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Mayor Segarra's 2014 State of the City Address

Council President, Members of City Council, friends and colleagues here and, those who are watching or listening, Thank you for the opportunity to deliver our State of the City.

To my husband, Charlie, Thank you for your unwavering support, abundance of patience and all that you do to beautify our City parks and streets.

To all City Employees, Thank you for your hard work under enormous challenges. Y para la comunidad Hispana, hoy vamos a estar hablando tambien en nuestro idioma.

Today, I intend to speak candidly to the men and women, and young people of Hartford. Today, I will provide a clear vision of how we will drive ahead.

We have been on a journey that has presented incredible challenges. Four years ago we were in the middle of one the worst economic periods in America. In Hartford we were literally in crisis. Many people couldn’t see the way out.

No one bailed us out. No one came to our rescue. Instead we tapped into our best qualities to create solutions: the pride of our hardworking people, the imagination of our entrepreneurs, and the wisdom of our experts and many of you in the community. Hartford is a resilient city. And the results speak for themselves.

Today we see:

  • A rebounding housing market and lower vacancy rates
  • The lowest crime rate in years
  • A double-digit upgrade in our bond rating for the first time in over 10 years
  • UConn and the University of St. Joseph
  • Front Street
  • Over 80 new businesses
  • A thriving arts community where for every one dollar invested, thirteen dollars came back in audience spending
  • An increase in businesses moving and expanding here
  • And 6 million visitors coming to Hartford every year

Think about how far we’ve come.

And I know it’s because we stood shoulder to shoulder that we emerged with more jobs, more businesses, more people living here and a renewed sense of pride and self-worth.

I want to acknowledge small businesses like the Professional Barber Shop on Pratt Street, Scott’s Jamaican Bakery, Hispanavision, Comerieno and the Broasterant on Park St for their resilience. I want to acknowledge the Artist Collective, Peacebuilders, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Open Hearth, the YMCA and all the young people in our City who are challenging and pushing us to think differently.
I want to thank Salute, Dunn’s River, Severance Foods, Trampoline Launch, Express Kitchens and so many other businesses that are investing and expanding our City.

We’ve come a long way. We’re ready. We are ready for the next step.
It’s going to be hard. We’re going to have to put some of our political differences aside, and do what’s right for our City.
What I want, and I know you want, is for Hartford to be One OF THE BEST CAPITAL CITIES IN AMERICA. Let me say it again, I want Hartford to be ONE OF THE BEST CAPITAL CITY IN AMERICA.

America’s best capital cities are where people feel safe, where people can find good jobs. The best capital cities attract entrepreneurs; they leverage technology and serve as the economic engine for the region. The best capital cities have a strong school system, and educational institutions for all its residents.

America’s best capital cities have a quality of life you simply can’t find in the suburbs including nightlife, restaurants, arts and culture, and historic institutions known throughout the world.

Hartford has a lot of this already. We just need to get better. And, yes, we need to get out of our own way.

To become One of America’s Best Capital City we have to focus on the fundamentals: safety, jobs, education and quality of life.
We must continue to make smart investments in people and not let fear or politics get in the way. Becoming One of America’s Best Capital City won’t happen overnight but as President Kennedy said “Let us begin.”

So, this State of the City will be different than ones in previous years because I want you to know precisely where I stand, where your City stands and how we can become One of America’s Best Capital Cities.

Let’s begin with the reality that binds us all together – the budget. Since 2010 we have exercised restraint and prudence on our fiscal management. Each and every year we have defeated deficits that seemed insurmountable. We held the line on spending because we understand the burden our taxpayers face. Our recent bonding upgrade is a sign that what we’ve done has helped our City.
But it’s getting harder. We have to be prepared to make tough decisions. And if we’re going to forge ahead we have to point fingers at solutions and not at each other.

We’ll have to work together to address the tax inequities that have historically hurt us while pursuing a policy that makes sense for our City.

A Safer Hartford

If we are going to be One of America’s Best Capital City, people in our communities must feel safe. Crime and Public Safety are fundamental to our progress.

This single issue affects everything from economic development, to education, to quality of life. And you know how I feel about it. Within my first year, we established the Shooting Task Force.

For our communities to feel safe it takes a number of things; a compassionate, effective and diverse police force, streets that are well lit and clean, and a community that takes responsibility and pride in their own neighborhoods.

I don’t want to mince my words. The budget that I submit will not compromise public safety. We cannot lose the momentum we have gained in reducing crime. We have seen what happens when we don’t commit sufficient resources to our Police Department. I am not willing to gamble with the lives of our residents or our young people—neither should you.

