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MAYOR BRONIN DELIVERS FIFTH STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS, CALLS FOR STRONG CLEAN SLATE LAW

MAYOR BRONIN DELIVERS FIFTH STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS, CALLS FOR STRONG CLEAN SLATE LAW

HARTFORD, CONN (March 9, 2020) –Today Mayor Luke Bronin delivered is fifth State of the City address at Hartford City Hall and his full prepared remarks are below. Mayor Bronin used the address to advocate for a strong Clean Slate bill at the State level, which hetestified on todayThe General Assembly is considering S.B. 403 to expunge certain felony and misdemeanor records if individuals are not convicted of other crimes for a number of years. According to Department of Correction data, at least 7,295 Hartford residents could see their records expunged over time should the bill become law.

Mayor Bronin also discussed progress in Hartford over the last twelve months, asked residents to give their feedback on the draft City Plan released last week, and reiterated key facts residents should know regarding coronavirus. In the next week, the City will host a telephone town hall to give residents more information on coronavirus.

Introduction

Council President Rosado, members of the Court of Common Council, Treasurer Cloud, members of our delegation to the General Assembly, Superintendent Torres-Rodriguez, my colleagues in city government, good evening, and it’s an honor to serve with you. 

To the residents of our city, thank you for the trust you’ve placed in me and in our team.

And to Sara, and our three kids, I love you. And I can’t thank you enough.

Before I start tonight, I want to say a few words about the fire on Charter Oak Place yesterday. Our prayers are with the family of Jerome Kyser, who lost his life. And with all of the families who lost so much. Knowing that terrible fire was set intentionally makes that loss all the more awful.

It could have been one of the worst fires in our City’s history. The reason it wasn’t was because of our first responders – our firefighters, our police officers, our dispatchers, and our emergency medical professionals. They saved many lives. 

And in the hours since the fire, HFD’s Special Services division, our Health & Human Services Team, the Red Cross and our CERT teams have been working to help support and relocate all of the families displaced yesterday. 

Even as our hearts are heavy, we should all be so proud and so grateful for all those who run toward danger and prevented it from being so much worse.

This is the fifth time I’ve had the chance to speak to you about the state of our city. The first two focused on a historic fiscal crisis. We confronted insolvency honestly and boldly, and over the past few years, we made those tough choices necessary to move our city forward. 

Tonight, I can report that the state of our city is stronger than it has been indecades, andgetting stronger. And if we are willing to stay disciplined and be bold, it will get stronger still.

We have so much more work to do, and we are nowhere near where we aim to be. But look back on just the past twelve months. Since last year’s state of the city, we won the litigation withCenterplan, signed development agreements for Downtown North and Park and Main, saw residents move back to Bowles Park, broke ground on the redevelopment of Westbrook Village and the Hub on Park, watched professional soccer and the Turkey Day Game played at Dillon Stadium, enacted a comprehensive new city housing code, partnered with residents to force out two of our worst slumlords, opened Weaver and started renovating Martin Luther King School. 

We saw Greater Hartford rally to raise millions for the new Boys & Girls Club off Wethersfield, upgraded facilities in our parks, saw construction start on the Park Street Library Branch and near completion at the Parkville Market, and swore in the most diverse police academy class in Hartford’s history.

We attracted new sources of support for our Youth Service Corps, launched new initiatives to reduce chronic absenteeism with the Hartford Public Schools, won grant funding to promote child development by increasing the number of words our youngest children hear, and secured $800,000 to launch the Hartford Healthy Family Initiative to reduce chronic disease.

Our City was recognized as one of three cities to watch around the country for our work on green energy and sustainability. And our Fire Department became one of just eighty-seven fire departments in the entire country to be both internationally accredited and rated as an ISO Class I department. Yesterday, we saw why.

Stanley Black & Decker opened their Manufactory 4.0 in downtown Hartford. Like Infosys in 2018, two leading tech firms,GalaxESolutions and HCL made Hartford a home for global innovation work, accelerating Hartford’s growth as a scale up city and a regional tech center. Moreinsurtechfirms put down roots here. Hartford Healthcare launched a digital health accelerator with UConn and Trinity, signed an historic partnership with the Israel Innovation Authority, and will soon be moving hundreds of jobs and creating hundreds of new jobs on Pearl Street.

Our credit rating was raised and then was raised again, citing our careful controls. We began rebuilding our city’s fund balance, continued to invest in infrastructure without borrowing, and put resources aside for future capital investment.

That’s just a small sample. That’s just in the last twelve months. And those are all things to be proud of.

