicted Tuesday on five counts of wire fraud, three counts of lying to the FBI and one count of conspiracy. Recordings played in court convinced the jury that she had paid Newton to help her land city contracts, which she lost out on anyway. But as troubling as one more trip into the sordid underworld of how business is really done around here was the beyond-belief attitude displayed by Newton.
This was the third-ranking member of the state Senate sounding more like the Godfather than a public servant. No one sends money into Bridgeport "without calling Ernie up," he said at one point. He’s serving a prison sentence now after his blatant power and money grabs finally caught up to him, but his abuse remains breathtaking.
On tape, he discussed methods for trying to get a school system contract for Foxworth. The implication was clear — if the deal didn’t go through, Newton planned to hold up school funding. Whether he had the power to do that or not is immaterial; this was someone talking about keeping money from children in one of the nation’s poorest cities over an issue of personal pique.
And then the worst news came from U.S. Attorney Kevin J. O’Connor: The conviction "does not represent the end of our efforts to eradicate corruption in Bridgeport." This likely means we can look forward to more days like recent ones, where we will again find out why nothing ever gets done and why big players look to invest anywhere but here. Pay-for-play doesn’t work.
Foxworth will turn out to be a footnote in the history of Bridgeport corruption, but the problems she represents will linger. The city has been beset by underhanded deal-makers, shifty politicians and overseers who look the other way. The growing ranks of Bridgeport politicians in federal prison is evidence of that.
The current leadership promises big doings, with unprecedented development. The city budget Mayor John M. Fabrizi unveiled this week is, according to him, a model of openness and good governance. It had better be. If Bridgeport really does get something going, there has to be so much transparency that Fairfield could see straight through to Stratford. No more shady deals, no more taped conspiracies.
It’s Bridgeport’s only hope.

Parking a priority for development

That Bridgeport has a number of promising possibilities for the site next to Harbor Yard is an unalloyed good thing. Easy access to the highway, and proximity to Long Island Sound and downtown make the potential development another promising step in the city’s rebirth. But some questions need to be answered before anything is settled, foremost among them: Where will everyone park?
The twin venues that attract the bulk of Bridgeport’s out-of-town visitors are home to baseball’s Bluefish and hockey’s Sound Tigers, and have welcomed other big draws in the past few years, among them Bruce Springsteen, the Who and NCAA tournament basketball. Too often, though, the adjacent parking garage has quickly filled, leaving patrons scrounging for alternatives. The site now in question has served as a backup lot, but even with cars there by the dozen on an event night, problems have persisted. Taking away those spots during construction promises further trouble.
When the band Nickelback played at the Arena last month, concert-goers complained of a lack of parking, little direction about alternatives and streets crowded with aimless drivers searching for relief. A few people said they missed the bulk of the concert because they couldn’t find a safe place to deposit their vehicle. It’s hard to believe this would be improved by removing parking spots.
To be fair, parking complaints overall have decreased in the past year, and the new plans call for as many as 400 new spots to be included at the development site to capture overrun from Ballpark and Arena events. The city must be sure those spaces are well marked and clearly visible — especially during construction there.
It’s of little benefit to the city if people come from out of town and leave frustrated because they spent half the night driving around like shoppers at the mall on Christmas Eve. As new development arrives, it’s important to remember that people have to get here somehow, and until some massive oil scare pushes the populace onto mass transit, parking spaces need to be a top priority.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Primary dates due for overhaul


As the length of the presidential campaign season stretches to epic proportions, states are falling over themselves to move their primary votes earlier to try to gain some impact over the choice of nominees. Connecticut is no exception, and the move to a Feb. 5, 2008, primary vote is probably inevitable. The so-called "super-duper primary" would also include giants New York and California.
It’s a way to try and get a better variety of states involved in the nominating process, and in that regard, it’s a good idea. Four years ago, John Kerry pulled out a surprising win in Iowa, and that was about it for drama. The Massachusetts senator cruised from there, and, in effect, voters in only one state made a choice for the rest of the country.
So a move is under way to get other, larger states an earlier say in the nomination process, and the Feb. 5 primary date has attracted nearly two dozen states. But if Connecticut officials think joining the party will earn them some leverage, they’re dreaming.
First off, we’re too close to New York, which, despite its huge delegate haul, promises to be noncompetitive for both parties, what with their senator and a former New York City mayor running. Then there’s the fact that our state will be lost in the shuffle — who would spend time in Connecticut when California is calling?
It may be that the state should try to move even earlier, as has been proposed, but the best solution is to set up some sort of rotation system, where different states get first crack at the candidates in different years. Instead of bowing down to the Great God of Ethanol in Iowa every four years, let candidates earn the votes of Georgians, or Oregonians, or maybe Hawaiians. The national parties are strong enough to make it happen.
Also, February of the election year is a little early to have everything decided. May or June would be a better time for major primaries, possibly pushing forward the start of the campaign season. We didn’t even get to breathe out after the 2006 votes before it was all about 2008 already. Can’t we get, maybe, a week or so between elections?

