With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Shawn Wooden Chats With Sad City

Image courtesy of Wooden For Mayor
Shawn Wooden has thrown his hat into the proverbial political ring and is making his bid for Mayor.  Mr. Wooden recently took some time to answer some of Sad City's questions becoming the fourth candiate for Mayor to do so in the last few months.  (Incumbent Mayor Segarra, J. Stan McCauley, and Edwin Vargas have previously done so)  As the election draws closer it will be interesting to see how the candidates distinguish themselves over the next couple months.  We would like to thank Mr. Wooden and his staff for their time. Interview after the jump.

1.     You grew up in the North End and now live in the West End. Have you lived in any other parts of Hartford? How has Hartford changed in ways both good and bad since you were growing up here? 

My parents came here from rural Georgia in the 1950’s because they believed Hartford was a place of opportunity for them to raise a family. I grew up across the North End, including Albany Avenue, the Stowe Village Housing Projects, North Main Street, the Vine Street Co-ops, and in the house on Palm Street in Blue Hills where my parents realized their dream of becoming homeowners in the city. My wife Biree and I bought that house that my parents bought, and later moved to the West End where I now live.

Growing up, I was surrounded by all of the problems associated with urban centers such as poverty, drug addiction and teen pregnancy. I see these same problems continue to exist today. We have witnessed massive population loss and an exodus of jobs outside the city. There have been some areas of progress, including the revitalization of some neighborhoods and the beginnings of educational reform. But we need to accelerate the speed of progress and address head-on the issues facing the city.

2.     You have never held an elected office. Some will see this as a negative while others, tired of
politicians in a struggling economy, will see this as a positive. Why the decision to get into politics at this point in time?

I am deeply motivated to serve the city of Hartford and I believe we are at a turning point where we need serious leadership to transform the city. I have been working to improve my city, state and country since I was 18 years old. I believe my wide range of experience, in city and state government, as an attorney, working with labor unions, non-profits and businesses—combined with my love of this city—
gives me a unique perspective and unique experience to lead this city. I maintain close relationships with elected officials across all levels of government without being a political insider, and I believe this makes me uniquely qualified to serve the residents of Hartford without being beholden to power brokers or special interests.

3. Tell us some of your favorite places around town to grab a drink or a bite to eat. 

 I have too many to list, so here are five that I love for different reasons.  Most days when I am at work, I head downstairs on Trumbull Street to the Russell.  I get the Jerk Chicken sandwich.  I love Abyssinian on Farmington Avenue.  My wife Biree’s family is from Eritrea, and we love the flavors of her household growing up.  I generally do prefer spicy food, so I also like Thai.  The King and I is terrific.   For comfort food, you can’t beat The Cozy Spot – it makes me think of my house when I was a kid!  And of course, for special occasions, we head to Max Downtown.  I am glad they have been so successful.  It is important for Hartford to have superb downtown restaurants, and Mr. Rosenthal has been an anchor for so many years.  

4. Your candidacy will be a direct challenge to incumbent Mayor Pedro Segarra; give us your assessment on Mayor Segarra’s job performance since being thrust into the role after the resignation of Eddie Perez.
I believe that Mayor Segarra has stepped into a period of turmoil in the city and has been a soothing presence, similar to the role of Jodi Rell following the John Rowland scandal. However, the immense challenges facing Hartford demand need strong hands-on problem solving combined with a vision for our future.  Residents do not feel safe, people need jobs, and our schools aren’t performing well enough for our kids.

5. You were quoted in Rick Green’s Hartford Courant article as stating “I see myself as a bridge between many worlds … I'd like to be a bridge to the young professionals in the city who have not been part of the recent politics.” In your opinion why haven’t young Hartford professionals been a part of recent politics?

We need to create a more transparent, open and dynamic city government in order to fully engage all residents, including young professionals. Without young professionals involved in making decisions, Hartford will not be able to retain young professionals to stay in the city.