But we do have so much work to do. We know that for a lot of our neighbors, those victories may not feel like victories in their lives. Because for many in our community, the battle is about making ends meet every day. It’s about getting a job but not having the transportation to get there. It’s choosing between paying the heat or paying taxes. It’s knowing that their child has fire in her eyes tolearn, butisn’t getting what she needs at school. It’s living in a building with windows that won’t close and mold on the walls, but having doors slammed in your face when you try to rent somewhere else with a voucher in your hand. It’s watching kids move away because they don’t find theopportunitiesthey want here at home. And it’s trying to find a job but running again and again into the barrier of a record from long ago.

We know how much work we have to do. And that’s why today I want to focus less on where we’ve been or even where we are, and more on where we’re going – the future we want to build. And then I want to talk about one specific way that we all can do something, right now, to help include as many of our fellow residents as possible in that future. 

Planning for 400

Every ten years, every city and town in Connecticut has to update its ten-year plan of development. This time, we looked five years further, to 2035 – the year that Hartford turns 400.

Our Planning and Zoning Commission began that planning process last Spring, engaging thousands of residents through public meetings, working groups, and surveys. I want to thank our planning commissioners, and our P&Z Chair, Sara Bronin, for dedicating a tremendous amount of time to that engagement work and to building a plan that reflected our community’s aspirations.

To build the vibrant, thriving, bustling, safe, fun city that our residents want, the draft City plan released last Monday identifies five actions areas: Green, Move, Live, Play and Grow.

“Green,” to become a more sustainable city; “Move,” to become more connected; “Live,” to become a more equitable; “Play,” to become a more active city; and “Grow,” to become a more prosperous city. 

Our draft City Plan paints a bold picture, as it should. We can be honest and acknowledge that it would be an extraordinary achievement for the region, for the state, and maybe even for the country if we accomplisheverythingwe set out to do. 

But I don’t view this plan as a too-distant dream that we should temper. Last year, I asked everyone, whether you’re a city employee, a resident, or someone who lives in our region to believe in Hartford. Work for Hartford. Help re-imagine and remake Hartford. Our City Plan is an opportunity to do that. It is an expression of our aspirations. 

If you haven’t already, today I am asking you to take a look at it, think about what’s in it, and give us your feedback at Hartford2035.org.

The draft Plan has more than two hundred specific goals. There are transformative physical projects that would fundamentally change the nature of our city, like fully reconnecting Hartford to the Connecticut River, and turning the South Meadows into an area that drives economic growth for our community.

Or building Parkville into an arts and innovation district. Or complementing the Albany Avenue Streetscape and development in Downtown North with a North Main Culture Corridor anchored by a revitalized Terry Square. Or reimagining Retreat Avenue as the green corridor at the center of a health innovation zone. 

There are priorities focused on our most longstanding challenges, like cutting gun violence in half, dramatically increasing attendance and supporting achievement in our schools, making the “No More Slumlords” campaign a reality as well as a powerful rallying cry, and working with the State to expand and improve public transit in Hartford and beyond.

There are goals related to climate change and resiliency, like expanding solar energy usage by 300%, replacing the whole fleet of city cars with clean energy vehicles, and planting 3,000 trees a year.

And there are broad aspirations, like making Hartford the live music capital of Connecticut, or promoting Hartford as the “Scale-Up City” for entrepreneurs of all kinds. We could spend hours talking about the rest of the plan, and if you want to, there are six public meetings this month about the plan – including tonight at the new Parkville Market right after this.

Though our 400thanniversary may feel far off, this plan should guide us as we make decisions about our priorities and our investments right now. It may take us fifteen years to build 100% of our bike plan or our parks plan, but we need to start that work now. Today, we’re far short of planting 3,000 trees a year, and we need to start ramping up now.

And while we have seen most categories of crime drop significantly in recent years, we have much work to do, together, to meet our goal of cutting gun violence in half. And that’s why the work that we’re doing now with our rapid response protocol, juvenile specialist, domestic violence intervention, partnership with community organizations, and project longevity is so critical – and why we are determined right now to build a strong hospital-based violence intervention program and to expand the work of our violence interrupters. Not fifteen years from now, but now.

We’re a long way from achieving everything we plan to. But while we have so much work to do, there is already new energy and activity and investment, and nearly forty percent of our residents already identify arts and culture as our greatest strength. So now is also the time for us to start building a marketing campaign to promote the great things that are happening in our city right now. 

Inclusive Growth Means Everyone Has a Chance

I am grateful to everyone who contributed to our draft City Plan, and I hope as many people as possible contribute their ideas and their feedback. 