But a safe capital city requires all of us to do our part. Hartford Police cannot do it alone. City Hall cannot do it alone. Communities who are suffering cannot do it alone. Our success relies on our ability to work together.

I want to acknowledge the members of our public safety teams that are here today. The Hartford Police Department and its Shooting Task Force- please stand. The Hartford Fire Department – please stand. Our veterans – please stand.

These individuals put themselves in harm’s way to protect those they serve. On behalf of all us here, God Bless you and Thank you for your service.

I want to acknowledge Hartford Police Chief James Rovella and Hartford Fire Chief Carlos Huertas. Thank you for your courage, your intelligence and your leadership.

Hartford is a safer City today than when I became Mayor. And it’s due in part because of these men and women.
Compared to 2009 shooting victims are down 40%, homicides are down by 32% and our solvability has significantly increased and is well above the national average.

But despite the success we’ve had – and statistics that show the positive impact of our efforts- there’s no denying we have more to do.
Here are a few of those things:

We have to refine our Community Policing plan and accelerate the process of accreditation. Building trust between our residents and our Police Department is critical to keeping our streets safe. This means expanding our Police Athletic League, the Explorer program, and our student internship program. We need to engage our communities especially our young, so they understand they have a role to play in keeping communities safe, so they build a relationship with law enforcement, and have a vested interest in preserving their communities.
It takes a long time to change perception. But that is our true challenge.

We have to continue professionalizing and diversifying our public safety teams starting with improving our responses to 911 and 311 calls. I know the Hartford Police Department has been making concerted efforts to recruit diverse candidates for their new class of 40. They have re-instituted their Recruitment Team and are working with City Council to present at community meetings across the City.

Do we need to do a lot more- yes. The legacy of the Cintron case is something we take seriously.
And if you have other ideas, share them. We’re listening.

We’ll continue to modernize and incorporate technology with everything from COMPSTAT, to emergency communication to automated fingerprinting.

And we’ll continue to improve our infrastructure such as lighting our streets and fixing our sidewalks. The budget I submit will reflect these priorities and seek resources for these much needed repairs.

If we work on all of these issues in concert, we will be one of the safest cities in America.

Advancing Hartford: Jobs and Economic Development

We know that crime is a complicated issue impacted by education, economic opportunity and most of all employment. Fast money can certainly seem like a good option when you have no money.
To tackle this reality we have to be focused on a few areas: continue investing in our own people; improving our business climate in order to attract new companies that will put people back to work, leveraging new projects and making it easier for businesses to come and stay in Hartford.

Standard and Poor’s bond rating upgrade last week is proof that we’re on the right track.
But we have to become more efficient at what we’re doing. We recently overhauled our permitting process. A year ago, the chances of you walking into License and Inspection and getting a permit the same day was 4% - today it’s 52%. A year ago, the chances of you getting a permit within 30 days was 11% - today it’s 84%.

But we have to take it a step further. This year we are beginning to build out Hartford’s first online permitting portal. This will allow businesses to apply, pay for and track their permits on the web. As more and more people pay bills or shop online, on their phones, City Hall has to keep up. It’s as simple as that. The goal is to be paperless which will reduce the need for trips to City Hall and let businesses focus on more important things- growing jobs and their customers.

City government should feed innovation. We can’t be resistant to try new things. The best capital cities attract entrepreneurs, innovators, and people with ambition. A great capital city is energetic, faster than the suburbs and in keeping with new technology.
Recently, Hartford was one of only three cities in the country to receive a highly competitive grant from the Obama Administration. The Stronger Cities Stronger Communities grant is meant to trigger innovation in urban areas and we decided to invest it back into two of the most important resources –people and ideas.

We’re asking people to submit their best ideas for creating sustainable, long term, economic development in Hartford. We are turning to you to develop proposals that place us firmly in this new global economy. The City of Hartford will invest almost one million dollars to those groups who submit proposals. Whether the ideas are ways to attract manufacturers, to re-train our workforce, to create an inventor’s laboratory we want to hear them.

You’ll learn more about it later this week but I want to be clear that increasing efficiency, investing in people and trying what we have not tried before is part of our strategy to drive economic development.

When it comes to investing in people we cannot ignore reality.

The reality is Hartford has a disproportionate number of individuals who do not meet the qualifications of the jobs that are available. We have a lot of adults that have not completed high school, adults who have interacted with the criminal justice system, and young mothers who are entering the workforce.

