My Word
April 24, 2006

Extinguish the Politics

By Sharon Bass

Since he was elected by an unprecedented 82 percent of the vote last November, I have reported on all of Democratic Mayor Henrici's appointments. Whether they're department heads, consultants or volunteer commissioners, they all went through their respective Legislative Council committee and then proceeded to the full body for a final vote.

Except now. The mayor's most controversial-by-far selection -- Brian Badamo for fire chief -- is having trouble. And it looks like the appointment will bypass the Public Safety Committee -- where both sides of the issue have ascertained it would die -- and go directly to our 15 councilpeople. It promises to be a close vote there, but is expected to pass.

On top of this political maneuvering to push through an unpopular candidate, Henrici will not say when the vote will be taken. And according to Council President Al Gorman, the mayor can add anything he wants to the Council agenda at the last minute. In other words, the public might not know ahead of time.

Slip, slide and he's in, huh?

Badamo simply and factually does not have what it takes to lead Hamden's 100-plus-member fire force. That's not a slight against the 32-year-old assistant fire marshal. It's a slight against the mayor. He seems intent -- no matter what -- on making Badamo chief, even with the raging opposition and the well-known straight dope about Badamo's background, which clearly shows he is nowhere near chief material.

The only supporters I have found worked with Badamo last year to get Henrici elected. And not one can answer the fundamental question: "What are Badamo's qualifications?" Being an eager, energetic, campaign cheerleader just doesn't cut it.

I believe few are blind to the real reason Badamo is such a mayoral must. Most understand this appointment is making good on a political deal. A private promise made some time ago. While politics always plays a factor in "political appointments," what makes this situation unusual and inexcusable is that the candidate in question does not meet even one criterion for the job. Not one.

Some say Badamo's appointment parallels that of Tim Sullivan, who was chosen by former Mayor Lillian Clayman. Both young, both having leapt over ranks to get to the top. But there are at least two differences I can see. Sullivan was deputy chief first and was about a half-decade older than Badamo. Not huge differences. But differences nonetheless.

Even so, that's not even a point let alone a defense. Two wrongs don't make a right. (I don't know that Sullivan was a "wrong," per se; some say he was.) We're supposed to learn from mistakes, not repeat them. But when politics is so thickly enmeshed, as it is in the Badamo situation, I'm not so sure that doing the right thing is at the top of the priority list -- if it even makes it on.

As a Hamden journalist and resident, I ask Mayor Craig Henrici to please reconsider. Please look at others who know the fire business inside and out and can command respect from the ranks -- because they have worked their way up. Consider the 82 percent who elected you to make this a better town.

And I ask the same of the Legislative Council. Put community good before backroom deals. The campaign is over. The honeymoon is over. Dig into your conscience and ask yourselves if making Badamo chief has anything to do with him being qualified for the job.

March 4, 2006

'People Are Truly Good At Heart'

By Sharon Bass

In the mayor's office yesterday, someone called me Dr. Gloom. I was telling him what I think of Bush's America.

I remember exactly where I was and how I felt when I learned Bush won a second term. I was walking through the parking lot of a local convenience store in Maine. I stopped walking. I couldn't do anything but think.

I knew he was going to win, but I had this teeny bit of hope that maybe, maybe people saw and endured enough during the first four years of this man who seems bent on destroying just about everything that is good in society, while feeding greedy, mean-spirited and downright evil causes and policies.

And with this horrendous and illegal war in Iraq, how did that man get one vote? Is there anybody out there who honestly believes Bush and his sidekicks didn't doctor the intelligence so it would appear there was a credible and urgent reason to bomb the hell out of Iraqis? Conservatives and liberals agree the media coverage of the war is unbalanced (although they argue for opposite reasons). I agree. It is very unbalanced. Or rather filtered. We are not allowed to get or tell the whole truth and nothing but, so we dish out Iraq-ultra-light.

When I ran a weekly newspaper in Maine, a woman from the community was serving in Mosul and wrote a weekly column for me. When we initially discussed the column idea, she told me she couldn't write about anything too serious and the columns would be reviewed by three military tiers before she could e-mail them to me.

Her topics ranged from rock collecting, cooking dinner, the stuff she traded at the military swap shop and happy little interviews with some of the people she was stationed with. During this time, her cafeteria was blown up and many were killed. She was standing right outside of it when it happened. She told me she stopped going into the cafeteria after a previous bomb, which killed a woman she knew well. Her fear saved her life.

I wondered what she'd be able to write about the bombing in her column. The bombing was way too deadly and publicized for her to ignore. I got a very played-down, detached account of what happened. I felt so bad for her. The trauma was so apparent. When she returned home months later, we went out to lunch. It was 1 p.m. She was already drunk. And she was angry during the entire lunch about anything and everything.

True, I had not met her before her Iraq experience, so I don't know if she was being her usual self or what. But she told me something that made me wonder.

