The 2021 municipal election in Stamford was one of the most important in the city’s history given that the City Charter is up for revision and the government will have to address such issues as public school infrastructure and urban development. The heavily contested mayor’s race between State Representative Caroline Simmons and former Mets and Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was widely covered by national media and narrowly decided by 1,500 votes in favor of Simmons. Yet, it is unclear where the Mayor-elect and elected members of the Board of Representatives stand on the city’s most pressing issues. More importantly, the second largest city in Connecticut still has no clear vision for the upcoming decade. However, one thing is clear: the challenges ahead are bigger than any political party or branch of government and Stamford officials must come together to create a cohesive vision for the decade ahead.
A few months ago, the official 2020 Census figures awarded Stamford a new title: second largest city in Connecticut. While this is a major milestone for the city, expansion comes with greater challenges ranging from infrastructure to education to development. The stakes are even higher when considering that Stamford is the economic engine of the state, as evidenced by the large number of companies headquartered in the city and those still moving in. Newly elected officials will have to deal with this new mix of companies, residents and issues at a much higher level of responsibility in coming years. The changes happening in the city are unquestionable, but it is unclear how city officials will change the status quo to accommodate new growth.
The lack of a clear vision for Stamford is not a lost cause but rather an opportunity for the newly elected government to re-envision the decade ahead. As Mayor-elect Simmons pointed out in her acceptance speech, there are many strengths to build on: Stamford boasts a strong economy, housing market and standard of living. Coupled together, these metrics put Stamford in a strong place to negotiate its future with developers, companies and the state government. For instance, the city needs to spend about half a billion dollars rebuilding five schools, and without any policy changes, residents will have to pay the bill. However, if city officials push the state government for more funding or move forward with plans to privatize school buildings, residents will carry a smaller tax burden.
None of these options were possible a decade ago because Stamford had a smaller population and fewer bargaining chips, but in the decade ahead, Stamford will have leverage to negotiate a variety of deals. The newly elected government must take advantage of the city’s strength and potential to bring more funding to the city and address the most pressing issues affecting residents. Moreover, if a clear and broader vision for the city is to emerge, the Mayor-elect and the elected members of the Board of Representatives must be clear about their stance on policy issues.
The days of the state government ignoring Stamford’s needs or developers profiting without responsibility can be left in the past decade, but only if the newly elected government puts forward a clear vision for the decade ahead.