Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Pandemic Preparedness: Let's find a way to vote wisely.


The Next Epidemic and ... the Next US President 

If you've not heard or read Bill Gates's 2015 TED Talk regarding Epidemic Preparedness, please do. Consider our choices in the upcoming national election, and think about your vote very carefully.


Mr. Gates's 2020 TED Talk is also worth hearing.

Let's find a way to vote wisely.



Saturday, May 23, 2020

Democrats Unanimously Endorse Brandon Chafee to Replace Joe Serra

Submitted by Brandon Chafee.
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Brandon Chafee received a unanimous endorsement from the Middletown Democratic Party Thursday evening to be their candidate for state representative in the 33rd District. Brandon was nominated by Mayor Ben Florsheim and seconded by Representative Joseph Serra who is not seeking re-election.

Mayor Florsheim said, “Brandon brings an incredibly unique background to this position, as an engineer, as a labor organizer, and as a lifelong resident. He is the type of person who will be looking forward and thinking forward. In all the time that I have known him, I have seen that he has a really strong moral compass and a really strong political backbone…I know that those qualities will serve him really well in the Legislature.”

Representative Joe Serra enthusiastically seconded the nomination stating, “It gives me great pleasure to second the nomination of Brandon Chafee, who I believe has the attributes, the dedication, and commitment to fulfill the obligations of the office of state representative and he has my wholehearted support.”

Brandon thanked them both for their service in his acceptance speech. “Mayor Florsheim has shown what real leadership looks like during this crisis. The level of information and support he has been providing to our community should be a model for all in elected office.” He continued, “Representative Serra, you have served our town and our party for decades, and we all owe you our gratitude for that.  Joe’s presence in the State House will be hard to replace, but I am confident that I possess the skills and background to serve our community well.”  Brandon also received endorsements from Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz and State Senator Matt Lesser at the virtual party convention.

Brandon said that he looks forward to using his experience as a civil engineer and his ability to solve problems to help our community. “The current crisis caused by the corona virus is highlighting many of the long standing, systemic problems in our economy and society. The need for affordable medication, the need to produce basic necessities domestically here at home, the need to expand voting rights, and the need for universal healthcare has never been greater than they are right now…Connecticut has a lot of structural problems, and I look forward to bringing new ideas and a proactive mindset to the Legislature to help solve them.”

Brandon is a Professional Engineer and a union steward with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He lives in the Westfield section of Middletown with his wife Meghan, dog Rocco, and cat Neville. Brandon promised that if elected, “I will be a strong voice for the working families of Middletown and will fight tirelessly to build a better future for us all.” 

To learn more about Brandon, visit his Facebook page at Brandon Chafee for
Middletown and his website https://www.brandonchafee.com/

Friday, May 22, 2020

Russell Library Provides Agile Services During Unprecedented Time

Submitted by Russell Library.
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They don’t teach ‘Pandemics 101’ in library school.  When Russell Library Director Ramona Burkey
received her Master’s Degree in Library Science in the late 1990s, courses included Personnel Management, Cataloging, and Statistical Analysis.  “There was never any discussion of how to run a library in the midst of a global health crisis,” says Burkey.  Instead, she and thousands of librarians around Connecticut and the country have had to use their ingenuity, resourcefulness and compassion to navigate these times.

The Russell Library, despite being closed to the public since March 13, has stepped up by providing a rich array of virtual and digital resources.  Examples include online story hours, arts and crafts and activity sessions, book discussion groups, career counseling and resume reviews, financial seminars, and much more.  Library staff have been key to a city-wide, multi-week virtual Shakespeare production called “A Midsummer Night’s Stream”: Jennifer Billingsley, Russell’s Head of Youth and Family Learning, spearheaded this partnership between the Library, ARTFARM, and Oddfellows Playhouse Youth Theater.  The end result has been a gripping four-part series on the Zoom platform, featuring Middletown’s best young talent along with local music superstars such as Noah Baerman of Resonant Motion, State Troubadour and Middletown resident Nekita Waller, Anitra Brooks, and Bryan Titus.