Good jobs are hard to come by anyway, but even more so with these types of challenges. A lot of our kids and adults need more than school.

They need as the President has said “Ladders of Opportunity” to help them overcome the unique obstacles they face.

To tackle this complicated issue we will be increasing and strengthening resources for Opportunities Hartford a program composed of several corporate, non-profit and government partners. One of our initiatives consists of 65 young people who are working towards their GED/Diplomas, and learning industry skills in growth areas like manufacturing and technology.

So, whether it’s initiatives like Opportunities Hartford, whether it’s aligning with the President’s new program “My Brother’s Keeper,” or working with the Governor to increase participation in Step Up, we are going to continue to establish partnerships in order to help the residents who need it most. And I just want to note and applaud Governor Malloy’s plan to raise the minimum wage in our State.
Here are a couple more things we’re doing.

We’re leveraging some of our major projects so Hartford residents can benefit directly. We launched and assisted dozens of new developments this year including Downtown North, 777 Main, UConn, Coltsville, and sidewalk improvement projects. All construction projects were given mandates to hire Hartford residents and we’ll be diligently tracking compliance.

We are creating new housing programs to eliminate blight in our neighborhoods and to help homeowners fix their housing. Only Hartford contractors are used in the program.. And as we work to develop new programs with city funds, we will require that the businesses selected are Hartford based and offer jobs to Hartford residents as much as possible.

Hartford was recently honored for having the best Summer Youth Employment Program in the country. We raised over $2 million last year. I’ve expanded it since becoming Mayor, because I believe in it. It provides our teenagers access to professional work experiences, a chance to earn money, learn some responsibility. I’m committed to growing it even further this year.

The reality of shrinking budgets means that every dollar we spend has to be is an investment in our future. But if we continue investing in people, we cannot go wrong and we will be One of America’s Best Capital Cities.

An Educated City

We all agree a good education is the solution to poverty and the path to upward mobility and that better schools will attract and keep families in Hartford.

We cannot have great schools without a great leader. By July 1, we will have on board an outstanding superintendent who has a track record of success and a proven ability to engage students, parents, and other stakeholders.

If we want a competitive workforce, education must begin as early as possible. The fact is children who attend early education programs are more likely to do well in school, find good jobs, and succeed in their careers than those who don’t.

Today, 70% of our preschoolers attend an early education program. In 2019, I want that number to be 100%. My budget will include a plan to make sure that all Hartford kids get the start they need to succeed. Our plan is to have every single Hartford student enrolled in early education programs in the next 5 years.

Choice is the hallmark of our school system and we celebrate it. Every parent should have the ability to choose the right school for his or her child and every child is entitled to attend a great school. Choice has helped us close the achievement gap by 1/3 and choice will help us close it all the way.

But our children cannot get the education they need if they don't attend school. Right now, one of every four students were chronically absent, meaning they missed more than eighteen days of school each year. In pre-K, the numbers are higher. Children who are chronically absent in the primary grades are unlikely to be reading on or even close to grade level. High school students who are chronically absent are unlikely to graduate.

This can change, and it must change, but only if we work together.

City government and the Board of Education both have a role, as do social service providers, and private philanthropy.
We need to work with our parents - many of whom face enormous daily struggles - to get their children in school every day and on time. And we need to work with our teenagers, to help them stay in school. In 2009, our graduation rate was 47% Right now, 65% of our kids graduate from high school.

That is a huge improvement over where we started, but we still have a long way to go.

Every Hartford child can—and must—graduate from high school, be college ready and prepare for a career. If we fail to meet this obligation, we compromise the life of that child, and we hurt the quality of life in all of our communities.
This is the most important investment we can make as a community. And like any investment, it will have a lasting impact on future generations for years to come.

Last year, we established HARTFORD PROMISE, a scholarship program that provides Hartford high school students with a B average or better, up to $20,000 towards higher education costs. Many of our corporate partners stepped up and committed. And I will be meeting personally with every single one of you to thank you on behalf of our City and our kids and to see how we can collaborate even more effectively to make college a reality for all our kids.

Now, we can develop effective policy, we can develop great schools but we cannot read to children at night. We cannot force them to attend class. In the end, there is no program or policy that replaces a mother, father or caregiver who attends parent/teacher conferences, or helps with homework, or takes away the cell phone, or video games, and gets involved in their child’s education. The responsibility for our children's education also takes place at home.

I want to acknowledge the 32 seniors of Law and Government Academy, and their teachers, Veronica Lee and Bridget Allison who are here with us today. Please stand.

