Editorials from around New England:
Bridgeport's problems are the state's as well
The final scene of the classic 1974 film "Chinatown" is known for the damning line, "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown."
That attitude of shrugging off unyielding corruption has a nagging afterlife in the way much of the state views election issues in its largest city: "That's just Bridgeport being Bridgeport."
The newest case illustrates why Bridgeport's problems are Connecticut's problems.
The plot summary of what went down on Sept. 10 is that state Sen. Marilyn Moore beat incumbent mayor and former convict Joe Ganim at the voting booth but got bumped off the November ballot because of a noticeably lopsided 3-to-1 absentee ballot tally in Ganim's favor.
In this case, it wasn't a beleaguered gumshoe, a la "Chinatown," but a squad of Hearst Connecticut Media journalists who went on the hunt for shenanigans. Studying documents and knocking on doors, the reporters found — among other things — sloppy records and residents who claimed feeling pressure to vote for Ganim.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill referred the Hearst probe to the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC), which began its own investigation.
One of the reasons for that hackneyed phrase about "Bridgeport just being Bridgeport" is that this is nothing new. For the sake of the State of Connecticut, there has to be better oversight.
SEEC Executive Director Michael Brandi pledged to have his team examine all absentee ballots. Possible consequences of irregularities could be fines as well as further consideration by the chief state's attorney and federal Department of Justice officials for criminal prosecution.
"It's our job to investigate it and then pursue a remedy," Brandi said.
The problem is there is no quick remedy. Moore, Ganim and Republican candidate John Rodriguez deserve to know what the ballot is going to look like in the 39 days left they have to campaign.
Moore's camp hopes to find a loophole that will allow their candidate to have a printed spot on the Nov. 5 ballot instead of facing the obstacle of trying to win as a write-in. Remarkably, Moore would have been on the ballot anyway as the Working Families Party candidate, but her camp and Working Families Party bungled the gathering of a minimum of 207 signatures.
Of course, had Moore collected those signatures, she might have simply moved on. And had journalists not started asking questions, the SEEC would not be involved.
But here we are.
The real remedy is to modernize voting in Connecticut. Current rules only allow absentee ballots for voters with infirmities or travel plans. It's time to bring early voting to Connecticut and join the 27 states that don't mandate excuses to allow voting by absentee ballot
Of course, far too many people forsake their right to participate in this Democratic process. The turnout of eligible Democrats for the Bridgeport was anemic, barely cracking 20 percent. Think about all the other people who won't even register.
We're not willing to just forget it. It's Connecticut; we can do better.
Maine's way of life is attracting out-of-staters
What do residents of New York and Boston think about during their long commutes to work? Well, as they leave their overpriced homes and trudge through traffic, apparently many of them have Maine on their minds.
According to Realtor.com, the nation's largest public website for real estate holdings, a majority of the buyer interest in available homes in the Portland area — 52 percent — come from out of state, the Portland Press Herald reported this week. Only five other U.S. metropolitan areas can say the same.
That's good news for the entire state. As we are constantly reminded, Maine is suffering from a worker shortage that is affecting industries across the spectrum and in all regions. As those workers age and leave the workforce, the problem will only get worse. And even if every person born in Maine stays here and joins the workforce, it won't be enough to fill the state's workforce needs.
Maine has to attract people from out of state to counteract the tough situation that demographics has put us in. One way to do that is to sell those out-of-staters on the way of life here. In the same way we sell tourists on the image of Maine as a place to play, we can show them that it is a pretty good place to live too.
There are people and organizations who have been pushing that message for a while, and the real estate statistics show it is working. The out-of-state housing searches are driven by younger professionals from larger East Coast cities —mostly from New York and Boston, but also Hartford, Philadelphia and others — who are looking for a change of pace.
The Portland area provides that. It has many big-city amenities but in smaller, closer communities. It is safe, with good schools, and close to many outdoor amenities. The traffic's not bad and housing is cheap, at least when compared to either Boston or New York.