The Russell Library’s website has been a crucial link between residents and resources during difficult times.  Updated daily, the site contains valuable information such as “How to Help,” “If You Need Help,” “Tips for Working at Home,” and Covid-19 fact sheets in English and Spanish.  Since residents need library cards to access the library’s downloadable e-books, audiobooks, magazines, music, and movies, the library quickly set up an online library card application portal.  “I’ve personally processed and mailed about 300 requests for new or renewed cards since March,” reports Burkey.  “It’s incredibly gratifying to be able to provide these services to our community members.”  Burkey also notes that the library quickly reallocated funding to ensure enough copies of high-demand digital materials to residents.  “It’s about being agile and responding swiftly and appropriately to our community’s needs.”

To that end, Russell Library staff recently participated in an online professional development session where they discussed Middletown residents’ current challenges and needs, how the library can and should respond, and what their next steps should be.  “It was amazing,” says Burkey.  “The staff came up with a fantastic set of initiatives to support our community, and we are pursuing those ideas now.  The main thrust of our conversation revolved around the fact that our community members are feeling scared, isolated, and uncertain.  So we asked ourselves how the library, which is normally a ‘convener,’ in a physical way through in-person programs and services can respond in new and creative ways while the library building is closed, and the staff really came through.”

Russell Library staff have been helping out wherever and whenever needed since the very beginning of the pandemic.  When they learned that Middletown Senior Center staff would be contacting nearly 1,000 members as part of its “Keep Connected” wellness calls, library staff jumped in to help, making thousands of connections with some of Middletown’s most vulnerable residents.  Library staff are also writing postcards to seniors and sewing and distributing cloth face masks.  In March, the library donated much of its stock of PPE to first responders, who at the time were in dire need of such supplies.  “We didn’t need it right away, but there were people who truly did,” says Burkey.

Looking forward, the library will follow guidelines from the City of Middletown as well as state and national officials with regard to resuming services.  “We have a phased reopening plan with different levels of staffing and services based on public health conditions, the availability of PPE and child care, and other factors,” says Burkey.  “Right now, we will be able to get some staff back into our building at the beginning of June, and we plan on starting curbside pickup of library books and materials shortly after that.  My primary concern is the health and safety of our staff and patrons, so we will be proceeding with our reopening plan in a deliberate and fact-based way.  We really miss our patrons and we can’t wait to see them again, though -- even from a distance and behind a mask.”

Updates on library services will go out through the library’s e-newsletter; users can sign up at www.russelllibrary.org.  The Russell Library is also active on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

New Life For Textiles


Senator Lesser Endorsed Unanimously for Second Term

From the archives
Submitted by Matt Lesser.
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Senator Matt Lesser was unanimously endorsed in a convention Tuesday evening to run for a second term in the State Senate.

57 Democratic delegates, representing all five towns of the 9th Senate District, met virtually to endorse a candidate.

The nomination motion was made by Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim. Other delegates included retiring Wethersfield State Rep. Russ Morin and former Newington State Rep. Sandy Nafis.

“The elephant in the room is the COVID-19 pandemic. The past two months have been the most difficult we have ever experienced. It’s a public health crisis - and an economic disaster. My first, second and third goal is doing everything we can to support families and essential workers, hospitals and small businesses weather this storm.”

In accepting the nomination, Lesser cited his record and pledged to keep putting the district first. “We’ve been able to increase funding each year for each town in the district - the first time that’s happened in a long time. That means more funding for schools and services and it means reducing our reliance on property taxes. We were able to completely eliminate taxes on Social Security for most recipients. We’ve saved open space on Cedar Mountain in Newington, rehabbed the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry and honored our veterans in Middletown.”

Lesser, who serves as Chair of the Insurance Committee, committed himself to continue to work on his top priority: health care reform. “As a cancer survivor, I know how important it is to make sure that prescription drug costs, high deductibles and high premiums don’t stop anybody from getting the health care they need. In the past year, Lesser has passed laws helping kids with allergies access epipens, passed mental health parity to give people with addictions and mental health needs the same health care as everyone else, and eliminated copays and deductibles for breast ultrasounds.

He is the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 1, which will cap the cost of insulin at $50 and diabetic supplies at $100 - saving diabetics thousands of dollars. “In the richest state in the richest country on earth, nobody should die because they can’t afford insulin or other life savings prescriptions. Not now, not any more.”

