Prior to Luke taking office, the City of Hartford was effectively bankrupt. Half of Hartford’s property is tax exempt, leaving Hartford with less taxable property than suburbs like West Hartford. And the State has failed to fund its Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) for years. To make matters worse, past administrations had promised too much, and then delayed debt payments—buying time, but creating a mountain of debt payments coming due. In 2016, Hartford faced a full-blown budget crisis guaranteed to get worse in the years ahead.
Luke knew there would be no easy way out, and he told Hartford the truth. He asked residents to be part of the solution by making deep cuts in the city budget. He asked unions to be part of the solution, and they stepped up by agreeing to big changes in their contracts. He also asked the biggest corporations and the entire state to do their fair share. Luke reached an agreement with the largest employers in Hartford to contribute $50 million over five years to protect crucial public services like public safety and the library, shielding them from budget cuts. And Luke convinced Republicans and Democrats in the State to reach a long-term agreement, under which the State agreed to assume Hartford’s debt service payments.
The City of Hartford is now on a five year financial stability plan. Luke has brought the discipline Hartford needed, and he has the credibility Hartford needs to keep that plan on track.
When Luke ran for mayor, he heard from so many people that they were sick of seeing new “plans.” They wanted long-planned projects to get done. And that they wanted to see as much focus on neighborhoods as on downtown. Luke listened, and that’s exactly what he’s done. The City has played a role in hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of public and private projects in every neighborhood. Click here to get a list of projects that have gotten going under Luke’s tenure.
When Luke ran for mayor in 2015, he heard from people working directly with disengaged and disconnected youth in Hartford. They said that young people didn’t need just another “program.” Most of all, they needed jobs. Luke listened, and he promised to create a Youth Service Corps.
In his first year as mayor, he raised $5 million in private funding and fulfilled his promise. So far, the program has created hundreds of part-time, year-round jobs for our young people. Youth Service Corps members come from all backgrounds. Some may be disengaged or disconnected from school, or may have been involved in the criminal justice system. Others may have faced homelessness or other challenges. The Youth Service Corps program offers the chance to earn a paycheck, develop skills, and learn from one-on-one mentors. At the same time, they are doing work that strengthens our community, from building park benches to clearing snow for seniors to working with City departments and nonprofits.
When Luke ran for mayor in 2015, he promised to improve public safety. One of the most urgent tasks was to stabilize staffing in the Fire and Police departments, which both faced huge numbers of impending retirements. In his first three years, Hartford recruited more than 125 firefighters. In 2017, the Fire Department received a $12 million, multi-year federal grant for staffing and technology. It was the second largest federal grant for hiring firefighters in the country—only after Los Angeles.
In Luke’s first three years as Mayor, Hartford recruited more than 100 police officers, more than doubling police recruitment over the previous four years. His administration worked hard to recruit diverse classes, and nearly half of new officers hired have been Black, Hispanic, or Asian. Due to retirements, the Police Department is still understaffed, but the trend has been reversed and is headed in the right direction. That’s why Luke has committed to continue to recruit diverse classes in the years ahead. Recruiting is necessary so that the city has enough officers to “walk the beat,” not just do vehicle patrols.
This year, Hartford police officers will also begin wearing body cameras. Luke believes that body cameras will help improve trust and transparency—good for both the officers and the community.
Luke knows that public safety is about a lot more than adequately staffed police and fire departments. That’s why he created the Youth Service Corps and supported the Reentry Welcome Center. He and his team have also focused intensely on supporting organizations that work with young people every day to reduce violence and prevent retaliations. That work does not get much attention, but it has made a difference for families and young people.
There is still far too much violence in Hartford, and Luke is dedicated to working on every front to reduce it. Even when young people aren’t directly impacted by violence, the trauma from exposure to gun violence in particular can damage their long term development. His administration created a proposal to connect young people exposed to gun violence, directly or indirectly, to trauma informed care. They are now seeking funders to make it a reality.