We saw during the election of Barack Obama that young people are looking for ways to engage in politics and can make a tremendous difference. In my campaign I am working closely with many young professionals and I believe we need to include their perspective and ideas in how we run the city.

6.     What do you think is the best approach to take towards I-84?

The plan recommended by the HUB of Hartford Committee gives us the rare opportunity to reverse most of a terrible mistake made 60 years ago. I support this plan.

7.   A few  months ago we attended the public hearing portion of a Council Meeting. During this portion of the meeting we heard about 3-4 of the speakers express the sentiment that they thought there are “too many lawyers” on the Council. The Mayor is a lawyer. You are a lawyer. What would you say to those people to change their minds?

As Mayor, I will use my legal knowledge and skills to get the people’s business done.

8.     Sad City has stated repeatedly that one thing that really hurts Hartford is the inability to retain young professionals after they graduate from the local schools. Do you also see this as a major concern and what changes would you implement to retain young professionals? 

I do share this concern. Hartford has a tremendous number of respected institutions of higher learning, including my alma mater Trinity College, yet recent graduates do not realize the potential of what Hartford has to offer to them. We need to make sure the services and cultural opportunities available in our city are attractive to the young people of Hartford. That starts with cleaning up our city and as a board member of the Knox Parks Foundation, I am proud of the foundation’s efforts to clean up Hartford’s parks. As Mayor, I will not only focus on bringing jobs to Hartford to city residents, but I will also partner with local schools to expand internship opportunities for students so they become invested in the city’s job market early on.  I will also explore incentives for college graduates to stay in the city, including expanding our AmeriCorps and Public Allies programs which provide valuable jobs to young people and improve the organizations that serve the city.

9. One of the things that has really bothered us in our travels throughout the city is gas stations openly selling drug cutting agents such as lactose powder that clearly have no other purpose except the drug trade. We grew up in suburbs and know this would not be tolerated in the suburbs at all. Councilman Cotto has tried to introduce a bill that would ban gas stations from selling these types of substances. Would you support this type of bill?

Yes, I support the bill if the city has the authority to enact it, which remains a question for the Corporation Counsel to address. As Mayor I would make use of the bully pulpit to address this issue, with or without a bill. I can’t imagine that that gas companies want their franchises associated with the drug trade. To generate quicker and more effective action, I would send a letter to the CEO with the Sad City pictures enclosed, asking whether aiding the drug trade is an acceptable practice under the franchise agreements. If needed I would follow up with a phone call each week until the products were removed.   The Mayor has access to the press, both locally and nationally, and that access can be powerful.  I would use that access to benefit the city.

10. Would you like to take this chance to announce a platform you are running on? If elected Mayor will you be considering any Sad City writers for any political posts?

I would be glad to consider you for any position other than City Slogan Czars.

One of the main themes of my campaign is based on Hartford’s motto, “After the clouds, the sun.” Hartford has faced many challenges, and I believe that I can lead the city to again be a place where all residents can find opportunity.


  1. This young man is tremendously impressive and he just might make a big difference in the city of Hartford! I am not a Hartford resident, but if I was, I would certainly vote for him! He seems to be knowledgable about important issues and the Hartford community. He also appears to have the kind of tenacity and integrity that is sorely needed in politics today. I wish him the best!

    A. Harris

  2. In response to question 8: If there were jobs in Hartford then young graduates would stay in Hartford. As a recent Uhart graduate I can tell you that the only reason myself and all of my classmates left Hartford is because none of us found jobs in the area, and I know for a fact that we all looked pretty extensively. I really wish I had because I like Hartford a lot more than where I am now, but I'm just happy I actually got a job somewhere.

  3. This guy just withdrew from the mayor's race and is going for city council instead. I think it makes sense given his lack of political experience but I'm hoping once he is more experienced he runs for mayor because he seems like the kind of guy Hartford needs.