NB Politicus

Remembering Steve Horowitz: Losing One of “New Britain’s Best”

Posted in CCSU, In Memoriam, Local History, public education, school board by nbpoliticus on July 10, 2021

Dr. Steve Horowitz, 68, CCSU Psychology Professor and a former President of the New Britain Board of Education, died last December 18th after a brief, sudden illness.

For Democrats and political activists in New Britain, Steve’s passing meant the loss of a close friend and one of “New Britain’s Best.” You can be forgiven if you don’t remember where the “Best” tag comes from. It goes all the way back to a 1999 Board of Education primary election when the endorsed slate of Horowitz, Peter Kochol and Juan Verdu, advocating for interdisciplinary teaching, minority hiring and bilingual programs, went up against a challenge slate organized by right-of-center former State Senator Tom Bozek.

The campaign involved nightly phone banking at Harriet Geragosian’s Unique Realty offices where the slate and volunteers would relentlessly dial up voter after prime voter to drive up turnout. It turned out only 19.6% of city Democrats (3,067) voted that September day but “New Britain’s Best”, all of whom served as Board President at one time or another, eked out a 36-vote victory.

Steve, like his running mates Kochol and Verdu, led the BOE as fierce advocates for public education, holding off critics of adequate school spending and acknowledging the inadequacies of property taxes as a way to meet the needs of the city’s children.

Steve leaves his wife, Adrienne Benjamin, a constant partner in progressive politics in New Britain, son Matthew and daughter Zoe. “Those who knew Steve are aware of his dedication to his family,” his obituary noted. “An early riser, he brought Adrienne coffee every morning of 34 years of marriage. He was exceptionally supportive of Adrienne’s career as both a clinical social worker and as an advocate for those with intellectual disability and autism. He was an adoring and proud father to Matthew. His towering compassion was seen in his devotion to his daughter, Zoe, whose special needs require constant care.”

from The Hartford Courant, September 14, 1999: A hard earned triumph for “New Britain’s Best “School Board Slate

The dedication to family and Horowitz’ public service were reflected in what he did in the classroom at CCSU where psych majors faced the rigors of his core courses on research methods to reach their academic goal. “If you really take the time to listen you’ll find that he is extremely intelligent, very passionate and knowledgeable about the subject and really cares about his students,” one student observed. “He is a challenging professor who expects a lot but he is willing to help you every step of the way if you try and make an effort.”

Though Horowitz earned enough political stripes in that 1999 primary and his years on the BOE, I can attest that he never stopped knocking on doors and making calls on behalf of progressive Democrats and causes year after year.

It’s hard to know Steve won’t be walking through the headquarters door to again grab a door-knocking turf. No time for kibbitzing. He knew it was time to get out the vote for the candidates he supported and the causes he cared about.

Let Steve’s life and activism as New Britain’s Best always be remembered for others to follow.

A Celebration of Steve’s Life and tree planting in his memory is being held at Walnut Hill Park at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 10, 2021. To honor his memory, please consider donating to Harc, which has stepped up to help meet Zoe’s needs through this challenge. To donate, https://harc-ct.org/donatenow/ Or, Harc, Inc. 900 Asylum Ave. MS 1002 Hartford, CT 06105

  • by John McNamara

The Day After: Should fireworks be free or come with a fee?

Posted in city government, municipal budget, New Britain, Parks and Recreation by nbpoliticus on July 5, 2021

The 4th of July Show Tab This Year Was $60K and $10 A Car Load

By John McNamara

No one can deny that fireworks on the Fourth of July brings a community together. It is America’s birthday tradition that can awe and delight children or the child in all of us. And after 15 months of social distancing because of COVID, New Britain’s 4th was a welcome return to normalcy.

The City of New Britain obliged for the pyrotechnics this year putting up $60,000 of your tax money at the June 23rd Common Council meeting. The transfer of funds provided $24,999 for the show and $35,001 in overtime and salaries. Alderman-At Large Chris Anderson was the sole Council vote against the appropriation. His vote, however, was not about being a killjoy. I’m hoping he took in the show from his Buell Street home’s front yard just a block or so from the rockets red glare without paying the $10 fee.

“I voted no because I am concerned about this expenditure given our other budget needs and because the event will not be free,” wrote Anderson in one of his regular Facebook updates on Council business.

