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Rep’d platform struggles to gain footing with Bridgeport residents

The sun rises over Bridgeport City Hall on Wednesday, July 26, 2023.
Joe Buglewicz
Connecticut Public
The sun rises over Bridgeport City Hall on Wednesday, July 26, 2023.

A video platform adopted by the city of Bridgeport in December is off to a slow start, facing middling interest from both constituents and lawmakers.

City Council member Scott Burns, who represents the 130th District, said part of the blame lies on the ongoing mayoral race between incumbent Joe Ganim and his challenger, John Gomes.

“The council, we're trying to carry on business, as usual, but we've had some distractions locally, the mayor's race being part of it,” Burns said.

The city adopted Rep’d, a video platform designed to connect officials and politicians with constituents without the polarization of social media.

Residents can post their questions on the platform and officials provide answers in short videos.

But only four videos have been uploaded in the nearly two months since the city adopted the platform.

Outreach efforts like these are great at connecting with certain segments of the population, according to Gayle Alberda, an associate professor of political science at Fairfield University . However, Alberda cautioned Bridgeport, which has a high poverty rate, may find engagement to be a challenge.

Ashley Aguilera, a Bridgeport resident, asked a question about speed bumps around a month ago. Aguilerahasn’t received an answer and she’s not alone.

“There are a ton of questions already since the launch of that portal,” Aguilera said. “But there's been only a couple questions answered.”

Most of the questions posted on Rep’d center around quality of life issues, from housing, to pothole repair.

But out of the four videos uploaded, one is a holiday greeting and another is an introduction to the service, meaning only two videos provide answers to specific concerns. None of the videos address common complaints such as speeding.

Burns said the city signed a six month trial period with the platform which cost $12,000.

He cautioned other councilmembers’ workloads have proven difficult to work around, and some also aren’t as tech savvy as others.

“We've had a couple who have started videos, or have tried to, and maybe just need a little help on the back end,” Burns said.

Other cities like Bridgeport are also trying to connect constituents and officials, according to Mohamad G. Alkadry, a professor at UConn’s School of Public Policy. Alkadry said platforms like Rep’d should be considered part of a bigger plan to engage with residents.

“As long as this is a part of multiple strategies to engage citizens, or multiple access points to government, the tools are positive,” Alkadry said.

Alberda says Bridgeport tends to be poorer than its suburban neighbors and internet accessibility could be an issue. Rep’d may work for some residents, but not all, due to the lack of internet, despite the wide availability of cell phones.

“If we're expecting this to work in areas that are disproportionately lower income, areas of Bridgeport, that also means that there's a higher chance of those folks not having that access readily available,” Alberda said.

Former Twitter employee Mike Baumwoll, co-founded Rep’d. Baumwoll said he was frustrated with social media’s limitations when it came to setting civil discussions.

Rep’d charges municipalities anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 a month based on population, according to Baumwoll.

And he said Rep’d is growing.

“We work with cities and leaders across six different states and are in the works of expanding pretty significantly in 2024,” Baumwoll said.

Bridgeport, Burns said, will consider the future of the service during its budget meetings in April.

Aguilera said services like these are good, but city officials have to commit to them.

“It's great to have all these resources through Rep’d for residents, but it's not that great if you're not going to execute them.”

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