28 December 2007

New Year Finally Brings Dramatic Change To Financing of Campaigns

A system of public financing of political campaigns will bring dramatic change to many state House and Senate races in 2008. While the full impact will not be felt until 2010 when races for Governor and statewide offices will occur, the law’s intent is to begin to restrict the corrosive influence of money in politics that reached its nadir during the Rowland years.

Without John Rowland’s violations of the public trust coming to light, the land of steady habits might still be stuck with a government increasingly influenced by excessive political money and corporate-funded special interests.

It is worth noting (with no small amount of irony) that in 2000 Connecticut's Democratic-controlled General Assembly approved a Clean Elections law modeled after Maine's law that was adopted by referendum in 1996. Governor Rowland, unbowed by the imprisonment of his State Treasurer, Paul Silvester, for graft in the handling of state pension funds, vetoed a Connecticut clean election law. Had it been adopted the reform might have spared Rowland himself from jail time.

“It is an exciting time for democracy in Connecticut,” says State Rep. Tim O’Brien (D-24) who served on the GAE Committee that helped craft legislation designed to diminish the influence of lobbyist money and that includes an outright contribution ban on contractors who do business with the state.

“For generations, we have dreamed of an open election system in which people's voices matter more than special interest money. Now, it is a reality,” declares O’Brien in launching his 2008 campaign for the state House that will rely on grassroots contributions. To voluntarily opt in to the “Citizen’s Election Program” state House candidates will be required to obtain individual contributions in their communities. A state representative must obtain 150 donations in his or her community; a state senator must obtain 300 donations, most of which will be small-scale contributions of no more than $100. Candidates who opt not to participate will be required to file and disclose campaign finance information.

The state Elections Enforcement Commission, which is administering the Citizen’s Election Program, has set forth basic goals:
(1) to allow candidates to compete without reliance on special interest money; (2) to curtail excessive spending and create a more level playing field among candidates; (3) to give candidates without access to sources of wealth a meaningful opportunity to seek elective office, and;(4) to provide the public with meaningful and timely disclosure of campaign finances.

Connecticut’s Citizens’ Election program, adopted in the wake of the Rowland scandals, is modeled after Maine’s Clean Elections law. The Maine law now involves 80% of legislative candidates from all political persuasions. It has won praise for reducing excessive spending and, according to a recent study by the Maine ethics commission, allowed candidates to devote more time talking issues and getting feedback from voters.

The high stakes test for Connecticut’s citizen-funded election program won’t come until gubernatorial and statewide races in 2010. There may also be a need to adjust the law to empower Town Committees and encourage grassroots financing in the new system. And no one should assume that the Clean Elections Program is all that will be needed to enforce strong ethics in government. What is clear, however, is that Connecticut lawmakers, pushed by reformers such as Rep. O’Brien, had to strike a blow against corruption in the wake of John Rowland's exit and indiscretions.

Opponents of public financing had always used the argument that taxpayer money should not finance political campaigns. But that argument finally fell to the side when the question was asked: how much more will taxpayers pay for abuses of the public trust made possible by campaigns funded entirely by private interests?

“This is an important moment in history, and I would like to ask you to be a part of reclaiming our democracy,” says Rep. O’Brien in making his campaign part of a citizen-based election system.

In the long term, proponents of the law such as O’Brien and New Britain’s Democratic lawmakers view the new campaign system as a catalyst to enacting major reforms. Progress on key consumer issues such as a more equitable tax system, universal health care and controlling energy and utility costs have long been thwarted by powerful corporate lobbyists whose influence have now been diminished in the 2008 election cycle.

Thanks John Rowland. We could not have done it without you.

02 December 2007

Downtown's Future: A Place To Live Within Walking Distance of Public Transit

Downtown New Britain is no longer a "downtown," if that word means anything. But if it's no longer the city's commercial or business center, then what is it?

from NBBlogs

The revitalization of downtown New Britain was not much of an issue during the 2007 municipal campaign. The welcome news of Carvel Corporation's move to the long vacant Smart Park (the former Stanley Works factory parcel)and a meaningless flare up over the location of a new police station were about the only headlines drawing attention to the city's vital center this year.

Downtown is ripe for new investment and development that needs to be managed wisely by city and state officials over the next five years. One of the big challenges of putting a viable downtown New Britain back together has to do with Route 9, the highway that connects I-84 to I-91 and shore points. New Britain is not unique among U.S. cities in having a four-lane roadway built 40 or 50 years ago that hastened decline of the central business district. The major task now is to undo that public works and public policy fiasco that cut the city in two.

As Pat Thibodeau observes in a recent post on his blog about New Britain, there's no bringing back a downtown full of big retailers and big stores that people pouring out of factories patronized in the middle of the 20th century.

Thibodeau sees the opening of C-Town -- an urban grocer that people walk to -- as a harbinger of downtown's future. "Downtown New Britain isn't so much the place to be (the old city slogan), as it is a place to live. It has the potential to become an interesting and lively neighborhood," he says. He goes on:

Downtown housing is likely to be occupied by single adults or couples who want to be in walking distance to essential services and stores. I also believe that, more and more, people will be interested in living without having to own a car, even in Connecticut. (I just paid about $25 for 8 gallons of gas at the Sunoco near West Farms. What happens when gas hits $4 a gallon?)

Thibodeau's analysis needs to be heeded as key pieces of real estate (the old police station, the Herald building and the New-Brite shopping plaza) enter the development picture in the immediate or near future. Above all, officials at the local level need to be ready to take full advantage of the New Britain-to-Hartford busway that will turn the old Greenfield's property into a transit hub and instantly make the land and buildings around it more attractive for private investment. These investments will have little need (nor should they) for abatements and public subsidies for business that desperate cities often use to boost their grand lists. Like third world countries fighting poverty, distressed U.S. cities are engaged in a "race to the bottom" because of the property tax.

Last July experts, lawyers and developers were at New Britain City Hall to outline some exciting plans for a downtown in dire need of good ideas and new public/private investment. Careful listeners to a study prepared by Harrall-Michalowski Associates wouldn't be wrong in thinking they may have already heard much of what is being proposed. To paraphrase Yogi Berra: "It was deja vu all over again."

If you flashback two years to the 2005 campaign, Jason Jakubowski, the Democratic mayoral nominee, unveiled a plan called "Project Hope" that represented a comprehensive and very ambitious agenda to bring downtown back. Jakubowski, reviving some older proposals dating back to the DeFronzo administration and raising the new ones, defined "hope" for downtown with a nine-point plan that included a new police station and the conversion of New-Brite into a collegiate sports and conference center multi-plex. He urged an expanded role for Central CT State and Charter Oak State downtown and proposed an arts and entertainment district built around the city's existing assets. To correct the highway mistake of the 70's, a mini platform idea was floated again to bridge the divide between East Main Street and Columbus Boulevard.

Jakubowski's "Project Hope" and the master plan to come from consultants hired by the city this year are based on the same essential component: the federally funded busway planned to run aside the railroad tracks from New Britain through Newington and onto downtown Hartford.

While the busway is still five years away at best, the city and state -- working together -- could begin to put into place elements of a plan that will make downtown "interesting and lively" for visitors and residents who are ready to consider the center of the city a place to live if convenient public transit exists.

An interim step that could happen within a year is to upgrade the existing downtown bus stop. "One thing New Britain should try to get the state to do is improve the downtown bus hub," states Thibodeau. "The bus pick-up location at West Main and Main Streets is dismal and unattractive. It actually looks dangerous. It needs an extreme makeover to encourage new riders." A cosmetic makeover next to the municipal garage would invite greater use of public transit before the busway arrives.

And what would be wrong with a commuter bus direct from downtown New Britain into Hartford? There is a commuter Express near Corbin's Corner with limited services now. It should be expanded to downtown given the thousands of New Britain residents -- not to mention people from adjoining towns -- who trek into downtown Hartford to work every day. More local service -- a university downtown shuttle and a route up to the West Main Street business area -- would get people to work and shop without using a car at $3.30 a gallon.

It's time to implement a transit-based economic development strategy now and not wait for the first ride on the busway some of us plan to take circa 2012.

25 November 2007

Celebrating The Life of Tony Norris: December 9th At Marchegian Hall

This is also the town I grew up in. It’s my community, so I appreciate doing something here. This community has given a lot to me, so I am giving something back. That’s a lot. Not many people get that much satisfaction out of their job. I feel I’m really honored that I get that much satisfaction.

from "City Farmer Gives Back To His Community" www.workingtheland.com (Simon Pure Productions)

Friends and associates of Urban Oaks Organic Farm Founder Tony Norris will hold a dinner buffet and program in celebration of his life on Sunday, December 9th, at 4 p.m. at the Marchegian Society Ballroom, 40 Acorn Street.

Norris, 59, died November 18th after a long battle with cancer. The New Britain native, a citizen activist who helped many Democratic candidates through the years, established Urban Oaks in 1999 with his partner, Mike Kandefer. The former Sandelli Florist property on Oak Street, blighted and unused, was converted into a working organic farm serving the public and restaurants throughout the state. It is considered one of the largest urban farms in the Northeast.

Interested persons may RSVP for the dinner to Maria Agramonte-Gomez at (860) 826-7585 or by e-mail to the Urban Oaks Farm at urbanoaks@earthlink.net. There is no admission charge but financial contributions in memory of Norris are encouraged to: Urban Oaks Farm, c/o Human Resources Agency of New Britain, 180 Clinton Street, New Britain, CT 06053.

An interview with Tony Norris may be found at

28 October 2007

Courant Turns Blind Eye To Mayor's Real Indiscretions

Last week The Hartford Courant editorial board found another way to endorse Tim Stewart by defending some foul-mouthed language of the incumbent in a call to a dispatcher during 2005 flooding. The call, widely circulated in a You Tube posting, drew considerable press coverage. "The most appalling thing about this episode is that New Britain's Democrats can't seem to come up with anything better," opined an editorial last week. "They ought to be playing ball by telling New Britain residents how they'll further the city's future; instead, they're low-balling."

