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January 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dr. King

Members of Hamden High's Black & Hispanic Student Union take turns reading excerpts from Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Images by Sharon Bass

At Martin Luther King’s packed birthday party yesterday inside Thornton Wilder Hall, Peggy Craft of the Traffic Department spoke.

“Hello, everyone. I’m very happy to be here today to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A few years ago, Sallie (Lowry of Parks & Rec, who puts 110 percent of her zany energy into organizing the town’s MLK celebration each year) asked me if I would like to speak at the Dr. King Day celebration about the effect Dr. King had on my life. I said, ‘Ahhhh, no!’ Sallie looked at me for a moment and said, ‘Let me put that another way. You will speak at the celebration.’

How cute are they? Hamden Youth Services' preschoolers charm the SRO-only crowd.

Well, I didn’t want to disobey my older sister, so I reluctantly agreed and spent the next couple of weeks trying to figure out what effect Dr. King had on my life. Of course, I knew and admired his work and understood his mission, but I was baffled as to how it had any effect on my life, as I grew up in a white world.

When I started to think about that world, I remembered how neighborhoods were defined as ‘white’ or ‘colored.’ I remembered the tokenism that existed in the clubs and organizations in school. I remembered the three black kids in my elementary school who were identified more by the color of their skin than by their names -- Peter, Roger and Ruthie.

I remembered how some of us were judged by our abilities and others were judged the color of their skin. I remembered being called an ugly name because I chose to dance with a black man.

The charged-up middle school drum line, directed by Melissa Ferranti.

Dr. King said: ‘Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe? Expediency asks the question: Is it politic? Vanity asks the question: Is it popular? But conscience asks the question: Is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular. But one must take it because it is right.'

Dr. King’s words helped me to choose what was right. To always try to judge others by his standard: by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin.

When my daughter was in high school she often spoke of a boy named David. Sometimes she liked David and sometimes she didn’t like him. Some days he was funny and some days he was annoying. Most days he was her friend.

When she graduated, I watched her walk across the field laughing and talking with a fellow student. Later I asked her who he was. She said that was David. I said, ‘You never told me he was black.’ Her reply was, ‘I didn’t think it mattered.' I was never more proud of her than at that moment. And that is the effect that Martin Luther King had on my life.

The middle school choir performs "Sit Down, Servant" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

Earlier I referred to Sallie as my sister, though we are not sisters by birth. One of us grew up on a farm in South Carolina and the other in the Westville section of New Haven. Though one of us is black and the other one is white, we are truly sisters. Sisters in spirit, sisters in faith and sisters in hope and love.

And this also is the effect Martin Luther King had on my life.

Today I share the podium with a black woman who I am fortunate to have as a coworker and blessed to have as a friend. Not a black friend. But a friend. And that is another effect that Martin Luther King has had on my life.

Next month we will have the unprecedented opportunity to vote for a woman or a black man to run for president of this country. And that is the effect that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has had on all our lives.

Dr. King said, ‘If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.’ Dr. King lived and died for what he believed in, for his dream. It is incumbent upon all of us to continue his work so the words Dr. King spoke in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech will become reality – ‘… that all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of that old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!’

Thank you.”

Thank you, Peggy.

The town concludes the party with "We Shall Overcome" to the gentle strumming of middle school choir director Scott Ferguson's guitar. Click arrow to join in.

January 10, 2008

128 Turnor Avenue

Photos/Bob Martens

At 11:45 p.m. Jan. 8, a raging fire ravaged 128 Turnor Ave. killing an 86-year-old female occupant. Another occupant, her grandson, was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital. Fire and police officials say the blazing, single-family house brought out all of Hamden’s on-duty firefighters and two volunteer fire companies, plus fighters from Bethany and North Haven. Battalion Chief Don LaBanca said the fire is under investigation.

December 30, 2007

Hamden Wishes

What well-known townies hope for the New Year

By Sharon Bass

We enter each new calendar year with hope. As a town we have many of the same hopes: wise spending of tax dollars, an honest, transparent government, the best possible education for the children and a vibrant and stimulating community.

The local folks who make these decisions -- now and in the past -- were asked for their 2008 wishes for the town of Hamden. The most common response was getting taxes under control. Some meandered off town boundaries to New York and Boston ballparks and to Washington, D.C.

Here’s how they wished.

Joseph P. McDonagh
Hamden Democratic Party chair

Certainly, 2007 was a difficult year for Hamden. The state of Connecticut’s unwillingness to accept its responsibility for educating Connecticut’s children shortchanged Hamden again. As a result, Hamden’s taxes increased again, and Hamden voters made clear that they cannot continue to bear this burden.

In 2008, therefore, my first hope is that the state of Connecticut will mend its ways. That won’t happen without a push; we won’t see proper state funding of Hamden’s schools unless we take action.

