In a well-attended bash replete with cupcakes and fresh daisies, Mary Johnson celebrated her 85th birthday by crashing the mayor’s office in search of a single present.
Ever since a Baltimore-based developer got the city to agree to eliminate five bus stops in effort to create a “more desirable ambience” downtown, Johnson has been leading the people’s charge to reclaim the Green for bus-riders, many of whom are poor, elderly or disabled.
Rekindling an otherwise forgotten cause each year, Johnson has helped plan eight years of anniversary protests. (Click here for more background on the bus stop battle.)
Since their removal in 1998, two of the stops have been reinstated, two have been made unnecessary by rerouting routes, and City Hall has moved on.
One remains to be reclaimed, said Johnson Thursday, charging into the mayor’s office with 20-odd Green Party and peace-group supporters. Many were elderly; one used a walker.
In the mayor’s absence, City Hall’s top lawyer, Tom Ude, faced the unannounced visitors and a rolling videocam.
They focused on one vanished stop outside 129 Church St. When making some connections—such as Bella Vista to Hamden, as Anna Aschenbach (pictured) often seeks to do—bus-riders have to make a two-block walk to transfer. For elderly and disabled people, that can be tough, she said. One complaint was filed with the city disabilities department protesting the bus stop’s disappearance.
“Those claims have been admitted and were rejected,” said Ude. Johnson and company laid on the heat. There are only four parking spots there, plus a loading zone. The public wants a bus stop at that spot, they said. What about the democratic process?
Ude suggested the visitors take up the matter with the Traffic Commission. Under pressure, he let fly a comment that rankled the ranks of bus-riders.
“It seems to me there are more important issues in our state and in our nation then the location of that one bus stop,” said Ude. “Nobody has the right to a bus stop being in one particular location. There are many, many, many, many bus stops throughout the downtown area.”
“It’s two blocks in either direction [to the nearest bus stop],” called out Aschenbach. “It’s crucial!”
When discussion ended, Johnson and co. pulled out a folding chair and plunked down in the office, determined to hear a reply from the top dog.
After a few minutes, Mayor John DeStefano politely invited the crowd into his office. Someone gave him a cupcake.
“You can help me by giving me a big birthday present that everybody wants, not just Mary Johnson,” said Johnson, seated opposite the mayor at a long conference table. She pinpointed the bus stop in question, which was not replaced as the others were, in 2004.
“I don’t know why that one wasn’t put back,” replied the mayor. “I want to talk to the federal courthouse, to 129 Church St., and to Conn-DOT,” he said. “I will tell them you feel strongly.” He promised to get back to them in a week and a half.
“And, Mr. Mayor,” asked one of the birthday office-crashers, “when you put the bus stop back, could you please put her name on it?”