New Britain’s regionally popular “Great American Boom”, held at Stanley Quarter Park until last year and free to all, has been raised as a budget issue in years past. Some of the costs previously were met with fees on vendors and private contributions. Insurance man and former Alderman Carlo Carlozzi, for example, led the way a few years back in securing a major grant from Liberty Mutual to cover expenses. For the most part the bulk of expenses, however, depend on public appropriations.

New Britain was one of a handful of communities that went on with the show last year despite COVID concerns. Like this year the “drive in fireworks show” at Willow Brook Park near the baseball stadium required pre-registration at $10 per car load, a nominal fee that raised some but not a lot for the city’s Fireworks Fund. It’s been one of several public events that the Parks and Recreation Department assesses for admission. The fireworks fee undoubtedly had more to do with social distancing than revenue but it should be said that it could have been made free to city residents.

The change of venue these last two years also returned the city’s fireworks back to Willow Brook where it once was held. That’s a welcome change that should be made permanent. Holding an event drawing in excess of 20,000 people at Stanley Quarter in the residential Belvedere neighborhood creates a parking nightmare and heightened public safety concerns (Full disclosure: it’s my neighborhood).

Ideally, if the city restores the Great American Boom to a free-to-all event next year it ought to be a Greater New Britain event with costs shared by surrounding towns with a healthy dose of corporate, civic-minded philanthropy.

Alderman Anderson’s points on nickel and diming residents and striking a balance on budget priorities are well taken. Blowing $60K on its own on America’s birthday to light up New Britain night sky is a lot for a financially stressed city government dependent on borrowing.

Landlord Group’s “cage fight between Lamont & Zherka” remark stumps the press, brings apology to Governor

There’s No Mystery About Who Sam Zherka Is In New Britain

By John McNamara

West Hartford-based Connecticut Coalition of Property Owners (CCOPO) had to issue a quick apology on May 19th over its first version of a press release opposing an eviction moratorium and use of $400 million in federal pandemic aid to landlords and tenants, according to a Hartford Courant story by Daniela Altamari.

“The governor needs his ass-kicked,” stated the initial release sent to the Capitol press corps announcing a press conference later in the week, “and we set up a celebratory cage fight between Lamont & Zherka to raise funds for orphaned children.” The “bizarre” statement was followed by CCOPO’s condemnation of the Unite Connecticut program that is meant to provide both tenants and landlords with help paying bills in the recovery from the pandemic.

The January 13, 2013 front page of the now defunct New Britain City Journal that was backed by notorious landlord Sam Zherka at the height of a housing controversy in New Britain.

The reference to “Zherka” left reporters and editors who received the press statement puzzled. At first, news stories speculated that it referred to Jon Zherka, a controversial and banned social media streamer.

But in New Britain there is no mystery as to who CCOPO was referring to in its provocative public statement.

The name Zherka brings back memories of a well organized mob descending on City Hall in 2012 over a proposal to assess fees on absentee landlords to pay for code enforcement. The issue led to scurrilous, months’ long attacks and threats against the Democratic Mayor and City Council during the 2013 municipal campaign. It was a dark money political attack aided and abetted by the Waterbury-based CT Property Owners Alliance and Selim “Sam” Zherka, an absentee landlord who would later be indicted and jailed for mail fraud in New York.

Nine years ago Zherka owned a large apartment complex in New Britain and lent heavy support to the now defunct New Britain City Journal which carried unfounded accusations and personal attacks on Democrats in a well-financed direct mail, free circulation campaign supported by Zherka and out of town landlords, who pledged a $100,000 off the books fund to defeat Democrats. The New Britain Republican Town Committee and Erin Stewart were quick to embrace Zherka and absentee landlord support in her first, successful campaign for Mayor and she’s never looked back.

To clean up the “cage fight between Lamont & Zherka” statement this month, Publicist Ann Baldwin did her best at damage control for the CCOPO, which had also stridently taken issue with the Unite Connecticut program by saying “the people that are not paying never intended to pay so there is no reason for them to apply for the funds, these tenants are most of the 19,000 that try to live for free annually in CT.”

Baldwin’s revision softened the group’s position, according to press reports, by saying the landlords’ goal is just to “keep good people living in their homes” and calling for the Lamont administration to “fully fund” the eviction moratorium.” CCOPO President John Souza backtracked further in an apology saying “I would never condone violence against the Governor or anyone else, even in jest.”

