Mayor Bronin Delivers Sixth State Of The City Address
Published on March 08, 2021
HARTFORD, CONN (March 8, 2021) – Today Mayor Luke Bronin delivered his sixth State of the City address. His full prepared remarks are below, and the video of his address is available on his Facebook page here.
Council President Rosado, members of the Court of Common Council, Treasurer Cloud, Speaker Ritter and our delegation to the General Assembly, members of the Board of Education, colleagues in city government, and residents of Hartford, good evening from the Swift Factory on Love Lane.
When I delivered the State of the City address last year, we had not yet seen a coronavirus case in Hartford. The first case in Connecticut had been detected the day before.
I said that night, “There is a chance that we will have to change the way our government, our schools and our businesses operate.” I also said, “At the end of the day, the coronavirus, too, shall pass,” and “As a community, we’ve come through much harder things.”
That was part right, and part wrong. Things changed completely, and yes, the pandemic will eventually pass. But I don’t think we’ve faced much harder things. None of us imagined then how long this pandemic would last, or what a heavy shadow it would cast.
Over the past year, 14,255 of our fellow residents have contracted the virus. 1,026 have been hospitalized. 278 mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, grandparents and grandchildren, friends and acquaintances have lost their lives. 278 lives lost in our eighteen square miles.
In a few weeks, we’ll hold a commemoration on the anniversary of the first death in our community related to COVID-19. Last fall, we planted five thousand daffodils in hope gardens across the city. Those flowers will soon bloom.
But tonight, please join me in a moment of quiet prayer for those we have lost.
Please also join me in gratitude to everyone who helped somebody else make it through this hard year healthier, safer, or a little less alone.
A long, hard year behind us, but so much to be proud of.
Sara and I, and our three kids, are so proud and grateful to be a part of this community.
Last spring, with jobs vanishing and senior centers and schools closing, our city came together to keep kids and families and seniors from going hungry.
Hartford Public Schools distributed 2.3 million meals to students, with our Department of Families, Children, Youth, and Recreation helping out. Our public works team and police cadets delivered 85,000 meals to seniors and homeless shelters.
Churches like Mt. Olive, Citadel of Love, and Phillips CME partnered to distribute dinners. Community members formed La Bodeguita to help feed our undocumented neighbors. FoodShare organized the distribution of 4 million meals to its network of 90 Hartford-based partners.
That work continues now, because so many families in our city and beyond are still struggling to buy food and pay rent.
Faced with the possibility that our homeless shelters might become places of mass transmission, we worked with our partners in the Coordinated Access Network to prevent that – quickly shifting shelter residents to hotels and doing routine testing. Because of that work, the overall positivity rate for our sheltered homeless community has been less than 3%, without a single life lost to COVID.
We saw early disparities in testing in communities of color across the country, and we pledged to make testing accessible to everyone. And there are few, if any, cities in the country where COVID-19 testing has been more readily available.
Working with our health department and 311 team, our outstanding health providers – Hartford HealthCare and Trinity Health Of New England, alongside our Federally Qualified Health Centers, CVS, CIC Health, and partners like Harriott Home Health Services – together have administered 313,000 COVID-19 tests.
Knowing the profound damage done when schools are closed, our Hartford Public School team did something that very few large school districts in the state or country were able to do: to offer some level of in-person instruction every week. That’s a tremendous accomplishment.
There isn’t a City of Hartford employee who didn’t go above and beyond this year. And I want to take a minute to acknowledge our team.
The City’s IT team set up more than ten thousand devices for students, teachers and city employees in a matter of weeks – and led the recovery when we were hit with a massive, sophisticated foreign cyber attack last September.
Our budget and finance teams, as well as our Treasurer’s office, shifted to remote work seamlessly, keeping us on track fiscally while fighting for every cent of reimbursement and every grant we can find.
Our human resources team helped develop protocols to facilitate remote work and changed workspaces to minimize risk, while still leading large recruitment efforts, safely.
Our youth and recreation team helped keep summer youth employment going in a new way, continued caring for the little ones in our early learning centers, and set up a new network of learning hubs for hundreds of kids who needed a supportive, connected place to learn.
Our clerk’s office and our registrars worked hard to make voting easier than ever, and safe, in the midst of a pandemic – ensuring that our residents would not lose their vote or their voice in our democracy.
Our attorneys helped us navigate a constantly changing legal landscape as federal and state emergency orders changed quickly and the city took on new responsibilities.