Mayor Bronin said from the start that he was not going to try to run both the city and the Board of Education, as some of his predecessors had. But he’s made it a priority to support the Superintendent in her work to strengthen neighborhood schools, and to work together to combat Hartford’s crisis of chronic absenteeism. He has supported the push for systemic change within the school district, including the development of the District Model for Excellence plan. He helped lead the difficult but necessary conversations about closing under-enrolled schools, so that resources could be focused on a smaller number of higher quality neighborhood schools.
Luke also championed the construction of Weaver High School and the soon-to-begin renovation of Martin Luther King Schools, finally bringing back a comprehensive public high school to North Hartford. His administration is working now on the renovation of Quirk Middle School for the benefit of kids participating in the Police Athletic League. He’s working with the schools to tackle chronic absenteeism.
In addition, Luke raised private money to give meals to students over winter break for the first time. And he has protected the summer youth employment program and created a Youth Service Corps to give hundreds of young people an opportunity to work year-round in our community.
Combating Blight Citywide
When he ran for Mayor, Luke promised to tackle the decades-long problem of blight in our community. After he was elected, he assembled a transition team of community leaders to recommend a plan. He listened to those recommendations, and he’s implemented them.
First, he identified CDBG block grant funding to start a Blight Remediation Team—including a Blight Director who’s focused on blight morning, noon, and night. The Blight team she assembled has been working with each NRZ to target specific properties around Hartford. The team set a goal of fixing up at least 100 properties a year, and they’ve hit that pace. Now, Luke is looking to ramp up faster and farther.
In 2017, he secured $5 million in State funding to create a Hartford Land Bank, which will soon begin acquiring and fixing properties in partnership with organizations and individuals. Right now, the Land Bank is conducting a privately-funded survey of the entire city with the help of the Youth Service Corps and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving—the kind of partnership that can really change the game.
Supporting Second Chances
When Luke worked for the State of Connecticut, he helped develop the Second Chance Society initiatives that have made Connecticut a leader in criminal justice reform. When he ran for Mayor the first time, he heard from many residents who wanted the City to do more to support that Second Chance agenda. Luke heard those calls, and he convened a transition team focused on reentry. The number one recommendation of that group was to create a Reentry Welcome Center. Luke said he would do that, and last fall Community Partners in Action opened a Reentry Welcome Center right in City Hall for people returning from incarceration. It helps those who are coming back to our community after being incarcerated get connected to the resources that are available—and to get help when it comes to housing, jobs, healthcare, or other needs.
Greening the City
During his first campaign for mayor, Luke promised to make Hartford a leader in environmental responsibility. Within months of taking office, he supported the creation of a citywide Climate Action Plan. The working group included City commissions, local businesses, community organizations, and environmental nonprofits. Together, they wrote a Climate Action Plan that promotes public health, economic development, and social equity. The plan was unanimously adopted by the City Council in early 2018.
Along the way, the City successfully obtained outside funding to start a Sustainability Office. The City also received outside funding for other projects, such as: a Spanish-language peer-to-peer recycling education in Frog Hollow; a $3.6 million bike and walking trail along the Connecticut River; the refurbishing of Colt Park sports fields; and the creation of a new park on Albany Avenue at the former police substation.
Hartford was also named a Department of Energy SolSmart Gold city, a Sustainable CT Silver community, a Silver Bike Friendly Community, and a Gold Walk Friendly Community.
Standing up for Immigrants
Luke has lived up to his campaign promise to stand up for Hartford and all of its residents. Right now, the Trump Administration is pursuing an inhumane and dangerous agenda, targeting immigrants and turning its back on fundamental American values. Luke implemented a City ID program so that any Hartford resident—no matter their immigration status—can get the city services they are entitled to. So far, more than 1,450 ID cards have been issued. He defended Hartford’s status as a welcoming community, and spoke out nationally against President Trump’s attacks on sanctuary cities. And when law-abiding undocumented individuals across our community have been unfairly targeted for deportation, Luke has personally worked to stop or delay their deportations.