In response to the first CCOPO release the CT Fair Housing Center’s blog responded: “This attitude illustrates both the need for a Right to Counsel for tenants facing eviction as well as why the Governor and/or Connecticut legislature should require landlords to participate in Unite CT. Tenants must be protected from the landlords who believe that the Governor “needs his ass-kicked” because he dared to protect vulnerable Connecticut residents. Please join us as we work to ensure that tenants are protected from the landlords who believe tenants deserve to be punished for being poor.”

The flap over a press release shows that it’s never an easy task for government to fairly balance the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. The pandemic has caused hardships on all sides and made evictions a serious threat to thousands of rentpayers. While the Governor extended an eviction moratorium until July 20, the administration is ramping up the Unite Connecticut program that enables both landlords and tenants to get pandemic aid for their losses.

CCOPO describes itself as a “constructive voice for responsible landlords” for “mom and pop” business people who presumably could benefit from the Unite CT program while keeping tenants in their homes.

But invoking the Zherka name as unintentional as it was shows that some members of the landlord group may not be interested in fairness or playing by the rules at all. Nobody knows that better than folks in New Britain who lived through the Zherka-led, local assault on democracy here that bears a striking resemblance to the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th of this year


School Building Committee Resolution Curtails Checks and Balances on School Construction Projects

By John McNamara

A controversial resolution that removes Common Council and Board of Education approval of all contracts and spending on school construction projects came back to the Common Council April 28th meeting and was approved on a party line vote.

The resolution, authored by Republican caucus members Daniel Salerno and Sharon Beloin-Saavedra and revised at the April 15th Consolidation Committee meeting, removes key language that requires that contracts and expenditures on multi-million dollar school projects are “subject to the approval of the board of education and common council.” Instead, it vests control of School Building Committee (SBC) appointments to the Mayor, leaving the Council with two members on the seven-member committee.

According to the new resolution the SBC will “engage, select, and enter into or continue all necessary contracts with contractors, architects, landscape architects, or engineers, and within the limits of the appropriations made by the council, this committee shall engage and fix the salary of one or more construction representatives.”

Salerno and Beloin-Saavedra, acting on behalf of Mayor Erin Stewart and willingly diminishing the Common Council’s role, cite mayoral powers in the City Charter granting appointment power for all “boards and commissions” to the Mayor as a justification for the sweeping changes that hand the purse strings and contracting over to the SBC for school renovations and construction. They say they are just cleaning up the language in accordance with the charter.

CITY HALL WATCH

As if trying to obscure the intent of the resolution, the revised ordinance has a preamble that implies Common Council members would continue to have a say in SBC meetings and deliberations or, for that matter, any other board or commission using general ordinance language on the access any common council member has to go to a public meeting: “Alderpersons may attend any meetings. The members of the council, or any of them, may attend the regular, special, or other meetings of all boards, commissions, and agencies when, in their discretion, their presence would best serve the interests of the city.”

Unlike boards and commissions mandated by the City Charter, however, the School Building Committee is created by ordinance with purposes and conditions set by the Common Council in accordance with powers granted to the legislative branch (the Council). The mayoral powers justification for ending all BOE and Council oversight on school building projects is both exclusionary and unwise given the large amounts of taxpayer money involved on these projects which are heavily reimbursed by the state and its bonding authority. Most recently makeovers of the Smalley and Gaffney schools have cost upwards of $80 million.

Although the lion’s share of funding for any school construction comes from the state, Connecticut law is silent on local school building committees, their powers and composition, according to a legislative analysis on SBCs and school construction. What the analysis does say, however, is that boards of education are ultimately responsible and must “make a continuing study of the need for school facilities and of a long-term school building program.” State statutes do no specify how local school boards must carry out their responsibility for maintaining school buildings. Nothing either requires or allows a board to, or prevents it from, establishing a permanent committee to oversee school maintenance.”

The revised New Britain resolution makes the Superintendent of Schools an ex-officio member of the SBC which is to say the BOE’s representative is an observer without a vote.

Democratic Alderman at Large Chris Anderson opposed the revised ordinance asserting that it “consolidates power, reduces transparency and eliminates checks and balances.” He was joined by five other Democrats on the Council opposing the move to usurp Common Council and Board of Education authority over public monies they appropriate and are responsible for in the school district’s buildings.

