29 December 2010

Off Year For State Pols Is All of A Sudden On in New Britain

The odd number years are off years for state politicians as new legislative terms begin and - in 2011-  a new Governor takes office.

That will not be the case in New Britain in the early weeks of 2011 as the new Governor has summoned the state senator for a commissionership and the Legislature has selected the 25th State Rep for Democratic State Auditor.

A short time after March 1 the familiar names of DeFronzo and Geragosian will be gone from the New Britain state House delegation. State Rep. Tim O'Brien (D-24) will be the senior member and incoming Human Services Chair  Rep. Peter Tercyak (D-26) the only veteran of past legislatures left. State Rep. Betty Boukus (D-22), who represents a sliver of the city in District 15, will also remain to represent New Britain voters.  While it may seem longer for the current crop of NB legislators, these kinds of State House changes occurred here just eight years ago when incumbents stepped down and DeFronzo defeated Tom Bozek for the Senate seat.

What is different now is the new system of public financing.  Given a six-week election cycle the special elections here and elsewhere will again test the citizens' election program. Participating candidates will need to meet 75% of the donor and dollar requirements of a normal election cycle.  The candidates will need to be very good and very fast at securing the small dollar contributions to do the public financing.

On top of new faces in the Legislature the coming reapportionment will most certainly alter the borders for Legislative and local voting districts by 2012.  New Britain voters will be seeing a lot of changes in who represents them and where they live on the political map.

Related stories from Herald and CT Mirror



26 December 2010

DeFronzo's Assignment: An Agency Where "There Is Something For Everybody"

State Senator Don DeFronzo, an early supporter of Dan Malloy in the 2010 gubernatorial race, is heading for the state Department of Administrative Services (DAS). The agency DeFronzo will lead is generally not in the headlines but has evolved into an omnibus branch of the executive that is a key to how state government runs itself and does business with others.

Here is how the agency introduces itself:

DAS has statutory responsibilities and administrative authority in the areas of personnel recruitment, selection and workforce planning; fleet operations; state workers’ compensation administration; procurement of goods and services; collection of monies due the state; surplus property distribution; contractor prequalification and supplier diversity; consolidated human resources, payroll, fiscal and equal employment opportunity services for small agencies; as well as printing, mail and courier services for state government. 
In addition, we have proudly added to our agency the Claims Commission, the State Marshal Commission, the State Property Review Board, and the Insurance and Risk Management Board.  DAS is also a partner agency for Core-CT which is Connecticut state government's integrated financial, human resources and payroll system.  The services we provide cross state agencies, municipalities, vendors, colleges and universities, non-profit organizations and the public at large.  There is something here for everybody.
As if that isn't enough there are strong indications that Governor-elect Malloy may try to extend DAS' responsibilities and give DeFronzo an even bigger portfolio to manage in the Departments of Information Technology (DOIT) and  Public Works (DPW).  Such a consolidation would be up to legislative approval in the General Assembly.

At issue is whether a bigger DAS would bring the efficiencies and savings sought by the new administration as it seeks to spend less and deliver services.

29 November 2010

Take That Bristol: The Case For Buses Over Rail

Buses Are the Answer: Developing a vibrant bus network would cost peanuts, compared with high-speed rail options.

Trains will never
Leave the gate;
Buses seem
A wiser fate.
With all due respect to President Barack Obama and the $8 billion he's dishing out to the states for high-speed rail, it's too late.
Fast trains have been overtaken by gradual events. America has become too populous and too spread out to allow enough rights-of-way to be acquired ever again.
Unlike Europe and Japan, we didn't develop compact cities and towns. Instead, we sprawled them all over the countryside. OK, there's plenty of room to run new lines in Nebraska and Idaho, but try Illinois or Georgia. It won't work.
Still, the principle of getting travelers off planes is sound. Osama bin Laden has seen to that. Air travel has always been plagued with traffic congestion, mercurial fares, skyrocketing fees, baggage loss, bad weather, and mechanical glitches. Now there are unpredictable security lines as well. How many of us relish a plane trip anymore? Automatic check-in has helped, but not enough. What to do?
One alternative to shorter flights is, as I've argued before, the bus. Yes, the much maligned bus.
New bus systems have already captured the fancy of transit riders in Cleveland and the San Fernando Valley. Other burgeoning bus hotspots around the world include Beijing, Bogota, Brisbane, and Curitiba. Increasingly, these schemes are staving off additional subways wherever roads are wide enough to provide an exclusive lane.
But it's not just local ridership that's growing. Long-distance coach travel is swelling too. "Chinatown buses," for many years a cheap option for traveling between major Northeast Corridor destinations such as Boston, New York, and Washington, DC, have expanded to 30 cities, reviving the ghost of Greyhound past.
The Interstate Highway System laid the foundation for long-haul bus service during the Eisenhower administration. Most countries didn't have that kind of historic culture-altering, budget-busting initiative.
Back then, it was called the "Defense" Transportation Act, as was every other boondoggle of the day. It didn't do much to deter the Soviets but it sure was great for road builders and automakers.
As fate would have it, it could also now be great for buses. We just need a little additional subsidized infrastructure. So let's think what federal transportation subsidies could do if reallocated.
Since express buses can't creep into every city, they need a dedicated terminal out on the interstate for picking up, dropping off and transferring passengers to other routes. They also need local transit services in each city to meet the express and scoot its arrivals into town. For the system to really succeed, it requires nifty new vehicles with real rest rooms, TV, internet, snack bar, and an attendant to approximate existing train and plane rides. And unlike trains, we even have American companies that can still manufacture these buses.
Of course such a system would cost money. But the cost would be peanuts compared to new rail lines, expanded airports, or added highway lanes. Amtrak, for example, wants to spend $117 billion over the next 30-years on high-speed rail just on the East Coast.
And the benefits would be huge. Like trains, buses with their more frequent schedules and convenience could attract air travelers away from short air hops and draw drivers out of their cars for the longer hauls.
Nor would these buses have to speed to reach their destinations in a timely fashion. Highway speed limits are high enough. More important are the low fares, convenient schedules, comfort, reliable connections and easy access.
Sure, high-speed trains have advantages, especially over longer routes. But it's time for our nation to face reality. There's no money and no lobby for trains and 'they're not likely to appear.
Express buses are a far cheaper, better bet for getting large numbers of riders off those short-trip airplanes.
OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

from Other Words, formerly Minuteman Media: a project of the Institute for Policy Studies


Shared with permission under Creative Commons

24 November 2010

Mayor's Blame Game Makes Getting To Yes On Downtown Development Difficult

The Stewart Administration remains intent on branding City Council Democrats as naysayers over bonding and construction of a new police station at the corner of Main and Chestnut streets.