Growth is a big focus of the plan. But one of the legitimate questions that people ask here and around the country is, “who is this growth for?” The innovation ecosystem that is growing here, the buildings that are going up, the businesses that are coming here – will the residents of this city benefit from those things?

I’ve always believed the answer is yes. We are one Hartford. We’re a small city. We’re a city whose future depends on growth. We’re a city that had fifty thousand more residents seventy years ago. We have room for development that knits our neighborhoods back together and fills in gaps. And because of that, we have the chance to do what many cities haven’t been able to do: to promote investment and growth without creating displacement and loss. 

But we also have an obligation to build ladders of opportunity for everybody, so that everyone has a chance to share in Hartford’s rise. There are many steps to that.

One is supporting and working with the Board of Education and Superintendent to continue strengthening our schools, especially our neighborhood schools.

Another is growing programs like the Youth Service Corps, which will be even stronger in its fifth year thanks to new support from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and expanded support from theDalioFoundation.

A third is expanding the connections between our community colleges, job training programs, and the employers that are looking to fill jobs today – like The Hartford’s apprenticeship program with Capital Community College.

But the part I want to focus on tonight is how we can take a bold and big step to address an issue that affects almost every resident of our city, directly or indirectly, and that’s what kind of life people are able to live when they have made mistakes and paid for those mistakes.

Over the course of the last two decades, more than 13,000 Hartford residents returned home after serving time for a misdemeanor or felony. And many more, not counted in that number, live with the record of mistakes even older, with no new offenses in many years.

If you came in through the back of City Hall tonight, you walked past the Hartford Reentry Welcome Center, which we started with Community Partners in Action with the help of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. In just over a year, our reentry team has built partnerships to connect clients to basic needs, medical treatment, education, housing, family reunification support, and more. The staff has seen more than 450 individuals.

For someone getting off a Department of Correction van, there is a world of difference between stepping onto the sidewalk with nowhere to go and stepping directly into the Reentry Welcome Center below these chambers.

Recently I spoke toYvelineA few years ago, she had been convicted of a non-violent felony. She did her time. She was released and had nowhere to go. She struggled to find work and couldn’t find housing.

When she went on job interviews and was transparent, some employers told her that her past would not be a problem. She would get the offer. Two or three days later, they would pull it back, when the background checks came back. 

Last April, she walked through our doors. Our reentry team helped her find a place to stay. The next Monday, they sat around a table and made a plan. She had previously been a Certified Nursing Assistant, and the Center helped her get her license back.

She finally did find a job, but not at the level she used to work at. She has a car, but she can’t get an apartment. Without the reentry center, she might have had nothing, but she continues to run into walls again and again.

Her story is like Kevin’s. Kevin grew up in Blue Hills and he has lived here his entire life. He got into Prince Tech. Before he graduated, he got into trouble and was incarcerated. After he got out, he had trouble finding any kind of job. 

He said, “once I had that record, no one wanted anything to do with me. I would get a job, they would do the background check, and then I would lose the job.” Kevin was in and out of prison.  He knows he has made serious mistakes.

The last time, after he got out, he heard about the Reentry Welcome Center, and he decided to give it a shot. 

The reentry team helped him write a resume. They welcomed him into a support group with other men. And they connected him to Platform to Employment, which pays the wages of returning citizens for a period of time so there’s no risk to employers when they give someone a chance.

Today, he’s working at an auto shop. His goals are to become a mechanic and save up for an apartment. His record is a barrier to both. He says he’s saving up, and might get a car to live in, “but who wants to stay in a car?”

We want to grow our Reentry Welcome Center. We can do a lot of good that way, and I know we are all deeply grateful to the staff at the Reentry Welcome Center, some of whom are here tonight. But we can’t erase the record that holds so many people back, even when they’re trying so hard. State lawmakers can change that. And we as a community can put our voices and our stories and our collective effort to work to help make that happen.

Because as long as Kevin andYvelinecontinue to do things the right way, it doesn’t help anybody if they can’t get or even look forward to a time when they can get anapartment, orget a promotion. It doesn’t make our city safer or our community better off.  

There is a movement around the country and in Connecticut to remove those lifelong barriers by automatically expunging the criminal records of formerly incarcerated people who committed certain types of offenses, did their time, and have stayed offense free for a number of years.

The principle is simple. As a society, we impose consequences when people break the law. But that doesn’t mean that every crime deserves a life sentence. Pennsylvania passed the first clean slate law in the nation in 2018. The second state to pass a clean slate law was Utah, with a Republican Governor in 2019. The ACLU supports the idea. So does JPMorgan Chase’s public policy center.

