Democratic mayoral candidate John Gomes shares his perspective on addressing blight in the city. See below:
Blight in Bridgeport; the wound that needs healing.
In a recent Connecticut Post story: “No Shortage of Blight” (March 1, 2011), the Post depicted a City filled with “acres of abandoned property.” The story also talks of the City’s long history of struggle (since the 1900’s), to cope with the huge problem of neglected and blighted buildings in Bridgeport.
The undeniable truth of what we see, hear, and smell every day in Bridgeport is such an overwhelming presence that it becomes a factor in the critical delay to any real City-wide development, which must be based on sustainable and measurable growth.
This situation must change. This reflection of a blighted landscape contaminates our City’s image, and even more deeply, it contaminates the spirit of our citizens.
My concern today is that we face a system that is broken. The majority of our citizens feel frustrated with their inability to move City Hall to clean up this City.
We need to elect our leadership from among qualified candidates. We need to have candidates who are capable of approaching the problem of blight removal without giving special favoritism to a select few property owners. Yet the DTC continues to ignore leadership qualities, whether it’s a candidate for mayor or city council.
And so the blight problems continue … year after year.
Like so many other chronic problems facing Bridgeport, we must ask ourselves when is enough going to be enough. When do we start asking for accountability?
The City apparently has an archive of well-designed architectural projects accumulated through the past few decades which were going to bring an economic rebirth and renaissance of development to the City. We keep being sold the “dream” of Bridgeport, but the reality of this dream is anchored in lies and deception.
We are Bridgeport. Our City’s name means to remind us each day of the fundamental connection we share along all sides of both the Yellow Mill River and the Pequonnock River. Where we link together all the cultural and ethnic diversity this City offers. We cannot be a City without bridges, we cannot be divided any longer. We cannot continue with an inoperable Congress Street Bridge and an inoperable Knowlton Street Bridge. This is an unfair and unjust separation of communities.
As a City, we cannot accept or even tolerate a system which perpetuates division among our citywide community of people.
We must be a united City in order to have a persuasive voice in the crucial decision-making process affecting our lives today and tomorrow. We can no longer accept inadequate and unfair performance. It is disturbing to recognize that our current system does more to suppress the vitality of citizen input than it does to encourage it.
We can no longer allow the conflicted interests that so many of our elected Council members have as they accept a paycheck from the City as an employee, yet will then vote on issues that directly pertain to that same employment. Where is the impartiality? Where is the fairness?
And where is the on-going concern of all those high-level City employees who leave Bridgeport every night to their homes in the suburbs? The evidence shows there is none.
To begin, we must end the favoritism and the cronyism accorded so many property owners who neglect their properties and allow blight to occur. In a Gomes Mayoral Administration, we must demonstrate to everyone that we are finally serious about resolving and ridding Bridgeport of her history of blight.
We are going to collect the millions of dollars that are unpaid/owed property taxes. And use part of that money to wage our fight against blight.
We must restructure our resources within the City so that we begin to collect the fines that have been assessed against blighted properties. At the least, collect these fines more timely.
Most importantly, we must structure a City-wide inter-departmental cohesiveness so that the four or five agencies of the City connected with blight removal can become a single focus. We need to end the duplication (or even triplication) of effort and paperwork. The City Attorney’s Office and the Condemnation Board must also work together so that policies and regulations on the books can be enforced. Our failure to develop a single focus has allowed over $2mm in fines for blight to go uncollected since 2005.
As a City, we cannot work against each other. We can only expect positive results when we establish standards of accountability, performance measures and a sense of urgency to fix this problem.
When I was Director of (the original) CitiStat, I was asked to assess and analyze the problems the City experienced in handling its serious blight problem. I gave the Mayor a proposal which showed a structured approach that made operations work more smoothly and efficiently as it was based on an interactive communication, an exchange of data and a level of cooperation that would cut across (and include) all agencies in the City connected with the blight problem. The proposal was based on an equitable, objective approach to the problem at hand. Neither the politically favored employees, nor the politically favored property owners/landlords were given “special consideration.” This proposal was to clean up the City for the enjoyment and pride of her residents, business owners, and visitors.
I have included the proposal I gave to the Mayor which shows that combining our staffing resources within an Office of Environmental Health Services, under the Health Department, would be a first concrete step in reducing blight, because it would coordinate all efforts.
As elected Mayor, I am prepared on DAY ONE to implement this proposal in its original fair and equitable application.