The Courant states the obvious in saying voters could give a rat's *** (excuse the paraphrase) over Tim Stewart's mouth. More on "rats" in a moment. But the editor's indulgence of Stewart's trivial "indiscretion" comes after the same editorial board ignored the facts and circumstances of Stewart's public policy indiscretions --- indiscretions raised by James Wyskiewicz and other Democrats that can hardly be called "low-balling" unless the Courant feels transparency in government and telling the truth to residents matters. The Courant devoted no less than three editorials on "Tilcon Water Rat" legislation last summer, condemning legislators but not once mentioning that it was Stewart's request and misrepresentation of facts that prompted the special legislation. Subsequently, New Britain lawmakers rescinded the action that would have allowed a Tilcon lease of watershed land.

Did the Courant acknowledge that Democratic legislators addressed their concerns? We're still waiting.

According to one comment to the latest editorial: "So after giving the mayor three passes on negatively written comments, they proceed to give the mayor a glowing endorsement, and again not mention his significant role in the creation of hated legislation. To compound this oversight, neither the editorial board nor any reporters ever comment on the fact that the mayor actually went ahead and signed a lease with Tilcon a few days before the legislature repealed the enabling legislation. He did this despite the fact that the original bill had provisions in it clearly stating the mayor could not do this without first holding multiple public hearings and having the city council approve the lease."

As Courant editors defend the mayor on his salty language and his right to get a good night's sleep during '05's serious flooding, they ignore a far more serious indiscretion over the Tilcon "rat" they professed to care so much about. Colin McEnroe, whose blog is carried by the Courant, found no small amount of irony in the Courant's defense of the Mayor over last week's "potty mouth" episode.

30 September 2007

Letters, Secret Agreement Reveal Stewart’s Doublespeak on Tilcon Deal

An exchange of August letters and documents between the administration of Mayor Tim Stewart (R-New Britain) and the state Department of Public Health shows that Stewart deliberately misled residents and other public officials in an effort to gain quick approval for a controversial deal giving Tilcon Connecticut, Inc. 131 acres of watershed land for its mining operation.

In September, State Rep. Tim O’Brien (D-24) and State Senator Don DeFronzo (D-6), reacting to concerns of residents and environmentalists as well as Stewart’s contradictory statements and actions on the issue, successfully sought repeal of a law that had initially cleared the way for a Tilcon takeover of watershed land to expand its quarry operation over the next generation.

The Tilcon lease move first saw the light of day shortly after Stewart visited state legislators at the beginning of June -- the last week of the Legislature’s session --seeking special legislation to gain personal pension rights for himself as a firefighter on leave from the city Fire Department and for the Tilcon proposal that required an exception to law protecting watersheds.

Public Act 07-244 was signed into law by Gov. Rell in July allowing the lease of watershed land. New Britain Democratic lawmakers supported the legislation in the waning days of the 2007 session at the behest of the Stewart Administration. They were informed that legislative action was needed quickly to make the land lease with a $15 million return for the city over 40 years possible. Legislators successfully inserted amendments into the law that required Tilcon to restore the leased land "for a public drinking water reservoir" and "the surrounding land for reforestation." At the time the measure drew sharp editorial criticisms three times in The Hartford Courant with the newspaper asserting that the legislative "rat" allowed the lease of watershed at the expense of environmental protection.

While the repeal nixes immediate approval and compels the company and city to pursue the deal with full public input and environmental oversight, the summer controversy shows how far the Stewart administration went to consummate a major public policy decision in secret.

At an August 7th neighborhood meeting of the Hickory Hill-Westwood Block Watch committee, Stewart claimed his administration had not acted on the proposed mining project lease -- a deal promising the city $15 million over 40 years for access to watershed that has long been part of a public trust and subject to environmental protection. "If the people don't want it, so be it," Stewart told the Hickory Hill committee as reported by the New Britain Herald.. "I will support you 100 percent. It doesn't have to go. Marilynn (referring to Marilyn Slate, a Block Watch leader), why don't you do this for me: Start a petition.”

On the same day (August 7), Mayor Stewart was telling residents that their wishes would be considered, however, his Board of Water Commissioners Chairman, Patrick Hamel, had already signed off on a lease proposal outline. The lease agreement -- the equivalent of a letter of agreement – stipulated the terms of the long-term lease between the city and Tilcon Connecticut. The agreement had already been signed on August 6th by Richard Mergens, Tilcon’s President. The agreement, labeled, "Lease Proposal Outline," clearly specifies that that city would have leased New Britain-owned watershed land to Tilcon for forty years for $130,798.17 per acre. The terms of the one-page agreement signed by Stewart's administration are unclear, raising the important legal question about whether it would have been legally possible for the city to withdraw from the deal or to change its terms – like the amount of the proposed lease.

As late as September 13th, Republican Town Chair Paul Carver, whose wife, Lisa, is Stewart's Chief of Staff, was quoted in the New Britain Herald saying that, "there is no deal. The legislation was to allow a deal, which will be followed by a public hearing. If residents are against the deal, Mayor Stewart has said he will pull a plug on the plan." This statement came after residents, taking Stewart at his word, had submitted 350 signatures on a petition opposing immediate approval of a Tilcon lease. But Carver’s statement to residents is contradicted by what had already occurred in August. Stewart’s attempted fast tracking of the watershed lease continued August 23rd in a hand-delivered letter from the city’s assistant corporation counsel, Joseph Skelly, to Dr. Robert Galvin, the state Commissioner of Public Health. “Our office represents the City of New Britain and Board of Water Commissioners,” Skelly wrote. “I have enclosed an executed Lease Proposal Outline between the Board of Water Commissioners and Tilcon Connecticut, Inc. for 0 Biddle Pass, Plainville, Connecticut. In accordance with Public Act No. 07-244, Sec 6 (b)(1), we will be submitting for your approval the name of an independent third party to conduct the environmental evaluation.” The letter sought state approval before the Legislature could meet to consider the DeFronzo-O’Brien repeal measure.

On August 30th, the Department of Public Health responded to the Stewart administration’s hastily sent lease agreement. Gerald Iwan, a DPH Section Chief responsible for drinking water, informed Stewart that “based on a recent discussion on August 24, 2007 with Mr. Gilbert Bligh of the City of New Britain Water Department, the Outline as provided is not considered final...Also, DPH can not consider approval of the lease until a number of items outlined within PA 07-244 are completed.”

With the successful repeal of PA 07-244 in September, the maneuverings of the Stewart administration to conclude the lease deal quickly and secretly are null and void. To legislators and residents, however, Stewart’s actions showed a disregard for the truth and a disregard for an environment long protected by a public trust.

13 September 2007

Iraq On $330 Million A Day: Cong. Murphy Responds To Bush Plan To Stay The Course

NEW BRITAIN, CT (September 13) Two hours before President Bush layed out a vague, stay the course policy on Iraq from the Oval Office, Cong. Chris Murphy (D-5) made his strongest statements yet on why U.S. policy is on a disastrous course, and why he favors a "precipitous withdrawal" with a firm date.

Speaking at New Britain's Slade Middle School to a much larger audience than at a similar forum last April held in the same school auditorium, Murphy gave a troubling report to residents, many of whom shared his opposition and frustration over the five-year old conflict.

In striking contrast to the Bush-Petraeus report this week on progress made after a January troop "surge", Murphy said the current return on U.S. investment of $329,670,330 a day ($10 billion a month)has bought the "bloodiest summer of the war" in terms of American service men and women killed or wounded. Moreover "August may have been one of the highest months for civilian casualties." While we are informed about more than 3,700 U.S. dead and 27,000 wounded so far, Murphy said that data on Iraqi civilian dead and wounded is classified and unreported. Murphy, in fact, speculated that the leveling off of violent attacks claimed by the administration may be because "there is almost no one left to kill." Of so many communities destroyed in Iraq, the freshman congressman noted there is an enormous number of refugees and a humanitarian crisis that the U.S. will need to address for many years.

Speaking of the Iraqi government, Murphy said the practice of putting "cash on the ground" to buy the loyalty of sheiks and ethnic leaders would only go so far. He agrees with the conclusion of the nonpartisan General Accounting Office (GAO)that the coalition government propped up by U.S. money and soldiers is "bordering on collapse."

President Bush made clear his plan to extend a huge U.S. military presence beyond his Presidency and continue a strategy that seems to beget more violence as the U.S. expends $120 billion a year at current rates.

Cong. Murphy, conceding that more Republicans need to agree to a firm exit strategy to change policy, made equally clear his resolve to mobilize with other freshman to draw a line in the sand on continued funding for the war with a new $50 billion request due to come to Congress soon.

Finding a way to withdraw, Murphy said, will help to restore U.S. credibility in the world, ending a war built on lies and a bullying style of nation building that must come to an end in January 2009.

25 August 2007

Hartford High School Plan Is Instructional For New Britain

In his earliest days as Hartford School Superintendent, Steven J. Adamoski was critical of the $100+ million investment that had been made in Hartford Public High School. The makeover kept the facility a big-box, comprehensive high school with too many students in one place.

One of the nation's oldest secondary schools, Hartford Public has faced years of accreditation issues and troubling measures of student performance that the physical overhaul and capital investment did not improve.

Adamoski, a former superintendent of Cincinnati, OH schools, was brought to Hartford by Mayor Eddie Perez and the Board of Education for change and reform in the capital city's troubled 25,000 pupil school system. His task is to implement a "turnaround plan." Several days ahead of the 2007-2008 school year the details of an "all-choice" plan for Hartford have emerged. According to the Hartford plan the district "will undertake a dramatic investment in the creation of new schools with the goal of bringing over 30 new, high-performing public schools into the Hartford system by 2017, with the majority of new schools up and running in the first five years."

Dismal student achievement scores have prompted a call by Adamowski for decentralization of its big high schools. A story by Bob Frahm in the August 24th Hartford Courant focuses on the effort to be made over the next several years "to break the high schools up into smaller units."