A career military woman, she said she wanted out because she was afraid she'd be sent back to Mosul. However her husband, who chooses not to work, didn't want her to quit because she brought in a good paycheck and health benefits. Her husband told me the same thing, by the way.

Swell guy.

To me, that poor woman well illustrates what this administration is doing to the everyday person in one way or another. The vast majority of us who are not in the upper echelon of society, which Bush refers to as, "My power base."

Rant over.

On an upbeat note, since Bush's re-election, I am often reminded and comforted by something Anne Frank wrote:

"It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart." -- from the "The Diary of a Young Girl," by Anne Frank, who was born in Germany in 1929 and died of typhus 15 years later while a prisoner at the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Her crime, like millions of others, was being a Jew at a time and in a place where that was politically and morally incorrect, according to the leader. And many followed.

February 4, 2006

It's For the Kids

By Sharon Bass

I have a radical idea. One that would not thrill my fans inside 60 Putnam Ave. So before I lay it on you, allow me to explain the driving forces.

The sticky, antagonistic relationship between the Hamden school district and a good chunk of the town is commonplace. Across the U.S. map, the two entities don't get along. They are suspicious of each other, especially the town of the board of ed. People think school administrators are more interested in paychecks than kids. And every budget season there's a tug-of-war over what gets cut and what gets salvaged. We're going through this war as I write.

Here's my idea: Hamden school administrators forgo their 3.5 percent salary hike included in the '06-'07 budget, and designate that money toward stuff that will directly benefit children. New textbooks. New teachers. More classroom aides. You name it. Some of these essentials are currently on life support and it would be a shame if none survive the budget process.

Asking administrators to turn down raises is certainly no panacea for a system we are led to believe is underfed. I realize that. Their high salaries are not the No. 1 reason there's never enough money for public education (while there are billions and more billions for war). Still, look at what could be achieved by the fairly simple and painless effort of not taking a pay raise. Administrators already earn more than three times as much as the average Hamden taxpayer. They won't starve.

1) Students would be the direct benefactors. How often do we hear school officials say it's all for the children? OK, here's a chance to demonstrate that sentiment.
2) It could help restore the community's faith in the school system.
3) It could inspire other towns.
4) It's a wonderful lesson for children.

Now, we're not talking big bucks here. Just a nice chunk of change. Looking over the superintendent's proposed budget, I find $3,654,978 in salaries for the super, the two assistant supers, central office directors and principals. Those are the administrators getting the 3.5 percent pay hikes, which ring in at $121,832 for the next fiscal year. That could buy books, teachers, whatnot. And, I think, some much-needed goodwill.

January 16-17, 2006

Comcast v. Me

We both lose

By Sharon Bass

It's really cool running an online community newspaper. But there is one big anxiety-producing downside beyond your control: when the Internet doesn't work, neither do you. I use Comcast to get online. Here's why there was no HDN yesterday.

My battle with the mega-corporation started at 8:50 p.m. Sunday. I was happily putting together Monday's issue of the HDN when my Internet crashed. In contrast to how I typically react to such a stressor, I figured it would be remedied way before I posted in the wee morning hours. So I didn't sweat it.

I decided to call Comcast to make sure it was an area outage and not just my connection. I had to resort to the hard-copy phonebook (no Internet) where I found just toll-free numbers for Comcast, meaning I would talk to people from call centers anywhere in the country and beyond. I wanted a local yokel who would likely know what's going on in my back yard. Wasn't going to happen.

Over the next 21 hours minus some minutes, I would call Comcast nine times. I was lied to (probably not intentionally). I was given conflicting stories (probably not intentionally). The only common denominator was nobody really knew anything.

Call #1, around 9 p.m.: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, I said to the woman on the other end (gave her the rundown on how my Internet isn't working and how I depend on it for my work). I asked if she was local. She told me was in Massachusetts. She told me there was an outage in my area and thought for sure it would be fixed before midnight.

Sweet. I still had hours of work left to do for which I didn't need the Internet. So I carried on.

The clock struck 1 a.m. It was Monday. I was done with putting together the paper and needed to upload it. But still no Internet.

Hmm. I was beginning to lose my calm.

Call #2, just after 1 a.m.: "I was told the service would be restored before midnight. Can you tell me what's going on?" I said to a male. He proceeded to tell me that it was a "scheduled" event, meaning Comcast planned to shut down the service to make repairs.

"Scheduled? From 9 p.m.? And if it was planned, why doesn't the company inform its customers about it?"

"Good point, and I apologize for your inconvenience," the guy said to me.

"Would you check to see when the scheduled maintenance is due to end?"

"We don't know. It just says it was scheduled. We have to wait until the technician (in my area) calls in with a report." Like everyone I spoke with at Comast, he told me it was impossible to contact the local New Haven office for an update. Absolutely no way. I asked how a communications company could have such crappy communications inside its creepy, corporate shell? (I didn't actually say the last three words.)

He told me to call back in a couple of hours.

