Connecticut mayors seek help from Washington

Washington — The Occupy protesters huddled in McPherson Square and the 250 U.S. mayors meeting a block away this week have at least one thing in common: They are both reacting to the economic hardship wrought by the recession.

Like the Occupy protesters, the nation’s mayors are seeking action from Washington.

But with congressional gridlock and a shrinking federal budget, that may be very hard to find.

“It’s very disheartening to see the impasse,” Pedro Segarra, the mayor of Hartford, said Wednesday. “But we’ll just keep on trying.”

Segarra is one of nine Connecticut mayors registered at the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting in Washington. The others are Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr.; Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia; Mark Lauretti, from Shelton; John Harkins, from Stratford; Torrington Mayor Ryan Bingham; Timothy Herbst, from Trumbull; and Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary.

They belong to the largest group of mayors ever to attend the winter conference, a result of increasing concerns about the lingering impact of the recession.

“Mayors are looking for innovative ways to create jobs. That’s why they’re here,” said Kathy Amoroso, assistant executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The event is being held at The Capital Hilton.

A conference report released Wednesday said that less than a tenth of the nation’s metropolitan areas have regained the jobs they lost in the recession.

The report also said that most U.S. cities are suffering from falling median household income.

Greater Hartford’s median household income dropped from $67,200 in 2008 to $63,100 in 2010, the report said. The city of Hartford’s median income is much lower; for individuals it was $26,032 in 2010, according to U.S. Census figures.

The Bridgeport area’s median household income dropped from $84,500 in 2008 to $74,800 in 2010, New Haven-Milford’s from $61,600 to $57,100 and Norwich-New London’s from $68,600 to $62,400.

The report predicts that education and health services will be the “main drivers in employment growth” in the New England states.

The goal of the report is to remind federal lawmakers that cities drive the economy, and that cuts in federal aid and legislative gridlock hurt the nation’s economic engine.

Segarra, a Democrat, said it was important to travel to Washington this week to “try to identify resources.”

He said he plans to meet with officials at the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services to try to find those resources.

Another pressing priority is trying to make up for the loss of federal stimulus funds. Segarra spent $11 million in stimulus funds to run the city’s school system last year, but there’s no such federal help in this year’s school budget.

Like most mayors, Segarra is hoping that Congress soon approves a transportation bill. He wants to seek funding to rebuild the I-84 viaduct that splits the city and needs repair.

DeStefano, of New Haven, is also hoping for a new transportation bill, although he’s aware that it may fall victim to partisanship, which is expected to escalate this election year.

“What Congress and the president will do, I can’t say,” DeStefano said. “But I think it’s important to give voice to the challenges of our communities.”

Moccia, of Norwalk, said the meeting of mayors is an “opportunity to meet with other mayors and find out what they’re doing… and let the Washington people know we’re on the front lines.”

“Washington, D.C., is supposed to be a work zone, not a war zone,” Moccia said.