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Locals Skeptical of Promises

Hartford Residents Say Urban Problems Remain Unsolved

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

HARTFORD, Conn.--Yesterday, as the nation's political elite and more than 2,500 reporters from around the world descended upon this proud Yankee city, many local residents expressed frustration with the irrelevant rhetoric flowing freely in this year's presidential campaign.

Last night's debate, which is expected to generate more than five million dollars for the region, has long been a prize coveted by local leaders.

Despite the pride and economic boost that comes from the event, most locals said they believe the presidential candidates show little concern for the problems facing the nation's decaying urban areas.

For Angeo Rivera, a retired factory worker who lives just a few blocks south of Bushnell Theater, the site of last night's debate, there is only one problem--jobs.

"I see all these people in the streets. We need to put them to work," Rivera said as he sat outside a neighborhood grocery store that, with windows both barred and broken, seemed a testament to Hartford's recent difficulties.

Like many others just beyond the bustling camera crews and staid Secret Service agents outside Bushnell Theater, Rivera bitterly suggested that neither the debate nor the election would change things in his neighborhood.

"After the election they go to Israel and Japan--you don't hear anything," Rivera said. "All politicians promise, but they never do anything."

Chris Cartagena, owner of the South Green Market and another resident of the blighted district just south of the debate site, said he supports President Bill Clinton but believes both candidates have lost touch with working-class Americans.

"Once they go up, they forget about down," Cartagena said as he cut salami behind his counter.

Pointing to the men and women sitting outside the Chinese fast food restaurant where he works, David Wong explained that he sees welfare as a defining issue in this year's election.

He said most people who receive federal benefits are upset with Clinton and the welfare reform legislation he recently signed.

"They don't like him because this is the first time they're gonna get kicked off," Wong said.

Wong said he understands these concerns but supports Clinton because of his commitment to higher education.

Carlos Quinones, a youth coordinator for Hartford Areas Rally Together (HART), a community-based job training and placement service, said he believes the welfare bill will not help his city because he sees no jobs for the former welfare recipients.

But others seemed more optimistic about the debate and its impact upon the Constitution State's capital.

As Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (DConn.) toured a media center in downtown Hartford yesterday morning, he was upbeat.

"It's a good source of pride for the state," Dodd said. "There's a real sense of hope and optimism."

Noting the extraordinary competition between cities wishing to hold the debate, Frank Fahrenkopf, co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, agreed with Dodd.

"It's pulled Hartford together," Fahrenkopf said. "It shows the best face of the city."

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