The town of Enfield, Connecticut has a problem on its hands, the nature of which is the deterioration of the Thompsonville section, once a thriving center of business and social activity.
A number of factors, including an interstate cutting right through the town, and malls that accompanied urban sprawl, combined to isolate the T'ville section as it is called locally. Ultimately parts of the neighborhood declined as businesses left, and some residents followed.
About a quarter of the housing stock in T'ville is owner-occupied, while much of the rest is owned by absentee landlords. The absentee landlords are bearing much of the blame for not keeping their properties up to par.
The housing stock began to decline, and many transient residents replaced those who had left. Drug and alcohol calls soon began clogging the increasingly busy police logs.
The Republicans want a crack-down on crime, increased police presence, and pressure on absentee landlords to clean up and improve their properties. Drug activity and escalating violence that led to a murder in T'ville this summer bolsters their position.
State and federal elections are only weeks away and the local Democrats, who lost control of everything locally last year, are trying to keep two incumbents - Kathy Tallarita and Karen Jarmoc - in the state Assembly. As Democrats, both are members of the majority party that rules what is derisively called Connecticut's Do-Nothing Legislature in Hartford.
Tallarita, a member of the local political machine, whose brother was the mayor until last November, represents the T'ville section.
Tallarita's brother, the ex-mayor, is now on the sidelines - but is a defendant in a federal lawsuit filed by a former supporter with whom the mayor had a public confrontation in 2007. Tallarita, the ex-mayor, reportedly is trying to convince the current Town Council, dominated by the Republicans who swept last year's municipal elections, to pay his legal fees.
To help their incumbents' campaigns, which have focused on bringing more services to T'ville, and to draw attention away from issues that might make voters question their priorities, Enfield's Democrat leaders decided it was time to call in some big time help. Big time as in US Senator Christopher Dodd.
With all that is rumbling around in the background, a nice visit from Dodd seemed like just the thing to focus attention away from years of failed Democratic policies.
Someone should have run that little scenario past local Republican Town Chairwoman Mary Ann Turner first. When Turner discovered that local Democrats had invited Dodd to do a "walking tour" of T'ville last Friday and make a pitch for increased federal services and funding, she went into overdrive.
"Not in my town," was Turner's response, implied if not spoken. She was referring primarily to Dodd's hike.
Turner immediately set about organizing a sidewalk protest to let the good senator know that not everyone in town thinks increased federal intervention, and the resultant increased taxes, are always a good thing.
Besides, Dodd had snubbed the Enfield Town Council delegation in March when council members from both parties traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with government leaders. He had promised to get back to them and reschedule a meeting, but seven months have gone by and Enfield is still waiting by the phone.
Nonetheless, even though Dodd won't meet with the new mayor, Republican Scott Kaupin, he had no problem finding time to go walking in T'ville with a small contingent of Democrats. Or, so he thought.
Long before Dodd arrived, Turner and a band of sign carrying Republicans took up their positions in a parking lot where Dodd was to arrive. That didn't set well with the Dems who confronted Turner, and ordered her out of the area, threatening police action if she didn't leave.
I think the phrase "waving a red flag in front of a bull," might be appropriate here. Being threatened with arrest for exercising her constitutional rights to assembly, free speech and redress of grievances didn't exactly carry the kind of weight the Dems had hoped.
"Go ahead, call the cops," was essentially what she said in response.
After the local efforts were spent, it was time for a Dodd staffer to approach Turner. Sweet talk isn't exactly the best approach with her either.
Not only did Turner maintain her position on the issues with T'ville, she let the staff member know in no uncertain terms how she felt about a US Senator deliberately snubbing the mayor.
After that little discussion, the Dems told Turner they were cancelling the walkabout, and would just meet with Dodd indoors.
Next it was George Colli IV, a Suffield Democrat who is running for the state Senate seat that covers the area, against incumbent Republican John Kissel. Apparently Colli, who has a few problems of his own, figured a few photos with Dodd would be just what the doctor ordered to give his campaign a high-profile backer.
That didn't work either. Colli ended up just one more Democrat who tried and failed.
Ultimately, it was the man himself, Christopher Dodd, who approached Turner to find out just what it was she was protesting.
Turner wasted no time in letting Dodd know she was protesting HIM, and all who were aligning themselves with him, especially with the Countrywide mortgage deal, and the Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae situation, and Dodd taking off for the cornfields of Iowa during the presidential primaries instead of staying home representing his state. That was all in one breath too.
When the dust was settled, Dodd blinked and didn't do the T'ville walkabout. He addressed the Dems indoors, and left for wherever Senators go at the end of a long day. But not before promising Turner that he would call Enfield Town Hall no later than noon on Monday to actually schedule a meeting with town leaders.
Monday noon came, and Monday noon went. No Dodd call.
Turner was right back on the phone to his office demanding to know why Dodd had snubbed her town again!
Finally a call was made.
"Have your peeps call my peeps," was the way the conversation went, or something like that.
In the end, Dodd blinked, Turner did not, but this story really doesn't have a happy ending, yet.
Dodd finally promised to come meet with Enfield officials, but not until after the November elections.
Turner says she isn't holding her breath.
Monday, October 20, 2008