"We have to redesign our [large] comprehensive high schools. We can't have these high schools continue to operate" in their current form, Adamowski told the Courant.

Like Hartford Public High, New Britain High is facing accreditation issues discussed by school board members, school officials and the public at an August 14th community meeting in New Britain. And nobody needs to be reminded that New Britain High has too many students crowded into one place. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) Commission on Secondary Schools report of October 2006 noted deficiencies that NBHS needs to address: "The current plant at New Britain High School is not capable of adequately housing its rapidly increasing student body."

The NEASC site team noted that the Board of Education is taking steps starting with a 9th grade academy (to open this year). But the Commission also noted that "support for student learning is inadequate" with a student to counselor ratio of 330 to 1 and two library media specialists to serve 3,200 students.

Those ratios demonstrate that NBHS is still too much of a comprehensive high school that needs smaller units of students to deliver a better learning environment -- the sort of thing Adamowski is now trying to create in Hartford.

The New Britain Democratic Town Committee's 2007 platform calls for similar action: "The opening of a freshman academy is a positive first step toward a multi-faceted strategy of de-centralizing education and creating learning communities."

Despite the inequities that are built into the current means of financing the schools, a bold plan for high-performing schools [sometimes but not always contingent on more money] and similar to that being proposed in Hartford is needed in New Britain.

16 August 2007

An Energy Broker Comes To Town: City Considers 5-Year Deal With World Energy

The days of your good, old, regulated electric light company are over.

That was abundantly clear at an August 16th meeting of the New Britain Common Council's consolidated committee. City councillors heard officials of Worcester, MA-based World Energy Solutions explain how they can lower energy costs for the city by being an "honest broker" in a deregulated marketplace where electricity's price is skyrocketing.

The New Britain meeting stemmed from a resolution filed by Council Minority Leader Louis Salvio that authorizes Mayor Stewart "to enter into a contract for a period of five (5) years with World Energy Solutions...for the procurement and contract management services to obtain the lowest energy prices for the city."

Obtaining a lower price for electricity is a necessity for financially-distressed New Britain with current costs of power by the local government and schools approaching $4 million this year, according to Ward 2 Councillor Adam Platosz.

Platosz was the author of a resolution early in the year that asked the city finance department to seek "aggregator" status for New Britain in light of double digit electric rate hikes. Under state law, a city on its own can pursue bulk buying and even allow residential users to take advantage of bulk buying through the municipality to lower their bills.

While the Platosz resolution has been ignored for months by the city administration, the arrival of World Energy at the invitation of Mayor Stewart re-opens the debate on the best options the city has to lower its energy costs and perhaps lower rates for residents.

World Energy Solutions representatives delivered an impressive portfolio of their company to the sparsely attended council meeting.

The company, using a sophisticated online auction platform, essentially acts as an "energy realtor" -- a term used by Council President Suzanne Bielinski in trying to understand procurement services. World Energy engages energy suppliers in bidding for the sale of power to their large customers, including states, the federal government and corporations.

Founded in 1996, World Energy describes itself as a leader in the "online energy brokerage market, providing technology and intelligence for brokering electricity, natural gas, wholesale power, fuels and green credits." The company, one of a number now engaged in brokering energy, was created at a propitious time when de-regulation dramatically changed the way public utilities did business.

The de-regulated industry has spawned a system of generators (power plant operators), suppliers (energy sellers) and distributors (utilities). Lest you think Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) and United Illuminating (UI) will disappear, think again. CL&P and local utilities remain the distributors, owning the wires, poles and infrastructure that delivers the power. Most of us still pay the utility for both supply and distribution as CL&P and UI purchase power from suppliers twice a year, passing costs on to residential and business users.

World Energy and similar outfits now act as the "middle men" in an industry that once was strictly regulated on price, but now is subject to wild swings. Taking advantage of deregulation, the brokers are now the auction experts who go out and find the best price for a city or state government. They take their profits from the generator-supplier-distributor chain before it reaches users.

Jonathan Harvey, a World Energy government relations official based in Washington, D.C., informed the City Council that his company makes its money through "performance fees" in a procurement process that knows no state or national borders. He assured the councillors that "there is no direct cost to you." According to World Energy its "online reverse auction platform" saves customers "an average of 11% compared with traditional paper-based approaches to energy procurement."

While World Energy's credentials impressed the city councillors, the proposal has been brought forward by the city administration without the customary requests for proposals and bidding process that would normally be part of a multi-year municipal contract. That will inevitably be brought up before a vote is taken on this particular proposal.

Council Majority Leader Michael Trueworthy asked how World Energy came to New Britain. Apparently, the Stewart administration has not shared anything with the Council, including Trueworthy who with Bielinski meets with the Mayor on a routine basis to discuss city business. Harvey, accompanied by Connecticut Marketing Director Bill Thibodeau, would only say that his company is knocking on the doors of Connecticut city and town halls because it has just won a State of Connecticut contract to provide procurement for state agencies.

A recently released press release from the company's website confirmed the state deal: "We are pleased that the State of Connecticut has selected us as its online energy procurement solution, which we view as further validation of our position as the leading provider to U.S. government agencies at both the state and local levels."

The proposal to authorize the Mayor to enter a five-year contract with World Energy Solutions deserves a thorough review and discussion by the Council. No matter what the outcome of engaging an energy broker, the discussion should also re-open Ald. Platosz' original plan to give New Britain aggregator status, empowering the city not only to seek fairer rates for itself but creating a municipal "pool" whereby residents could realize savings too. Absent a state law that protects consumers from spiraling rates, New Britain needs to be an aggregator of its own power with or without World Energy's services.

11 August 2007

Legislators Will Seek Immediate Repeal of Law Allowing Watershed Lease To Tilcon

New Britain's Democratic legislators are expected to move quickly to repeal a recently enacted law sought by Mayor Timothy Stewart to allow the lease of watershed to Tilcon, Inc. for its quarry operations on the New Britain-Plainville border.

At issue is Public Act 07-244 signed into law by Gov. Rell in July that allows the city to change the use of watershed land to "allow for the lease of 131 acres." The approved legislation would allow New Britain to enter into a long-term lease with Tilcon, Inc. valued at $15 million -- an estimated $375,000 per year over 40 years. This is the amount cited by Stewart, but not much more is known about the proposed deal since it has been kept under wraps at City Hall until the 11th hour move to get the special legislation last June. The adopted legislation contains provisions inserted into the amendment by New Britain lawmakers that requires Tilcon to restore the leased land "for a public drinking water reservoir" and "the surrounding land for reforestation." The measure, however, drew sharp editorial criticisms three times in The Hartford Courant, the latest coming on August 10. The editorials asserted that the legislative "rat" allows the lease of watershed at the expense of environmental protection.

Allowing Tilcon, Inc. to lease the land also brought opposition from Hickory Hill residents at an August 7th "Night Out" meeting attended by State Senator Don DeFronzo, 24th District State Rep. Timothy O'Brien, Stewart and others officials.

Complaints at the Hickory Hill Night Out meeting prompted Mayor Stewart to back away --at least temporarily-- from a Tilcon lease deal, despite the likelihood that his own Water Department has been discussing the lease behind closed doors for months -- without notification to residents, the City Council nor legislators.

Pointing fingers at the Democratic lawmakers for the legislation without owning up to making the request himself, Stewart told residents they needed to petition the city on the issue and he would considering complying. The call for a petition may have allayed concerns of some residents according to an August 8th Herald story, but Stewart gave no assurances that the lease to Tilcon would not occur.

State Rep. O'Brien, writing on his blog last week, has weighed in on the late-filed bill that would permit a lease to Tilcon in confirming his plans to repeal the special legislation.

"Approving this legislation in the first place was a tough call. It was presented to the New Britain legislative delegation in the hectic final days of the legislative session because - we were told - the city had just recently been informed of the need for legislative approval and that a delay of the matter to the 2008 session - which I would have preferred - would completely deny the city the opportunity for $15 million in non-tax revenue."

O'Brien said Democrats, during the last days of the 2007 session, "decided the best course of action, rather than keeping the city from even considering the idea, would be to place very strict requirements" on a Tilcon lease proposal, including their insertion of public hearings and environmental guarantees before the lease arrangement could move forward.

"After having now heard the concerns of people who live in the neighborhood around the proposed site and after learning more of the facts about this proposed deal, Senator DeFronzo and I have decided that this proposal, as a whole, is not in the best interests of the city, said O'Brien. "The Mayor has placed the onus on the neighborhood residents to prove that this deal should not go forward by saying that they should collect petition signatures before he will decide to reject this deal. But the neighborhood opposition to the city's plan with Tilcon is already very clear.
And that is why Senator DeFronzo and I are doing just what the neighborhood is asking us to - we are acting to repeal this law."

The Stewart Administration's interest in completing a lease with Tilcon may not be over despite Stewart's questionable posturing in front of residents on August 7th.

Tilcon's interest in acquiring a lease is represented at the city and state levels by Jay F. Malcynsky, a prominent New Britain Republican, whose firm, Gaffney, Bennett and Associates, is one of the state's most influential lobbying firms. Malcynsky has close ties to Republicans in the Mayor's office, the Governor's office and considerable experience working with Democratic legislators. Late last week Malcynsky was reportedly still trying to get the measure back on track.

Senator DeFronzo and Rep.O'Brien, however, are adamant that the measure allowing a lease to move forward needs to be rescinded at the earliest opportunity. They are convinced that the Stewart administration misrepresented facts about the Tilcon deal prior to the votes they cast for passage.

Subsequent efforts to allow a lease of watershed will get the full hearings and legislative oversight that they deserve. Meanwhile, the relationship between Stewart and New Britain's lawmakers couldn't be frostier.

25 July 2007

New Britain Democrats Choose Candidates

The Democratic Town Committee (DTC) met July 24th to endorse its candidates for municipal offices. An estimated 130 persons, including 42 Town Committee members, attended the endorsement session held at the La Quinta Inn reception room on Columbus Boulevard.