Our development services team kept key projects like Park & Main and Downtown North on track, facilitated outdoor dining, and kept putting the pieces in place for future growth.
And with partners like the Hartford Foundation, HEDCO, SAMA and Capital for Change, they administered the first and largest local small business grant program in Connecticut, distributing $2 million dollars to 173 small businesses – 72% of them owned by women or people of color.
Our 311 team handled all the normal calls they get – but they also scheduled 34,000 testing appointments and coordinated hundreds of rides to testing and vaccination sites.
For the majority of folks on our team, of course, there was no such thing as working remotely. They were on duty, in person, every single day.
Even as they delivered those eighty-five thousand meals and deep cleaned isolation centers and city buildings, our public works team kept up their core mission – from parks to streets to sanitation, and made our city proud storm after snowstorm this winter.
Our 911 dispatchers continued to handle a huge volume of calls, and on top of that, they kept pushing on the vital and complex work of upgrading to new technology.
Our firefighters, as usual, responded to more calls and more fires than any department in the state. But they also responded to nearly 2,500 suspected COVID-19 medical calls.
And they became one of only 87 out of 26,000 fire departments in the country to be both internationally accredited and hold an ISO Class 1 designation.
Our police facilitated nearly two hundred protests, with professionalism and skill. And as cities across the country saw shootings spike dramatically, they worked with community partners to respond to a sharp rise in gun violence last fall. All told, they took more than 250 guns off the street.
And, of course, our Health and Human Services team, with the leadership of Director Liany Arroyo, led our work combating COVID-19 – communicating constantly, coordinating testing efforts, making sure that all of our decisions were guided by science, not politics, and now, working every day to get our community vaccinated.
That’s a city team to be proud of. And working with our team, we have incredible partners – Governor Lamont and his administration, our state senators and representatives, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the United Way and the Dalio Foundation, our corporate community, our hospitals, our non-profits, our small businesses, our state partners, our neighborhood groups and countless individuals who work their hearts out for their city.
We were able to do the things we did as a community this year because we embrace those partnerships, and because our partners roll up their sleeves with us, day after day.
It’s time to beat this virus.
So now, a year into this pandemic, it’s time for us to beat this virus, together.
Wearing masks, washing hands, keeping your distance from others, all of that still matters as much as ever. But the way we will put this pandemic in the past is with vaccines. Victory is in these little vials.
Whether it’s labeled Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, or any others that get approved: every single vaccine represents a life protected, and a step closer to recovery.
I know people have questions and that’s natural. We’ll keep doing town halls. Our community health workers and Red Cross volunteers are going door to door. We’re making thousands of phone calls. If you’re a senior, you’ve probably gotten a couple of letters from me.
If you have questions, ask. But then – please – get vaccinated. The vaccine is how you can visit family again. The vaccine is how we get schools, restaurants, theaters, and stadiums full again – safely. How we can worship together again. How we can stop worrying about this thing that has hung over our heads for a year.
The President of the United States got the vaccine. The Vice President got it. Our fire chief and police chief got it. Nurses and doctors have gotten it. Teachers are getting it. My parents got it.
As soon as we are eligible, my wife and I will get it. If you’re eligible, please, please sign up and get it – if not for yourself, do it for your loved ones and your community.
And you’re in a city where it’s available, when you’re eligible.
You can get the vaccine with Hartford Healthcare, either at the convention center or at the meadows. You can get it at Saint Francis. You can get it at the CVS in Blue Hills, the Walgreens on Washington Street, and the Walmart on Flatbush.
You can get it at the Parker Center. You can get it at the South End Senior Center. You can get it at our health center on Coventry Street. You can get it on Saturday’s at Dunkin’ Donuts ballpark.
And we’re working with partners to bring the vaccines to you – to apartment buildings, senior buildings, churches. But don’t wait. Get it now.
If you’re eligible but haven’t been able to get an appointment, let us help you. Fill out our vaccine interest form at HartfordCT.gov, and we’ll call you and get you scheduled. If you can’t get online, call 211 or call us at 860-757-4830.
If you have an appointment but don’t have a car, call 311 and we’ll give you a ride.
We will do everything we can to get you vaccinated. We need you to sign up, and help us spread the word. Vaccinating everyone will take time, but that is how we will beat this thing. Together.
Beginning our recovery: supporting our young people.
And as we work together to beat this virus and put the pandemic behind us, we also need to begin our recovery together.
