Mayor Passero fears gentrification?

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Democrats in New London for their nearly clean sweep of this year's elections, as full an expression of the party's lopsided predominance in voter registration as we've seen in years.

But before the last of the confetti falls at the gala swearing-in next month at the Garde Arts Center, let me suggest a bit of humility, especially for Mayor Michael Passero, at the outset of his second term.

At least the mayor should be realistic about how much has or has not been accomplished in his first term and what important work lies ahead to create a more vibrant city.

This is, after all, the same mayor who, the weekend before the election, spun, on statewide television, what I would call a genuine fairy tale describing what he sees as a robust renaissance underway in the city.

The mayor, a guest on the pre-election segment of the Sunday morning Real Story on FOX61 TV, talked about properties in New London selling "robustly." I know of more than a few Realtors who would snicker at that.

"Actually, property values are increasing dramatically in New London," the mayor said, with a straight face.

According to the Eastern Connecticut Association of Realtors, the average price of a single-family home in New London fell from $157,280 in 2016 to $153,483 in 2017, then rose modestly to $171,664 in 2018. There were much greater increases in other New London County towns.

"The fear is more of a quote-unquote gentrification type situation," Passero said into television cameras.

I've seen the city masquerade all the blight downtown with paint and fake windows, but I have yet to see rich investors pushing out the poor. Surely there are a lot more things the mayor should fear first.

The televised fantasy spun by Mayor Passero included an incredible boast of the city "expecting to become a major hub for building out of the offshore wind industry throughout the Northeast and perhaps up and down the Middle Atlantic Coast."

Could the mayor really not know that wind development facilities are being developed or proposed in ports all over the Northeast, even as close as Bridgeport? Has he missed the fact that there isn't even a signed deal yet for New London's port?

Certainly it is the mayor's job to promote the city and sing its praises as best he can, especially before a statewide television audience. But I worry he not only doesn't acknowledge but doesn't see the blight and significant deterioration downtown, especially on outer Bank Street, with empty storefronts in the majority of the buildings.

"I can see the downtown being completely rebuilt in the next three or four years. At the end of that time, we will be cutting the ribbon on the new downtown at the same time they are cutting the ribbon on the National Coast Guard Museum," the mayor boasted.

Someone should hold him to account for that prediction, long before three years runs out.

The mayor's win, with 2,063 votes, was certainly sound but hardly lopsided, when you consider that his two opponents together garnered more than 1,500 votes.

Green Party write-in candidate Frida Berrigan's vote total was 394, almost 20 percent of the number of people who voted for the Democratic-endorsed incumbent.

That big vote tally by a write-in candidate, who was making a political debut endorsed by a third party, should make the mayor pay more attention to the issues she raised and the voters she brought to the polls.

Passero was asked on television about Berrigan's complaint that the city has the lowest rate of home ownership in the state. He batted away the question, even suggesting that rentals are a good thing, with big apartment complexes paying lots of taxes.

Berrigan suggested in her campaign that the city should ask more of the big employers in town — the colleges, hospital and Electric Boat — to do more for their host community.

This would also be a good second-term focus for the mayor, who has a dismal record of accepting scraps from these big institutions. The city's paltry share of the State Pier deal comes to mind.

I hope the swearing-in celebration at the Garde is fun.

But let's hope, once that confetti is swept up, that the party in full charge accepts responsibility for the hard work that remains to be done in New London, so that maybe someday property values will really start to increase dramatically.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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