A five-member nominating committee issued a report with recommendations, information about all candidates and a 3-page party platform that identified key issues and noted the accomplishments of Democratic elected officials over the last two years. Committee members included Connie Wilson Collins, Carlo Carlozzi, Jon Bryda, Rosemary Klotz and Peter Spano.

Leading off the meeting Councillor At Large Jim Wyskiewicz won unanimous support for Mayor three and a half months after announcing his candidacy. He was nominated by his wife, Patty, who is a DTC member in District 1. Seconding speeches came from Connie Wilson Collins, Frank Gerratana and John Melescensky.

"This City is ready for a leader who stands for fiscal responsibility, a school system filled with opportunity, cleaner and safer neighborhoods, sustained economic development, and a “green” City Hall, " Wyskiewicz said in accepting the endorsement. "This City is ready for a leader who stands for honesty, integrity, for high ethical standards who will restore decency and respect at City Hall."

Wyskiewicz, a contracts administrator for UTC's Hamilton Sundstrand in Windsor Locks, spoke of his experience in the public and private sector with over "15 years working in private sector business, from telecommunications to the aerospace industry." His public service includes seven years on the Board of Finance and two terms on the Council.

Touching on his family's deep roots in New Britain, Wyskiewicz recalled his grandfather, James F. Carlone, an active Democrat for many years. "He was an inspiration to me to get involved and give back to the community. I learned a lot from him, from his time on the Board of Tax Review, to his endless campaigning for Democratic candidates. His spirit and memories serve to inspire our contemporary campaign."

In seeking the endorsement, Wyskiewicz cited three key issues he will discuss with voters, including sustain economic development, affordable housing and quality education.

The Committee also endorsed Treasurer Teresa Sapieha Yanchak and Tax Collector Fred Menditto for re-election. Sapieha Yanchak, a former Ward 4 Councillor, is the first woman to hold that office having been elected two years ago as a member of the Jakubowski slate. Menditto, first elected to be Tax Collector in 1975, has been re-elected in 15 consecutive elections.

In Council At Large endorsements, Majority Leader Mike Trueworthy, Council President Suzanne Bielinski and Paul Catanzaro won endorsements with newcomers Eva Magnuszewski and Paula Mele.

Trueworthy, who was first elected to the Council from Ward 2 and is completing a first term at large, said that his campaign will focus on the re-development of downtown, increased education funding from the state, customer service at City Hall and infrastructure improvements.

Trueworthy said the Democratic campaign should focus on "bringing new people in to grow as a people and a party." He added that "the best way to do this is to show people what they can accomplish by being involved."

Other endorsements included

City Council Districts (Wards)

District 1: Greg Gerratana and Ed Kirejczyk, Jr.; District 2: Tonilynn Collins and Adam Platosz; District 3: Shirley Black and Silvia Cruz; District 4: Larry Hermanowski and Phil Sherwood; Ward 5: Rolando Centeno and Lori Rocha.

Board of Education

Board of Education President Peter Kochol, incumbent Kevin Riley and newcomer Aram Ayalon

Board of Assessment Appeal

Francisco O. Cuin and Robert Wysocki


Alton Brooks, Dominic Paventi, Frank Smith and Joe C. Willis, Sr.

Related Stories and Information On Democratic Endorsements:

The Courant's Monica Polanco had the coverage:

Associate DTC Member Beau Anderson, one of the state's leading political bloggers at Spazeboy, is providing excerpts of candidate remarks at the DTC's June 28th Meet The Candidate Night. Excerpted candidate remarks may be seen at Beau's site as Beau takes a well-deserved break from blogging. As of Wednesday 7/25 , the video remarks included Jim Wyskiewicz, Phil Sherwood, Shirley Black and Greg Gerratana

10 July 2007

Sox Fever '67: NESN Brings Back "Penultimate" Game After 40 Years

In 2007 most fans of a certain age will tell you the most memorable, joyful days in Red Sox history had to occur in 2004 when the dominant Yankees lost to Boston in seven games. The Yankee collapse was followed by a sweep of the Cardinals, the other team the Sox needed to avenge for earlier heartbreaks. The 86-year-old curse ended.

For some of us old enough to remember, however, 1967 was and is the best, not just for one game or series but for a whole season: "The Impossible Dream."

NESN knows we're out here and they are making a big deal of the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Red Sox with TV specials and a CD documentary. The worst-to-first Red Sox, for years humbled by the Orioles and Twins in the 10-team American League, came out of no where to reach the World Series. It started on opening day in Yankee stadium when rookie pitcher Billy Rohr nearly no-hit the Yankees, helped by an incredible catch by Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski in the bottom of the 9th. Expectations for an improved .500 season soon gave way to pennant fever. It built into August when that terrible beaning of local hero Tony Conigliaro (St. Mary's High, Lynn, MA) occurred. With no divisional playoffs, the season all came down to the final day on September 30, 1967.

A senior at Lynn English High School in the fall of 1967, I and some classmates stood in long lines to get reserved grandstand tickets to witness the last game of the season, a matchup between Dean Chance and Jim Lonborg on an Indian summer Sunday at Fenway Park. In those days it was possible for ordinary folks, even kids from Lynn, to get seats by simply showing up early -- a fact confirmed when a few days later I scored a $2 bleacher seat to see Game 7, Lonborg vs. Bob Gibson in the World Series.

NESN this month has re-broadcast the next to last game with Jose Santiago and Jim Kaat for the Twins pitching -- a matchup the sports network called the "penultimate" game of the season. The real penultimate game for me , however, came on Sunday when I managed to be sitting in the right field grandstand midway between home and the Pesky pole.

My memory after 40 years isn't that good of the game the Sox had to have for a tie or pennant win. I know the Red Sox prevailed over the Twins that day, then waited for hours as the White Sox and Tigers put each other out of contention. I think it was "Boomer" (George Scott, 1B) who got a big hit and Lonborg the victory. We stormed onto the field and I collected some dirt where Rico Petrocelli (SS/3B) patrolled and caught the final out. I can't find the bag of dirt anymore, but I am sure it's around somewhere compounding in value as a piece of Sox memorabilia.

So thanks NESN for tapping into the season and games that go down for some of us as the most memorable time to be a Red Sox fan. I may have missed Barry Bonds and the All-Star game this year. But I watched every pitch of Red Sox vs. Twins in a re-broadcast of the next to last game. NESN, knowing a captive audience is here, packed most of the commercial time during the re-broadcast of the next to last game promoting the CD that includes the clincher on the last day.

08 July 2007

Summer Farm Report: Crops Are Coming In At Urban Oaks

Living in the city and organic farming/shopping are not mutually exclusive thanks to the Urban Oaks Organic Farm on Oak Street.

"We've started picking our own summer crops including French round zucchini and regular zucchini, and, of course, we'll have more of our first picking of basil," reported our friends at Urban Oaks on June 28th. "We also have some yellow summer squash from Massachusetts. We're picking greens – including our glorious kales. Keep the kitchen cool by cooking up some greens rather than using your ovens."

Oak Street New Britain may seem an unlikely place for a working farm that practices sustainable agriculture and produces lettuces, salad greens, tomatoes, fresh herbs and eggplant that chefs at fine restaurants favor. In 1999, however, Tony Norris and Mike Kandefer made Urban Oaks Organic Farm a reality. In the 1990s, mobilizing environmental clean up funds, grants and volunteers, Tony and Mike reclaimed the former Sandelli Greenhouse property at 233 Oak Street and created a working city farm utilizing their skills as certified organic farmers. The restoration of 15,000 square feet of greenhouses has allowed the farm to offer fresh greens and produce.

The nonprofit farm has been an urban revitalization success story second to none in New Britain. The presence of Urban Oaks is a positive force in a city neighborhood struggling with blight and safety issues. It's been a gathering place where city residents and students can learn about sustainable and environmentally friendly farming. It proves that farming is not just an enterprise for the open roads and lower density of rural Connecticut.

And now here is your order form for the week of July 9th:

Welcome to the Urban Oaks Shopping Service!
Urban Oaks Organic Farm, 225 Oak Street , New Britain, CT 06051
Phone or Fax 860-223-6200, Email: urbanoaks@earthlink.net

Price list for orders to be picked up on Fridays from 3-6 (or on Saturdays from 10-1).


Please give us your name: ______________________and daytime telephone: ________

How to order

You may order in pounds (lbs.) or quantity (qty), for example, 3lbs. of Macintosh apples or 8 qty Macintosh apples. Everything is certified organic unless otherwise indicated.

CT-grown products are boldfaced. You may also pickup pre-orders anytime after 1 p.m. on Fridays (although, Sweet Sage bakery items will not be available until 3).