The Mayor's latest pronouncement reported in this Herald story over the timing of bonds for a police station  portrays the Council as getting in the way of financing the station that the Mayor  narrowly views as the linchpin for downtown revitalization.  The police department most certainly needs a new facility but making a public safety edifice the centerpiece of economic resurgence to the exclusion of other ideas has many residents and officials scratching their heads.

Majority Leader Phil Sherwood countered that the Council has given approvals to move forward with a new station every step of the way. When more than $30 million of public money is being put up, however, Sherwood and the Council would be shirking their responsibilities if they did not ask questions and do the oversight that is required of them.

More troubling in the Herald story is the assertion that an estimated project budget on how development funds will be expended by developers is not being shared nor has it been made public:
"During the last council meeting (Phil) Sherwood and (Michael) Trueworthy advocated for clarity on the details of the project and asked the mayor for a budget on the project. Stewart told council members the figures are projected and are public knowledge. Both aldermen said they have yet to see a budget on the police station but it is reportedly over budget. Both agree that the bonds are of a great benefit to the city." 
The way forward on downtown development is for the Mayor to engage the Council and the public in a  transparent way as planning and design proceed.  A big picture on downtown development that draws on the city's educational, business, health care and cultural assets, needs to emerge if real progress and development is to be achieved.

A continuing back and forth between the Mayor and Council gets in the way of getting to a good vision for the future of downtown. And Stewart's continual sniping, his latest statement on bonding included, is no help at all.

07 November 2010

Rep. O’Brien Opponent’s Negative Campaign Is Repudiated By Voters

The voters of Assembly District 24 covering parts of New Britain and Newington not only re-elected State Rep. Tim O’Brien last Tuesday by an overwhelming margin. They rejected a malicious campaign by Republican challenger Cris Carillo.
Carillo, a pawn in a GOP attack strategy, relied on mailers developed by New Britain-based CT Republicans that stamped the word “guilty” over O’Brien’s face for taking “our hard-earned money” accompanied by misleading statements on the state budget. It should be remembered that Carillo attacked O’Brien for not delivering enough state aid for New Britain while calling for major cuts in state spending. Though a novice he learned how to talk out of both sides in a hurry under the tutelage of the state and local GOP leaders who’ve made personal attack politics their stock in trade.
In a second mailer against O’Brien the face of convicted murderer Steven Hayes appears and asks: “Do you think O’Brien would still try to repeal the death penalty if his family or someone close to him was brutally victimized?” That appalling statement was due to O’Brien’s opposition to the death penalty, a position held by the Catholic Church, among others.
These vile messages, paid for by the taxpayers under the Citizens’ Election Program, got Mr. Carillo exactly 26% of the vote in New Britain. They also sullied young Mr. Carillo’s reputation and character in the minds of most voters who responded to O’Brien’s issue-based and positive campaign with a strong vote for his representation against a well-financed opponent.

This may be good time for some disinfectant to remove any leftover literature over at Republican State Central on Ellis Street.  (from www.newbritaindemocrat.org)

This mailer used by the campaign of Republican Cris Carillo in New Britain to attack State Rep. Tim O;Brien. The Republican State Central Committee, based in New Britain, used it as a template against other Democratic legislators around the state.

16 October 2010

Urban Oaks Farm Invites You To Harvest Moon Festival October 23

The 225 Oak Street farm -- recognized for heirloom herbs and organic crops -- invites you to its first Harvest Moon Festival on Saturday, October 23rd from noon to 8 pm.

The farm has turned the former Sandelli Florist property into a sustainable enterprise in the heart of the city, improving the neighborhood in the process.

Farmers' market with good food to eat and entertainment.  Admission is free.

09 October 2010

CT Capital Report polling: Science of push button survey has skeptics

No question political junkies can't get enough of polls in the run up to elections. In 2010, Connecticut is seeing an extraordinary amount of polling because of the high stakes U.S. Senate race and an open seat for Governor.

In addition to the well-established Quinnipiac Poll, national outfits such as Rasmussen are measuring voter sentiment in the Nutmeg state in a big way.  These have more than made up for the loss of the Courant/UCONN poll that was Connecticut's authoritative opinion survey for a long time.

Last week  the news and opinion aggregation site, CT Capitol Report, entered the handicapping for this year's "horse races" and immediately gave pundits more material to analyze and write about. We can all take heart that the polling is home grown from www.merrimanriver.com.  But do we need more info on the horse races or journalistic attention focused on issues and how candidates are responding to them?

I was among the CT residents phoned by the CT Capitol's survey that called about the Governor's race, which the poll ultimately found to be a "dead heat."  This was a push-button poll wherein a recorded voice asked me a series of questions on my choice for governor and got the vitals on my political identity.  As I dutifully gave the answers of a liberal Democrat I wondered about the efficacy of a survey that did not involve a back and forth with another human being, just required whoever answered the phone to punch in answers if there was enough patience to stay on the line for five minutes or so.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza discusses the pros and cons of the CT Capitol Report survey methodology in this recent story from the Washington Post's "The Fix".

Cillizza suggests voters take CT Capitol Report's and other automated polls with a grain of salt:
In a standard telephone poll, the interviewer may seek to add another layer of randomness by asking to speak for a specific person in a household, such as whoever most recently celebrated a birthday. Automated polls do not attempt to do that. Establishment pollsters argue that by stripping a level of randomness from the polling process, auto-dial pollsters must more heavily weight their samples to achieve demographic diversity --- rendering the results almost meaningless.
The CT Capitol Report polling also told us that the 5th Congressional District is the most anti-Obama and trending Republican of any of CT's five districts. Too bad towns like New Britain and Meriden will skew these results.

