Thursday, May 22, 2003
Copyright 2003 by WestportNow.com
Despite an effort by Westport’s state Senator Judith G. Freedman to block its passage, the state Senate today approved a bill naming the Post Road Bridge over the Saugatuck River in Westport after Ruth Steinkraus Cohen.
On a voice vote, the Senate rejected Freedman’s amendment to remove the provision from an overall transportation bill and then unanimously voted for the bill as part of the chamber’s “consent calendar.”
The House of Representatives approved it a week ago. It now goes to the governor for signature.
Freedman, a Republican, said the bill, introduced by fellow Westport Republican state Rep. G. Kenneth Bernhard, had not had a fair hearing in Westport.
People were not aware that a naming process was underway, she said, and there were other names that could have been considered.
“The naming of this particular bridge has created a little bit of dissension within the town of Westport at this time,” she said.
ғAnd being a firm believer of open and free government, one of the problems has been that there are people in the town who felt that they had been eliminated from the process of hoping and helping to come forth with a name for this particular bridge.”
She noted that Bernhard’s legislation did not say which bridge over the Saugatuck River in Westport “has been designated to be named in honor of this particular person.”
Freedman added, however, that she “wanted the record to note that I have great admiration for the person that has been chosen to have this particular bridge named (after her).” But she never uttered Steinkraus Cohens name.
Freedman said the problem with the bill was that “free and open government prior to it coming on our calendar did not operate in Westport the way I think my constituents felt it ought to.
“And that is there should have been a process in place where they knew it was an opportunity to put forward names.”
She said she did not even know that Bernhard was submitting the bill and holding a public hearing in Hartford.
“Once I did learn about it, it was too late—the bill had already been incorporated,” she said.
Freedman said, “Personally I think we should remove it. We should let it go back to the Town of Westport. Let them have a fair and open discussion.
“I suspect that when it goes through the process all over again, well probably end up with the same name and we will also end up with a particular bridge being designated to receive that name.”
The senator said she and other Senate colleagues had been hearing from some Westporters that “there are a lot of names that were not considered. And that is just not fair. And this is a fairness process issue.”
Sen. Biagio “Billy” Ciotto (D-Wethersfield), co-chair of the Transportation Committee, spoke against the removal amendment, saying Bernhard had properly introduced the legislation.
He presented information “that (the) Representative Town Meeting in the town voted 26-5 to name this bridge in honor of Ruth Steinkraus Cohen,” Ciotto said.
He said the process had been fair and it was not as if someone was “trying to use sleight of hand to name a bridge without the town not knowing it.”
Freedman then responded: “I have no qualms with the process that took place here in Hartford.
“The problem has been the process that took place in the town of Westport. And I believe that those people that learned of this long after the fact feel totally disenfranchised by what happened Ӗ not at this level, but at the local level.
“And it is for that reason that I am asking that this be withdrawn from the bill so that it could go back to the drawing board in Westport.”
Steinkraus Cohen, who died last year, was a longtime Westporter and friend and supporter of the United Nations.
Some of those opposed to naming the bridge after her were unhappy with the U.N. Security Council’s stance on efforts to disarm Iraq.
The split between two of the town’s state legislators on the issue was unusual as they both are Republicans and the action was endorsed not only by the town’s non-partisan RTM but also the Democrat-led Board of Selectmen.
Update: Asked later whether he felt his bill needed clarification as to which bridge was involved in the legislation, Bernhard replied, “It is clearly the Post Road Saugatuck River Bridge.”
Posted 05/22/03 at 09:21 PM Permalink