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Bridgeport voters are concerned about quality of life issues as they head to the polls

Ebong Udoma
Callie Heilmann, president and co-director, and Gemeem Davis, vice president and co-director of Bridgeport Generation Now, a nonprofit dedicated to boosting voting and civic engagement in the city. They spoke at a voter outreach event at their office in downtown Bridgeport on October 20, 2022

Quality of life issues are a concern for some Bridgeport voters as they head to the polls this November.

The issues include garbage collection and recycling in certain neighborhoods, and unlicensed motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles on city streets.

That’s according to a survey of residents over the summer conducted by WSHU.

“Voters and people really feel that quality of life issues are really going unaddressed,” said Callie Heilmann, president of Bridgeport Generation Now, a nonprofit organization dedicated to boosting voting and civic engagement in the city.

Many voters believe that the city is falling short on providing essential services, she said.

“We know that noise violations, litter, graffiti, blight, all of those things are issues that then impact the overall safety and wellbeing of a neighborhood,“ said Heilmann.

Trust in government is undermined because the city does not have a police chief, she said. There are three finalists currently being considered for the job. The position has been vacant for the past two years following the conviction of the former police chief for cheating to get the job. He was sentenced to federal prison last year.

“We had two public forums with the finalists for chief of police and quality of life came up a lot. And the reason why it came up is that quality of life issues are the precursor to other types of crime,” said Heilmann

City schools are also a concern in Bridgeport. The school superintendent has resigned and test scores have also dropped because of the pandemic.

“Top of mind for a lot of Bridgeport voters is our education system. Top of mind for a lot of voters is affordable housing. Top of mind for voters is public safety. And definitely top of mind for voters is trust in government,” Heilmann added.

Other concerns include transportation, with some of the respondents saying that Bridgeport is not a pedestrian-friendly city.

“We do have a lot of unsafe intersections and a lot of missing crosswalks, missing stop signs, walk lights that don’t function properly and really dangerous intersections, and so I know that safe walks are also a real concern,” she said. “Especially for young people who have to walk to a bus, for elderly people who have to cross huge intersections. We have heard that.”

Lack of programs for at-risk youth, especially girls who age out of sports programs is another concern. The city has a number of after school programs for youth but people don’t know about them.

“We need leadership that starts in the mayor’s office and goes all the way down, that cares about education, that cares about children, and is constantly communicating what is available to families. In the vacuum of that lack of communication to people in Bridgeport, voters in Bridgeport, feel that there aren't things for kids to do,” Heilmann said.

Heilmann’s organization is working to get people interested in a referendum that’s on the ballot this November. It would be the first step toward having early voting in Connecticut.

“We might not see an opportunity like this again," said Heilmann. "And so if you care about democracy, if you care about expanding access, if you care about having more time to vote and more opportunities and more choice in voting, we are committing to making sure that every voter in Bridgeport knows that this question is on the ballot."

The hope is that early voting would help improve voter turnout in Bridgeport, which has historically been low because many working-class voters do not always have an opportunity to get to the polls on election day.

Other concerns raised by residents include reclaiming the city’s waterfront, attracting more businesses downtown, and cleaning up brownfields and other old industrial sites and attracting new manufacturers that could support a green economy.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.