It's kind of ironic that in the age of dying newspapers and diminished journalism voters--the online ones anyway -- may be getting Too Much Information (TMI) that focuses less on the issues and how candidates will address them.




GOP "Common Sense" Plan: Hypocrisy Thy Name Is Republican

A key phrase from a new state government agenda from Republicans is: "Borrow only what you can afford to pay back". Minority Leader Larry Cafero and the crafters of this "common sense" plan conveniently forget to mention that a Republican has held the Governor's office for 20 years. The Governor has sole and exclusive control over state borrowing. Blaming the Democratic majority for all state budget problems strains credulity.  The executive branch is a co-equal and some would argue more powerful branch when it comes to the public purse.

There is nary a word about changing the tax structure to ease the burden on the property tax to pay for education. That real reform would offend corporate special interests and the folks who have the long driveways in the tony towns of the Nutmeg state who don't want the tax burden made fairer. Working and middle class taxpaying families get no comfort or relief from the drivel in this platform.  Hypocrisy thy name is Republican.

Take a look yourself at www.commonsensecommitment.com

18 August 2010

An Over-Reliance On Police Station For Downtown Revival?

New Britain's Stalinesque and worn out police station cries out for a replacement. The men and women of the force deserve better to carry out their public safety duties.  The point is non-debatable. It's past time to put shovel to ground.

The matter is apparently settled according to an August 18  Herald story. The options are down to two and the site is locked into the corner of Chestnut and Main across from Trinity-on-Main performing arts center.  The Stewart administration, not exactly a paragon of inclusive discussion or citizen input, is moving full speed ahead.

Proponents of the final plans point to a development strategy that makes a fortress-like structure the catalyst to commercial, tax-paying expansion.  They point to Middletown and the siting of its station as an example of how a new public safety facility can be helpful to retail revival.

It's mandatory these days to use public investment for economic development. There is no firm private investment as of yet to fill non-police space either. And the possible bus way or rail link -- an important means of bringing downtown back -- are still years away. It's not surprising that city officials and downtown interests would want to press ahead now with building a station just to get development moving.

Voices have and will be raised, however, that giving the station such a dominant footprint on Main Street is not the last and best use. That's where retail/commercial/cultural uses may be more appropriate over the long term, according to comments made while the project was open for debate.  For some,  a third option -- which admittedly would take longer  -- is siting the police facility at the former Herald Building two doors down. It's close enough to Main Street's open lot but leaves prime space in the central business district for tax-producing development.  Inhabitants and visitors of downtown don't necessarily need a police building as much as a police presence to reassure the public and increase social and economic activity in the central business district.

The merits of building a new police station are unquestioned. What is in question is whether the Main Street model can spur private development with much of the primary space taken away. It's expecting too much. Other factors such as public transit, developing cultural assets and a much higher profile for CCSU downtown will have an equal or greater impact than the imposing police station model.

07 August 2010

MA communities get big time savings from health insurance pooling

Connecticut's efforts to establish a health insurance pooling option for cities and towns have been thwarted by the vetoes of Republican Governor Jodi Rell over the last two years.

House Speaker Chris Donovan has estimated that New Britain would save $900,000 or more if the city could opt in to a state health care pool, reducing the higher insurance premiums it now pays on its own.  Pooling, now in effect in close to 20 states, doesn't spend a dime of tax money but re-structures the system to reduce costs.

With a squeeze on municipal revenues expected to worsen in FY 2012, the fate of CT health care pooling will rest with who is elected Governor.  The Democrats in the race are for pooling. It's likely the GOP candidates will agree with Rell allowing the private market to escalate costs for local government, small businesses and taxpayers.

A new study reported in The Boston Globe finds that MA communities are reaping fiscal benefits of pooling in the Bay State.

Here's the link

14 communities save more than $30m in health costs - Melrose - Budget Blues - Boston.com

31 July 2010

U.S. Sets Poor Example With Too Much Money in Politics

Connecticut's relatively new public campaign system has run afoul of some courts and is causing no small amount of confusion in the run up to the August 10th Primary.

The July 13th circuit court ruling upheld some provisions and threw out others leading the General Assembly into special session on July 30th to fix it.

No matter how the new law settles into practice, the court has found a ban on lobbyists giving donations to candidates and committees is unconstitutional. The judges saved the Rowland-inspired change, however, by upholding the ban on contractors who do business with the state.   The only thing certain in this "money is the mother's milk of politics" saga is that the final judicial and legislative action on the Connecticut law may not be resolved in this election cycle.

Columnist and former Norwalk Mayor Bill Collins observes  in a recent column that giving the very wealthy, lobbyists and corporations unfettered influence in the process doesn't make the US a shining example of how democracy should work

We seem to feel that the American system is above reproach because that's essentially what we learned in school. But the rest of the world is not so easily deluded. There's widespread understanding that money rules Congress, both by promoting specific candidates and by fawning over them when they win. That's why a few enlightened lands have imposed strict contribution limits and much shorter campaigns. They view our experience with horror.
Here's a link to Bill's column. http://www.otherwords.org/articles/it_takes_too_much_money_to_run

19 June 2010

A Newspaper War in New Britain?

Two years ago New Britain was on the brink of losing its only daily newspaper, The New Britain Herald. The last days of print journalism in town appeared certain as the Courant steadily withdrew resources and the Herald's parent, the Journal Register Company, was getting ready to lock the doors at One Herald Square for good.

But the Herald and its sister paper, The Bristol Press,  soldier on with Publisher Michael Schroeder having retained and recruited experienced editors and reporters.  Schroeder is also contending with  keeping  the hometown dailies going commercially despite a bad economy and the tendency of many post-Baby Boomers to get their information from everything but newsprint. Not so easy but the investment continues.

Out of nowhere the revival of The Herald has been followed over the last nine months by not one but two free community weeklies that can be found side by side each week in shops, bars and other establishments around town.

