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August 4th, 2011
09:57 PM ET

What does a bankrupt city look like?

EDITORS NOTE: CNN producer Julian Cummings traveled to Central Falls, Rhode Island with CNN correspondent Mary Snow to report on the city's bankruptcy. This is his story.

(CNN) - A late assignment on Tuesday sent me to cover the bankruptcy of the smallest city in our smallest state: Central Falls, Rhode Island.

As I read more and more about Central Falls on the way to the story, I was hit with shock about Rhode Island’s major fiscal problems. I was also wondering: What does a bankrupt city look like?

When I arrived in Central Falls on Tuesday night with “Situation Room” correspondent Mary Snow and photographer Beth English, we went to a burger joint, Stanley’s, to talk with people who were most affected by the bankruptcy - retired police and firefighters who are losing up to 50% of their pensions and now have to co-pay for health care that was once guaranteed. It’s a deal they rejected in July before the bankruptcy.

At Stanley’s, fear and confusion was in the air. The man behind the counter said he knew all about what happened in Central Falls, but he didn’t want to talk to us on the record out of fear he would isolate his customers.

We met Mark, a police officer from the neighboring city of Pawtucket. He told us all about the people he knew from Central Falls who were now suffering because of the bankruptcy. He told us about the rumors in the town that the city might merge with Pawtucket or Cumberland on the other side of town.

The police and fire department unions weren’t returning our calls. Lawyers were trying to figure out the future of Central Falls, a city with the slogan, “A city with a bright future.”

As we drove around to find people to speak with, we saw a city that was rundown and very poor. Boarded-up windows are common in Central Falls.

We met a woman outside an assisted-living community. She had lived in Central Falls for 50 years. She spoke of a place that used to be a vibrant city with jobs and an eclectic mix of people. She refused to talk on camera out of fear that people would give her a hard time for speaking about the city's problems. In fact, no one wanted to talk to us on camera, as no one wanted to be heard saying anything bad about their hometown.

The next day, we set up for our CNN “American Morning” live shots in front of Central Falls City Hall.

In the daylight, we could see just how poor the city is. City Hall, in the center of the one-square-mile city, was in disrepair. Boarded-up buildings were close by.

We learned about the drug problems in Central Falls from acting Fire Chief John Garvey. He told us about the calls they get from people high on meth and heroin. He told us about the spike in calls related to drug use at the beginning of the month when welfare checks were sent out.

Garvey has lived in Central Falls his entire life. He told us about how much the city has changed. He talked about how manufacturing left and how it used to be a city with different ethnicities staggered around their respective churches. He described a time when people lived together in the city with hope.

Central Falls is now a predominantly Hispanic city. In the city, we did hear open racism directed at that segment of the population, blaming them for the bankruptcy.

During our reporting, we were trying to find out what happened to Central Falls and what is the solution for this city.

Pat Landry, who works at a hardware store owned by his family. told us how mayor after mayor kicked the problems down the road without dealing with them. Today the problems are here for the entire community to deal with.

It is a community with old factories, closed store fronts, abandoned homes and people with what seems like no hope.

During our last live shot of the day in front of City Hall, we encountered people dressed in suits leaving the government office. They rushed past us holding big notebooks and briefcases and wouldn’t speak to us or tell us who they were. They certainly weren’t residents of Central Falls. Our guess was they were the people set with the task to fix a city in America that has hit rock bottom and answer the question that eluded us and the people of Central Falls: What do you do next?

Post by:
Filed under: Economy • Mary Snow
soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. beer pong

    Thank you a lot for sharing this with all people you really understand what you are talking approximately! Bookmarked. Kindly also visit my site =). We could have a hyperlink exchange arrangement among us

    November 17, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  2. edouard

    At one square mile, Central Files should be a neighbourhood, not a stand alone municipality. Merge it with a neighbour, then lay off 50% of the CF work force.
    American state and local govts are going to have to follow the private sector and shift from defined benefit to defined contribution retirement plans. Retirees should be given the option of continuing the health plan they had while employed, but they should cover most or all of the cost.
    People, ERISA does not cover state & local retirees. That will have to change soon. ERISA does not ensure pensions in excess of 54K/year.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  3. Scott T. Duff

    Well, today's culprit, tis/is in the many fold. Well the realism of thy day, is him hardest hit. But, there is bright spots as well as ...dark, ones. For the um-bragamble: we have a est of time that has benefits. Sorry, but, there a tax de-raerail-ment, for the tax exeraxer-a-ment of bueser neighborhs. Almost free money, by the Department of Homeland Security, given to aka. taxpayers, in de-reaver, aberakers–boarded up neighbor hoods, for specific reasons. That's true, and un deadly, it doesn't change the fact of the deseraeranment, of the situation. Hopefully, hopefully, it's for the trime being, at heart. Sincerely, Scott T. Duff

    June 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  4. FASTFRANKIE

    A bankrupt city looks very similar to a bankrupt country that borrows money from China to provide free health care, education, and various other social services to illegal aliens. Viva amnesty!

