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.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Councilman Cotto Chats With Sad City II

Hartford Council Minority Leader Luis Cotto recently announced his bid for re-election. A friend of Sad City and the reigning Hot In Hartford champion, we thought it would be a good time to check in with Mr. Cotto to see what he's been up to and his thoughts on various Hartford issues.

1. Hello Councilman Cotto, recently you announced that you were running for re-election to your Council seat. Give us some basics on city council, Hartford is divided up into a number of districts and they each elect a councilmember?  How long are the terms? Which district do you represent?

Hello Loob and Sad City.  Thanks for having me on. Hartford Court of Common Council is an "at-large" body and council people do not represent a specific district, but the city as a whole. This means that the top 9 vote getters get on Council. The only caveat is that no more then 2/3 (6) can be from one party, hence you see the DEMs endorse 6 and not 9 peeps. As a voter, you can vote for up to SIX candidates. The Council term is for 4 years and while I live on Park Terrace in Frog Holla!, I like to think that I represent everyone as fairly as possible.

2. Give us a couple of your specific accomplishments while on City Council that you would point to in order to convince us to vote for you.

First and foremost I would like to believe that I played an instrumental role in two major initiatives undertaken by the City: (1) Refocusing on our public parks as the natural treasures that they are and (2) Recognizing our Arts community as a valuable cultural and economic asset. I am a big supporter of the arts stimulus initiative on Council, I also was instrumental in recreating the Office of Cultural Affairs as well as re-constituting the Commission on Cultural Affairs.

In 2008, I worked with a local coalition to author and pass what's become known as the Immigration Ordinance making us the only city in the northeast to codify how a city should treat its immigrant population. I've been told that Pittsburgh used our ordinance as model language for a similar law in that City.

I co-chaired our Living Wage task force which led to the expansion of that law within our City as well as applying it to sub contractors of the City. I also chaired the Landfill Reuse Task Force whose recommendations will lead the way in what happens with what is now the highest point in the City. The view from up there is awesome!

I authored two ordinances that will hopefully break down barriers for people to get jobs in the City: 1) was a "Ban the Box" ordinance (working with the Clean Slate Committee) which removed the need to ask the question on prior arrests until after a conditional offer has been made, and 2) forbidding the City from using a Credit Check within our hiring process. 

I worked with our LGBTQI Community to amend an ordinance to include gender identity as a protected class within our EEOC laws. This same legislation was recently passed at a state level this past session. 

I created the Skatepark task force which has worked diligently towards the creation of a skatepark at Heaven over I-84. 

Along with the above I've been very public about my belief that it is imperative for the City of Hartford to take a stand on National and Global injustices. To that extent I helped pass resolutions denouncing both the Iraq War as well as the current War and occupation of Afghanistan. I authored a resolution denouncing the draconian SB1070 Law in Arizona which basically permits racial profiling and I attempted to secure two Imams to facilitate our invocations for the month of September in a direct rebuttal to the wave of islamaphobia experienced in this country over the discussion of a mosque on the WTC site. Currently I'm working with a wonderful coalition to help regain basic civil rights lost in the years following 9/11 with the passing of the Patriot Act. 

I also have to mention that I'm most proud of being able to show that one doesn't have to conform to the accepted social construct of an "elected official", in order to serve ones City with pride.

3. We’ve noticed that you make frequent use of Twitter. Do you find this to be an effective way to communicate with your constituents? Are there any drawbacks to such frequent Tweeting? Are there any other council members we might enjoy following on Twitter?

I think that the biggest obstacle to real change these days is that people just don't know what is happening at City Hall. To that extent, it's incumbent on us to try and get the word out in as many ways as possible.  I'm a computer geek going back to my gamer days on Asheron's Call so I gravitated both to Facebook and Twitter as ways to "get the word out." 
 I love Twitter's ability to get instant feedback on a whole host of issues from your constituents as well as learning from others via the stuff they link to.  Drawbacks include the occasional drunk tweet, such as last weeks "Wtf Wtf Wtf!!" when I saw a whole host of Hostas butchered down in a landscaping run amok scenario outside La Paloma Sabanera. But twitter also has the same drawback as emails and texts in that it's easy to misinterpret people's tone on their tweets. I think failure to use common emotional intelligence is culprit number one on many internet flame wars. Councilman Cory Brinson has a twitter presence (@CoryBrinson) but he's not as engaging as our COO David Panagore (@dpanagore).