Urban Oaks Organic Farm Produce

___Edible Chrysanthemum $6/lb
___Scallions $1.95/bunch
___Finnocchio (bulb fennel) $5.75/bag – two per bag
___Red Bor Kale $3.25/bunch
___Scotch Kale $3.25/bunch
___Sorrel, French @ $6/lb
___Soup or Braising mix @$6/lb
___Swiss chard $6/lb – SALE - $5/LB
___New Zealand spinach $6/lb
___Dandelion greens $3.25/bunch
___Garlic scapes $6/lb
___Rhubarb $4.25/lb
___Edible blossoms $2.50/dozen
___French round zucchini @ $2.50/lb
___Hardneck garlic @ $9.75/lb

Basils @ $2.50/sandwich sized bag


Herbs @ $1.75/bag:
___Bay Leaf
___Fennel, Bronze
___Fennel, Green
___Greek Oregano
___Lemon Grass
___Mint, Roman
___Mint, Spearmint
___Sweet Marjoram
___Garlic (Chinese) chives
___Sweet Cicely
___Winter savory
___Lemon balm

___Parcel $1.95/bag
___Italian (flat leaved) Parsley $1.95/bunch
___Curly parsley $1.95/bunch

Farm River Honey, Branford (not certified organic)

___Honey, Raw, 8 oz. jar @ $3/each

Certified organic eggs (NH)

___Extra large @ $4.50/dozen

The Bridge, Middletown (non-gmo, not certified organic but made with organic soybeans

___Tofu 15 oz. $2.35/each
___Amasake (rice drink sweetened by fermenting rice) 16 oz. @ $3.50
___Seitan 8 oz. @ $3.85


___Hummus 8 oz. $2.70/each

Sunshine Burgers

___Sunshine organic Southwestern flavor vegan burgers @ $4.25/8 oz. package of three burgers
___Sunshine barbeque vegan burgers @ $4.25/8 oz. package of three burgers
___Sunshine organic regular original garden herb vegan burgers @ $4.25/8 oz. package of three burgers


___Vinegar, Raw, unfiltered organic apple cider @ $4.49/32oz.
___Grateful Harvest Lime Juice @ $1.25/4.4oz. (made with organic ingredients)
___Volcano Organic Sicilian Blood Orange Juice @ $5.50/25.3oz.
___Matt's Organic Orange Juice @ $7.95/56oz.

Bionaturae Whole Wheat Organic Pasta @ $2.50/1 lb. pkg.

This is the best tasting whole-wheat pasta you've ever had!

___Penne Rigate

Organic butters (frozen)

___Cultured Sweet Butter @ $6.39/1 lb. pkg. (Organic Valley)
___European Style Butter (lower moisture, higher fat) @ $3.99/1/2 lb. pkg. (Horizon)

Natural Meats from North Hollow Farm, Vermont

These meats are from a family farm (the Carlsons) and are pasture-raised without
hormones, antibiotics, growth stimulants, etc.

___Bacon @ $8.49/one-pound pkg.
___Beef, Ground @ $5.69/ 1 lb. pkg.
___Beef, Porterhouse or Rib Steaks @ $12.39/lb
___Beef, Eye of the Round Roast @ $8.49/lb (about 2lbs.; preorder one week in advance)
___Hams @ $8.49/lb no nitrates, nitrites or MSG (about 4 lbs; preorder one week in advance)
___Hot Dogs @ $5.95/1 lb. pkg., no nitrates, nitrites or MSG
___Country style Spare Ribs @ $6.29/lb

Applegate Farms

___Bacon 8 oz., $4.25/pkg. peppered no nitrates, nitrites, etc.
___Bacon, Sunday organic $6.25/8oz. pkg

Organic Meats from Organic Valley

___Ground Organic Beef Patties - 2 per package (10.6oz.total) @ $6.29/each (these are great!)
___Whole organic chickens approximately 4-7 lbs. $4.89/lb

Equal Exchange Organic Fair Trade Coffees and hot cocoa (whole beans):

___French Roast @ $10/lb
___Breakfast Blend Decaffeinated @ $14/lb

SPECIALS -- These are items we try to keep in stock if people keep requesting them

___Apples, Fuji @ $3.50/lb (38 lbs.)
___Avocado, Californian Haas @ $1.75/each (48 count)
___Beets, Gold @ $3.50/lb
___Beets, Red @ $3.75/lb (25 lbs.)
___Broccoli @ $3.95/bunch (14 count)
___Cabbage, Green @ $1.75/lb (40 lbs.)
___Cabbage, Red @ $2.35/lb (40 lbs.)
___Cabbage, Savoy @ $2.35/lb (40 lbs.)
___Carrots, bunched @ $2.50/bunch (24 count)
___Celery @ $2.95/bunch (30 count)
___Celeriac (celery root) $2.95/lb (25 lbs.)
___Garlic, softneck @ $4.75/lb (10 lbs.)
___Ginger, Hawaiianr @ $8.95/lb (5 lbs.)
___Grapefruit $2.25/lb (38 lbs.)
___Kiwi @ $.99/each (20 lbs.)
___Leeks @ $2.75/lb (20 lbs.)
___Lettuce, Green leaf $2.50/each (24 count)
___Lettuce, Red leaf $2.50/each (24 count)
___Lettuce, Romaine $2.50/each (24 count)
___Nectarines @ $2.95/lb (38 lbs.)
___Onions, Red @ $2.25/lb (50 lbs.)
___Onions, Yellow @ $1.75/lb (50 lbs.)
___Onions, Vidalia @ $2.50/lb (40 lbs.)
___Oranges, Valencia @ $1.95/lb (38 lbs.)
___Pears, Packhamt @ $2.25/lb (44 lbs.)
___Pears, d'Anjou @ $2.75/lb (38 lbs.)
___Plums, Black Amber $2.95/lb (22 lbs.)
___Pluots @ $3.95/lb (18 lbs.) [plum/apricot cross]
___Potatoes, Garnet Sweet @ $2.25/lb (40 lbs.)
___Potatoes, Red @ $1.95/lb (50 lbs.)
___Potatoes, Yukon gold @ $1.95/lb (50 lbs.)
___Potatoes, new White @ $1.75/lb (50 lbs.)
___Radish, daikon @ $2.75/lb (11 lbs.)
___Radishes, Red @ $2.50/bunch (24 count)
___Shallots, new with tops @ $6.50/lb (10 lbs.)
___Spinach @ $2.50/bunch (24 count)
___Summer (yellow) squash @ $2.50/lb (20 lbs. MA grown)

Other produce – These are new specialty items we could get if enough people pre-order!

___Apples, pink crisp (another name for Pink Lady) $3.95
___Apricots @ $3.75/lb (24 lbs.)
___Artichokes, Globe Jumbo @ $2.25/each (30 count)
___Asparagus @ $6.50/lb (11 lbs.)
___Bananas, Fair-Trade @ $1.15/lb (38 lbs.)
___Beans, Green $3.25/lb. (25 lbs.)
___Beets, Chioggia @ $2.95/lb (25 lbs.)
___Blueberries @ $8.25/8 oz. pkg. (12 count)
___Cabbage, napa $1.75/lb (35 lbs.)
___Cauliflower @ $4.95/each (12 count)
___Cherries @ $10/lb (18 lbs.)
___Croutons, seasoned @ $3.75/4.5oz. bag (12 count)
___Cucumbers @ $3.50/lb (20 lbs.)
___Escarole @ $2.25/each (24 count)
___Grapes, Red Flame Seedless @ $3.25/lb (18 lbs.)
___Lemons @ $3.25/lb (38 lbs.)
___Limes @ $4.25/lb (10 lbs)
___Mangoes @ $1.95/each (10 count)
___Melons, Cantaloupe @ $1.50/lb (9 count)
___Melons, Honeydew @ $1.85/lb. (20 lbs.)
___Mushrooms, Crimini @ $4.75/lb (5 lbs.)
___Mushrooms, Portabella @ $5.95/lb (5 lbs.)
___Mushrooms, Shiitake @ $13.75/lb (3 lbs)
___Mushrooms, Maiitake @ $17.50/lb
___Onions,sweet Wall-walla $1.95/lb (50 lbs.)
___Oranges, Mandarin $2.95/lb (25 lbs.)
___Parsley, Italian flat leaf $2.25/bunch (24 count)
___Peas, sugar snap (MA grown) $7.50/lb (10 lbs.)
___Peaches @ $3.75/lb (18 lbs.)
___Peaches, White @ $3.75/lb. (18 lbs.)
___Peas, snow (MA grown) $6.50/lb (10 lbs.)
___Peppers, Green bell @ $3.50/lb (11 lbs.)
___Peppers, Red bell @ $5.50/lb (25 lbs.)
___Peppers, Yellow bell @ $5.95/lb. (11 lbs.)
___Pineapples, Gold $5.50/each averaging 3-4 lbs. (6 count)
___Radishes, Watermelon @ $5.95/lb (10 lbs.)
___Squash, yellow zephyr @ $2.50/lb (20 lbs.)
___Tomatoes, hothouse @ $3.95/lb (11 lbs.)
___Watermelon $1.50/lb (8 count)


Sweet Sage Bakery by Kathy Duffy

___Baguette @ $2.50
___Morning glory muffins @ $1.75 (ALL MUFFINS ARE NOW $1.75/each)
___Challah @ $4
___Rustica @ $4 (no yeast)
___San Francisco sourdough @ $4 (no yeast)
___Three seed @$4 (no yeast/whole wheat flour)
___Norwegian farm loaf @$4 (no yeast/whole wheat flour)
___Rosemary walnut @ $4 (no yeast/w/whole wheat flour)
___Squaw (Molasses and oat) @ $4 (no yeast/whole wheat flour)
___Stromboli @ $4; roasted vegetables(peppers, onions, garlic, zucchini, eggplant with mozzarella cheese,
___Foccacia @ $4: greens tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette with mushrooms, roasted peppers and asiago cheese

Chapel Hill Muffin Company by Kathie Magzag

Kathie offers delicious heart-healthy Magic Muffins loaded with beneficial bran and Omega 3 fatty acids. Ingredients include: Oat bran, organic all-purpose flour, organic flax seed meal, wheat bran, oranges, brown sugar, eggs, buttermilk, golden raisins (optional), canola oil.

___Magic Muffins 6 @ $7 (in a clamshell)
___Orange/cranberry muffins 6 @$7


04 July 2007

Did Mayor Lobby Too Hard For His City Pension In Legislative "Rat"?

From the New Britain Democrat e-letter 4 July 2007

An amendment to give Mayor Timothy Stewart higher pension benefits for his employment as a New Britain firefighter failed in the waning days of the 2007 state Legislature despite Stewart's personal lobbying of city lawmakers for its passage.

The amendment filed by State Rep. Sean Williams (R-68) was contained in a bill "updating the social security retirement age to reflect federal changes and concerning a retirement annuity program for municipal employees."