Make no mistake.  These free papers don't represent a threat to the mainstream and commercial Herald that sells for 75 cents on the newstands and has an online edition. The freebies pursue advertising but appear to be no more than labors of love for now.

The Hardware City Journal (HCJ), launched last fall, has re-surfaced after a brief hiatus following the abrupt departure of the paper's editor, Robin Vinci. Vinci,  an even-handed journalist who covered Berlin for the Herald, bolted to start a new paper, The New Britain City Journal (NBCJ), that replicates much of what Vinci was doing at HCJ.  A May 12th Herald story took note of Vinci's exit from HCJ and plans for the City Journal.

With both now hitting the streets,  the June 18th issues of each free paper contain healthy doses of human interest and coverage of the budget woes and cuts on education from City Hall.  Neither paper betrays any editorial bent in favor or liberals or conservatives or Republicans and Democrats.  Not yet anyway.

The one difference appears to be that NBCJ  reveals more about who is behind the enterprise.  The Publisher is R2 Online Consignment with Vinci listed as the editor. The HCJ, while it has bylines with recognizable names (Editor: John O'Dell), says nothing about ownership or publisher and provides just  a P.O. box, phone number and e-mail in the editorial page box. The hand of Vinci in NBCJ shows a tighter and more professional approach than the HCJ, which inflates itself to 20  pages by including  almost a page of City Hall department number boilerplate on the inside and a full back page of Mayor Stewart's budget veto message (insults and all) and his accompanying press release about why it's necessary to spend more in the municipal budget but spend less for education than the Common Council plan.

There's no clear word on what caused a splintering of the people who are gamely trying to make free community newspapers work in New Britain. Nick Paonessa, a past Republican candidate for several offices and as strongly opinionated a conservative as you can meet in New Britain, was involved in the HCJ with Vinci. He's still about town delivering and talking up the HCJ, but still prefers to maintain the lowest of profiles, letting a staple of byliners take all the credit or responsibility for the Hardware City Journal.

Given the near death of the city's daily in January 2009, it sounds improbable that New Britain residents are on the reading end of three different sources  of community news in 2010. But that's what they'll get as they pick up that quart of milk or lottery ticket at the corner store or go to the neighborhood tavern every week.

Let's enjoy the competition while it lasts.

26 May 2010

New Britain Weekly Is Reborn As "City Journal"

An upstart weekly community newspaper -- started last fall as "The Hardware City Journal" -- has given way to a new newspaper with the same editor and same approach to covering the community. Editor Robin Vinci, a veteran of reporting for the Herald, has re-started the weekly with the name New Britain City Journal. nbcityjournal.com

In putting out the Hardware City Journal from October through May, Vinci developed a good mix of news and features and saw a growth in advertising.  Her efforts have probably made the New Britain Herald more attentive to community coverage and added good information given the limits of resources at the hometown daily. The Journal is a vehicle for community journalism to survive as mainstream dailies and media have taken big hits in covering what is local and often most important to citizens in a democracy.

New Britain residents should hope that the City Journal succeeds with a commitment to report the news and not create it, and to provide a balanced perspective on issues and city politics.

To reach the City Journal you can call 860-505-7612 or e-mail newbritaincityjournal@yahoo.com. The address is PO Box 2111, New Britain, CT 06050

20 May 2010

Health Care Advocate Lembo Makes Strong Case For Comptroller

Seasoned political observers will recall that the job of State Comptroller carried little weight in terms of governing a generation ago. At state elections it was the office used to balance a ticket based on diversity or geography.

For all of the time Connecticut has had a Constitution (and it is the "Constitution State") the office of Comptroller had been the backroom bean counter and, according to law, provided "accounting and financial services, to administer employee benefits, to develop accounting policy and exercise accounting oversight, and to prepare financial reports for state, federal and municipal governments and the public."

That started to change in 1991 when Democrat Bill Curry, a former state senator, got elected. Curry, an activist and policy wonk, who would become the gubernatorial nominee in 1994, raised the visibility of Comptroller considerably. Incumbent Nancy Wyman took up where Curry left off and has used the office to contribute to fiscal policy ideas, health care reform and the management of the state's finances. Under the Rell administration Wyman has emerged almost as a shadow governor delivering the sober news about state budget deficits and calling attention to the difficult choices Connecticut faces amid recession and dwindling tax bases.

Kevin Lembo, the state Health Care Advocate, is now running for state comptroller having abandoned an exploratory run for Lt. Governor when Nancy Wyman moved on to seek that office.

He gets my vote for the role he's played in helping residents deal with the health care system, especially the insidious practice of insurers denying coverage to people who thought they were insured. He may be the most experienced candidate in the race, having served as assistant State Comptroller for health insurance and implementing GAAP (You can ask your accountant what GAAP stands for). He co-chairs with Nancy Wyman the commission established under the Sustinet Plan to implement universal health care and as the state Comptroller would play a big rule in implementing such reforms as health care pools for local governments and small businesses (Pools = improved benefits at lower costs)

Meeting Kevin Lembo you can sense that this is an individual who believes in making real change in government at many levels. That, along with a hands-on progressive Governor, is what will be needed to, in Lembo's words, "reverse the years of neglect our state has suffered and regain the ground we've lost."

Lembo has my vote for continuing a more active and useful Comptroller's office and for what he will say and do about fiscal policy and management of state government. He'll make the bean counters in Hartford work in the best interests of citizens.

- John McNamara, Democratic Town Chair, New Britain

17 May 2010

Will City Avoid Layoffs To Frontline Education and Public Safety Jobs?

 From New Britain Democrat

The full weight of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression is falling on the city’s budget makers in shaping a fiscal plan for the year that begins July 1st. Few cities or towns in Connecticut and the nation are exempt. And with Connecticut’s over reliance on property taxes the fiscal crisis falls most heavily on cities such as New Britain.

If there is one item across all city departments and divisions that should not be cut it is jobs – specifically: the frontline jobs that are integral to government functioning effectively. In times like these layoff proposals are inevitable because personnel represents such a huge junk of expenditures.