I also uploaded a number of videos on Youtube called Councilor Cotto's Fireside Chat which tries to demistify what happens at City Hall. 
4. How jealous are you that we have more Twitter followers? 

(Ed not: At time this was published Sad City checked in with 818 and the Councilman with 506)
LOL!  I would hope that anyone who gets on the Colin McEnroe Show (even though he's not as hot as I am), and the Porn Star guys show as much as you guys do, can beat out a lowly ole Minority Leader from the hood :-). I'm not surprised that you didn't mention Facebook where I have more cousins then Sad City has followers. (Ed. Note: Sad City 872, Councilman 2762. Ouch)

5. Everyone knows we need jobs for all levels of workers in Hartford. It’s an
 easy thing to give service to, but in your time as a Councilman have you seen actual progress in Hartford’s ability to create jobs for residents and jobs to retain those that attend Hartford’s institutes of higher education?

Great question! When asked four years ago, I hope I was honest enough to say "I don't know what the heck to do to stimulate job growth." I didn't run as a jobs growth guy, I ran as a Parks defender and an Arts and Creative Community guy. Now if we were to look back at the last four years, there were three job creation initiatives directly attributable to City Hall, and I was aggressively involved in two of those.  1) The enhanced focus on the Parks System created a couple hundred temporary jobs with less than a hundred becoming permanent and 2) The Arts stimulus grants, which is now in its 3rd year, has been able to create and sustain another couple of hundred jobs and 3) the City's investment in The Market at 21 has helped create upto 90 jobs for a staff that's overwhelmingly from Hartford.  I forgot a fourth:  The City, in 2009 or 2010, helped the Hilton Hotel stay afloat by doing some complicated loan transfer arrangement, which allowed the Hilton to remain open saving a couple hundred jobs in the process (Again, low skill jobs and a majority Hartford workers).

The second part of your jobs question is a bit more complicated. Yes, the state's stats for retaining graduates is abysmal.  But I think that it's getting a lot better. Hartford is witnessing an explosion of young, professionals locating themselves in Downtown. HYPE has done a wonderful job in getting them a voice and most are very active online via blogs and posts as well as at City Hall. While I have not seen a specific initiative come out of City Hall to improve the states numbers with this community, I think the state as a whole is on the upswing.

6. Any update on our gas station drug dilutant ordinance?

Again, you guys are ahead of the curve and I can officially give you credit for kicking me in the pants about this. After bugging Corp Counsel on the ordinance, I was given the go ahead to resubmit the language of the original ordinance into an already existing "bodega" ordinance. It's a good thing in that it gives me an idea that the current administration is not 100% against it but at the same time I'm interested to see if gas stations (which tend to be the main perpetrators of this issue) actually qualify as "bodegas."  I will make sure to keep you guys in the loop.

7. Your right hand man Brendan Mahoney has been very active in trying to get a skate park built in downtown, any update on that project?

Thank you for giving credit to my aide-de-camp Brendan Mahoney.  He wanted to jump on this back in 2008, and I didn't move forward with it because I had to be convinced that Hartford youth would benefit and not just suburban kids. But, I finally came around and it's been full steam ahead ever since.  City Council just approved the 2011 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) process which allocated $150,000 to the creation of an urban skate park and hip hop zone at Heaven. The task force is moving forward with an application to the Tony Hawk Foundation and we should be sitting with DPW this summer to make sure the design is fine to move forward with a Request For Proposal (RFP) which would mean that we could be busting our asses in Heaven by Spring/Summer of 2012!! The task force is also moving forward with a couple fundraisers, one which will include auctioning off skate decks art pieces created by local artists as well as a rock party coming up.