A consequence of the new SBC resolution is that it contributes to a bigger divide between City Hall and the BOE. New Britain’s close to last ranking in how much the municipal government contributes to public schools is a perennial and contentious issue at budget time every year and this year is no exception. Politically, it serves the Mayor and her Council cohorts well to disparage the BOE by implying it wastes money as they engage in tax-cut demagoguery. During the Common Council’s discussion of the SBC resolution, for example, Alderwomen Beloin-Saavedra, a former BOE President, didn’t help BOE-City Hall cooperation. She disparagingly pointed to the BOE and school administration as the place where more oversight is needed,asking: “Who’s watching the henhouse over there?”

And as with most issues to come before the Council the nine members of the Republican caucus remained rubber stamps for Mayor Stewart, ceding absolute control over the school construction process and the opportunities it presents the city administration for patronage, favors and picking contractors.

Related Post https://nbpoliticus.com/2021/03/08/stewart-seeks-to-exclude-boe-common-council-from-approving-use-of-school-construction-money/

“Tax Equity” Proposals Call For Reducing Regressive Sales and Property Levies, Raising Rates On Wealthy

Posted in Governor, state budget, state government, Tax Policy by nbpoliticus on March 21, 2021

By John McNamara

Bills that would dramatically alter the way Connecticut taxes individuals and businesses were the subject of a marathon hearing at the Legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on March 15th.  An overwhelming majority of the more than 300 individuals who testified supported tax reforms but passage will face significant hurdles in the 2021 session.

The “tax equity” proposals, co-sponsored by New Britain Democratic legislators State Senator Rick Lopes (D-6), State Rep. Manny Sanchez (D-24), State Rep. Bobby Sanchez (D-25) and State Rep. Peter Tercyak (D-26) and other lawmakers, provide tax relief to low- and moderate income households by reducing reliance on regressive sales and property taxes. High-income households would be taxed more than the current maximum of 6.99%. on their incomes to make up the difference.

A key provision contained in HB 6187 and SB 821 would adjust the state income tax on individuals earning $500,000 or more and joint filers earning $800,000. Proponents say the adjustments would make income tax rates fairer by raising the rate to 8.82% for individuals at $500,000 and joint filers at $800,000. For households earning $1 million or more the rate would rise to 12.69 percent. Governor Ned Lamont opposes any change in the current rates but a significant contingent of lawmakers. in the Democratic caucus are pushing changes to lower the overall tax burden on individuals and families below $500,000. Raising rates on wealthier households would generate $1.75 to $2 billion annually.

A coalition of unions and advocacy groups that mobilized turnout for the all day March 15thhearing assert that legislation would level the playing field and make the tax system fairer. According to a Voices for Children tax reform report “Advancing Economic Justice Through Tax Reform” issued last December, median income households with $76,106 in pre-tax income pay an effective tax rate of nearly 14% while the top one percent of tax filers with an average income of $3,092,389 have an effective tax rate of 6.5%. The effective tax rate takes into account the total tax burden of property, sales and income taxes on taxpayers. It means that a nurse or salesperson earning less than $100,000 now pays double the taxes comparably to wealthy individuals whose burden has been reduced further in recent years as the result of the Trump tax cuts for the “one percent” with incomes in the millions and billions.

A 2% statewide property tax “on the portion of the market value of homes in excess of $1.5 million” also dubbed the “mansion tax” drew opposition at the legislative hearing from worried homeowners, most of whom would not be effected by the levy on only the highest value residences. The tax on “mansions” with assessed values exceeding $1 million would raise $663 million. The same “mansion” tax is proposed in SB 171 with State Senate President Martin Looney sponsoring the stand alone bill.

Tax relief for the working class is part of the comprehensive legislation with an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to 50% of the federal tax credit at an estimated cost of $155 million. The Senate version of the bill also includes a state child tax credit similar to federal Rescue Act one designed to reduce child poverty. For property tax relief the tax credit would double to $400 on homes and motor vehicles at a cost of $63 million.  For COVID 19 relief a direct payment of $500 would be sent to individuals who have faced hardships and unemployment over the last year.