Maintaining direct service positions, however, should be the priority for the Mayor, the Common Council, department heads and labor unions as all parties look at tough options, including an increase in the mill rate. Maintaining frontline staff is all the harder because state aid won’t grow by much, and not enough federal stimulus dollars have been appropriated to bring local governments through the recession.

Eliminating municipal jobs, including the patrolman on the street, the on-duty fire fighter and the teacher in the classroom, certainly represents the easiest path to save the millions of dollars that will be necessary to hold the line on regressive taxes. But there is a direct correlation between layoffs of direct-service personnel and the reduction of essential services – a prospect that city residents will find untenable and an outcome that will prove more costly to the city over the long term. Cutting teachers means crowded classrooms. Cutting public safety personnel can lead to longer response times in an emergency. Pink slipping inspectors or depriving the city law office of sufficient legal counsel could even mean less revenue because of insufficient enforcement of what is due the city.

It is to be expected that the Mayor and Common Council will implement standard austerity measures for this year: hiring and spending freezes, consolidated purchasing between City Hall and the School District, eliminating the non-essential wherever possible -- ultimately raising the mill rate as the last resort as the Mayor has proposed.

All of these efforts, however, will not be enough to preserve services, avoid lay offs and minimize a tax hike. To implement a no-layoff budget the city and unions will have to strike deals through good-faith bargaining. Temporary furloughs are one option. State employees are in the middle of giving up seven pay days over two years along with other other short-term concessions that turned into job savers.

Municipal employees may be willing to step up, but only if management steps up first for the shared sacrifices that will be needed in fiscal year 2011 to preserve jobs and deliver city services.

There’s no guarantee that it’ll work completely, but setting the goal of a no-layoff municipal budget will serve the city and its residents best.

13 May 2010

U.S. Senate: New Britain Didn't Stiff Merrick Albert

He got into the U.S. Senate race as an upstart Democratic challenger to an increasingly vulnerable Chris Dodd. He sent Democratic leaders a self-published and  autographed autobiography and tooled around the state delivering an anti-war message akin to the Lamont campaign of 2006. He appeared to be on a mission to go from political kindergarten to graduate school despite having no higher position than a seat on his own Town Committee.

Sadly, however, Merrick Albert has adopted a Republican line of attack against Blumenthal for going to court too much on behalf of  state residents. It matters  little to Albert that Blumenthal's litigiousness has to do with challenging utility rate hikes, protecting manufacturing jobs or fighting health insurance hikes. Like the Republicans now running, Albert's rationale for running -- an incumbent Chris Dodd -- left the race.

Gaining little traction with Democratic regulars and the rank and file party members around the state,  Albert has issued a pre-convention press release broadly denouncing  town chairpersons for stiffing him when it comes to speaking.

There can be no doubt that Albert has been rudely rebuffed by some Town Chairs. His new release, however, lists the New Britain Democratic Town Committee as having a Town Chair who refused to allow him to speak. That's not true. I am the Town Chair in New Britain and am relatively easy to reach if you make an effort to try.  That has not been the way the Albert campaign has operated, at least in communicating with New Britain Democrats.  Leaving it to a campaign manager to send a friendly missive or request via letter to people with work, families and community service to balance is rarely sufficient. 

In New Britain Democrats Merrick Albert would have found a respectful group ready to listen had he shown up uninvited. He just didn't try.

John McNamara

01 May 2010

May Day: Lamont-Glassman Ticket Forming In New Britain Monday, May 3rd

Gubernatorial hopefuls Ned Lamont and Mary Glassman are joining forces ahead of the May 21-22 Democratic convention, forming a ticket they hope will stem the growing strength of former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy in delegates and Malloy's success in meeting the threshold to qualify for funds under the Citizen's Election Program.

Courant Columnist Kevin Rennie confirmed the speculation in his Daily Ructions blog on Saturday. By Saturday afternoon,  a Lamont robo call was inviting delegates -- at least in New Britain -- to a Monday morning announcement at the Trinity-On-Main Arts Center to make the marriage official: Lamont for Governor and Glassman for Lt. Governor.  The New Britain venue for this merger points to Glassman's roots in the Hardware City and the strong progressive support Lamont received from New Britain Democrats in his 2006 challenge of Joe Lieberman.  New Britain delegates, however, are said to heavily favor Malloy for Governor this time as strongly as they endorsed John DeStefano in 2006.

The bold move by Lamont and Glassman camps appears to confirm or concede that Malloy is in the driver's seat in terms of securing a first-ballot endorsement despite hints that Lamont will get big blocks of delegates from the Democratic machines in New Haven and Bridgeport via hard ball politics on the part of DTC leaders.

The merger of Lamont and Glassman becomes all the more interesting because it appears to pre-empt the candidacies of other aspirants for Lt. Governor, including Health Advocate Kevin Lembo and the Johnny (Rowland) come lately move by Waterbury Mayor Mike Jarjura to put in a claim for the number two spot.

Lembo, speaking to the New Britain Democratic Town Committee last Thursday, left town securing both contributions and some delegate support for his Lt. Governor bid, impressing the committee with his approach to government reform and expertise on the health care issue.

A Lamont and Glassman alliance pre-empts any horse trading that could have been expected among Malloy, Lamont and Glassman nearer to convention time. It disses the candidacy of Lembo who will get a serious hearing from progressive Democrats, including those who have a vote at the state convention.  The move probably took Jarjura by surprise too as he would need a lot of brokering and deal making at the convention to have a spot on the ticket. 

The well-financed Lamont dual strategy is now set: solidify things for the August 10th primary with an early ticket to present to voters; do better than expected at the convention by acquiring a more respectable showing of delegates than would be the case if he were vying with both Glassman and Malloy.

09 April 2010

UAW's Tony Bracha Fondly Remembered in Courant "Extraordinary Lives" story

Social programs such as health insurance and benefits for the unemployed have been much in the news this year amid the threat of filibuster and flat-out obstruction by Republicans and their special interest friends.