Maine should make sure that message is heard loud and clear in cities across the country. Not only will it appeal to many people who are looking for a good place to raise a family, it can also help attract the growing percentage of people who are working remotely and are not tied to any one place.
The state should also make sure its other metro areas are included in the pitch, as each have something to offer professionals looking for something different.
Of course, Maine must also protect the things that make it special. There are already problems with housing affordability and, at times, traffic in the Portland area, and new arrivals will only exacerbate those problems.
But overall, growth is a good thing. It's necessary, and attracting out-of-staters is how it will happen. Maine has a lot to offer, and we're glad to see that message is getting out.
Boston Public Schools gets a 'needs improvement' from the state
The Boston Globe
The sobering results of the most recent state education assessment make clear that Boston is still failing too many of its children. For a rich city, swimming in tax revenue from new development, that's nothing short of a scandal.
Out of the 104 Boston schools the state assessed, it found that 42 of them require targeted or broad-based intervention. Only 14 BPS schools were "meeting or exceeding targets," according to numbers released Tuesday. The assessments are based on standardized test results, along with factors like absenteeism and graduation rates.
In a system where the mayor appoints the school committee and calls the shots, the responsibility for those results lies primarily with one person: Mayor Marty Walsh. He's had more than five years to put his mark on the schools — without much to show for it.
Boston spends more, per pupil, than the vast majority of Massachusetts school districts. It pays its teachers a higher average salary than all but a handful of districts. But too many students aren't getting the education they need.
Ominously for Walsh, the state now seems to have the district's lagging performance on its radar screen. Just a few days before the release of the test results, news emerged that the state would soon launch a review of the district, which can be a prelude to state intervention.
The state downplayed that possibility — but didn't dismiss it.
"While a district review is necessary under law to place a district into receivership, the report has been used for that purpose in very few instances," Jacqueline Reis, a state education spokeswoman, told the Globe in a statement. "Our hope is that these reports benefit school superintendents as they develop their strategies as well as inform our assistance efforts."
As if to reinforce the hint, without making a specific promise, Riley said on Monday the state might take action later this year.
If the state takes over more city schools — or even the district — on Walsh's watch it would be a major embarrassment. But what's much worse is hobbling the futures of Boston children. The state shouldn't let politics get in the way of acting on its review if necessary.
After the results were announced, the district put the best spin on the numbers that it could, touting two schools — the Nathan Hale Elementary School in Roxbury and the Winship Elementary School in Brighton — that earned special state recognition. It's also encouraging that the new superintendent, Brenda Cassellius, who inherited challenges not of her making, seems to get the task she faces: "While we celebrate the schools making progress today, we must urgently focus our efforts on supporting those in need of more intensive support and attention," she said in a statement. Cassellius brings years of experience to the job, and the city should be hoping for her success.
Of course, there is no perfect scoring system — for schools, or for students. But the state's accountability measures have been a hallmark of its successful education reforms, and when they point this clearly to the need for improvement in a school district, it behooves officials and politicians to listen.
Making streets safer for pedestrians
Last week, two pedestrians were struck by vehicles, one while crossing Loudon Road, the other in the Storrs Street crosswalk in front of the Mennino Place Apartments.
The Loudon Road accident victim, 63-year-old Paulette Ferland of Concord, died at Concord Hospital hours after being hit. The Storrs Street victim apparently suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Both accidents are still under investigation, so details are sketchy. It's unclear, for example, whether Ferland was in a crosswalk when struck or whether drivers in either accident will face charges.
What is clear is that being a pedestrian is dangerous.
Pedestrian fatalities in the United States are at their highest level since 1990, with an estimated 6,227 killed in 2018, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Pedestrian fatalities now account for 16% of all traffic fatalities. Another 129,000 or so pedestrians are treated for injuries each year.
Statistically, New Hampshire has the lowest pedestrian fatality rate in the nation, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. The run-for-your-life states with the highest rates are Florida, Arizona, California, Georgia, Texas and New Mexico. Still, there is more that New Hampshire, and Concord, can do.
