In Bridgeport, cautious optimism about Lamont
BRIDGEPORT — Two weeks after Connecticut’s largest city helped elect Ned Lamont governor, the Greenwich Democrat made a brief, day-before-Thanksgiving stop at an East End church where volunteers annually hand out frozen turkeys and groceries.
“I don’t like politicians who are always around before an election and you don’t see them afterwards,” said Lamont, who made plenty of pre-Election Day visits to Bridgeport and its inner-city neighborhoods. “I’m going to keep showing up.”
Skip Karcsinski, pastor of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament on Union Avenue, said Wednesday’s appearance by the governor-elect was a surprise. Karcsinski said nearly 50 in- and out-of-town partners, from high schools to other houses of worship, provided 2,400 birds and 3,500 shopping bags full of Thanksgiving side dishes.
“It just represents the best of community spirit,” Lamont said. “That’s what Thanksgiving’s all about.”
From the church, Lamont headed downtown to Housatonic Community College for a private meeting with some members of his transition team as he prepares to take office in January. He is also preparing to tackle his first state budget — a document Bridgeport’s politicians will be scrutinizing when it is released next year.
Lamont needed strong turnout from urban voters to defeat Republican Bob Stefanowski, and Bridgeport delivered. Nearly 23,000 residents cast ballots for Lamont — several thousands more than voted for outgoing Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy in his close 2010 and 2014 victories.
“Bridgeport helped him a lot,” said Antoinette Carpenter.
Asked Wednesday what they expect from the new governor, Carpenter and others at Blessed Sacrament all had a similar message: They want Lamont to help find and fund ways to keep inner-city youths constructively occupied, off of the streets and away from a violent lifestyle.
“Give these young men and women something to do,” Carpenter said. “Instead of putting a gun in their hands, put a pencil or a book. ... Our children, they want a future. They don’t want to die.”
“Bridgeport, the East End, needs a program for the young men and women,” said Lille Bitte. “There’s nothing over here for them.”
One of the youngest volunteers present Wednesday, Chrisshara Robinson, 20, who posed for a photo with Lamont, agreed with her elders.
“What I’d like to see is more activities and things for the youth,” she said.
Jacqueline Soares is a former assistant principal at Center High School and a cousin of retiring state Senator Ed Gomes, D-Bridgeport, a Lamont ally. Soares said the new governor should “put more money into our educational system to help equalize our school system.”
Lamont knows something about the challenges facing Bridgeport teens. Seeking the trust of urban voters on the campaign trail, the Greenwich millionaire and business entrepreneur touted his stint as a volunteer helping to teach business at Bridgeport’s Harding High School 13 years ago.
“I’ve got a little bit of history in Bridgeport,” he repeated during an interview Wednesday. “What I have told people is, ‘I can’t promise you big increases (in state aid) in this first go around. I’ve got to solve the deficit. But what I will do is get this budget done on time (and) give you a budget you can count on — it’s a real number that’s not going to change halfway through the year.’ ”
Lamont added: “From there, let me make the changes we need to continue to make investments in our towns and cities.”
Many of Bridgeport’s lawmakers and political leaders will look to the Lamont administration to get behind a controversial proposal to build a casino and entertainment center on the waterfront in the East End. A bill authorizing the state to issue a request for development proposals passed the House of Representatives last session with a big push from Bridgeport and New Haven legislators, but died in the state Senate.
“I understand the lure of entertainment centers,” Karcsinski said Wednesday. “But we need population. ... Look at cities as population centers, not entertainment centers. We need neighborhoods here. They fill our businesses and schools.”
The Bridgeport-born-and-raised pastor wants Lamont to provide more affordable housing options in Bridgeport.
Soares said for now she is optimistic about Lamont, adding, “I’ve heard good things” from her cousin, Senator Gomes.
“I was impressed by the Bridgeport turnout and across the state,” Lamont said. “Especially in the cities, where I heard a lot of people until recently say, ‘I’m not sure it makes a difference. Maybe I’ll sit on my hands’... That’s why I’m going to work my heart out so they know I’m not going to disappoint them.”