The 9th Senate District includes Cromwell, Rocky Hill, Newington, part of Middletown and part of Wethersfield. Lesser lives in Middletown with his wife Sarah, an attorney. Prior to his service in the State Senate, Lesser served as a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Council Appropriates $262,500 For Loan Program

The Common Council, at a special meeting last night, voted unanimously to provide $262,500 in loans to support small businesses. The loans will be up to $10,000, and go to businesses of 20 employees or fewer that operate or are based in the City.

The loans will be for 1 year at 3.5% interest, with payments not starting until January, 2021.

The funds can be used for COVID related expenses, payroll, inventory, employee training,  “Re-Start” expenses, utilities, working capital. All expenses must be approved by City staff.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Ecopolis—Wesleyan and Middletown in 2050

Submitted by Miles Brooks Wesleyan, ‘20
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In the current reality, it is difficult to know what the future will look like. We don’t know when quarantine will end or what life will look like on the other side. It can be disheartening, but we still have our greatest tool: our imagination.

Imagine Wesleyan’s campus and Middletown in the year 2050…

The most noticeable difference is the campus appearance. The University understands the cost and unsustainability of replanting grass every year, treating it with pesticides, and watering it multiple times a week. In the place of grass is a restored New England ecosystem with native flowers and tall grasses. There are benches and seating areas dispersed throughout the campus for folks to enjoy the sun in between classes. The plant diversity on campus brings back the natural ecosystem, including a family of endangered barn owls that roost at the top of Allbritton.

College row is a food forest. Tall sugar maple trees are tapped every winter for syrup; apple trees bloom every spring. Blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry bushes fill space under the trees. Long Lane, WildWes, and Bon-Appetite workers have converted vacant spaces into land that can feed our community. When the fruit is ripe, students can enjoy a snack between classes. Student workers pick the remaining berries and turn them into jams, juices, or dehydrated fruit for the rest of campus to enjoy year-round.

The city mandates that all roofs must have either solar panels, roof-top gardens, or rain-catchment systems. Middletown and Wesleyan run entirely from renewable energy. Wind turbines and solar fields are found on the outskirts of town and parts of campus to power the city.

Major streets around Middletown, like Main St., Washington St., and High St., have wide bike lanes and no cars. Roundabouts and yield signs replace stop lights. Down the middle of these streets, separated from the bike lanes by physical barriers, is a bus lane for the electric rail bus that connects downtown to other towns and the countryside. This transition began with the 2020 Plan for Conservation and Development, and Complete Streets along with other residents advocating for healthier and safer transit options.

Alongside the roads there are more green spaces than concrete. Oaks provide shade for pedestrians, and raised-beds allow passers-by to have a snack. In the height of summer, you can walk down Main Street and pick basil, tomatoes, and cucumbers for a free lunch. Or you can stop by one of Middletown’s many restaurants who source their food from one of the many farms in town. Community gardens thrive in the post-pandemic world because people realize how much space the city has for potential food-growth. In 2022 the city established paid community gardening positions, which assist in feeding the community and expanding the city’s green space.

Community owned businesses fill storefronts on Main Street instead of fast-food and retail. Grocery co-op’s stock their shelves with food from nearby farms and greenhouses, and sell products made by local entrepreneurs. A community clothing shop repairs and constructs clothes. A bike co-op provides everyone with materials and information to make or mend your own bike. There’s a pharmacy that carries prescriptions covered by Medicare-for-all, a recycled electronics store, and a huge art studio for creative minds to come together and make visual, performance, or digital art.

Murals made by commissioned local artists cover every open wall on campus and in the city. The city is more colorful and vibrant than any time in its history.

While most goods and services come from within Middletown’s city limits, there are some imports and exports thanks to the high-speed rail system that connects Middletown to Hartford, New Haven and beyond to New York City and Boston. The high-speed electric rail eliminates the use for Route 9. Now there is easy water-front access. Along the river there are playgrounds, outdoor concert venues, and habitat restoration sites. Since the Connecticut River has been cleaned of all major pollutants, people gather at the dock to swim every summer.

Other than external appearance, Middletown and Wesleyan make equity and representation their main focus. In an effort to reverse the gentrification effect of the University on Middletown, Wesleyan funded the construction of affordable housing on Washington and High Streets. This increases student connection to Middletown, and student groups organize health care, food delivery, and tutoring for members of the community.