At times like these it's good to remember the men and women of labor in post WW II New Britain who organized on the shop floor to win health, decent wages and better working conditions when the city was full of factories.  Individuals such as Nick Tomasetti, Laddie Michalowski, Eugenia Gil, Connie Collins and others attained what may be taken for granted in some workplaces but still very much needed in other 21st century offices and plants today.

These labor activists of the Greatest Generation didn't stop with their own shops or locals but extended the fight into the political realm by backing pro-labor candidates in local, state and national elections. They'd be in the forefront of the current push for a public option and universal health care.

Tony Bracha, a tough as nails union president and organizer, was one of these stalwart fighters for working people. Bracha, a member of the legendary United Auto Workers Local 133, died at the age of 93 on February 17th.  He instilled public service and a caring for others in those who followed him including his daughter, Diane DeFronzo, a former Board of Education member and social worker,  and son-in-law, State Senator Don DeFronzo, also a former union president and two-term mayor.

Tony Bracha's life is one worth remembering to lift the spirits and strengthen the resolve of those working toward social and economic justice.

The Hartford Courant's Anne Hamilton obliges us with her story on Bracha's life and work that appeared in the March 28th Courant


02 April 2010

Dodd: If You Have The Right To A Lawyer, You Should Have The Right To A Doctor

Since President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act,  Chris Dodd, the senior Connecticut senator not seeking re-election, has been talking up the legislation as a landmark law that honors the memory of his late colleague, Ted Kennedy. 

He did so repeatedly  in Connecticut this past week in a coordinated counter to the GOP's destructive call for repeal before the ink had dried from President Obama's signing pens.

Long-time Dodd observers shouldn't be surprised when Dodd, who has been known to carry the Constitution in his back pocket, invokes a constitutional argument for health care as a right,  not just a commodity for those with the means to pay for it.

"I suppose -- and history may judge us accordingly -- that while everyone is entitled to a lawyer, regardless of what you've been charged with, that you don't have a right to a doctor," Dodd said at the February 25th "summit" in Washington alluding to the guarantees all citizens have to legal help.  

Dodd  repeated  that point again to kick off a week when  Congress people have come home to defend their votes on the reconciliation act and the modest steps toward reform in both health and the way Americans pay and have access to college.

Equating the "right to a lawyer" to "the right to a doctor" is a compelling argument especially when GOP attorneys general and partisan opponents call for constitutional and legal moves to defeat the will of Congress and deny 32 million Americans the opportunity to get health coverage.

You can argue that everyone does have the "right" by going to the emergency room. But that common occurrence is the reason why health care costs are out of control and driving up premiums to intolerable levels. A system that relies on the emergency room to make treatment a right blows cost-effective preventive care out of the picture.

This legal defense of health care access, emphasized by Dodd but few others, bolsters the main economic arguments for passage. “For middle-class families, this legislation means real economic security. You’ll be able to count on health insurance that you can afford and that you can trust will be there for your when you need it. More low- and middle-income Connecticut families can send their kids to college without saddling them with a lifetime of crushing debt. And you’ll never again have to fear that an illness or injury will mean economic ruin,” said Dodd in a March 25th statement.

Here's how Dodd breaks down the benefits from reform for Connecticut families:
•Provide tax credits for up to 37,600 Connecticut small businesses to help make coverage more affordable.

•Prohibit insurance companies from excluding coverage of pre-existing conditions for the 807,985 children in Connecticut, starting this year.

•Ensure affordable coverage options for 356,000 Connecticut residents who are uninsured and 154,000 Connecticut residents who purchase health insurance through the individual market.

•Provide tax credits for up to 242,000 people in Connecticut to help make health insurance more affordable

•Reduce family health insurance premiums by $1,780 - $2,540 for the same benefits, as compared to what they would be without health reform by 2016.

Those are persuasive numbers that Dodd and others use to support reform.  By elevating health care as a right for all citizens, Dodd makes the cause even stronger from the moral and legal perspective.

We hear on every cop show on television "you have the right to an attorney." Health care reform means we'll hear on every medical  show on television "you have the right to a doctor."

17 March 2010

March 17: Post Office Employs Leprechauns To Get The Job Done In New Britain

Mail Carriers Don Murphy and Jim LeFort were able to remind residents that everyone is Irish on Saint Patrick's Day as they make deliveries on Brighton Street.  (J. McNamara photo)

14 March 2010

Whither Public Campaign Financing in Connecticut? March 15th Forum in Hartford

The odds of the Citzen's Election Program (CEP)- Connecticut's public financing of elections - surviving intact for the 2010 election cycle grow longer by the hour. Lawmakers, in fact, may be cooking up a remedy that preserves public financing for Governor and statewide offices, but eliminates the CEP for legislative seats. 

With the reform law in jeopardy and the presence of at least three or more well-healed candidates in state races willing to spend gazzilions to buy an election, the old axiom first spoken by the 1960s CA Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh applies to CT more than ever: "Money is the mother's milk of politics."  There's a good chance we'll see lobbying kings Pat Sullivan, Jay Malycynsky, Brendan Kennedy and their brethren writing more checks than planned at the Officer's Club and other watering holes around Hartford before this campaign season ends.

Preserving any part of  the CEP will be hard. That's too bad. The law's implementation has spawned an unusually capable field of candidates for statewide offices in both parties who saw a level-playing field. They need a system in which their ideas and records might count as much as all the "mother's milk" they'd have to raise to compete.

All of this stems from the Green Party of CT vs. Garfield case and a ruling that found the law was too restrictive for minor party candidates to get in the game. The ACLU and the Greens want to make sure the field is level and not tilted toward a two-party monopoly. One of the good questions to pose now is how have other states such as Maine been able to implement and preserve public financing without adverse court rulings.

On Monday March 15th at the Hartford Public Library the Hartford Votes ~ Hartford Vota Coalition  is sponsoring a panel discussion on the issues of money in politics and campaign finance reform, and how it affects Connecticut. The panelists include: Heath Fahle, Policy Director, Yankee Institute; Cheri Quickmire, Executive Director, Connecticut Common Cause; Beth Rotman, Director of the Citizens' Elections Program, SEEC; State Representative Gary Holder Winfield, New Haven and others. The forum is set for Monday, March 15th from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the HPL, 500 Main Street, Hartford. For more information, email ksnell@hplct.org or call 860.695.6282.