The original bill was enacted as Public Act 07-211 without the provision that would have directly benefited Mayor Stewart The amendment in question is commonly referred to as a "rat" by legislators and lobbyists because the intent is usually to benefit one particular person or a small number of people without benefit of legislative hearings or fiscal oversight. Such obscure measures are often embedded in legislation with a broader purpose as was the case with the bill that became Public Act 07-211.

The late-filed pension language, which initially passed the House but ultimately failed in the Senate, stated that "any member of the municipal employees' retirement system or any other municipal pension system elected to serve as an official of the state or any political subdivision of the state during the 1988 calendar year or thereafter may elect, during the time he so serves, but no longer than ten years, to continue his membership in said system." The wording was specifically written to enable Stewart to claim fuller pension rights from the Fire Department for his 18 years of service. The Mayor does qualify for a pension, but could attain a much more lucrative deal if given more time in the system. He is currently on leave from his Fire Department position and serving his second term as Mayor. A more favorable and fast-tracked pension deal has been a goal of Stewart for several years, dating back to the time he worked in the Fire Department.

The pension flap emerged last week after Democratic Town Chair John McNamara contended Stewart should have pushed harder for municipal aid and higher levels of Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) from the Governor. McNamara asserted that if Stewart found time to make a strong push for his pension, he should have pushed just as vigorously for a more equitable local aid package with the Governor.

In a June 29th news story Stewart denied he sought any consideration for a bigger pension through the late-filed bill and called Democrats "liars" for saying he did.

New Britain legislators Senator Don DeFronzo, Rep. Tim O'Brien, Rep. John Geragosian and Rep. Peter Tercyak, issued a statement on July 3nd , however, saying Stewart "did use political influence in an effort to increase his own city pension benefits. Stewart clearly stated, to Rep. Tim O'Brien, that he had asked Rep. Williams, a close ally and friend, to introduce the legislation on his behalf. Mayor Stewart's comments to O'Brien were made during a trip by Mayor Stewart to the State Capitol, on June 5, 2007, the day that the legislation to provide him with the special pension benefit was considered in the State Senate."

Prior to final action on the pension amendment in the House, the legislators' statement said that "Mayor Stewart stated, to both Rep. O'Brien and Sen. Donald DeFronzo, that he, Mayor Stewart, would cause working conditions for New Britain city fire fighters to be made worse as a result of the legislature rejecting the special pension legislation that benefited Stewart personally."

McNamara reiterated his statement that the Mayor should have pushed harder for local aid to reduce the property tax burden and more support for schools with the Governor and other members of his party at the end of the legislative session. "I don't begrudge him a fair pension and I would even support his service in office as counting for something. But he should pursue that matter openly and cooperatively and in accordance with the rules, not through back-door legislation and intimidation."

10 June 2007

A New Britain Biker Fights Global Warming

Merrill Gay of New Britain is nearing the end of a month without driving an automobile. It may not be that unusual for an individual who lives a short, pleasant walk from home to workplace in the Walnut Hill Park area of New Britain. But Gay, 46, is a busy father of young children who works as executive director of the New Britain Discovery Collaborative that engages the community in creating quality early childhood education. Given his activism and schedule, I'd say he needs a car in a city and state with a very sparse public transit system.

Between May 15th and June 15th, however, Merrill Gay has been "triking" through the streets of New Britain and beyond in a recumbent bike with a fiberglass frame that looks very much like a winning soap box derby entry. Gay is part of a "car free" challenge whose participants are sending a personal message on the over use of the automobile and the environmental benefits to be had if we reduce auto emissions.

To start his last week without gasoline-powered wheels Merrill triked to a meeting in Hartford. "This is now the 3rd trip into the capitol city," Gay wrote on his blog (www.nbtriker.org). "So I've perfected the route and shaved about 10 minutes off the trip. That's probably due mostly to having lost a couple pounds and gotten into better shape with daily riding. As of the end of the ride today my mileage for the challenge is 253 miles so far."

When he's asked why he's making this mostly personal effort for a greener earth, Gay has a ready answer: "It doesn't seem like a day goes by that I don't hear or read another story about global warming and its effects. I wonder what kind of mess we're leaving for our kids. As I ride I see that most cars on the road have one person in them and I've read that 40% of car trips are just a few miles long. So in a way I'm trying to prove to folks who see me that it can be different. It is possible to do most of what we use a car for by human power." And besides, he says, "I'm having a blast."

Not all of us need to follow Merrill Gay onto the streets with a recumbent bike to strike a blow for the environment. Some of us might take a bus to work if limited transit routes and schedules allow. We could walk down to the local drug store for a prescription instead of driving a couple of blocks using less gas and burning more calories. We could engage neighbors and family members in ways to car pool to work, events or other activities to which we mindlessly drive alone to the same place.

The point is that Merrill Gay is being a good citizen, showing us in a fun and interesting way that we need to heed the warnings and act personally and politically to reverse global warming and preserve mother earth for the next generation.

13 May 2007

Blight At East And Kelsey: Sad End For Former Parochial High School Building

Alumni and friends of New Britain's St. Thomas Aquinas high school will gather for a reunion on May 19th at New Britain Stadium. The pre-game picnic is a fundraiser for a Noah's Ark of Hope, a Meriden playground named for a child of an Aquinas alumna.

Participants will bring many good memories of the hallways, classrooms and gymnasium of the parochial school at East and Kelsey streets.

But memories are all that is left now because the century-old school house attached to an addition and gymnasium built during the school's 1960s heydays is an eyesore. Over the last year the building's deterioration has accelerated. Its hulking presence hurts property values and the neighorhood's quality of life.

A Herald story by Francine Maglione last January described just how bad things have gotten at the former parochial high school site:

The St. Thomas Aquinas school, which closed in the 1990s, remains abandoned and somewhat open for vagrants or even school children to enter and wander around. Though many of the doors are boarded up, a few of them are open and easily accessible. Inside the building, broken glass and garbage litters the floor, and books and furniture are scattered about. Graffiti covers the walls outside as well as walls and chalkboards inside the classrooms. Next to the school in the former nun's quarters, boxes of old financial records still sit in the hallways and canceled checks lay all over the floor. The school building is currently for sale and remains boarded up.

The situation finally prompted the city Building Department to condemn the property, posting signs that the structure is a public safety hazard. Aquinas'deterioration is a main topic of concern for members of the East Side NRZ which regularly meets with city officials about blight and other issues.

For a time following the close of the parochial school there was talk the facility could have been turned over to the public schools -- giving the city an adaptable place to add classrooms for once and future needs. It would have been appropriate for the Archdiocese of Hartford to turn the parcel back to the city, having obtained it for $1 when the municipality could afford to give that kind of space away. Instead, the building housed a now defunct charter school and became a source of income for the church. Eventually the Aquinas property was sold off to an absentee realty interest. The result -- so common in urban properties acquired for speculation -- has been a quick decline into blight for the once proud secondary school whose graduates include city leaders such as State Senator Don DeFronzo and State Rep. John Geragosian.

The Aquinas property demonstrates the limits city government faces in dealing with abandoned, absentee-owned buildings. The federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program has guaranteed funds to New Britain for a generation now. CDBG, which emerged in the 1970s, is supposed to address blight issues with funds for the acquisition of property and the rehabilitation of residential and non-residential buildings. Through the years federal appropriations have precipitously declined, however. According to an estimate by the Northeast-Midwest Coalition federal money for CDBG dropped 51% from 1981 to 2006. Twenty five years ago New Britain possessed more than double the CDBG funds it has today -- less than $2 million. When inflation is taken into account the city has no more than a third of the resources it once had to address blight and community development issues. Of CDBG dollars currently available, much of current funding is dispersed to human and social service agencies because the federal and state pipeline for their services has been cut to the bone as well.

Despite the absence of federal dollars for interventions and no apparent bidders to purchase the property from out of state owners, the city needs to adopt a more aggressive approach to revitalize the Aquinas parcel. It's too large a piece of property and too important a space on the East Side to ignore on the list of abandoned buildings in New Britain.

What should be done?

Talks should open or re-open with the owner on marketing and finding a re-use of the property.

The feasibility of tearing down the facility should be explored. Its age and deterioration would seem to make rehabilitation and costs such as asbestos removal prohibitive at this juncture. An open parcel would accelerate the process of restoration and identifying a good use of the land.

The city on its own should contact developers interested in moderate income housing or similar appropriate uses (There have been no shortage of them inquiring about the Pinnacle Heights public housing site).

Officials should pursue any opportunities for competitive community development grant funding, including a University partnership program from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that could involve Central CT State University's construction studies programs.

(Photo courtesy of East Side Community Action)

26 April 2007

'06 Postscript: Lamont Still A Voice To Challenge Conventional Wisdom

Ned Lamont, returning to New Britain for the first time since his U.S. Senate campaign last year, addressed a packed room of students and faculty at CCSU’s Marcus White Hall on April 26th.

Invited by History and Philosophy faculty to speak on “Challenging the Conventional Wisdom”, Lamont recounted how he decided to run against incumbent Joe Lieberman after failing to persuade more seasoned politicians to take on an 18-year incumbent who had become increasingly aloof from rank and file CT Democrats. The turning point, Lamont said as he did often on the campaign trail, was Lieberman’s late 2005 admonition: “It’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he’ll be commander in chief for three more years. We undermine the president’s credibility at our own peril.” When he heard those words, Ned Lamont knew he could not abide “George Bush’s favorite Democrat” any more. Having held just a town office in Greenwich, the upstart Lamont decided he would have to give the Democratic Party the much needed debate over the U.S. course in Iraq it yearned for. As the campaign moved from winter to spring in 2006, Lamont found that Lieberman’s increasing estrangement from the people who put him in the Senate back in 1988 was real and growing.

Appearing at ease and reflective during his CCSU appearance, Lamont said his overtures about a Lieberman challenge were dismissed out of hand by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Lamont’s assertions that Lieberman was undermining other Democrats and walking lockstep with the GOP fell on deaf ears within the party hierarchy at the state and national level.