The redesign of Concord's Main Street made downtown much safer for pedestrians, but it usually takes just a few minutes of observation to see a motorist fail to yield to one or more pedestrians in a crosswalk. Reducing Main Street to two lanes and adding sidewalk bumpouts made crossings much safer, though the bumpouts on South Main Street must have been designed by tire dealers and alignment shops.
Vehicle-pedestrian encounters have increased and become more deadly for several reasons; highway safety experts say. One factor is an old one. One-third of all pedestrian fatalities involved a walker whose blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit for driving. In many other cases, the driver is impaired.
Distraction on the part of both drivers and pedestrians, typically because of cellphone use, is to blame for many accidents. When they occur, thanks to the renewed popularity of SUVs and pickup trucks, pedestrian injuries are far more likely to be fatal. The bigger, higher vehicles also make it more difficult, when starting from a stop, for drivers to see children, people of small stature or wheelchair users. A disproportionate share of pedestrian fatalities involves victims in their seventies or older.
Technology, such as signals that flash when pedestrians approach a mid-block crosswalk and camera systems in newer vehicles, can help. So can public information campaigns and increased enforcement.
A study done in Miami Beach found that saturation enforcement of vehicle crosswalk laws increased the percentage of drivers who yielded to pedestrians by up to one-third, and the improvement lasted a year with minimal additional enforcement.
Concord's police department carried out a similar campaign a decade ago, and in one week issued 106 warnings and 11 citations for motorists who ignored pedestrians in crosswalks.
It's time to for another crackdown. Yet no matter how many safety measures are taken, the old rule still applies. Don't cross unless you can look the driver in the eyes first.
Care New England should come clean
The Providence Journal
Hospitals in Rhode Island are given non-profit status because they are supposed to serve the people. They do not exist, in theory, to make individual executives richer and more powerful.
It was deeply troubling, thus, to learn last week that negotiations for a much-needed merged hospital system serving all of Rhode Island evidently foundered this summer because of what seemed to be an unreasonable demand by Care New England's Board of Directors.
Gov. Gina Raimondo, Brown University, Lifespan and Care New England had met to discuss the possibility of creating a new academic medical center that would serve the people of Rhode Island and maintain an important part of the economy, rather than let business be drained away to Boston hospital conglomerates.
As Governor Raimondo noted in an Aug. 9 letter to board Chairman Charles Reppucci, "the CNE Board held as a condition of your continued engagement in this process that Dr. Fanale be installed as the CEO of the merged entity, and that he led the transition." James Fanale is Care New England's president and CEO.
Lifespan, Rhode Island's largest private employer, is a bigger entity than Care New England, which has struggled financially in the recent past. Care New England officials refused to answer our questions about the puzzling demand.
But after the news broke, Dr. Fanale issued a statement to staff suggesting The Providence Journal is "seeking to snuff out our success." That is a blatant falsehood, unworthy of a leader of an important local institution. The Journal has long been a tireless advocate for top-notch health care in Rhode Island.
The hospital executive, meanwhile, dodged the issue that Governor Raimondo cited as the sticking point.
Citing a non-disclosure agreement, Dr. Fanale wrote: "I would love nothing more than to be able to share with you all of the details surrounding our discussions this summer and specifically, to address what, on the surface, might look like something done out of self-interest. In reality, that couldn't be further from the truth."
But how Care New England's demand was not "done out of self-interest" he has declined to explain.
The other parties of the non-disclosure agreement — the governor, Brown University and Lifespan — are willing to waive confidentiality, and let the public know what was really going on with the merger talks (see "Care New England won't allow release of merger docs," Sept. 23, by Ted Nesi, wpri.com). Unfortunately, Care New England is refusing to do so, spokesman James Beardsworth confirmed Tuesday.
If Dr. Fanale would truly "love nothing more than to be able to share with you all of the details surrounding our discussions this summer," as he claimed, he and the board should join with the other parties and waive confidentiality.
