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If a Stadium Fails in P&Z and There Was No News Coverage, Did It Really Happen?

The paucity of media coverage in Hartford does not help local government nor accountability.

The Hartford Courant has just put up a paywall. Is this going to help get reporters to meetings? Highly unlikely.

As far as I can tell, Jenna Carlesso showed up at the last Planning & Zoning Meeting, last Tuesday night, December 9, but she neglected to write anything. If you look at the Courant’s Hartford blog, Cityline, the dates on the stories jump from November 25, to December 3, to December 4, to December 15, to December 17.

Those stories did not touch Planning and Zoning, which at one point was the red meat for a local daily paper. Even though Carlesso attended the meeting, she did not write about the drive-thru issues in the West End, which I described last week.

Let’s be certain that this paper does not have the same reach as the Courant. The failure of the Courant to follow this drive-thru story even after Rand Cooper wrote an op-ed in the Courant about the zoning issues on Farmington Avenue show a stunning lack of continuity.

Most importantly, nothing at all about Centerplan’s stunning defeat Wednesday night at P&Z. Not just the Courant – no media. No TV. No Brookman.

WNPR’s Jeff Cohen tweeted about Centerplan withdrawing its application, so it could resubmit, and RealHartford.org had a short two sentence piece about it. P&Z just must not be sexy enough.

But what about the paper that is older than the nation, missing a huge Hartford stadium story? The Courant did not even have a reporter at the continued stadium hearing on Wednesday, December 10.

How are we supposed to have a functioning community when the information that community breathes like oxygen is shut off? Courant brass will tell you they are doing the best they can with limited resources.

To which I call horse manure. Today, we, the community of Hartford, pay the debt service for a leveraged buyout from the 1990s, when the Times Mirror Company came into Hartford and purchased the Courant, and planned to use its profits to pay the money it borrowed to buy the paper.
We can perhaps blame this on corporate lobbying, which led Ronald Reagan to destroy the 7-7-7 rule, which prevented any company from owning more than seven radio stations, 7 television stations and 7 newspapers.

Oh, Republicanism, we lay down at your altar and worship your corporate state, to the detriment of our society.

Enter the internet. Profits at the Courant dropped, the debt service stayed, so reporters got cut. In 1990, the Courant had more than 300 people in its newsroom. Today, the Courant has 90 or less. The numbers do not support reporting on Hartford’s Planning and Zoning.

Thus, Centerplan, the corporate capitalists seeking a Reagan-style bailout from Hartford, got lucky. No one was there to write about them having to withdraw their application. It was incomplete, and notice was bad.

P&Z Chair Sara Bronin, along with commissioners Anthony Koos and Kristen Marcroft seemed prepared to vote down Centerplan’s application because of a number of issues. With one commissioner absent, the pro-stadium contingent had insufficient votes. The 3-3 deadlock meant doom for Centerplan’s first attempt to ram this ill-conceived stadium down P&Z.

Bronin showed concern with the number of open items Centerplan had. Additionally, commissioners raised concerns with the notice problems. This coming after I filed litigation on the first October 28, 2014 meeting failing statutory notice requirements.

This lawsuit caused Hartford’s Development Director Thomas Deller to renotice the meeting, which set up December 9’s meeting. Chair Bronin mentioned during deliberations on Centerplan’s application that the City has been sued on notice issues, so P&Z should be careful not to expose itself to further legal liability.

The testimony on the stadium item was decidedly, lopsidedly anti-stadium. The sole pro-stadium voices: Tim Sullivan from the carpenters union, Raquel Calderon and other paid hacks for the stadium.

Tim Sullivan seems prepared to mortgage Hartford’s future for jobs now. I consider this argument of jobs now intellectually bankrupt and dishonest. Sullivan takes issue with my characterization. I understand he has a job to do.

But the carpenters, who have stacked public hearings at Court of Common Council, do not have a reasonable response when asked “how many full time jobs will the City lose when it can no longer make its budget because of debt service on the stadium?”

The City is essentially sacrificing long-term services for the community in exchange for temporary jobs (three years, maximum) for the carpenters who will build this stadium boondoggle.

One hopes that Mr. Sullivan’s testimony is weighted appropriately, as coming from a party with an intense economic interest in the construction of the stadium.

On the other hand, almost a dozen or so dedicated community members stayed until after midnight, without pay or the promise of a job, to testify and then listen to Planning and Zoning deliberate on the stadium.

We testified about many shortcomings of the stadium application. I noted how Anne Goshdigian and I went to Development Services on December 4 to examine the maps and plans. Development Services sent us to the City Clerk’s office. The City Clerk’s office does not have the maps and plans.

Joanne Bauer testified that she spent three hours Monday, December 8 going to Development Services to look at the maps. They again sent her to City Clerk’s office. She waited 90 minutes in the City Clerk’s office, and they never produced maps.

Of course, the maps were laid out on the tables at the December 9 meeting. But we did not have sufficient time to examine them. Nor were the plans posted online, despite Mr. Deller’s reassurances.

Why ask why here? We know that the City is hustling this stadium project as hard as it can. Despite our continuous calls for transparency, the City still greets us with an iron fist.

The march of capital and the logic of money can seem unstoppable. Yet, with less than $500, a ragtag group of community activists managed to stop a $350 million juggernaut, because it refuses to follow the rules.

When it became clear to Deller and Centerplan’s lawyer, Thomas J. Regan of Brown Rudnick, that they lacked the votes to win the application in this first round, Deller asked Bronin if P&Z could vote no without prejudice, meaning Centerplan could resubmit.

Then, someone, maybe Deller, maybe Regan, had the brilliant idea of withdrawing. So Regan stood up and withdrew the application. The headline from a “No” vote by P&Z would have been devastating. The headline from a “withdraw” would have put egg on Centerplan’s face.

But, as lucky as we the activists got in this win, Centerplan and Deller got even luckier – Hartford media has been almost totally silent about it. There have been no headlines at all. No analysis or parsing, other than this colum, which is not widely read.

Repercussions of this defeat may send the stadium into 2017. Mayor Pedro Segarra has got to be fuming into his caviar, and looking for ways to discredit Sara Bronin, so he can have his little stadium boondoggle.

When the attacks on Sara Bronin come, we know why. But you won’t read about it in the daily newspaper older than this country. And that, to me, is the saddest part of this whole stadium debacle. Our community suffers because of a lack of news.

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