By DENNIS HOUSE
Suddenly it is 2024! What was the biggest Connecticut news story of the year? I’d bet most people would say the historic NCAA national championship won by the UConn Huskies. It brought worldwide attention to our great state, most of it positive, except for the 22 people who made really bad choices the night of the victory; they knocked over poles and broke things on the Storrs campus immediately following the victory. Five days later, nearly 50,000 people celebrated in the streets of Hartford at the UConn victory parade. It was enjoyed by just about everybody there, with the exception of Senator Richard Blumenthal, who ended up being rushed to the hospital. An enthusiastic fan tripped and fell onto the senator, who broke a leg.
The year started off with the second inauguration of Governor Ned Lamont at the historic Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. I always love attending these events steeped in tradition like watching the First Company Governor’s Foot Guard march, the same way they’ve been doing it since Connecticut was a British colony. The highlight of the night was a performance by actor and singer Kevin Bacon, who calls Connecticut home. I now have this photo to certify my permanent place in the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon!”
It was a mild winter in terms of snowfall. As the season came to an end, thousands of people came out to New Haven, Hartford and Mystic for St. Patrick’s Day Parades, heralding the start of spring. Weeks later, the Hartford Yard Goats kicked off another fun season full of sell outs. The Hartford Athletic also drew big crowds. On nights both teams played, the capital was hopping. In June, Connecticut’s biggest sporting event, the Travelers Championship, featured the best golfers in the world.
There were sad moments as we lost some giants in 2023. Lowell Weicker, a former governor and former senator, died at 92 and former Hartford Mayor Ann Uccello, the first women elected mayor of a capital city and first female mayor in Connecticut, died at 100. We also lost a Connecticut radio and television pioneer, a mentor of mine, former WTIC radio and TV anchor Dick Bertel, at age 92. The creator of the iconic Hartford Whalers logo, Peter Good, passed away at 80. In January, well-liked State Representative Quentin “Q” Williams was killed in a crash with a wrong-way driver as he was coming home from the inaugural ball. I interviewed each of them, some several times, and I enjoyed my conversations with them.
Speaking of the Whalers, one of the big stories of the year broke in the spring. Gov. Lamont announced the state would welcome back an NHL team to Hartford, the troubled Arizona Coyotes who can’t get a new arena built in Phoenix. Fans of the blue and green were suddenly humming the brass bonanza. However, don’t start camping out at the XL Center for tickets yet. The governor said he has a group of wealthy investors willing to buy the Coyotes and move them here. However, as of press time, the group remains unnamed and the status of the deal I will file under “long shot.” The governor told me he is committed to doing what he can to make it happen if the Coyotes decide it’s time to ditch the desert for the land of steady hockey habits.
President Biden came to Connecticut as spring came to a close. His visit to the University of Hartford once again put our state on the national news. Regardless of your political views, presidential visits are always exciting with the preps, the crowds, the secret service, and the supporters and protestors. Also on the college circuit, I had the great honor of delivering the commencement address at Quinnipiac University. I encouraged the graduates to overcome setbacks and obstacles and come back even stronger.
2023 was a municipal election year. We saw new mayors elected in Hartford, Waterbury, Danbury, West Haven and other communities. By mid-November, the Bridgeport election controversy was not resolved. Also, the leader of the largest group of Catholics in the state announced he was retiring; Pope Francis announced the replacement of the Archbishop of Hartford Leonard Blair. Christopher Coyne left his post as archbishop of Burlington, Vermont to lead the faithful here.
Perhaps the biggest story, in my judgement, was one that didn’t get much attention. Connecticut is growing. We learned late this year from the U.S. Census that the Constitution State gained roughly 56,000 people in the year 2022. Follow me on some math here: 145,000 moved here and 89,000 moved out; the net gain was huge. Adding another 56,000 people is like us gaining a whole extra town like Manchester or Milford.
Where did the new Nutmeggers come from? An estimated 50,000 came from New York, 21,000 from Massachusetts and 25,000 from foreign countries. Surprisingly, of the 89,000 we lost, the census reports only 13,000 went to Florida. One of the big destinations here was Waterbury, which gained 4,000 residents.
It is no secret I’m a big fan of our great little state so I get why people would want to move here. However, the experts tell me some of the reasons outsiders would consider moving here are schools, the natural and man-made beauty, and the ease of access to services. Proximity to Boston, New York, mountains and beaches is another factor, and the fact that living here is cheaper than the aforementioned cities. The news of the population growth came as the state unveiled a new marketing slogan: “Make It Here.”
There are many reasons to be hopeful for a great 2024. All these new residents should mean more new businesses and more money pumped into the local economy. The UConn men have an excellent chance of repeating as champs and the women are highly ranked. Fans are optimistic about a return to the championship club. The Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven is scheduled to reopen after an extensive renovation and hundreds of new apartments are expected to be habitable across the state. We have a presidential primary in April, but wish it was earlier so a larger field of candidates will campaign here. Why can’t we have a bigger say in choosing presidents like New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina all do?
Who knows, maybe 2024 will mean a return of the Whalers! Wishing you a Happy New Year!
Dennis House has been covering the news in Connecticut for 31 years. He can be seen weeknights at 6 and 11 p.m. on WTNH and at 10 p.m. on WCTX. He also hosts “This Week in Connecticut” Sunday mornings at 10 a.m.