So my second hope is that Hamden’s voters turn out in large numbers on Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. in the new middle school cafeteria, for the Hamden PTA Council forum with Hamden’s state representatives and senators. We need to ensure that all of them understand that their priority for the 2008-’09 state budget is to pay their fair share to educate our children.

My third hope for Hamden in 2008? Another Red Sox World Series championship. I will probably regret writing that.

My best wishes to all for 2008.

Michael Iezzi
Hamden Republican Party chair

First of all, I would like to wish all Hamden residents a prosperous and happy New Year.

Secondly, I wish that Hamden Republicans, Democrats, Greens and independents will work together to put taxpayers first.

Finally, I wish the New York Yankees success in the 2008 season.

James Velvet
Spring Glen songwriter/musician, peace activist

My wish for Hamden in 2008 is that we might all start paying lower property taxes. Here are a couple of suggestions for how to get the job done, based on statistics provided by the National Priorities Project.

* In the last year, the U.S. Congress and president passed $56.5 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. If that revenue had been collected and distributed to the states on a per capita basis, New Haven County would have been able to hire 6,048 public safety officers and 4,218 music and arts teachers.

* Or to look at it another way, New Haven County taxpayers have already spent $2.4 billion on the war in Iraq. That money could have been used to hire 48,792 public safety officers and 34,034 music and arts teachers.

I say vote for the public safety officers and teachers. And when we've hired enough of them, we can lower our property taxes and put the extra revenue into our libraries, roads, electric and water infrastructures, to protect open spaces and increase housing and medical benefits for all of us. If there's any left over, buy my latest album.

Wake up Hamden taxpayers. If you'd like your local taxes to come down you need to replace the federal officials responsible for opening the massive financial sewer we call "conservative" government. Stated beautifully in a traditional English folk song:

The law locks up the thief/
who steals the goose from off the common/
but lets the greater villain loose/
who steals the common from the goose.

Stop the thieves before they finish the job.

Curt Balzano Leng
6th District councilman

I hope …

1) for new tax-relief programs that can help our seniors and veterans;
2) that our Legislative Council be progressive and active;
3) for continued stabilization of the town's overall financial position;
3) that we can get a new movie theater and bookstore (this one's still for you, Dale; I haven't forgotten);
4) for a quality budget season where new ideas are looked at and truly considered;
5) for improved zoning enforcement on property maintenance and blight;
6) that the Board of Education moves its central office to Hamden Government Center so that the two sides of our town can work more closely together;
7) we can find a way to fairly treat the residents of the Newhall Street neighborhood, who have been put through nothing short of a nightmare the last six-plus years;
8) that we close the Farricielli tire pond on State Street -- once and for all;
9) that politics doesn't get in the way of progress;
10) that everyone, residents and politicians, stay open to change, because this is the only way we will be able to improve our town in the long run.

Tony Mentone
8th District town committee member

When new buildings and facilities are proposed in town, I would like to know the maintenance costs involved. For instance, the new police station and the new town park, etc., etc.

Rose Mentone
Democratic Town Committee officer

My wish is for politicians with coglioni who keep the good of the people in mind and are not just trying to get re-elected.

Carol Noble
At-large councilwoman

My first wish is for an improved economy in the national perspective, which would naturally affect anything that happens in Connecticut and in Hamden. So many people in the middle-income levels are being affected by the cost of gas, the cost of food -- living in general.

In Hamden, we have so many great projects on the horizon. I want to see that police station come to fruition. I want to see the fire station come to fruition.

And I want economic growth in the town. With the new planning and zoning regulations that are being revamped this coming year, what they will do for us is boost the town’s economy by getting more taxes from commercial and business enterprises and lessening the burden on homeowners. That’s foremost in my mind right now. That’s a biggie.

Austin Cesare
Board of Ed member

Nationally, I wish to see our troops finish the outstanding work they have done in Iraq, and start to return home safely. 

Locally, I wish for a new spirit of compromise and bipartisanship to tackle Hamden's out-of-control property tax situation.

And my final New Year's wish is for another Boston Red Sox World Series victory in 2008! Go Sox!

Craig Cesare
At-large councilman

My New Year’s wishes are for a Hamden High School Hockey State Championship victory, a Legislative Council budget season with councilmembers fighting to put Hamden taxpayers first, and for the continued success of our troops in Iraq, and their safe return home.

Mimsie Coleman
Hamden Arts Commission director

That Hamden will flourish in ways that will allow the arts to flourish, also. I’m hoping that we can get enough business support and sponsorship so we can have five concerts again this summer.

Barbara DeNicola
Former Hamden mayor (1997-1999)

I wish that people have a very healthy and happy New Year. And the administration has to do something about our taxes.

Larry DeNardis
Former U.S. congressman, University of New Haven president emeritus

I wish good health and happiness to all my neighbors throughout Hamden.

