The recent reckless statements by the mayor of New Haven and a Democratic state representative here in Connecticut showed the ugly side of politics. Both public servants brought shame to their offices with baseless, unsubstantiated charges of racism leveled at municipalities they know nothing about, save for what they read on social media and their preconceived notions of those towns.
Let’s start with the New Haven mayor. He makes accusations that towns are discriminating against people of color through zoning regulations, and when asked repeatedly for evidence, he could not produce anything. I then called him and received a call back a day later. While he backpedaled, he didn’t apologize. I suggested before he speaks and makes accusations, he should know more about the subject.
He replied that “he knows Greenwich as he grew up in New Canaan.” That non-sequitur aside, he double and triple-downed on his irresponsible behavior with yet another public rant in the papers a few days later.
State Rep. Michael Winkler (D-Vernon) followed the mayor’s lead and kept focusing on why towns only had a certain percentage of one minority group. When presented with evidence that showed he was wrong, he made the offensive comment that Asians and other groups never faced discrimination. His timing could not have been worse, coming days after the tragic shooting in Georgia that counted many Asian-Americans as victims.
Only when faced with mounting criticism did he apologize the next day.
Let’s set the record straight. My hometown of Greenwich has more than 27% of its population listed as nonwhite. More than 38% of our student population is also nonwhite. Our town has a housing authority dedicated to affordable housing. In fact, Greenwich Communities has spent more than $27 million on affordable units in town in just the past five years. Furthermore, our Planning and Zoning Commission is presenting the Greenwich Board of Selectmen with a public-private partnership proposal that would establish an affordable housing trust fund. This local progress promulgated by these ideas have not, and are not, being compelled by state mandate. They are locally inspired goals and achievements.
The bills being pushed by DeSegregate CT and its allies would penalize hardworking Connecticut residents who reside in towns that have not met the 10% affordable housing mandate from the state. They would strip Connecticut citizens of the right to have public hearings on housing applications, maybe the most undemocratic of all concepts to date. They would also prohibit a municipality from requiring off-street parking when four-unit building applications are filed. The legislative proposals would also require areas within a half mile of railroad stations to be multi-unit housing stock, thus conflicting with the architectural consistency of those neighborhoods.
Another mind boggling proposal is the mansion tax, hitting properties over $300,000 with an additional tax where the revenue would not even go back to the municipality in which the property is located. In past years, the language said the money would be distributed to distressed municipalities on an as needed basis. This proposal is a money grab and redistribution of money, pure and simple.
One size fits all, Hartford-driven mandates that weaken local control of authority are both not needed and potentially very dangerous. Any legislative proposal that threatens the streetscape and architectural consistency of neighborhoods in every municipality in the State of Connecticut by eliminating the local decision-making process will devalue property, impact tax revenues, clutter streets, and take away from the beauty of the local neighborhoods that we have chosen to call home.
These legislative proposals do not address social equity or promote affordable housing. Those worthy goals are best accomplished through local authorities that are cognizant of their respective community needs and are able to achieve those goals in a community-based collaboration that is most effective for the diverse populations they serve.
Concepts that continue this effort to chip away at the autonomy of municipalities as well as dig deeper into the pockets of homeowners who already face one of the highest tax burdens in the nation are alarming. They also threaten the biggest investment a person will make in his or her lifetime: their home.
I would urge my former colleagues, many of whom I still keep in touch with and respect very much, to focus on what they would like our state to look like in 10 years. If that vision includes job growth, sustainable energy policies, affordable living, and an environmental landscape that includes open space, tree-lined streets free of car clutter, and local autonomy and diversity, then I would ask that you all to reject these backward ideas and focus on a pro-growth agenda.
Connecticut is a beautiful state, replete with shoreline, countryside, an educated citizenry, and strategic proximity to New York and Boston. Let’s stop the punitive measures and replace them with forward thinking ideas that utilize these assets. Our tradition and rich history shows that this small state of just over 3.5 million people can lead the nation in all the right categories. The recent decades of failure can, and should, be corrected. Let us pledge to work together so that the Land of Steady Habits returns to its rightful place as a leader, and as a destination.
Fred Camillo is First Selectman of Greenwich.