One of the most important parts of that recovery will be helping our kids reengage with school, reconnect with friends and mentors, and heal.
Measured in severity of symptoms and lives lost, the toll of the coronavirus has fallen heaviest on those who are older. But measured in lives interrupted, learning lost, loneliness, it’s also been incredibly hard on those who are young.
Our schools are open five days a week. But even today, half of Hartford’s students remain remote learners by choice.
And the reality is that among both remote and in-person learners, way too many of our students are either not attending or are nowhere near fully engaged. It is going to take a massive effort, over multiple years, to support our young people as they recover. And that’s exactly what we need to do.
The Superintendent and her team are hard at work thinking through how we can use the summer to benefit students academically. That is vital. But it’s not enough.
This summer, and beyond this summer to next year, we need to make sure that every single child from kindergarten through 12th grade has the chance to do something outside of school that they want to do, just for fun.
Whether it’s music, sports, art, computer science, or chess; whether it’s at the library or the Boys & Girls Club or the Artists Collective – that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we make a pledge as a community that every young person will have the chance to do something they love to do.
To help us reach that goal, I’ve asked our Children, Youth, and Families Recovery Working Group, which we created last summer, to convene again for a four-to-six-week sprint to help us coordinate among the extraordinary organizations we have working with young people in our community.
Beginning our recovery: bringing joy back.
Bringing fun and activity and joy back needs to be at the center of our recovery – not just for our kids but for our community as a whole.
Like every city across the country, our city has felt hollow and empty without the energy and cultural life that makes us a city. This summer we need to bring that back.
We’ll still be wearing masks and keeping our distance. But we need to hear jazz in Bushnell Park, watch baseball and soccer, dance on Pratt Street, go to a concert at the Riverfront, or just hear a band playing on the corner as we walk down the street.
And I think we need to set a goal: beginning at least in mid July, Hartford should be alive again with art and music and dance and sports and food every single day and every single evening.
To help make that happen, I’ve asked our Arts, Culture, Recreation, and Faith Recovery Working Group to reconvene and take the lead.
We’ve got to show this summer that the beat is back in Hartford.
We’ll have more tools to work with.
There’s much, much more to our recovery.
We need to help our small businesses come back and help new ones open up.
We can’t let the health crisis end only to find our community hit with an epidemic of evictions, and we also need to make sure that the responsible property owners in our community are able pay their bills and their mortgages, too.
We need to prepare for the possibility that the large employers that have long brought tens of thousands of people into Hartford each day may not do business the same way after this – with big consequences for our economy and our tax base.
We need to keep pushing for the revitalization of the commercial corridors at the heart of our neighborhoods.
As we tackle those challenges, we’ll have some resources we didn’t have before.
Thanks to the leadership of Senator Blumenthal, Senator Murphy, Congressman Larson, and our entire congressional delegation, Congress will soon pass the American Recovery Plan and President Biden will sign it into law.
It’s historic legislation. It will do a huge amount of good. It includes funding to scale up vaccinations, to get checks to families, rental assistance to tenants, support to small businesses, help for parents raising children, and more.
It also includes a significant amount of funding for cities. We don’t know exactly how those funds can be used yet. We know that they can be used to fight the virus, replace lost revenue, and address the pandemic’s economic impact. We know that they need to be spent over the next two years.
We’ll have lots of discussions about how to use those funds. We will be transparent and open as we develop the plan. We need to use those funds as wisely, as carefully and as strategically as possible.
This is one-time funding. We cannot and will not use it to boost the city budget in ways we can’t sustain. And we cannot and will not just spread it around too thin, without strategy and care.
We will use it, the best we can, to help our community recover – and to come back stronger.
Building back better and stronger.
Because beyond beating this virus and beginning our recovery, that has to be our goal – to build back better here in Hartford. Economically, yes. But more than that, to keep building a city that’s healthier, more inclusive, more just.
That work is unending. At best, we can make progress – and then pass the baton to the next mayor, the next council, the next generation. But we’ve tried to carry that work forward, even during this pandemic.
This year, as communities across the country raised their voices in powerful calls for police reform, we worked together to rethink our approach to public safety.
Last summer, the City Council and I set aside funds to design and build a team of civilian first responders who can respond to mental health crises and other situations where we don’t need law enforcement to be first on scene.
Later this month, we will be receiving a set of recommendations from a working group of local thought leaders and experts who’ve deeply studied efforts, here and elsewhere, to dispatch civilians to certain calls instead of police.