    May 7, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  5. big rick

    i lived in the small town of scituate, rhode island for most of my life, i am now 70 years young. during the fourties and fifties rhode island was a jewlrey and textile state. cheaper wages drew the textile factories to the south and many, many jobs were lost across the state. diversity was not rhode islands strong point and along with increadible amount of graff in the state government and local cities, hell broke loose and what was a lower middle class state went to hell in a hand basket. rhode island turned into a great bastion for corruption , greed, and mafia. even the mayor of providence did prison time for anything you can think of that was illegal.

    i could go on and on but, rhode island is a lost soul and the most corrupt in the united stated, little rody, good luck

    March 16, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • inachu

      Looks like in the video all the students looked like Illegals. No wonder the state is broke!

      May 2, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  6. honest abe

    not only has outsourcing by corporate america destroyed our country, but the infestation of illegal immigration has made it worse. it has totally overwhelmed the system which poor and middle class americans depend on. how many illegals receive free/subsidized health care, social services, education, housing, etc... it's only going to get worse.

    February 28, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  7. Borninmombasa

    What does a bankrupt American city look like?. One with Democrat leadership, that should be your first clue.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • OKC

      Thank you...............I was one for thirty years ...and then I grew up and understood there is no free ride and punishing successful people won't help me.

      May 7, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  8. MIchael Zibensky

    Its a bogus situation. I am from Camden NJ which has been Bankrupt for 40 years.Still, somehow Firemen and policemen are earning 140,000 a year, the economy booms all around the city borders and workers from out of town come to work in the city to collect trash. It is a self created phenonemon.

    December 12, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  9. SusanMWilshusen@hotmail.com

    If the journalists I respect will please find and report the truth about the Denver International Airport and the military exercises being conducted? What could American voters be in store for that they have a right to know about before it happens?

    October 19, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • dave

      Denver is in Colorado, this is a story on NJ....reading comprehension skills are important.

      February 27, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
      • inachu

        Susan wants everyone to know about the so called famous secret underground bunkers under the airport. I suspect its a Military hub of some sort with miles of underground tunnels. Paranoids will be paranoid!

        May 2, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • OKC

      We have secret bunkers being discussed on here.......I'm not sure we can servive.....well at least some of us will survive......LOL

      May 7, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  10. Josie

    I know CF very well. This city english is a second language. I don't know the status of the residents i.e. legal or not, but they are folks that aren't afraid of hard work. After the recent hurricane I hired a small team to help with a cleanup job on a couple of my properties. The guys and two gals I hired had both porperties back to perfect in less than a day. I originally offered $150.00 for each of the porperties for clean-up, twigs, some branches etc. Back breaking but not heavy work. I ened up giving them $250 per property and hired a husband an wife team to take care of the properties going forward. Their English is about as good as my Spanish but I'm impressed with their work ethic. I wish I were in a position to open some kinf of factory in this little city.

    September 7, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  11. Alan

    What they don't tell you in this article are details of some of the pensions they handed out. I am from RI. Our local news presented a story on this where they interviewed a retired and distraught firefighter whose $36,000/year pension was threatened to be cut in half. He retired at 45. He was not on disability. He was complaining about having to get a job. If he lives to be 85, the city would have paid him a retirement benefit of $1,440,000, plus whatever health insurance they negotiated, to do nothing. And that's one person.

    August 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Illinois Bruise

      You have hit the nail on the head Alan. Big pensions, big promises, to buy votes. Completely corrupt. Just like iike Chicago, the cancer of Illinois, but on a smallert scale.

      Probably a blue state, just like ours. Go Dems. promise everything, screw everybody, until the money runs out.

      August 22, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
      • Alan

        The politicians here just kick it down the road for the next guy to deal with it. Here in RI we have over $6 billion in unfunded liabilities (pensions). $6 BILLION. It's obscene.

