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New London's diversity was on display at swearing-in

New London’s diversity was on display Dec. 2 when Mayor Michael Passero and City Council members were sworn-in to office during ceremonies at the Garde Arts Center.

Well, its ethnic, cultural and racial diversity, at least, not political. Democrats are in full control of government, holding the mayor’s seat, all seven positions on the City Council and all but one seat on the Board of Education, Rob Pero being the lone Republican there.

Democrats have long been dominant in New London, but the Republican lamp is burning dimmer than I can ever remember it. Republican council candidate Adam Sprecace, who acquitted himself well during his last stint on the council, appeared a strong GOP hopeful, but could not stop the Democratic sweep.

But it is understandable. Really, what does the Party of Trump have to offer New London? Because, face it, that is what the Republicans have become — Trump’s party.

As a matter of policy, refugees seeking asylum from drug gangs and corruption in Central America have been villainized. President Trump’s approach to dealing with our southern neighbor, Mexico, is to create a Soviet-style wall. The differences in hurricane relief provided continental states and that afforded our citizens in Puerto Rico were glaring.

Without congressional input, the Trump administration is now preparing to remove nearly 700,000 people from the federal food-assistance program.

With its attacks on reproductive rights, its us-against-them narrative in dealing with the challenges of immigration policy, its flirtation with white nationalism, its refusal to entertain reasonable gun controls and its embracement of all things corporate, the Party of Trump is a graying party that is driving away young people.

Little wonder then that in this city of about 27,000 people, a growing Hispanic/Latino population — about one-third of residents — and its young demographic, median age 31, a place where 28% struggle at or below the poverty rate, that Republicans are fading from marginal status to insignificance.

No surprise then, that the swearing-in was a Democratic affair, with Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Martha Marx serving as master of ceremonies.

It was a mix of old New London and new New London. Leading the mayor and councilors into the theater were the bagpipers of the New London Firefighters Pipes & Drums corps, which has a deep and rich tradition in the city. I thought it particularly symbolic that outgoing council President John Satti, he of a powerful family once dominant in city politics, opened the meeting but then turned the gavel over to Efrain Dominguez, the first Latino to serve as council president.

The council and school board members, men and women, reflect the diverse city and its Hispanic, African American, LGBT, biracial and white constituents. Returning school board member Regina Mosley, co-founder of a parent advocacy group, was elected president.

The Pledge of Allegiance opening the ceremonies and the closing prayer, by Pastor Josué Rosado of the Oasis de Restauración (Oasis of Restoration) Church were delivered in English and Spanish.

The Pledge of Allegiance opening the ceremonies and the closing prayer, by Pastor Josue Rosado of the Oasis of Restoration Church, were delivered in English and Spanish.

Palatable were a sense of excitement about the opportunities of public service and the spirit of a community that sees its diversity and tolerance for differing cultures, lifestyles and belief systems as a strength to be celebrated.

“Give us a new song, for a new season, so it can be sung in all our districts,” said Rev. Florence Clarke, a retired pastor of the Walls Clarke Temple AME Zion Church, in the opening prayer.

Passero delivered an upbeat speech, pointing to a spike in housing development and a growing population as the spark that can help drive renewal in the downtown and fill its empty storefronts.

The mayor made it a point to say that, “as our city’s prosperity increases, our challenge is to ensure that there is quality housing across a broad spectrum.” It was a nod to the dangers of gentrification.

That would be a good problem for the city to have to deal with. Passero set the right tone in foreshadowing what his administration’s approach would be, including working with the state and various agencies to assure affordable housing remains.

We shall see. New London is still a long way from too much success being a problem. The city’s challenges remain formidable. They include poor academic performance in its public schools, its limited tax base and high percentage of untaxable government and nonprofit properties, and the burdens of being an urban center and providing all the services that it demands.

But optimism is not a bad thing. That’s what I witnessed at the Garde.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

 

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