Reports on health paint grim picture


A pair of recent surveys paint a troubling picture of health among Bridgeport residents. In addition to high rates of disease and widespread bad health habits, the lack of insurance among broad swaths of the public leaves people vulnerable. People go without basic check-ups, teeth cleanings and exams. It adds up to a dire picture.
One survey, the Community Health Assessment, showed nearly half of city residents have not had a dental exam in the past year, and about one in five lacks basic health coverage. Like urban areas around the country, asthma is an ongoing problem, and the region’s proclivity for putting unwanted polluters in the poor cities rather than the rich suburbs is a major contributor.
Even more alarming was the report of the nonprofit Connecticut Health Foundation, which showed city residents are more than twice as likely as their suburban counterparts to be obese. In Bridgeport, two-thirds of adults are considered overweight, and a quarter of that group are obese.
The study proves, again, that lower income is a contributor to higher weight, and not the other way around. It’s counterintuitive in a way, but the fact that lower quality food is cheaper than healthy brands goes a long way toward explaining the discrepancy. Obesity is a public health crisis, and the poor are disproportionately affected.
With obesity comes higher rates of heart disease and diabetes, and these ailments are more likely to hurt minority populations in Connecticut’s cities. The state report showed blacks die prematurely from diabetes at three times the rate of whites.
Mayor John M. Fabrizi rightly sounded the alarm about the findings, saying that now that the city knows where the problems are, public health programs can more effectively target populations in need. This is a good first step, and education must play a key role. The city survey showed fewer than one in six people could correctly identify the symptoms of a heart attack, and 50 percent of people of people over 50 have not been screened for colon cancer, which is treatable if detected early. Just getting people to understand what the risks are and how to protect themselves would go a long way.
There is, of course, only so much the city can do, but the state must continue its push to insure as many people as possible — preventive care, too expensive to pay out of pocket but affordable with insurance, saves lives and millions of dollars. Accessible, lifelong, universal health coverage must be our government’s top goal. People’s lives depend on it.

Bridgeport leads way in fuel cells


If all goes according to plan, there will be dozens of new apartments in downtown Bridgeport over the coming months, and they’ll all need light and heat. Add to that the businesses that say they’re on the way and, just possibly, the first signs of life at the massive Steel Point development, and it’s clear there are plenty of growing power needs in the city and beyond.
Maybe some of that energy can be the nonpolluting kind. In another positive sign for green development, the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund last week selected 11 renewable energy projects to move forward in the state, including a few local proposals.
A 19.6-megawatt fuel cell project by Elemental Power Group and a 13.7-megawatt fuel cell project by FuelCell Energy, Pure Power, LLC, and Pinpoint Power, LLC, were among the items on the fund’s docket. A 7.9-megawatt fuel cell/turbo expander project in Milford by FuelCell Energy and Enbridge Inc. also made the cut.
The projects will now be recommended to the two electric distribution companies in the state for the next round of competition. The statewide undertaking, dubbed Project 100, aims to develop power plants that use renewable energy sources to generate at least 100 megawatts of electricity in the state by July 2008.
Connecticut Light & Power Co. and The United Illuminating Co. will decide which of these projects, pending approval by state regulators, will win long-term generating contracts. Clean energy production is considered difficult to finance without a long-term commitment.
And with fuel cells taking center stage, the future looks bright. A complicated process that produces no emissions and leaves behind only heat and water, fuel cells promise energy production largely freed from fossil fuels.
The 11 plants could generate enough electricity to power 140,000 or more homes, and the fund expects about 85 megawatts will ultimately be produced by the chosen projects. This sets the plan far along toward its goal, and promises a future in the growing industry for Bridgeport.
Energy security, of course, is about more than just one city. It is in the nation’s best interest to free itself from dependence on foreign sources of fossil fuels, and a push in the other direction ought to be a national priority. But as the industry changes, Bridgeport would do well to stay on the forefront of new technology. There will certainly never be a lack of need.

Encouraging news in theater report


Good news on the Shakespeare theater front has Stratford hoping the long-running drama may finally end happily. If last week’s repair estimate is any indication, the town has chosen wisely in its bid to finally get the facility up and running again.
The report, submitted by New York developer Koerner, Kronenfeld Partners, LLC, predicted repair costs at less than $1 million; at less than half the original estimate, the Town Council is all but guaranteed to approve it and move forward.
The estimate forgoes certain enhancements unnecessary to the theater’s basic operation. All that matters is getting the place open, and in that regard, the news is encouraging. The fact that there is no structural damage, even after 55 years of use and disuse, helped keep cost estimates reasonable.
It’s also encouraging that vandalism, while a continuing problem, has been kept to a minimum while the doors have been shuttered. Roof and water damage have made their mark, but the developer says the problems are well within the group’s abilities to handle, and the six-month time frame will apparently not be a problem.
After so much wrangling over the site, when all anyone in town wanted was just to see the place open again, it’s a relief to finally have some good news. Town officials are convinced this report vindicates their choice to bring the theater back, and they are right to be proud. After so much back-and-forth over the years, Stratford’s beacon of the arts may soon shine again.