8. What is your opinion on what happened with Mayor Segarra, Shawn Wooden
 and Governor Malloy last week?

Damn, you had to get all serious on me, didn't you? What happened last week is both unfortunate and regrettable. As a progressive, I lived through Obama v Clinton as well as Malloy v Lamont and seem to remember everything turning out ok afterwards. This fear that a healthy debate would tear our city apart is just as big an insult to the residents of this city as the assertion afterwards that the DEMs are "together" was to the other Mayoral candidates. If anything, it makes the Council race and the endorsement drama for the Democrats that much more exciting with Wooden receiving an automatic bid...or will he? That being said, I had the pleasure of meeting señor Wooden and found him to be a really great guy. If I'm blessed enough to represent the people of Hartford come January 2012, I think we could do some good stuff together. I hope he supports my candidacy for President of the Council :-)

9. Let’s assume what happened was that Wooden wasn’t going to win but
 Malloy didn’t want him splitting Segarra’s votes so they made an agreement to run as a “ticket” of sorts. Wouldn’t it be better just coming out and saying something to that effect?

I've gotten in enough trouble with my mom as a kid to know that you can never go wrong when you just speak the truth.

10. Is crime a problem in Hartford?

That's a huge question señor. Keep in mind that you're talking to a guy who grew up in the north-end in the days of the Ghetto Brothers and Savage Nomads as well as the south-end in the 90s with Los Solidos and Latin Kings. This was the time when Hartford topped at 60 homicides a year. But you're also talking to a father of a 17 year old young lady and a three year old boy with whom I walk everywhere. I can see every day that the illicit drug industry is still the #2 job recruiter for our youth after the military. Some of the guys that were locked up 10 to 15 years ago are now at end of sentence. They are coming out of jail with no new skills, no job prospects and with little opportunity or incentive to make better choices, unfortunately, there is a good chance that eventually they will land themselves back behind bars.
I also know that we are living through a generation of adolescents who were born to single moms at the turn of the century (2000) when Hartford "led" the nation in teen pregnancy rate. 

So you're talking about a generation of youth growing up in a one parent family environment.  These youth grow up lacking the respect for others outside their own posse and still live with a day to day mentality of not knowing, or caring, about consequences.  End result, it's easier then it used to be to get access to and decide to end a beef with a gun. It's easier then it used to be to go down to Capital and Main and break into a car because you know that's where the "rich" people live.

I hope you can see by my ramblings that the issue of crime is not a simple "yeah, it sucks" kinda answer.  
Yes, crime is a problem in Hartford and to address that problem we have to get to the causes: poverty and illiteracy and isolation. But I don't want to sit here and reinforce negative stereotypes about Hartford becoming a cesspool of crime, because it's not true and if anyone has lived in this City long enough, you would know that it's been hella worse (anyone remember Dan Rather in the back of a car smoking pot on 48 hours?). There are a lot of hardworking, law abiding people who live, work and play in Hartford and they outnumber the bad apples by an incredibly huge number...Ginormous even.

11. What happened to Sad City day?
I though you already asked me about the Shawn Wooden / Pedro Segarra thing? :-)

Sad City would like to thank the Councilman for his time.


  1. Are all 9 common council seats up for reelection or just a portion of them? If it is less than the full nine, how many seats are being elected this November?

  2. @BWP, all 9 seats will be filled. But voters only get to vote for a maximum of 6 with the top 9 getting elected.

    Keep in mind, you don't have to vote for 6. Some people actually practice "bullet voting" where you only vote for one person.

  3. What a great Bullshit answer from this guy on crime in Hartford.

  4. Thank you D.A.R., I always strive for greatness.

  5. @Luis, thanks for the reply, so the mayor AND council change every 4 years... interesting. Best of luck with your re-election. BWP

  6. The board of ed members of have four year terms, too. The five appointed members are reappointed by mayor with council approval when the new mayor/council terms start. The four elected members are the off-year odd numbered year election. Small election, low turn out.

  7. @ Brendan, I knew that the mayor appointed 5 and that 4 were elected to the BOE, but did not know the time frame... so they would be elected in 2013.

    Thank you. Brooks

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