In a word, frustration may sum up the feeling of East End residents. Just like most of the rest of the city, they’re voting less, involved less and wondering what the future brings. No bank, no pharmacy, no supermarket. Does anyone care? The East End will be an important battleground for votes in an expected Aug. 14 primary for State Senate between incumbent Ed Gomes and challengers Ernie Newton and State Rep. Andres Ayala. Newton lives in the neighborhood, Ayala wants to represent it and Gomes has been the State Senator for the past seven years. How they communicate directly with voters and how they interact with Mayor Bill Finch to find solutions could decide the winner of the primary. CT Post columnist Keila Torres captures the malaise in the neighborhood in her latest:
East Enders understand people’s anxiety.
They know how pitiful their Bridgeport neighborhood looks traveling down Stratford Avenue, the heart of the East End. No one bothers to turn on any side streets and see the well-kept single-family owner-occupied homes. No one turns on the side streets and sees the Ralphola Taylor Community Center or the neighborhood’s three middle schools and playgrounds.
They see the corner stores, scattered take-out eateries, bars and empty storefronts on Stratford Avenue. And immediately they turn around.
Madd Brotha #1, who was waiting to get a haircut at Kingdom Cutters Barber Shop on Stratford Avenue Tuesday, swears that he has seen people get off at Interstate 95’s exit 29 ramp on Seaview Avenue, travel a few blocks up Stratford Avenue and realize they are not in Stratford, but Bridgeport. Good thing for them there are two Interstate 95 on-ramps, one northbound and the other southbound, right at the edge of the neighborhood for easy access out. He says they choose the easy access out-ramp.
Residents here say why shouldn’t they? No new businesses are choosing to come to the East End. Why should they? The only interested business is the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Ferry Co., which wants to move its downtown operations to a waterfront parcel along Seaview Avenue.
“They’re thinking that’s what we need,” says Madd, disgust evident in his voice. He is mad with two d’s because his neighborhood is still just as neglected as when he was a kid.
Maybe more so. At least then there was a bank.
He says no one ever asks them what they need.
“They’re so scared they never come out here,” says Madd Brotha.
The pastor in a brown-checkered shirt tucked into a pair of beige slacks who has been listening to Madd disagrees.
“They’re not scared,” he says.
The pastor used to live in Bridgeport. Not anymore.
“I got out,” he says.
Standing a few feet away cutting a client’s hair, barber shop owner Neal McGee agrees that they’re not scared. He said they just have no reason to be here. “We don’t have anything in the East End.”
The group begins rattling off the things the East End lacks. A bank. A pharmacy. A supermarket. A full-service library.
“Wait,” McGee exclaims. “It just hit me. Why the heck am I the only barbershop on Stratford Avenue?”
“They’re creating an environment that is not able to produce anything,” says the pastor, 44. “If you can’t produce anything what are you gonna do? You turn on yourselves.”
He throws out the word plague.
McGee, who grew up on the East End, says the population is self-destructing. When was the last time there was new construction in the East End, he asks to no one in particular. “It ain’t like we don’t have space for it.”
A man, who was getting his salt-and-pepper afro trimmed, pipes up for the first time. “I’ve been in this part of town since 1960,” the 58-year-old says. “And boy has it changed. I’m glad I grew up when I did.”
What are the East End youth supposed to aspire to, the pastor asks. “If all you give me is stuff out of the bottom of the barrel, what can you really expect from me?”
Maybe the city is waiting for the neighborhood to destroy itself so it can start all over, instead of using eminent domain like it did when it moved people from the East Side to make way for the massive Steelepointe development, which hasn’t been developed yet.
Houses are burning down, leaving vacant lots. Young people are killing each other off.
The old-timer in the chair doesn’t understand. “The East End is a good part of Bridgeport,” he says. “There are no projects here. Only homeowners.”
There’s no one speaking up for the neighborhood, someone says.
None of the men ever remember meeting their City Council representatives, state representative or state senator.
They can’t even name them.
“If you’re going to be in a position of power at least do something for the East End,” McGee says. “Maybe I’ll run for office.”