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Don't elect Coast Guard Museum skeptics

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published October 25. 2013 4:00AM

The news story Thursday reporting that some New London City Council candidates are skeptical about the National Coast Guard Museum planned for downtown should have made some city residents and business owners mad.

It is shocking to think that anyone who wants a seat on the council, either newcomer or incumbent, would, at this late juncture, question the plans to develop the museum, probably the best thing proposed for the city since the whaling ships left.

Never mind that some of the candidates' objections are outlandish, like saying the museum might bring too many people to the city.

We don't want to disturb the slumbering homeless downtown, they might have added. We like the empty storefronts, they might also say. After all, we don't want to be one of those busy, popular cities, goes that thinking.

The many years of planning for the museum are over. The project is in fundraising mode. Good-hearted, hard-working volunteers are asking people to donate to this project. They don't need a chorus of naysayers, especially from city officialdom.

This is a time for city officials, those serving and those who aspire to office, to throw open their arms with a big welcome and give the museum a full-throated endorsement.

If you don't like the way it will look and you would rather have seen it built somewhere else, keep that to yourself.

The public hand-wringing over the museum by some candidates this week reminded me of a former city councilor, later a failed mayoral candidate, who complained loudly to the New York Times and in television interviews that the homeless downtown were defecating in the new whale tail fountain in the Parade. Honest. He said that.

City councilors are supposed to be ambassadors for the city, not sirens warning people to stay away.

The good news about the cranky and disloyal answers to the museum question at the candidates forum is that city residents have a better idea who not to vote for.

Republican Keith Robbins said at the forum that the city needs to have all the "stakeholders" involved in the museum project.

Maybe Robbins missed the unveiling of the final plans for the museum, attended by the commandant of the Coast Guard, the governor, a congressman and two U.S. senators, who all pledged cooperation and millions of dollars in assistance for this New London project.

I am sure he also doesn't want to give due credit to Mayor Daryl Finizio for enlisting the support for the project by two major stakeholders, the owners of the adjacent historic train station and the operators of the ferry lines who have agreed to reconfigure their working waterfront to make it all happen.

I was more disappointed in the public skepticism of the museum expressed by City Council President Michael Passero, who should know better.

Passero was one of those, oddly, worrying out loud about all the people it might bring to town. He also questioned the design of the museum building.

One of the lead architects for the project is a nationally recognized and Harvard-trained educator, dean of one of the largest architectural schools in the country. Should we trust his aesthetic judgment or that of a union firefighter who sits on the council.

Even if Passero is right about the design of the building, he should keep it to pillow talk. You don't denigrate a project that people who want to help the city are trying to raise money for, any more than you give television interviews about people defecating in your public fountains.

I suspect it rankles Passero that Finizio, who bested him for the job of mayor, stands to get a lot of the credit for the museum if it succeeds.

It's a little like the Republicans who hate Obamacare because it is the president's signature policy achievement, one that might end up being popular.

Other candidates naysaying the museum project were Democrat Michael Tranchida, who, strangely, worried out loud about how it might expand 50 years from now. Really, let the Coast Guard worry about that.

Another amateur architecture critic, City Councilor Marie Friess-McSparran, complained that the museum is not authentic looking, whatever that means.

Republican Katelin Teel complained about both the location and the design of the building, saying it looks like New York's Museum of Modern Art.

She is not only misguided but clueless. The proposed museum looks nothing at all like MOMA, which is a squarish building on a city block in Manhattan.

Please, New London voters, spare yourself from these people while there is still time.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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