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?