The city and Wesleyan have created a Center for Restorative Justice (CRJ), where people can hear their neighbors’ experiences, settle disputes with facilitation from a neutral individual, and host after school activities for youth. The CRJ is also home to community organizing. Monthly community meetings are conducted to inform citizens of changes around the city. Every street in Middletown is required to send one representative, and that representative is responsible for communicating updates to their streets. The CRJ allows all peoples’ voices to be heard and participate in Middletown’s future planning.

The catalyst for this change in Middletown was the threat of climate change and trauma of COVID-19 that lasted throughout the 2020s. Coronavirus showed us the vulnerability essential workers, people of color, low-income citizens, and undocumented immigrants. It taught us what goods and services are necessary for survival, and those that we can do without. We realized that climate change would exacerbate similar problems in our society unless we took action. 

In the 2020s, Middletown made urban renewal and climate justice its priorities, and received grants for its ambitious ideas. Wesleyan created a fund to support the community members and used its endowment to make long term investments for student well-being (like a 100% renewable campus and more counseling staff). Together, Middletown residents and Wesleyan students came out of quarantine energized to make Middletown an ecopolis. They volunteered for local projects, advocated for laws to promote sustainability, and made changes to their behavior that set the stage for major structural and systemic change.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

This future is in no way impossible. It will require all of us working together. We should include everyone in the process, and seek to equitably bolster those ideas most important to Middletown's diverse population

I encourage every reader to please leave a comment. List one thing you would like to see in the future of Middletown and Wesleyan that was not mentioned, or expand upon an idea that was brought up. Ask your questions about how we will make this happen, or if this is the most equitable way to do things. We, as residents of Middletown, have the capacity to create this future for ourselves.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Sam Slade to Challenge State Senator Matt Lesser

Submitted by Samantha Slade
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Former Cromwell Town Councilwoman, Sam Slade, announced on social media Thursday that she will be running for State Senate in the 9th District — where she hopes to represent the people of Cromwell, Middletown, Newington, Rocky Hill, and Wethersfield.

Slade, a non-profit employee, U.S. Army veteran, and volunteer firefighter, understands that common sense leadership is  desperately needed in Hartford.

“When we do our budgets at home, we don’t spend money we don’t have coming in. That is how this state needs to start operating,” Slade said.

Slade’s known ability to work across party lines and engage with residents helped her attain the highest number of votes out of any Cromwell Town Council candidate in 2017.

Slade served on the Town Council from 2015 to 2019 where she had a number of notable accomplishments. She voted on austere budgets, encouraged economic development opportunities, supported various environmental protection and arts endeavors, and spearheaded the development of the LGBTQ+ Committee. Slade resigned from her seat in June 2019 when she accepted a deployment to the Middle East.

“We need to make Connecticut a more affordable place to raise a family, retire, and start a business. We need to encourage millennials, like myself, to build their futures here. Together we can make Connecticut a destination, not a pass through state — and we can do that through fiscally responsible budgets and realistic transportation and health care plans.”

Friday, May 15, 2020

Saint Sebastian Festival Cancelled For First Time In History

Submitted by Frank Logiudice
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The 99th Anniversary of the Saint Sebastian's Church Festival has been cancelled this year as a result
From the 2009 Festival
of the COVID-19 Pandemic.  Church officials and feast organizers made the decision to cancel this year’s three-day feast which includes the annual "I Nuri Run" which is normally held on the last day of the feast.   During this run the faithful gather at the Saint Sebastian’s Cemetery in Middlefield to say prayers to their departed relatives, to God & Saint Sebastian before they depart for the church in Middletown.  They are either barefoot or in stocking feet wearing white clothes with a red sash and a picture of St. Sebastian is pinned on their sash.  This is the first time in the 99 year history of the church that the feast was cancelled according to church organizers Chairman Dr. Gene Nocera & Phillip Pessina.