The public has a compelling interest in learning further details about what the merger proposal entailed and why talks broke down. If Care New England's position was based on something other than money, ego and power, disclosure would help demonstrate that, while showing there is nothing to hide.
We hope merger talks may yet resume. As we have argued before, the future of health care in Rhode Island should not be surrendered to the narrow interests of executives. The long-term interests of patients, doctors, nurses, other caregivers and the people of Rhode Island should take precedence.
Passing the baton to the next generation
It seems every time there is a public demonstration about an important issue the critics jump on the bandwagon to discredit those who are doing the protesting.
More often than not, their criticism of the issue itself falls flat, so they resort to name calling and making generalizations about people they don't even know, all in an effort to deflect attention away from the topic at hand.
A case in point is last Friday's Global Climate Strike, a worldwide movement that has garnered a lot of support here in Windham County. Countless people of all ages, from all walks of life, in communities large and small took to the streets to draw attention to the dire consequences of climate change — from severe flooding in some areas and drought in others, to melting ice caps that could release poisonous methane gas into our atmosphere. Many of the protesters were youth who are too young to cast a vote for or against the leaders making decisions that will affect their future. They are frustrated with the inaction of these leaders, especially the current occupant of the White House who seems intent on not only ignoring environmental issues but rolling back regulations on hard-won protections.
So their only recourse is to protest publicly and loudly. And now they are being attacked on social media — not so much for the message itself but for the way they presented it.
Climate change deniers are ridiculing the protesters on multiple fronts. They offer no real scientific evidence to support their denial, so they make personal attacks and try to deflect the conversation away from the central issue. They accuse protesters of being brainwashed by liberal politicians, teachers and the media, while ignoring the fact that the majority of scientists are the ones warning of climate change. The critics say most students don't truly care about or understand the issue, that they only joined in to skip class. And they make these assumptions without even knowing any of the students. They say students should stay in school and get an education. But the climate strike itself was educational. Those who do care about the issue got a great civics lesson on democracy in action, and those who were only looking to get out of class (and we don't deny there were more than a few of those) still got an education in the same, and hopefully absorbed the seriousness of the message itself.
The critics also accuse the protesters of being hypocrites because they have electrical gadgets and use fossil fuels to heat their homes and drive their cars. But addressing climate change does not mean we all need to revert back to the days of the caveman. It is possible to scale back on the damage we are inflicting on our one and only planet while still maintaining the conveniences and technology we enjoy. Instead of rolling back environmental protections, the United States should be leading the way toward newer, better and less polluting technology.
As one poster on our Facebook page put so eloquently: "We can teach them to build better cars, plant more trees, protect our drinking water, and build solar and wind energy BUT when you have politicians that destroy the very protections other generations worked hard to put in place, MAYBE the only way left is to protest in mass to say STOP the insanity!"
The fact is, our own history shows that protesting works. As another Facebook poster noted, "It's one of the most effective ways for the small and powerless individuals to demonstrate their collective strength to those in power. It is in itself a form of action, one guaranteed to us by the founders for a reason."
No society progresses and improves by having its citizens sit by on the sidelines and let politicians and the rich elite maintain the status quo that benefits only those in power and ultimately hurts the masses. It is the mass protests that force the hand of our leaders to make the right decisions for better change. The very birth of this nation started with protests, and numerous other examples followed. The Civil War ended slavery, but it was the outspoken abolitionists who brought the issue to the public eye and consciousness. The same holds true for woman's suffrage, the labor moments that gave a multitude of rights to the working class, civil rights demonstrations for minority groups, and even the early days of the environmental movement that gave us laws that have resulted in a marked improvement in our air and water. Remember when we had rivers that would spontaneously combust, or smog that choked our lungs and burned our eyes?
The environmental movement that started decades ago is still going on. Some things have gotten better, but there are still more challenges ahead of us and our children. It's time to pass the baton to the next generation, and it's heartening to see so many willing to pick it up and carry it forward.