The Greenwich Democrat, who is a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government this semester with former Cong. Nancy Johnson (R-New Britain), credited the internet bloggers for fueling what became a grassroots movement that led to his improbable victory in the August 8th Democratic Primary.

Lamont’s primary win, many have since contended, gave Democrats a spine and the gumption to forcefully take on the Bush administration over Iraq. It certainly spawned an unprecedented upsurge in voter registrations in favor of the Democrats. Arguably, the Lamont general election campaign gave Joe Courtney his razor-thin win in the 2nd Congressional District and helped propel Chris Murphy’s overwhelming win in the 5th Congressional District. With Lieberman as the Democratic nominee the Democratic message and the important contrasts to be made between Democrats and Republicans would have been blurred considerably.

In the general election Lamont conceded he may have been hurt by Lieberman’s emphasis on “experience”, and the incumbent’s hammering home the message of “bringing home the bacon.” Lamont said his campaign sought to counter Lieberman with his own experiences in building a business and challenging the go-along and get-along atmosphere of Washington, which was not being particularly responsive to the state’s problems in transportation, job dislocation and health coverage.

The decisive factor in the General Election, Lamont reminded an appreciative audience at CCSU, was the failure of the Republican nominee, Alan Schlesinger, to break over single digits as a percentage of the final vote. From July onward last year the Republican Party abandoned its nominee to line up behind “George Bush’s favorite Democrat”, a development that gave Lieberman the barely 50% he needed to win another term.

Last November a New Britain Democrat commentary assessed the impact of Lamont’s candidacy immediately after the votes were counted:

“Ned Lamont lost the electoral battle last Tuesday but his upstart candidacy and winning of the Democratic nomination helped start a movement within the Democratic Party that may win the peace in Iraq sooner rather than later and helped define the 2006 election in favor of Democrats. The ouster of Donald Rumsfeld last Wednesday was a sign that policy change is coming fast. The entry of grown ups (the Baker/Hamilton Iraq study group) into the Oval office are the beginning of the end of the Cheney/Lieberman policy of neoconservatism and intransigence. In Connecticut, Lamont, calling out Lieberman on his many accommodations with the GOP Administration, has inspired thousands of people to become involved, including newcomers to the New Britain Democratic Town Committee, who will stay involved for future elections.”

Ned Lamont, speaking as if he yearned to be on the stump campaigning again, ended his 30-minute talk by challenging his mostly young audience to take on conventional wisdom themselves. He let it be known that there will be no “woulda, coulda or shoulda” for him when he looks back on 2006. By choosing to challenge an incumbent U.S. Senator who thought he could ignore his base, Lamont used his own considerable resources to lead a grassroots movement that contributed to a change of power in Congress and inspired thousands of people to become involved in the political process. And his talk at the CCSU campus showed that he's not done rocking the boat nor being a prominent voice in the Democratic Party.

22 April 2007

Murphy Reports On War Without End At First New Britain Forum

Cong. Chris Murphy (D-CT 5), just returned from a visit to Iraq and Afghanistan with a six-member Congressional Delegation (CODEL) led by Cong. Steve Lynch (D-MA 9), provided a sobering assessment of U.S.. intervention in both countries at a Slade Middle School forum on Saturday, April 21st.

Standing beside posters showing the growing costs of the war and an escalating insurgency, Murphy said the “life changing” trip reinforced his position in favor of a clear Iraq exit strategy now contained in legislation adopted by both the House and Senate.

Bush and the Congress are now at odds over the "Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health and Iraq Accountability Act" that sets a July 1 deadline for meeting benchmarks. If benchmarks are not met, redeployment of U.S. troops would begin within 180 days. Bush vows a veto over the timetable and falsely accuses Democrats of not supporting the troops.

Murphy confessed to a rookie congressman's awe about being part of the congressional fact-finding trip. But his command of the facts and analysis made for a compelling case against Bush and Cheney's intransigence.

Iraq and Afghanistan pose two very different challenges, according to Murphy. The fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan is difficult. Unlike Iraq, sectarian violence is not rampant and the country possesses a greater sense of nationalism. Murphy, however, worries that the U.S. may be "under-committed" in Afghanistan where post 9/11 efforts to thwart terrorism began.

In Iraq, Murphy and his colleagues held a meeting with General David Petraeus at which the U.S. military leader candidly told lawmakers that he could not say whether the latest “troop surge” was working or would work at all. Murphy said President Bush, who met with him and CODEL members in the Oval Office following the trip, remains “unreformed” and as obstinate as ever about his war without end.

Murphy pointedly added that those who think the U.S. can now easily extract itself from the quagmire are only fooling themselves.

There was an unspoken frustration at this first Congressional forum held by Murphy in New Britain. One woman, who jeopardized her nursing education to protest the Vietnam War, said the protests a generation ago had more of an impact than the protests of today. Others pointed to the Draft and Selective Service in the 1960s that made the war toll more of a shared sacrifice and led to a more potent anti-war effort. Cong. Murphy noted that this war involves sacrifice only among the soldiers and families who are facing multiple tours of duty. He put the number of troops who have been back more than once at 170,000. Those tours are stretching Guard forces and regular troops to the limit, but are necessary to patrol the streets of Baghdad and do for the Iraqis what they are unable to do for themselves.

Much on the minds of the New Britain audience was the neglect in the delivery of services for returning veterans. Murphy, noting the well publicized deficiencies in outpatient care at military hospitals, said that it takes a minimum of 18 months for returning soldiers to obtain veteran’s benefits and services. It shouldn't take that long, he said, pointing out that Congress' reauthorizing bill for Iraq and Afghanistan (HR 1591) includes an additional $1.5 billion for veterans.

The Bush Administration may be penny pinchers for veterans but they have been most generous to some of their friends. Among Murphy's "costs of the war" is $10 billion which is "the amount of Iraq reconstruction funds currently unaccounted for." Among the companies receiving war profits has been Dick Cheney's Halliburton. Halliburton's engineering subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root, was awarded $7 billion in no-bid contracts early in the "Iraqi Freedom" campaign, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Murphy, a member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, indicated that Congress is uncovering "layers of contracting upon contracting" wherein no-bid contractors are skimming funds and sub-contracting actual work for Iraq projects to others.

House-approved legislation (HR 1362)known as the "Accountability In Contracting Act" would change federal acquisition law to end these "abuse-prone" contracts that have proliferated in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is opposed by the Bush administration but has gained new momentum with the takeover of Congress by the Democrats. Ironically, the measure has now gone to the Homeland Security Committee chaired by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut for further action in the Senate.

Having gained firsthand knowledge of the Iraqi situation, Cong Murphy goes back to Capitol Hill to press for enactment of an Iraq policy that does not depend on an unending presence of U.S. troops. It is doubtful, however, that he and Democrats in Washington can succeed in the short term so long as Bush has enough allies in the Congress to maintain a status quo that fuels the insurgency, drains our resources and makes us no safer. Murphy and the Democratic majority now need Republicans to stand up to Bush and Cheney to change direction in Iraq before the President's term ends.

04 April 2007

39 Years Ago Today

I remember exactly where I was on April 4, 1968. Thirty nine years ago today the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis.

That week day, like many others in my senior year in high school, I drove to Bradlee’s Department store on the Lynnway in Lynn, MA to punch in for the evening shift earning some money before entering Boston University in the fall.

The news spread quickly that Thursday evening that King was dead. It didn’t take long to realize that my shift as a retail clerk would be different from all the others. The store quickly emptied out. Not a customer in sight all night. No need for Mr. Silverman, the shaken and somber store manager, to send me out on outside carriage control. The bullets in Memphis were enough to bring a normal business day to a halt in Lynn and most of the nation. Just five short years before I had come home from junior high on a late summer day to watch King deliver his “I Have A Dream” speech – an event that would inspire so many of us to become active in politics and protest.

There are many good remembrances of what King said and stood for on his national holiday In January every year, but not so much is being said on this anniversary of the day he died. It's worth remembering on April 4th and throughout the year why King was in Memphis on a day I will never forget.

By 1968, Rev. King was widening the concerns of his movement. In Where Do We Go From Here? King opposed a Vietnam policy that had begun to break the nation further apart. The lunchroom sit-ins and battles over accommodations and voting rights were giving way to a broader agenda. He was planning a new march on Washington – “the Poor People’s Campaign” -- when he decided to take up the cause of 1,300 Black sanitation workers in Memphis, a city of southern segregation, where the white power structure opposed the right to unionize and the Mayor vowed never to bargain in good faith in a way that would give the sanitation workers their dignity. The strike and a citywide economic boycott were a cause King knew he could not ignore.

King’s prophetic “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech on the eve of the assassination is his best known from Memphis. But two weeks earlier, on March 18th, King galvanized support for strikers by saying: “So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs…..One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive.” Following King’s assassination, the Memphis power structure gave up its intransigence – recognizing the union, awarding pay raises and instituting merit promotions.

King’s campaign for striking sanitation workers reaffirmed his greatness at the hour of his death and resonates today in the cause of social and economic justice. That is worth remembering most from the day he died.

Adapted from New Britain Democrat e-letter 15 January 2006

25 March 2007

Taking A Step Toward Medicare-For-All

A plan being pushed by State Senate leaders calls for immediate action that would provide health insurance coverage to 140,000 state residents, 40% of the 350,000 individuals in the state who are uninsured.

State Senate President Donald Williams (D-Brooklyn) presented his proposal to reform the health insurance system at a crowded meeting room of the Community Health Center on Thursday, March 22nd. Speaking next to a wall-size sign “Health Care Is a Right, Not a Privilege…” at the 35-year-old community-based clinic, Williams put the price of health care in Connecticut at $22 billion. He described the system as rife with inefficiencies as it denies more than 10% of residents access and under insures many others, especially the working poor.

Williams, who has represented his eastern Connecticut district since 1993 and is serving a third term as Senate President, offered a sober assessment of the challenges reformers face in moving toward universal coverage. He observed that federal action won’t come any time soon despite current legislation in the Congress and the tilting of the U.S. House to a Democratic majority.

