October 11, 2012

Why did Mayor Ward decide to bar pink shirts on firefighters?

Mayor Art Ward is expected this morning to defend what seems on its face to be indefensible: his refusal to let firefighters wear pink shirts once a week during October in order to raise awareness about breast cancer.
So far, obviously he hasn't done a very good job of making his case.
Bristol Mayor Art Ward
In fact, the absurdity of the position is what has made it national news: Look, folks, there's a place in Connecticut that's so backward and silly that its mayor won't even let firefighters wear pink shirts like almost every other department in America.
For the major media, it's always nice to have such quirky tales happen someplace other than Florida or Long Island.
Most of the people who see something about this pink controversy in Bristol no doubt just figure its mayor is some kind of neanderthal, a knuckle-dragging moron who could care less if women drop dead of cancer.
We know better, of course.
The mayor himself explained it right off the bat, in his response to resident Regina von Gootkin's open letter that burst the whole issue into a public controversy.
"This is less about breast cancer and more about my relationship with the fire union," the mayor said.
It's not really about concerns that one department will take up this cause and another that cause, that employees will wind up in a vast array of shirts promoting the cure of this disease or that one. Such management issues haven't been much of a problem, if any, and don't appear likely to become one.
No, this is all happening because the fire union and the mayor loathe one another.
The union has censured Ward, sued the city and generally had sour relations with the mayor about all sorts of things.
But the union didn't make this issue explode onto the public stage. It actually tried pretty hard to keep it all hidden away, in the hope of a quiet resolution.
Ward, too, said nothing.
But von Gootkin blew the whistle. Once I posted her letter online, the thing escalated immediately -- thanks to Capitol Report -- and by the end of the weekend, Bristol was in the spotlight.
So why does Ward get along so poorly with the firefighters?
Like so much else in his administration, it goes back to the bitter 2007 primary in which he defeated former city Councilor Ellen Zoppo to claim the party line on the general election ballot.
Zoppo was -- and probably is -- tight with the fire union.
Neither side has ever been able to get past that showdown, one that ripped the local Democratic Party in half, one that remains a gaping wound that has cost it elections and helped hand the Republicans control of the City Council, Board of Education and more.
Ward surely cares about breast cancer victims, however much it may appear otherwise. He's helped raise money and attract attention for other diseases, too. He's not some sort of insensitive brute.
But his deep-seated disgust for those who fought him back in 2007 -- the people who currently control his own Democratic Party's town committee -- blinded him to the consequences of standing against something as seemingly harmless as pink shirts on firefighters.
Sometimes it just isn't worth picking a fight, but Ward couldn't see that. And now he's likely done more political damage to himself than Zoppo and her allies ever could.

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com


Janice Mercieri said...

I'm glad to read that Mr. Ward changed his position on the wearing of the awareness t-shirts. What is terribly sad is the national PR damage he inflicted on the city. All leaders should have the foresight to think before they react. Mr. Ward apparently continues to surprise the public with his lack of leadership and his grudge holding agendas after all these years. So sad.

Janice Mercieri said...

Mr. Ward's grudge holding has brought a negative light to the City of Bristol. Something he should have thought about before he took that position about the t-shirts. I was glad to see he changed his position.

But what other grudges is he holding that will not reflect well on the City?

Janice Mercieri said...

The damage that Mr. Ward has brought to the revitalization of the Bristol economy will take many years to overcome. A real leader would have thought about this before using an old grudge to fuel his own personal fire.I'm glad he changed his position. But this was totally not necessary and blatantly shows the citizens of Bristol and the rest of the nation how backwards and immature he is.