My special wish is that students in Hamden schools attain their highest educational achievement this next year with the help of teachers and parents, who I hope will rededicate themselves to their students’ improvement. If possible, we all ought to think how we can help Hamden students. After all, we have an impressive array of human resources among our citizens. Money in the form of educational assistance is important, of course, but it will never be enough nor will it ever replace the assistance of concerned citizens.

Happy New Year, Hamden, from the HDN.

December 27 , 2007

Jewish Eve

Rabbi Piekarski (left) plays chess with Ariel Talmor on Christmas Eve. The little smiling one is the rabbi's daughter Chanah.

Rabbi's night off

Words and pictures by Sharon Bass

For Jews, it’s often the movies and Chinese food on Dec. 24. Chabad of Hamden tweaked the tradition this Christmas Eve. The Orthodox Jewish organization, at 1650 Whitney Ave., offered up the Chinese but replaced the big screen with lotsa games.

Rabbi Menachem Piekarski, the local Chabad leader, played chess at one table.

(From left): Jacob Wyner, Moshe Piekarski, Ari Wyner and Yechiel Piekarski.

At another, boys wearing yarmulkes played KosherLand (CandyLand) Apples to Apples Jewish Version, Torah Slide & Ladders (Chutes and Ladders), Mitzvah Match (Concentration) and SMATH -- that’s secular Scrabble but with numbers.

Women and an 8-year-old boy gathered around their own table playing Big Boggle.

The food was imported from Kosher Express in suburban New Haven. One party-gamer asked what was the difference between regular and kosher Chinese.

“There’s no pork, of course,” said the rabbi’s wife, Miryam Piekarski, and a rabbi supervises the food preparation to ensure only kosher ingredients are used. The Chabad buffet of egg rolls, string beans, deep-fried chicken balls with broccoli and lo mein noodles with beef was familiarly tasty.

Local tax activist Helen Blitzer (in back) with her daughter, Meri Fleischman. Both live in Spring Glen.

On every other day of the year, Rabbi Piekarski teaches. Much of it is in informal and/or small settings, such as groups he runs at Chabad. Like a good rabbi, he passionately and lovingly espouses his views on the Torah, and whether or not they agree, folks find him most engaging. But on Christmas Eve, the rabbi is off. And it’s got nothing to do with the Torah. Or Moses.

According to Rabbi Piekarski, during the Middle Ages Jews would run the risk of being killed when they went to school or another place to study and teach on Christmas Eve. Eventually, they stopped teaching on Dec. 24, and Rabbi Piekarski and other highly religious Jews keep the tradition.

And on the rabbi's day off Dec. 24, 2007, he got his tuckus kicked twice in chess and then retreated.

November 11, 2007

Owl Prowlers at Brooksvale

Brooksvale Park naturalist Tom Parlapiano preps the prowl crowd on the ways of the owl. Photo/Betsy Driebeek

By Betsy Driebeek

Over 100 people braved Friday's cold night air as they listened for owls while hiking through Brooksvale Park. They were on an owl prowl led by park naturalist Tom Parlapiano.

The program began inside the park’s Veteran's Memorial Building. Expecting only the 12 people who had registered by 4 o'clock Friday, the influx of people was a pleasant surprise to the Friends of Brooksvale.

Parlapiano explained that fall was the best time to search for owls as they are venturing down from the north to set up their territories and eventually mate. Eight owls can be found in Connecticut. Two take up residence at Brooksvale -- the great horned owl and the eastern screech owl. Sometimes the barn owl and the sawet owl can be found as well.

"It all depends on the availability of food in the north," Parlapiano said.

He offered some owl facts. They have stationary eyeballs requiring them to turn their heads from side to side to view the periphery. Those eyes are seven to eight times more powerful than a human’s, which enable owls to see well in the dark. Owl ears are offset on the sides of their heads to provide more accuracy in locating their prey; their hearing is their most sensitive sense. The female is bigger than the male so she can cover the nest eggs 24/7 while the male brings in the food. When the babies are a little bigger, the female and the male take turns sitting on the sides of the nests to share the guarding and food-gathering duties.

Owls are nocturnal except when they must feed their young all day long. They kill their prey with their sharp talons.

After drinking hot chocolate to guard against the cold night, the eager owl prowlers spent almost an hour hiking to five different locations in the park while Parlapiano cued up several different owl calls on tape. Adults and children remained silent for long intervals of time hoping to hear (and spot) owls, but none responded. Heard instead were cars, a distant train, a tremendous amount of air traffic, a cell phone, dogs barking, a sneeze and the sounds of silence.

Parlapiano said possible reasons for the owl no-show were the downward change in barometric pressure or that the owls were just on the downtime of their nightly schedule of calling, hunting and being quiet.

"We do have a good population of owls at Brooksvale Park," Parlapiano concluded, "but you wouldn't know it tonight."

HDN contributor Betsy Driebeek can be reached at betsy@hamdendailynews.com.


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