Through the “Healthfirst Connecticut” initiative the Senate Democrats seek to move incrementally toward a single-payer “Medicare for All” plan modeled after the federal Medicare law adopted in 1965 that has brought a measure of health security to senior citizens ever since.

Governor Rell has introduced a counter proposal that promises universal coverage but does not involve any significant state investment. The Charter Oak Plan would be fee-based and would involve private insurers selling low-cost coverage to the uninsured. Critics, including Williams, say reducing Connecticut’s uninsured will require more money and a more comprehensive approach to reforming the system. The Rell “universal” health plan would reduce the number of uninsured, but by much less than the immediate actions proposed by Senator Williams.

Introduced by State Senator Don DeFronzo (D-New Britain, Williams called for the passage of 2007 legislation that will reduce the coverage gap. The forum included personal testimony on a video brought by Williams and by audience members on the difficulties of navigating the current system and being denied treatment.

The Healthfirst initiative would use existing federal and state insurance programs to provide health insurance to 140,000 persons. The proposal would expand the Connecticut HUSKY insurance program and increase income limits for eligibility under the public Medicaid and SAGA (public assistance) programs. A key component would raise the age of coverage for dependent children from 19 to 26. This would extend coverage to young adults starting out in a first job. More than 40% of Connecticut’s uninsured are between 19 and 34 years old. The plan would increase the income limit for a family of two from $19,800 to $24,420 as a means of extending HUSKY-A coverage. A combination of raising income limits and increasing Medicaid rates for providers would create more access immediately, according to Williams who put the cost of the program at $450 million, 50% of which would be funded by federal reimbursements.

"Right now, we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on direct care for the uninsured who, under the current system, end up treated in the emergency room when the problem is the most chronic and the solution is the most expensive. That has to change," Sen. Williams said. "Making an investment to keep the population--and the workforce--healthy is good for the economy. And it is the right thing for society to do."

To attain Medicare-for-all, Williams wants the state to “convene a health care panel to examine and evaluate policy alternatives that would consider “a statewide single-payer health care system.” These long-term strategies, said the Senate President, would be the basis for a universal health care program in Connecticut.

Juan Figueroa, President of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, has praised the plan Williams shared with his New Britain audience last week, saying “the goal to create a ‘Medicare-for-all type’ health care system in Connecticut recognizes the need for aggressive reform measure that address the many pressing and complex issues facing the beleaguered health care system.” Figueroa similarly thanked the Rell administration for joining the debate but was much less enthusiastic about the GOP's fee for service initiative.

The nonprofit foundation advocates that any new health care policy be measured against five principles established by the national Institute of Medicine. According to the Institute, universal health coverage must: include everyone; is continuous and portable; is affordable to individuals especially those with limited incomes; is affordable and sustainable to society, and; enhances health and well-being.

Figueroa, whose organization puts the number of Connecticut uninsured at more than 400,000 persons has urged Williams to “move forward with all deliberate speed” by convening the panel on new strategies and reporting findings and recommendations by May prior to adjournment of the Legislature this year.

07 March 2007

The Little Team That Could: CCSU's Blue Devils

Over the holiday semester break (December 28) I walked over to Central Connecticut State University's Detrick gymnasium from my Belvidere home to watch the Central men play Vermont in a non-conference game. The team had a sub .500 record at the time and I was amazed to count only seven players in uniform. I wondered how a basketball team so depleted would survive the season in the Northeast Conference.

The undermanned Blue Devils showed promise early in the game against their America East opponent. They pushed the ball hard off missed shots; their team play, sure-handed passing and constant team motion evoking my memories of the old and great Celtics of another era. But they were shorthanded even more than usual that night and fell to Vermont and its 15-man roster, 55-48. Little did I know that the flashes of good play I saw in a loss, dropping Central to 3-9, would be a harbinger of things to come.

On March 7, the Central men gained their third trip to the NCAA tournament since 2000. Overcoming a second half deficit of 10 points, the Blue Devils defeated Sacred Heart University in dramatic fashion. Guard Xavier Mojica (Auburn, MA, Auburn HS),the league MVP, confidently drilled a a three pointer and Forward Jemino Sobers (Scarborough, Ontario, Mother Teresa) delivered a baseline jumper to catch and pass Sacred Heart as the clock wound down for victory.

CCSU's journey toward March Madness is an improbable story of determination by a team frequently undermanned and often smaller in size than many of their opponents; a team that played through injuries and pain. From that 3-9 start in December, they finished the regular season 22-11 overall and 16-2 in their conference.

In many ways this relentless squad is a reflection of their coach, Howie Dickenman. Dickenman's basketball resume begins as a standout player for CCSU, coming to the New Britain School from Norwich Free Academy where he was coached by his father. In workmanlike fashion, he was a New Britain High assistant and gradually earned his way up the coaching ladder. There was two years as coach of Greater Hartford Community College (now Capital Community College). Assistant's jobs would follow at CCSU under longtime coach Bill Detrick and Canisius College. For 10 years Dickenman was an assistant and top recruiter at the University of Connecticut helping to build the Huskies to national prominence with Jim Calhoun.

Eleven years ago Dickenman returned to his basketball home where he has led his team to a third trip to the Division I "dance". Dickenman's passion can't be missed at any game. He relentlessly paces the sideline and his shouts can be heard across the gym. His raspy voice shows that the season takes a heavy toll on his vocal chords. The yells rarely if ever are directed at referees over a bad call. He probably couldn't stand being thrown out of a game and miss a minute of the action. Instead, his court side manner exhorts his players to excel and they usually respond to their tough but caring coach.

The Blue Devils have earned their spot in the NCAA tournament through perseverance and hard work and what one commentator called their "old school coach."

They have gained the admiration of the community and state where they play. Now, it's on to face a Division I elite team in the first round in the familiar role of the out sized and undermanned upstart. Whoever they play, however, had better be ready for this hardscrabble and unselfish group from New Britain, Connecticut.

19 February 2007

Lieberman Is Right: Iraq Bringing On Constitutional Fight Over War Powers

New Britain area citizens will have an opportunity to express their views on U.S.-Iraq policy on Saturday, February 24th from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at South Church, 90 Main Street, New Britain, as part of a statewide network of meetings organized by Connecticut Opposes the War. In the following post, NB Politicus says it's time for Congress to go beyond nonbinding resolutions and to invoke all the provisions of the War Powers Act of 1973.

To most of his constituents Senator Joe Lieberman was wrong to join 34 other senators in blocking debate on a U.S. Senate resolution opposing the Bush Administration's troop surge in Iraq. Lieberman, John McCain and slightly more than one-third of the 100-member senate succeeded in cutting off debate on a nonbinding action that, if allowed, would have been a bipartisan vote of no confidence in Bush.

Lieberman, however, was probably right about one thing during the rare weekend Senate session. The Iraq quagmire could trigger a constitutional crisis between the executive and legislative branches that was raised 34 years ago when Congress enacted the War Powers Act of 1973.

"Whatever our opinion of this war or its conduct," Lieberman said during the floor debate, "it is in no one's interest to stumble into a debilitating confrontation between our two great branches of government over war powers. The potential for a constitutional crisis here and now is real, with congressional interventions, presidential vetoes, and Supreme Court decisions. If there was ever a moment for nonpartisan cooperation to agree on a process that will respect both our personal opinions about this war and our nation's interests over the long term, this is it."

Lieberman's view that Iraq may cause a fight over separation of powers not seen since Vietnam may be true. But his call for "nonpartisan cooperation" is another subterfuge for everyone to fall in lock step behind an administration whose actions now require maximum Congressional oversight. In acting as the "nonpartisan" cheerleader for new military escalation Lieberman said the Senate and House should not be "micro-managing" military interventions that are better left to the executive.

Lieberman's effort to head off Congressional oversight notwithstanding, the 2002 joint resolution by Congress authorizing U.S. military action in Iraq has lost its relevance, having been predicated on "weapons of mass destruction" and intelligence proven to be false or "cooked" to suit the whims of the administration. This authorization to invade Iraq and described by the White House as "consistent" with the War Powers Act led to the beginning of hostilities in March 2003 and the continuing occupation by U.S. forces amid sectarian violence and civil war.

The War Powers Act (P.L. 93-148), enacted over a presidential veto by Richard M. Nixon in 1973, provides a statutory basis for the Democratic majorities in Congress to change course in Iraq. The nonbinding resolutions just considered in the Senate and House were the beginning, not the end of the debate. While Bush,Cheney and Lieberman will argue that presidential power trumps the law, lawmakers will be able to cite Section 3 of the War Powers Act which requires that the "President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing" U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities.

The "constitutional crisis" cited by Lieberman won't stem from the "congressional interventions" that he fears, but by the recalcitrance and unilateral behavior of a White House resistant to change and indifferent to the will of the people.

The War Powers Act, crafted by Senator Frank Church of Idaho and other Vietnam era senators to curb unchecked presidential power over Vietnam, has been sustained through the years and its provisions need to be enforced to reverse the current Iraq policy. In a 2004 Congressional Research Service (CRS) analysis of the War Powers Act, Richard F.Grimmett, described the War Powers Act and its relevance to the Iraq situation:

According to the legislation, "the constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities" was recognized on the condition of (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces."

The executive branch has contended that the President has much broader authority to use forces, including for such purposes as to rescue American citizens abroad, rescue foreign nationals where such action facilitates the rescue of U.S. citizens, protect U.S. Embassies and legations, suppress civil insurrection, implement the terms of an armistice or cease-fire involving the United States, and carry out the terms of security commitments contained in treaties. The central element of P.L. 107-243 [Iraq authorization] is the authorization for the President to use the armed forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.

More than four years after the Congress authorized military action against Iraq, "the continuing threat posed by Iraq" rings hollow.

Congress must now assert its role under the War Powers Act to change course and end a quagmire that has been one of the most costly in lives and public dollars in American history.