The pastor Reverend James Thaikoottathil stated "Our May Feast is fast approaching.  This year's feast will be very different from our past celebrations."  Father James Thaikoottathil further stated that the statue of Saint Sebastian will be unveiled on Saturday, May 16, 2020 for the 5:30 p.m. mass and this mass will be without the congregation.  It will be lived streamed on the Saint Sebastian's Church Facebook Page and YouTube channel.  On Sunday, May 17th the church will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. so parishioners can pray privately and "...invoke in front of the statue" according to Father James Thaikoottathil.  Parishioners may enter the church through the ramp side door.   He is encouraging all parishioners when they enter the church to wear masks and gloves. Plus, to follow the safe social distance guidelines while inside.  Father James Thaikoottathil is discouraging the practice of pinning money to the statue as in past festivals for this year's celebration.  If parishioners would like to donate money, they could send it to the parish office with a memo on the check according to Father James Thaikoottathil.

Unlike in previous festivals the "I Nuri" will not be involved in this year's feast according to Chairman Dr. Gene Nocera.  This year's celebration will not be rescheduled if the COVID-19 pandemic improves and the state moves into phase two of reopening the state on June 20th.  Chairman Nocera said "Not at this time."   Nocera did state "we are planning a dinner when it’s safe to gather."

Father James Thaikoottathi did leave hope for next year's festival in which the Saint Sebastian's Church in Middletown will be celebrating its centennial anniversary.  He stated "Our 100th feast in Middletown will be more spiritual and focused on the love and devotion to Saint Sebastian."  Pessina echoed the pastor's comments about next year stating "Next year God Willing. We will plan a great 100 year celebration!"

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Senators Lesser and Abrams Ask Governor To Delay State Opening

State Senators Matt Lesser and Mary Daugherty Abrams wrote a letter to Governor Ned Lamont urging him to delay his plans to phase out Connecticut’s COVID-19 restrictions that begin on May 20. They say while Connecticut is on the right track in terms of testing capacity and the number of hospitalizations and deaths, the transmission of COVID-19 is still occurring and some areas in the state are still seeing an increase in positive cases.

They wrote that they are all “anxious to reopen Connecticut’s economy and generally agree with the metrics laid out” but have a fear if it is done too soon while the first wave of the pandemic is still raging, “it will add fuel to the first wave, delaying our eventual recovery.”

The letter joins another letter sent by Democratic Senators this week which expressed concern about the criteria and pace of the Reopen CT strategy as currently defined.

The full letter to Governor Ned Lamont below the break.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

C-130 Hercules Over Middletown Thursday

The Connecticut Air National Guard will fly C-130H Hercules aircraft over Middletown tomorrow at 12:25PM, to honor health care workers.

It's part of "Operation American Resolve."

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

How about This: Little Richard--Not Conceited, Convinced.


From Critic’s Notebook (link below)
--Wesley Morris, NYT
critic-at-large

Little Richard Wasn’t Conceited. He Was Underappreciated.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d9/Little_Richard_in_2007_%28cropped%29_%282%29.jpg

Excerpted in bites: 

"After his career in music, the rock ’n’ roll innovator took up the task of maintaining his legacy — because nobody else was going to do it.

At the 1988 Grammys, someone had the idea to have [Little Richard] present best new artist  ... 

Little Richard, who’s in a golden tuxedo, sunglasses and his legendary pile of hair. Before they start, he proceeds to take in [David] Johansen’s [of the New York Dolls] sky-scraping pompadour.  “I used to wear my hair like that,” Little Richard says, to big laughter. “They take everything I get. They take it from me.” 
...  

“I am the architect of rock n roll!” he shouts. The audience is on its feet. “I am the originator.” But he goes on longer than that, maybe too long, cracking himself up along the way, letting out a proper “woo.” Half aggrieved king, half giddy queen. The winner really is me!
...

When it’s time, Little Richard says, “And the best new artist is … me.” The audience cheers. “I have never received nothin’. You all ain’t never gave me no Grammy. And I been singing for years.”
...
Something was always on fire with him. His loins, his fingers, his tongue. All of this burning alarmed the country, woke it up, amused and inspired it. He was ridiculous, and he knew it: equal parts church, filth, lust, androgyny, comedy, passion. And eventually anger. You see, this man built rock ’n’ roll’s rambunctious wing, its anything-goes department. People looted."

Somebody had to say it. Amen.  

From New York Times, Critic's Notebook, May 11, 2020.