I want to speak to you directly when I say, I’m fighting for you. Your Mayor is fighting for you. But I need you to commit to stay the course, even when it gets hard, even when someone tells you no, or you can’t. We are here to help you, to open doors for you, but you must walk through them yourself.

To Hartford parents who are here or listening tell your kids that their Mayor is fighting for THEM. That he believes in them.

For the teenagers out there struggling, let me say directly to you, that I was one of you. I dropped out of school because I needed to get away from the violence that was taking over my neighborhood. I got here on a bus with little money and nowhere to go. I worked in Hartford during the day and commuted to New York City at night to get my diploma. And I made it. I always had ambition but I stepped up because someone believed in me and gave me a chance.

I believe in you, and I know you will be the next generation of leaders in this great city.

For us to be One of America’s Best Capital City everyone’s participation and support is required. And for that to happen, our citizens need to have faith in government.

For the past two years we’ve spent time on the recruitment of our Boards and Commissions so they can true active partners.
My priority this year is to provide Hartford residents the services they expect: efficient snow removal, clean parks, clean streets, timely garbage pick-up, covered potholes.

We’ll be focused heavily this year on our internal structure starting with a roll out of a new 311 system. Often time these are people’s first interaction with City Hall – they should be problem solvers not message takers. 311 wasn’t providing the service our residents needed, so we’re fixing it.

We’ll focus on our public spaces which are often times the first thing people see when they come to Hartford.
This year Elizabeth Park won New England’s Best Public Rose Garden. And our very own Hartford Public Library - who in 2009 had a fractured relationship with City Hall - has now bee nominated two years in a row for the Best Library in the Country. No other library has had that honor. Our Public Library is like no other.

Our parks serve not just the people of Hartford but the region. They bring a lot of visitors and serve as an economic driver for our City so we’ve made them a priority.

We have just signed a contract with the Professional Golfers Association to take over the management of our Goodwin Park Golf Course and they will be open and ready by spring of this year.

A revitalization and restoration of Keney Park is fully underway. Park Rangers now patrol the park each day, surveillance cameras have been added.

DPW is clearing out brush and litter to improve the views from the street. New signage will be added and a wooden fence will be added. The Golf Course is under repair and will be open by next year.

We’re going to do our part but we also need you to do yours.

This is a great city to live in. There are more young professionals coming here because they know that. They do not want to live in the suburbs but in the capital city, where there’s nightlife, concerts, arts, Movies in the Park, skating, and the diversity that comes from living in a City.

So the next time someone asks ‘Why should I move to Hartford?’ the answer is – Hartford is where you feel connected to new ideas; it has the faster pace of urban living but the intimacy of a small city. In Hartford people’s ideas have real impact.

When I became Mayor, I inherited an office scarred by corruption; we were in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the great depression. Businesses had packed up and moved out of the City, unemployment was climbing, the country was bleeding jobs and we were bleeding right along with it.

And yet here we are today still standing and thriving. But our job is not finished. None of the issues I brought forth tonight have easy solutions. But we’re not here to do what is easy we’re here to do what is necessary.

In order to become One of America’s Best Capital City we’re going to have to employ some of the strategies that got us where we are today; cooperation, leadership, fearlessness and focus.

We have stay focused on improving safety, creating jobs, improving education and quality of life. We have to make city government more efficient, invest in our own people, and not place additional burdens on our businesses.

We’re going to have to work really hard to make this vision a reality. We can choose to be cynical, to be doubtful. We can choose to point fingers at each other instead of solutions. But let’s rise above that.

As public servants we have power and influence – let’s use that constructively to make this a greater city.
I learned a valuable lesson this year. We have a valiant community. We have real life heroes here in Hartford. Two of them are here.

17 year old Antwana Tulley who saved each and every one of her 7 siblings – through a window- from a fire in her home. Please stand.
I think of 16 year old Christopher Brown- please stand- who entered a burning building to rescue his mother and their neighbor Lamont Coleman who then carried her to safety.

Their courage should be our inspiration. We owe it to them and all the people of Hartford to put the people of this city first.
I know everyone sitting here loves this City and wants it to succeed.

Our ability to lift each other even in the most desperate moments is part of the reason that we will become One of America’s Best Capital City!


God Bless You. God Bless Connecticut. God Bless the People of the Great City of Hartford.

HARTFORD CITY HALL ADDRESS: 550 Main Street, Hartford, CT 06103 PHONE: (860)757-9311 HOURS: 8AM - 5PM