So I watched a few "Seinfeld" DVDs from the fourth season (the TV was out, too).

Call #3: At 3 a.m. I again called the 800 number. Another male voice told me to go to bed. He also told me it wasn't a scheduled event. And if it was, it wouldn't have started as early as 9 p.m. He said there's a problem in my area. You think? I asked if the local technician reported in yet. No.

I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. and caught a couple of hours of zzzzzzzzzzzzz's. When I awoke my eyes immediately darted to my cable box, and seeing that only the top light was solid, I grabbed the phone.

Call #4: I punched in those lousy 10 digits again. It was another guy. This one was from Canada. He gave me the same runaround.

"There's an outage in your area."

Really? Tell me something I don't know.

"It wasn't scheduled."

I already got that version.

"Tell me the truth," I said to him.

"OK," he said.

"You really don't know anything, do you?"


"You don't know if someone's working on the problem as I was promised at 9 p.m., do you?"


"So basically there's no sense in calling here because nobody knows anything, right?"

"Right. Your local office opens at 9 a.m." At least he was honest.

Conceding I was at the mercy of the all-powerful Comcast, I waited until 9 to call the New Haven office. Meanwhile, I scoured through my three phonebooks again, traipsing across the white and the yellow, to try to find a local number. But none could be found.

At around 10 a.m. my friend next door, who uses SBC for Internet, called excitedly that she found Comcast's local number -- on the Internet. Brilliant, Comcast. Just where those of us who have no connection are going to look first.

"Did you call?" I asked her.

"No. They might be closed for the holiday," she said.

Call #5, 10:21 a.m.: I called and it just rang and rang and rang.

I hate being so dependent on technology.

Next up was the 1:35 p.m. call from hell. Also known as Call #6.

"Based on what I'm looking at here there might be an outage in your area," I am enlightened by yet another man, this one located in Malden, Mass. "But it's just showing TV (outage)."

I lost it. I raised my voice. I told the customer service guy that it was preposterous to tell me there "might be an outage," and that his information is showing that just TV is out.

"This is my sixth phone call about this," I kind of bellowed. Sort of. Kind of. Sure did.

"Let me see what I can do. Mind if I put you on hold for a few seconds?"


He came back with startling news. "It's not considered a major outage," he said.

"What are you implying?"

"I'm not implying anything. All I'm saying is that it wasn't reported in two (out of a mandatory) three places," he told me. "All I can tell you is I can try to order a truck to come over to your house tomorrow."

A truck? To my house? For what? It was an area outage. I also told him I was writing an editorial about my ordeal with Comcast, which I would post as soon as I got back on line.

"Well, here's what you look for on your modem to know the cable is back on. I'm sure it will come back today," he switched tactics.

"Now you're guaranteeing me it will be fixed by tonight? You just said I should have a technician come by tomorrow," I said to him.

I asked for a supervisor. I got Tony Whelan, a notably soft-spoken man. I also informed him (although I think he already knew) that I was writing this editorial.

He listened to my entire ordeal in some detail. Then, very calmly he said to me: "I'm going to do this. I'm going to find out the specifics about the outage. I'm going to work with our advanced net support team." Wow, the advanced.

He agreed that sending a technician to my home would be pointless. He confirmed that there was an outage in my area. And he promised to get back to me -- very shortly -- to tell me when service should resume. He also gave me his direct number with a 718 area code.

That was at 2:17 p.m.

Call #7: At 3:55 p.m. I left a message on Whelan's voicemail. "I'm getting very nervous. It's almost 4 o'clock."

Call #8: 5:14 p.m.: I left another message for Whelan. Of course, my Internet was still in a coma.

I called the 800 number again. Desperate. Refusing to give up. It was all I had left. Just 800 and me (yes, I got pretty damn wacky).

And via a recorded announcement I felt vindicated:

"We are currently experiencing a service interruption in your area … Your problem has been identified … If you want like us to call you when service is restored, press 1."

Then I spoke with a live guy.

Call #9: "They're hoping to have it up by 8," said a male from the regional office in Newfoundland, Canada. He said he had spoken with the New Haven office. Really? I told him I was surprised, as the other customer reps I spoke with said it was impossible to reach the local office. He paused a moment and said it can only be done through computer.

Oh, I see. The others didn't know how to operate a computer. Or the company is too cheap to allot more than one computer for every 1,000 employees. Or it's one of Comcast's best-kept secrets that you have to use a computer for this type of communication.

I asked him what time the work in my area had begun.

"If you don't mind holding on, I'll try to get that information," he said.

He returned.

He didn't know what time the repair started, but said the information he just received indicated "they would have been aware of it this morning."

I was told last night at 9 that Comcast was not only aware of but also fixing the problem. And you know the rest of the story.

I just signed up with SBC. I don't care for that corporation either, but I got a good deal for $30 less.

And, unexpectedly, at 5:57 p.m., my computer once again joined cyberland.

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