On Tuesday voters in Hartford will head to the polls to cast their ballot for mayor. Among the six candidates throwing their hat into the ring is Michael Downes.
This election marks the fifth time Downes has run for Hartford’s highest elected office. He first ran for mayor in 1995.
“One thing I’ve always been running for is benefits for part-time workers,” said Downes.
The 77-year-old is the president of the Hartford Federation of Substitute Teachers. A substitute teacher for 44 years, he said his top priority is education.
“The most important issue facing Hartford today is the failure of Hartford to bring back the vocational-technical education in the city,” said Downes.
According to Hartford Public Schools, 59 percent of the district’s high school graduates go onto college. Downes said there aren’t enough options for those who don’t and believes that’s pushing some of Hartford’s youth into a life of crime. He said he believes the solution starts in school, with more training in the trades and more male minority teachers in the classroom.
“I think it is very important to see someone who looks like you or speaks your language,” said Downes.
Between January 1, 2019 and the week of September 21 there were 20 homicides in Hartford, a 67 percent increase from the same time period three years ago. Downes said he believes the crux of the problem is drugs. However, he also thinks that Hartford has a gun problem.
“Absolutely. That goes with crime. There’s a gun problem throughout the country,” said Downes.
His solution is putting more police on the streets.
“The true community policing where we need policeman that walk the beat, we need policeman that ride bicycles, we need policemen that occasionally ride horses,” said Downes.
When it comes to the city's finances, Downes said he believes Hartford is moving in the wrong direction.
“The first thing that we should have done is file for bankruptcy instead of calling the state in to give us money,” said Downes.
Hartford accepted a $500 million bailout from the state to avoid bankruptcy in 2018. Downes said he believes those who work in the city but live in the suburbs share some of the burden. He suggested taxing those workers as a way to bring more revenue to the city or even encourage more people to move in.
“You pay a commuter tax. We have a lot of large corporations in here that employ a lot of people and they employ in the suburbs,” said Downes. “If the people are going to live in suburbs and come into Hartford to work, then you pay a tax.”
If Downes is successful in his bid for mayor he says at the end of his term, “I’d like to see it better than it is now. I think that’s all you can hope for.”