        August 23, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
      • OKC

        Thank you......absolutely correct. All kinds of vote for me and I will give you money, one vote buying scheme after another.
        Dems. promise food, transportation, shelter and now medical.......don't work I will pay you if you'll vote for me. As a bonus I'll punish those evil hard working people that pay taxes and make the ma pay more since they stoll your money.....LOL.......sound like the DNC, just listen to their convention.

        May 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  12. socalpimp

    We live in a bankrupt country......let alone a city.

    August 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  13. zhawk88

    Capitalism is awesome!

    August 17, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • PugPower

      Yes it does. And socialism sucks, as we can see.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
      • OKC

        Capitolism works great....the socialist work hard to keep it from doing what it does best.....create and make.........all kinds of things/anything.

        May 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  14. Tim Knecht

    "At Stanley’s, fear and confusion was in the air. " "fear and confusion" is a compound subject. It requires a plural verb. The sentence SHOULD read, "At Stanley's, fear and confusion WERE in the air." This is 7th GRADE GRAMMAR.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • KD

      Really? That whole article and the only thing you could focus on was a grammatical error? Wow.

      August 17, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  15. oldboldgold

    This country is not suffering from retirement programs, it is suffering from unchecked graft and corruption. It is mirrored in D.C. There is endless money available for CORPORATE ENTITLEMENT PROGRAMS but nothing for citizen retirement programs that they directly funded. Take a closer look and you will see that the retirement programs are empty because the politicians played loosey goosey with the funds.

    August 11, 2011 at 3:35 am |
    • OKC

      Corp. entitetments don't give money to the corps. it just doesn't colect them.........its like if I don't ask fo as much this year it is a cut in spending......LOL.......

      May 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  16. AcesUp

    @Oprah'sMooseknuckle: I've lived in RI just about my entire life. You probably haven't. Central Falls has always been a mess and has nothing to do with the socialism you state is happening. It has everything to do with CF being a poor community. Since the industrial jobs left RI, no other jobs moved in to replace the industrial jobs. Outsourcing jobs has nothing to do with socialism. Your baseless comments and immature handle give real conservative thinkers a bad name.

    August 10, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  17. Oprah'sMooseknuckle

    Tax the rich – isn't that the solution to everything? Oh wait, there is no one left to pay for the City's expenses? Hmmm, this looks like the ultimate result of Socialism. Idiot liberals take notice (then blame someone else).

    August 9, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Daniel

      Please don't spread ignorance.

      August 9, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Mike

      Ah, the horrible, taxing, dumb, liberal, socialist argument. Very enlightening. Thanks. Work on a bumper sicker.

      August 9, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • The Idiot

      So you are saying that mass taxation killed this town?

      Hmmm.... how about a lack of economic development? If you could think outside of yourself for a moment, you might find out that things are not as simple as your simple-mind believes them to be. Stop talking about how dumb everyone else is and try reading a book, you might discover that ever answer that comes into your mind, is not necessarily the way the world "is" but rather only how you believe it to be.

      In other words, get over yourself.

      August 10, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • OKC

      You are correct...........punishing hard working people is never an answer............Dems. are going to tax the rich only.....funny how I am rich to the Dems...........I always have to pay and I make 27,000$........if that is rich we're in real serious trouble.

      May 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  18. United States of Obama

    Its a new world now. Everyone needs to toss all prior expectations of living the 'good life' out the window. In 2 years anyone who still has a job will be among the lucky few. Forget about retiring.

    I'm 43, have no pension and no substantial savings. My best-case scenario is to die before I'm too old to work. Sad, but otherwise I will have no income and no health insurance. I have no confidence that Social Security or Medicare will still be around or be enough to support me and my wife. That's my retirement plan...

    August 8, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • JimmySD

      Your name says it all.

      If ignorant people like you hadn't been duped by the propaganda machine into voting for a party that goes against your and the country's best interests we might have something to look forward to.

      Trickle down economics?!?!?! The rich have more money than ever to hire people with.

      Google the GINI Index. Maybe you can still learn something.

      August 10, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  19. Howdy Doody

    Yes- but Central Falls is not under threat of invasion by Muslims. So they don't have that to worry about and it only costs a trillion dollars a year.

    August 8, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  20. Spock

    get some entrapernial college kids buildings to fix up and to start new businesses. folks with lotsa energy willing to take on a BIG challenge! that would make a difference.

    August 8, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  21. Jim Thomas

    It is a sad situation all over.It shows that you cannot spend more money than you make but you have to blame our politicans for being dumb.Jim Thomas Phx.Az.

    August 5, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • OKC

      Thank you.....you would think people would understand. But those dirty, eveil and uncaring rich people keep stealing all the money.

      May 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm |

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