October 21 - 28, 1998

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Car Insurance, Jobs, Pollution - Hot Topics at HART Congress

by Kara Hood

Participants in the 23rd Annual Congress of Hartford Areas Rally Together (HART) named reducing car insurance rates for city residents as the organization's top priority for the upcoming year - although a late night visit to the home of a lobbyist for the insurance industry to protest the high rates was called off by HART organizers at the last minute.

The Congress, which was held at Burns School, drew approximately 600 people as well as several federal, state and city officials.

HART organizers had planned to send several busloads of city residents to the lobbyist's home in South Windsor immediately following the Congress. HART President Marilyn Rossetti had referred to the planned bus trip, the destination of which had been veiled in secrecy, several times during the evening. She also characterized the lobbyist as someone who "stands in the way of lowered car insurance... and who lives outside the city and therefore pays significantly less for insurance on their car."

Ultimately, however, the bus trip was called off after Mayor Mike Peters and others expressed disapproval of the idea of targeting a person's home and family. He asked that HART hold off on the protest until figures from a statistical report commissioned by the City (see The Hartford News, October 14-21, 1998, pg. 1) were reviewed and a proposal could be drawn up. Jim Boucher, Executive Director of HART, said a meeting between Peters, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Attorney John Gale, HART representatives and others has been scheduled for Monday, November 2, to discuss the city's next step in the car insurance battle.

Rossetti said negotiations with Peters had been going on throughout the night at the Congress and, having received a stronger pledge from him to act on the issue, HART officials decided to cancel the trip.
However, she warned, "The official will remain a target and we plan to go to his office."

Currently, HART claims, Hartford residents are paying nearly double for their car insurance than residents of surrounding areas. State Senator John Fonfara and State Rep. Art Feltman who have taken the lead in the car insurance battle both spoke about the issue.

Feltman said the new statistical report that was issued last week could be used to prove that Hartford residents are paying too much.
Apparently referring to the bus trip that was scheduled to follow, he declared, "The [car insurance] bill comes to our house, if we don't like it, let's go to theirs."

Blumenthal said the high rates in Hartford were driving people out of the city and discouraging new residents from moving in. With the support of the crowd, he proclaimed, "Let's win this one!"

While car insurance was the night's top issue, there was also a great deal of discussion about topics such as drug abuse, environmental pollution, providing jobs for city residents and youth activities.

James McDonough, Director of Strategies for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), spoke on the need to educate youth on the harmful effects of drugs, treat users and bring down drug-selling rings. He asked the residents to help achieve their goal of cutting drug use in the U.S. by half in the next seven to eight years.

Mary Diaz and June O`Neil spoke on another key HART issue: the environment. They spoke of the trash-burning plant in south Hartford and the allegedly unhealthy effects it has on the air. The Connecticut Resource Recovery Act (CRRA) runs the landfill and incinerators in Hartford and HART wants the City to reopen the contract it has with the company.

After their presentation, Diaz and O'Neil called on Peters to answer yes or no to their proposal to reexamine the contract. Although Peters said he disapproved of not being able to expand on his yes or no answer, he agreed to the pledge.

Other issues presented included jobs, especially in terms of making sure that planned construction projects in downtown Hartford employ as many city residents as possible. To emphasize the unemployment problem in Hartford's neighborhoods, those people in the audience in need of a job or a better job were asked to stand. At this time some 50 or so people stood up waving their pink job registration forms they were asked to fill out at the entrance. Employment was voted HART's second most important issue after car insurance.

16-year-old Zul Yanis Alonso's presentation on education and youth displayed some of the theatrics that has been a hallmark of HART gatherings. As local kids skated and roller bladed on the stage behind her, Alonso called on the public officials to provide the youth with their own roller rink. She received a a pledge to look into funding for a rink.

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