Clean slate is not about lighter punishment. It’s about whether we believe that perpetual punishment benefits our society, or whether we all do better when those who’ve erred and been punished have the chance to work, to pay taxes, to support their families, to live in a home that provides a stable foundation for a life well-lived within the law. 

Governor Lamont deserves credit, because at the beginning of this legislative session, he introduced clean slate legislation. His bill applies to certain classes of misdemeanors, and it could be a first step. But there is legislation that would go much further, and we should support that.

Legislation introduced by Senator Holder-Winfield and co-sponsored by Majority Leader Ritter, would automatically expunge all misdemeanors if someone stays crime free for seven years after they are convicted, and expunge three classes of the least serious felonies if someone stays crime free for twelve years after they are convicted, with certain exceptions. 

The principle is the same, but the impact, particularly in our community, would be much broader. Under the bill, more than 25,000 people would have their record expunged in the State. And in Hartford, at least 7,295 people might see their records expunged, either immediately or in time, if they don’t reoffend.

Why am I focusing so much on a legislative proposal that you, the Council, cannot enact in this chamber and we cannot implement in city government? Because people often ask me what they can do as individuals to benefit our community. And right now, I have an answer:

Over the next three months, urging Connecticut’s General Assembly to pass the strong clean slate bill could be one of the most important things we can do for Hartford’s future. Because unlike many of the big challenges we face, this one can be fixed fundamentally and quickly. With the vote of two chambers and the stroke of a pen, thousands of residents of our city would be able to participate more fully in the growth and the opportunities we’re seeking to create. 

So, let’s support our legislators and let’s fight for our residents by pushing for a serious, meaningful Clean Slate bill. And at the same time, let’s build on the position we’ve gained as one of the most progressive and compassionate cities when it comes to reentry support.

Coronavirus

Before I close, I want to address the coronavirus.

While there arethingswe do not know yet about coronavirus, we know some important facts.

First, it will spread. We have not yet had confirmed cases in Harford, but that will change, probably soon. And the fact that we have not identified a case here may simply be that, across the United States, there has been far too little testing done.

Second, based on the evidence so far, we know that the vast majority of people who do become infected go through what feels like a cold or flu and then recover, if they develop symptoms at all.

Third, we know that every single person can take easy steps to dramatically reduce the likelihood that they will get sick. Avoid shaking hands. And you should wash your hands a lot, wash them well, and try to avoid unnecessary contact with others.

Fourth, we know that our goal as a city and as a region should be to avoid getting to the point of community spread. Community spread is that point where you can contract the virus without being able to trace the source of that virus to a particular contact. 

And fifth, we know that, to avoid community spread, it is much easier to take aggressive actions early than to try to play catch up after our health system has been overwhelmed. 

As a City, we are planning for many scenarios, in close coordination with hospitals, schools, public institutions, businesses, the State and the federal government. There is a chance that we will have to change the way our government, our schools, and our businesses operate, and as a government we are preparing for that. 

As part of a public information effort over the next few weeks, we will host a tele-townhall with medical experts in the next week in English and in Spanish to get accurate information to our residents and answer questions.

I know there are many people nervous and concerned about coronavirus. We should all take this seriously. And our collective response must be to take the basic precautions, listen to the experts, and act on their advice. 

And I ask for your understanding in advance if we have to make decisions that do affect your daily life, or your business. That may mean inconvenience and disruption. It may mean cancellations and closures. We will err on the side of being early and aggressive, rather than late and slow. 

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the novel coronavirus too shall pass. As a community, we’ve come through much harder things. We’ll do it honestly, deliberately, resiliently, and transparently.

And in the meantime, the work of building the Hartford we all want to see will continue. 

Because as I said the day that many of us up here were elected last fall, we all want the same things for our city and for each other.  We want the 8th grader going to a neighborhood school to set her sights on a Hartford Promise scholarship and get it.

We want the small business owner on Maple Avenue who immigrated to this country to grow his business, to grow new jobs, and to create opportunity for others. 

We want the mom of two kids on Enfield Street to see the path for her kids to work at one of our insurance companies, or to be a teacher in our schools, or to be an engineer at Pratt & Whitney, or to serve in City Hall someday.

We want our kids growing up here to be part of building and reinventing our city, finding opportunity right here – not moving away.

Government alone can’t do all that, but government has a role to play. Planning well will help us do it better. Not shying away from the fights that need to be fought will help us go farther. Shining a light on the incredible talent and beauty and strength of our community and our city will remind us why what we do matters so much and why we need to work so hard. And continuing our work with relentless energy and urgency and a focus on the long-term will mean that in the not-too-distant future, some Mayor can say, simply: the state of our city is strong. 

God bless you all, and God bless the city of Hartford.

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