By Robert Cotto, Jr.
When I vote for Joel Cruz, Jr. on Tuesday, November 3rd, I will be voting for him and his message: one Hartford. That’s what Joel Cruz will work for as Mayor of Hartford.
Like my own family, Joel’s came to Hartford as newcomers from Puerto Rico and settled in Hartford’s North End. When our families arrived in Hartford, the city was changing quickly.
White families increasingly left, while Black, West Indian, and Puerto Rican folks moved into the city. Finance and industry abandoned or took advantage of the city when it could. Federal and State policy facilitated this flight.
As kids, Joel and I grew up in this Hartford. When I met Joel a few years ago, I learned we had similar childhoods in the city. We bought penny candies, played in the same streets and parks, and, over the years, lost loved ones to drugs, guns, and poverty. Through the difficulties, he is more hopeful than ever about the city.
My family left to the suburbs for a time, but Joel and his family stayed. He graduated from Hartford Public High School at a time when it almost lost accreditation. He joined the U.S. Marines Corps, got himself through college, married, and started a family.
Today he helps men become better fathers to their children. Both his children attend the Hartford Public Schools despite the challenges of the system. And, like his father, he also works as a pastor. His time in the city matters, but what he’s done during that time matters even more. He understands what it’s like to live in Hartford, has made meaningful contributions, and is personally committed to its future.
Hartford is changing again. State government and private finance want to use Hartford as a way to make new profits. Although investment can be helpful, the current plans are very limited. The main plan is simple: use public funds to reinforce downtown as an exclusive playground for high-income people. Although the plan is “colorblind”, it implicitly means a playground for primarily white folks and the handful of Black and Latino people that can pay to play. In short, this vision is of two separate Hartford’s.
That plan might have some benefits, particularly for the elite and well connected. But it’s unlikely that real benefits will spread to everyday people throughout the city. During this year’s debates, the candidates for Mayor were rarely asked about how they would confront this problem. Why didn’t anybody address or ask about this issue?
Well, it’s simple. The very same people that intend to profit from “two Hartford’s” have spent roughly one million dollars so their candidate can implement the elite plan.
But when I hear Joel Cruz talk, I hear an inclusive message when it comes to jobs, housing, health, culture, or education. Joel’s logic is common sense: If we are going to invest into the city, then we must all benefit, not only the well off and well connected. This is a better vision for all of Hartford.
Serving on the Hartford City Council, he has experience with inclusive change. He believes we need to bring out the best of people in our city, rather than discipline, over-police, or contain less fortunate people. Based on these beliefs, he worked for agreements that require new development to include jobs for Hartford residents. He also worked to make the city more accommodating for new immigrants. For Joel, Hartford’s residents are assets, not deficits.
As we gathered several weeks ago on Capen Street, new and long-time residents came to support Cruz. His supporters came from all races, walks of life, and neighborhoods in the City. At the press conference, Cruz powerfully noted that all the neighborhoods of Hartford face similar challenges. Most importantly, he said that all of our neighborhoods – North, West, and South – have been neglected for a long time.
I know Joel Cruz, Jr. will remember Hartford residents as mayor. All of us.
#onehartford #JoelCruzforMayor #Row2E
Robert Cotto, Jr. lives in Hartford and is an elected member of Hartford’s Board of Education serving his second term. He is an educator and holds degrees from Dartmouth College, Harvard University, and Trinity College. His views are his own.