We will review those recommendations in the weeks ahead, and we’re ready to begin implementing the first phase of this project this year.
At the same time, we resolved to make Hartford a leader in the area of oversight and accountability. This fall, the City Council and I worked together, along with our community, to fundamentally reform the Civilian Police Review Board.
For the first time, the Board will have the authority not just to advise, but to exercise it’s own independent judgment. In the coming weeks, we will be interviewing candidates for the position of Inspector General, who will provide full time investigative and administrative support to the CPRB.
In other arenas, too, we tried this year to do more than just respond to the crisis in front of us. One of those other arenas is the digital divide.
We knew before this year that access to the internet was an issue of equity. In Hartford, we’ve highlighted the homework gap for years. But this year, it became clearer than ever that connectivity is an absolute necessity for every aspect of life – to go to school, to work, to look for work.
This summer, with the generous partnership of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the Dalio Foundation, we began an ambitious project to provide free, high-speed, high-quality wireless internet service to every part of our city, beginning in Northeast and Frog Hollow.
We’re building that now. We had hoped to be done in those two neighborhoods at the start of this year, but we’ve been delayed – both by the cyber attack that consumed our IT team in the fall, and by some infrastructure challenges along the way.
In the parts of Northeast and Frog Hollow where our pilot project is already running, though, we’ve found impressive results.
Over the last month, more than 750 residents have found the network on their own -- students, grandparents, and residents who find "Hartford Free Wifi" on their phones, tablets, and computers. They're seeing consistent, broadband speeds.
While I wish that I could report to you that we were on schedule, I can tell you that when it’s done, it will make a difference in thousands of homes in our city.
In the arena, together.
This has been a long, hard year. The challenges ahead of us are huge, and the recovery will be hard. We don’t know exactly what the post-COVID-19 world will look like.
But we do know two things: first, in cities like ours, there are no simple solutions. Anyone who says otherwise is just an armchair quarterback who’s never set foot on the field.
Second, when we work together, challenge by challenge, opportunity by opportunity, it all adds up.
We know that because we’ve seen it start to happen. Coming into 2020, before the coronavirus came, Hartford had an energy and momentum we hadn’t had in decades.
There was still a long, long way to go. But the progress was real. You feel it, and you could see it. And it wasn’t by chance.
In the movie “Any Given Sunday,” the coach, played by Al Pacino, tells his team, “Life’s this game of inches. So is football… [T]he inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team, we fight for that inch.”
That’s true of football, and it’s true of building stronger cities. It’s true here.
Don’t get me wrong. We have some big plays in our playbook: the Hartford 400 plan, which would reconnect our city to the Connecticut River; North Atlantic Rail, which would put Hartford at the center of a 21st-century high-speed transit network; the 10 transformative projects highlighted in our city plan.
Those plays could change the game, and we’re planning to take those shots.
But for the most part, building a stronger city is a game you win by fighting for every inch. And it’s a game you win with a team — public, private, business, labor, nonprofit, philanthropic and community — that’s willing to do that work together, day after day, year after year.
We have that team in Hartford, and we fight for every inch. And we see the future as President Obama did: “We see the future not as something out of our control, but as something we can shape….”
That’s why I’m addressing you tonight not from City Hall, but from the Swift Factory here at Five Corners in Hartford’s North End. This factory was once the economic heart of this neighborhood. The wages paid here sustained hundreds of families. The gold leaf made here decorates the dome on our State Capitol.
And then, for years, this factory sat vacant and deteriorating. Like blighted buildings elsewhere in our city, it weighed on the neighborhood – an economic detractor, a psychological burden.
But today, because of years of work, because of the vision of the team at Community Solutions, because of funding from countless partners, because of the Capitol Region Development Authority, because of the community as a whole, this building stands renovated and renewed.
And today, this building is now the home and headquarters for more than a dozen local Hartford businesses – butchers, bakers, graphic designers, green energy workforce development, plumbers, healthcare providers, and more.
It’s my hope that, working together, we’ll soon see this room where I stand right now as the new home of the Barbour Street branch of the Hartford Public Library – a beautiful space, where kids can learn alongside the entrepreneurs and innovators down the hall.
Those are the kinds of victories that add up. If we work to make them happen, again and again.
And that’s why, for all the challenges we face, I have as much confidence in our city’s future as I ever have. For as Amanda Gorman said, “there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it.”
God bless you all, and may God bless the city of Hartford.