21 February 2010

Remembering Bill Kerr, CCSU Politics Prof; Tribute Saturday, February 27th at New Britain Museum

A celebration of the life of Charles W. (Bill) Kerr, formerly of New Britain, will be held at the New Britain Museum of American Art on Saturday February 27, 2010, at 1 p.m.

Kerr, 78, died on February 2, 2010 in his home at Sun City, Hilton Head, SC. A Missouri native, Kerr was a professor emeritus of Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) and served a Chair of the Political Science Department at CCSU.

In the early ‘80s I first met Bill Kerr and his wife Marietta at a meeting of the Caucus of Connecticut Democrats (CCD) a few years before moving to New Britain. Thanks to connecting with Kerr outside of the city, I got a quick introduction to the New Britain Democratic establishment when I moved here and was fast-tracked into local politics – winning a seat on the Democratic Town Committee in ’86, and beginning what’s turned into 24 years of being involved in campaigns and elections.

Meeting Kerr at the CCD – the liberal group that in its heyday mobilized Dems for direct primaries, civil rights and an end to the war in Vietnam – was no accident. Bill Kerr, the partisan, was an unabashed progressive – supporting liberal candidates and favoring groups such as the Legislative Electoral Action Program (LEAP) and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG).

Though I was never in one of his classes, Kerr, the teacher, had keen insights and possessed a wry and dry sense of humor about politics that you would have had to be around to appreciate. Those attributes, not to mention a Ph.D in political science, commanded respect from the left and right, and from Rs and Ds in Connecticut.

At CCSU, Kerr had a good run of organizing conferences and workshops, bringing experts and pols of all stripes together. One year it would Cong. Nancy Johnson. The next it would be Barney Frank. He organized these forums under his Institute for Practical Politics (IPP), a fitting name at an institution drawing many sons and daughters of the working class to become teachers and professionals or, in some cases, local and state elected officials. Kerr’s Institute was no high falutin’ think tank, but a series of “practical” sessions among academics and citizens on policy and political strategy. Kerr’s knowledge of CT politics and players always made IPP conferences informative and helped extend his teaching of politics and government well beyond the classroom.

When someone we know and respect dies it can be a comfort to say we are better persons for having known that person. In Bill Kerr’s case, I and I’d guess many of his students would say we are better citizens for having known him as fellow activists or students.

-- John McNamara

15 February 2010

Desperation from Busway Opponents?

The arguments of opponents to the the New Britain-Hartford busway have a ring of obstructionism and desperation  in this Courant story by Don Stacom.  

With news of $45 million in federal money for a busway to leverage other funds,  the project may finally see a  light at the end-of-the-tunnel. It's a little specious to oppose public transit because it will deny the DOT funds for highway and bridge repair.  It would seem some extra recovery money might be found to keep the bridges safe and the roads paved. And it's not at all clear the busway will kill off the more ambitious, regional rail concepts that are only concepts at this point. 

Blocking the busway now might doom this part of Connecticut to just  more autos along the I-84 corridor for the foreseeable future.  However limited putting a lane alongside the railroad bed is, the busway has reached a tipping point as a realistic way to move public transit forward in central Connecticut.

And not to be parochial but New Britain has suffered too much from the 9/72 highway that cut the center of the city in two in the early 70s.  The busway is a start at making amends for that disaster and the highway mentality that brought it about.

07 February 2010

A Vote For Dan Malloy

In 2010 Democrats need a gubernatorial nominee who has the best chance of winning an office not held by the majority party in 20 years. The open seat for Governor has spawned a number of Democratic hopefuls, all of whom offer impressive credentials from local and state government and the business world. The choice boils down to an individual who can inspire rank and file Democrats and who demonstrates a capacity to govern that will translate into significant support from independent voters in a year when the electorate wants an end to State Capitol gridlock.

Dan Malloy, who led Connecticut’s fourth largest city for 14 years, is a seasoned and capable elected official who has credentials to navigate the state out from under its systemic fiscal problems. A Governor Malloy can restore public confidence in the Governor’s office. He offers an energetic approach to job creation, transportation, education and housing. His record in Stamford in those areas may be the best indication voters have as to what could happen throughout the state.

For months Malloy has been providing compelling reasons for Democrats to support him. A former prosecutor, Malloy is a feisty candidate who will take on the drivel that will come out Foley or whoever the GOP nominates. He favors the Citizen’s Election Program and a fair system of public financing. The suggestion by some that deep pockets are a prerequisite for a Democrat to win is a democracy-killing idea. We don’t need local reinforcement of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to completely turn the country over to the fat cats.

Malloy, as are other Democrats pursuing the office, strongly advocates for health care reform, including the health care partnership pooling bill that would have saved consumers and cities and towns many millions of dollars had it not died by the Governor’s pen in 2009. That’s about a million bucks in savings for New Britain.

On the economy, Malloy has offered sound criticism of a moribund Rell administration with a call for a more expeditious use of federal Recovery Act funds. On job creation, a Governor Malloy would streamline the alphabet soup of state economic development agencies that could use both cost-saving consolidation and marching orders from an engaged Governor.

There is a clarity of purpose to Malloy’s candidacy in 2010. He’s put in the sweat equity to earn the support of Democrats who backed DeStefano in 2006. A testament to the clarity is that he would be in the race whether the heavily-favored Republican incumbent was in it or not. After 20 years out of the corner office, the Democrats need a candidate who can inspire our base and expand support to unaffiliated voters in 2010. Malloy has shown the drive and commitment to be that candidate.

- John McNamara

05 February 2010

Luddites May Need To Unite To Save Newspaper Legal Notices For Now

The economic plight of newspapers in the internet age will be up for debate in the 2010 session of the Connecticut General Assembly and intertwined with arguments about the public's right to know.

Gov. Rell has called for ending the requirement that governments publish certain legal notices in newspapers, according to the New Britain Herald in a Feb. 5th story

For many citizens posting public notices and other information on the public business is sufficient on a town's web site. It meets the public's right to know more effectively and it saves publication costs at a time when government is looking to scrimp and save.

