Yes, turn the fountain back on

Just when it looked like selling Riverside Park might be the big issue of the New London mayoral race, along came the faux whale fountain crisis.

Chief cheerleader of this mess, which, alas, put New London on the news map this week around the world, was mayoral candidate Michael Buscetto, an early critic of the Parade renovations downtown and a longtime foe of the homeless.

City Councilor Buscetto has taken every opportunity to exaggerate one homeless man's inappropriate use of the fountain last week - the perpetrator was arrested and jailed - and paint New London in a bad light.

"A gentleman defecated and continued to rinse off underneath the whale tale. That got into the system ..." Buscetto inappropriately and practically gleefully reported on camera to a news team from the statewide television station WTNH Channel 8.

The report then cut back to the news station's anchors, who sat in front of a huge picture of a roll of toilet paper and the big headline: Fouled Fountain.

Then, to a reporter from The New York Times, Buscetto went on to wring his hands some more and further embarrass the city.

"If the water is dirty, I have to look out for the people," Buscetto told the Times.

I'd say Buscetto clearly flunked the mayoral test on this one.

When one of the country's biggest newspapers calls, don't talk about how worried you are that the water in your downtown fountain is dirty. I'm pretty sure that's taught in Mayoring 101.

City Councilor Michael Passero, who would also like to be mayor, had a much better answer for the newspaper, describing the controversy as "much ado about nothing."

The contamination has been cleaned up, and he's heard of no further incidents, Passero was quoted as calmly telling the newspaper.

That's a passing grade, I'd say, on this mayoral test.

Even the Times acknowledged the fountain issues might have hinged as much on politics as dirty water.

"It did not take long for the fountain . . . to become mired in the fear of contaminated water and the political tumult of an approaching mayor's race," the story reported.

This is clearly one of those times when New London does indeed need a strong and influential mayor, someone who can keep the city on track, use common sense, eliminate the distractions and focus on the positive.

A mayor practicing good leadership should point out that fountains and the homeless coexist just fine in cities around the world.

No, a mayor might say, to those meddlesome bureaucrats who would suggest the whale tale is some kind of bathing or swimming facility that needs to be regulated by health authorities. It's just a fountain.

It's not that different, really, than the fountain that has operated quietly for decades in New London, near the intersection of Bank and Shaw streets.

Sure, go ahead and post signs that say you shouldn't drink the water and you shouldn't bathe in it. And ask police to make a point on patrols to be sure that people don't do that.

But no one is going to get sick or die if they do somehow get hit by some spray from the fountain.

On Thursday afternoon, the city said it plans to enclose the fountain area with a low retaining wall and turn it back on. That seems like a reasonable solution for signaling that it is for viewing, not bathing.

The new whale tale is really quite beautiful, and in its short time in service has livened the downtown and brought pleasure to many.

That's what fountains are for.

Yes, turn it back on.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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