The newspaper industry, however, is mounting a counter argument that many among us are essentially Luddites when it comes to where we get information. A substantial portion of the citizenry, the industry says, relies on public notices in a linear way or we won't get it at all.  That is a strong argument in New Britain where a good portion of the reading public is older and accustomed to newsprint over using  the mouse to click on http://www.new-britain.net/

It seems the intent of public notice laws (and publication requirements) are to make information as accessible to the widest possible audience members who need to hear it. In that sense, it may not be enough to simply post on a city or town website.  The argument for publication in a general circulation publication is that the wide audience will know it.  It would seem a legal notice posted in an online publication would have the same weight as the printed page but at rates that are probably lower than conventional display ads. What should be determine is the real dollar savings of cutting out print ads versus the need for a greater portion of the public to be informed.  One possible compromise to the legislation -- if it is not already there -- would be to make the policy a local option law for each city and town to decide on its own.

The issue of printed legal notices is akin to newspaper classifieds which were once a cash cow for newspapers.  The internet is simply an easier way for renting, selling and all kinds of individual transactions that makes classifieds in newspapers dinosaurs. The newspaper business simply needs to come up with an economic model where more revenue comes out of information technology instead of the presses.

Having said all that here's a Luddite vote to keep printing those notices for now but not much longer.

21 January 2010

MA Election Senate Fallout: Labor Leader Says Dems "Under Reach" on Issues That Matter

Who would have thought that a special election in Massachusetts would be the end of the Obama regime and a retreat from the "change that you can believe in" that was voted in just a year ago?

Media "gas bags", Democratic "moderates"  and no small number of propagandists for the corporate right  are proclaiming this new political reality in the aftermath of the special election in Massachusetts won by Republican Scott Brown.

Less is said about the Coakley campaign failing to practice Tip O'Neill's cardinal rule that "all politics is local" or that Coakley put all her money and eggs in a December primary, leaving her few resources and a general election plan that wrote off Brown as just another GOP patsy. In this case the better candidate with the "I'm mad as hell" message won. No matter that behind the pick up truck and neighborly image is a guy with six properties, including one in Aruba, who probably never met a Wall Street financier he didn't like.

Before the Rahm Emanuels in the Obama White House try to resurrect the Democratic Leadership Council formula of having Democrats move to the right,  President Obama and the national Democrats should heed  the "wake up call" of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

03 January 2010

Strategic Bonding: Senate Dems Push "Jobs Now" Initiative

The federal stimulus program is getting credit for mitigating 2008's economic free fall (Things would be worse without it). Recovery as defined by Wall Street financiers and their troika of Obama administration buddies --Rahm Emmanuel, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner -- is well under way.

But the employment numbers and continuing slide in local tax revenues make for a "jobless recovery" in Connecticut through 2011 or perhaps beyond. Federal stimuli, even when the state manages to get all the new money in the pipeline, won't solve a deep-seated problem.

"Over the last twenty years, Connecticut has seen perhaps the poorest job creation among all fifty states," stated a UCONN Center for Economic Analysis report in November. "And in the last decade, most job growth came in health care, accommodation and food services, education, and government (especially local government). A broader perspective gives little hope that Connecticut will see the restoration of growth in jobs—let alone high‐wage jobs‐‐given current policy and economic development initiatives."

State Comptroller Nancy Wyman, speaking to the New Britain Democratic Town Committee December 21st, confirmed CT's troubles saying Connecticut is probably in the top three or four among state governments having the most trouble balancing the books in the current economy. Emerging mitigation steps, including cuts to the social safety net and more givebacks by state employees, will not address the structural problem that is measured by Wyman's estimate of the loss of up to 80,000 jobs in recent years.

Last November's Metro Hartford unemployment rate of just over eight percent understates the employment problem. In cities such as New Britain that official number is more like 12 percent -- not including the discouraged workers and the under-employed thousands who are in the part-time work force.

Responding to the economic gloom, State Senator Donald DeFronzo and other state Senators have rolled out a "Connecticut Jobs Now" plan that would use $1 billion in state bonding to invest in transportation infrastructure, housing, energy conservation, clean water and higher education. Picking up where the federal stimulus won't go, state Senate Dems describe the policy as "an aggressive plan to create jobs, stimulate Connecticut’s sluggish economy and promote economic recovery."

States DeFronzo: “Connecticut needs jobs, and needs them now; we have a responsibility to create and sustain jobs in our state. The unemployment rate in Connecticut is 8.2 percent; construction industry employment is upwards of 25 percent. Our current market conditions offer an unprecedented opportunity for the state to make wise capital investments in new facilities, clean water projects, roads and bridges, mass transit and many other projects that could be bid and under construction in a very short period of time.” DeFronzo is Senate Chairman of the Legislature's Transportation Committee and General Bonding subcommittee.

"Connecticut Jobs Now", promising a 12-month push to create 16,000 jobs, calls for the funding of only those projects that were previously authorized. Wyman and other state officials would most certainly oppose any new bonding given the high levels of current debt incurred by state government from the Rowland/Rell years. The Jobs Now strategy calls for allocation of those projects that could be implemented within 90 to 120 days. Several state agencies, including the state Department of Transportation and Department of Public Works have already developed project lists that meet the recommended criteria.

“The state and federal government need to spark more private investment and job creation, and we can do that by re-prioritizing our existing bond authorizations to complete shovel-ready projects,” Senator Jonathan Harris (D-West Hartford) said. “We don’t need to authorize any more bonding — we just need to invest it differently. And we need to do this immediately.”

Governor Rell, who controls the state's bonding agenda, has not responded to the Senate Dems proposal sent to her in a December 18th letter. Whether she will buy into a strategic call to get moving on bond projects already authorized but not acted on by her bond commission is uncertain. Given the state's lackluster job creation efforts since the early 1990s, "Jobs Now" and similar ideas should be the dominant concern among those who are trying to succeed Rell. It's not a cliche to say "it's the economy stupid" in 2010.