The Finance committee is also considering other provisions of the tax equity legislation that would generally lower the tax burden on working and middle income residents:

  • A 10% tax on digital ads placed in Connecticut by companies with digital ad revenue of more than $10 billion (Google, Facebook, and Amazon) generating $140 million annually.
  • Lowering the estate tax exemption to $2 million, eliminate the payment cap, and enact estate tax rates similar to the rates in effect before the Great Recession. This would generate approximately $162 million annually.
  • Increasing the base corporation business tax rate to 11.5% for corporations with gross income of $100 million or greater and extend and increase the current surtax to 20%. This would generate approximately $250-300 million annually.
  • Imposing a surtax of 5% on capital gains, dividends, and taxable interest for individuals with income in excess of $500,000 per year ($800,000 for joint filers). This would generate approximately $850 million annually.

Proponents of the legislation face a considerable amount of misinformation about impacts on working and middle income households whose effective tax rates would stand to be reduced by passage.  Any tax adjustment in the direction of equity always elicits arguments that the big taxpayers that the state depends on would flee like snowbirds to Florida and that businesses would go offshore if they haven’t already to avoid paying more taxes. Standing in the way of any change and buying into those arguments is Governor Lamont who made a “no new taxes” pledge to the Connecticut Business and Industry Association last week.

It remains to be seen how much the Democratic caucus and its leaders can move Lamont to support one or more of the provisions intended to reduce regressive taxes and make Connecticut’s tax system more equitable. Some are hopeful that Lamont will take a page from President Biden who is now calling for a higher rate on wealthy individuals making over $400,000 for public investments like infrastructure and to address a spiraling federal deficit from the Trump years. 

For now the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, co-chaired by Hartford State Senator John Fonfara and Shoreline State Rep. Sean Scanlon, has its hands full in sorting out what provisions will move to a full vote in the General Assembly this session.

 

Stewart Seeks To Exclude BOE, Common Council From Approving Use Of School Construction Money

Posted in Bonding, City Hall, public education, school board, School Construction by nbpoliticus on March 8, 2021

By John McNamara

The Stewart Administration, blocked in recent months by a bipartisan Board of Education (BOE) and city ordinance from filling a political patronage job on a new school construction project, will seek to remove  Common Council and BOE authority on school construction spending handing the final say over to the seven-member School Building Committee (SBC) appointed by the Mayor.

A resolution filed by the Republican caucus Majority Leader Daniel Salerno and Alderwoman Sharon Beloin-Saavedra at the March 10th Council meeting would alter the membership of the SBC, by dropping Common Council appointments.  It would further cede approval to “engage, select, and enter into or continue all necessary contracts with contractors, architects, landscape architects, or engineers, and within the limits of the appropriations made by the council, this committee shall engage and fix the salary of one or more construction representatives ” to the School Building Committee. The existing ordinance requires  approval by the BOE and Common Council.

CITY HALL WATCH

The hiring of a construction representative for the Chamberlain Elementary School renovation project and re-roofing projects at Pulaski and Slade Middle Schools sparked controversy last year when the SBC selected Ray Moore, the former Schools’ facilities director, to be a construction representative at a six-figure salary shortly after he retired from his job at the schools.  Former NBHS Principal and retired School Administrator Paul Salina, who is the Stewart appointed Director of Support Services at City Hall, reportedly pushed hard for Moore, his former colleague, to get the lucrative construction representative’s position. 

BOE members, however, objected to the Moore hiring saying a newly-hired Facilities Director in the School District could handle oversight of the Chamberlain renovation without the added costs. “We try to save as much as city-wide taxpayer money as possible.” BOE Member Violette Jimenez Sims told the New Britain Herald’s Catherine Shen in a November 24th story. “For me, I would rather spend the money that would directly impact the children that they can use forever and ever and not spending it on a redundant service.” 

The Moore hire was subsequently set aside after BOE Attorney Patrick McHale asserted that state statutes and the ordinance gave the BOE the right of approval of the construction manager who answers to the SBC.

For all its clout in allocating and contracting tens of millions of dollars for school construction the School Building Committee is a relatively obscure municipal government committee.  It’s not easily found on the city website’s link to boards and commissions.   Its Chairperson, Frances Wolski, has been a member for multiple two-year terms during the Stewart administrations. The committee has seven members but two seats are vacant as of February.   The Committee’s most prominent member in recent years has been former Mayor Timothy Stewart, a position of influence he held during his daughter’s first two terms until his mysogynistic social media rants ended his tenure on the committee and as head of the Chamber of Commerce.

Last year the Council approved $57 million for the Chamberlain renovation and re-roofing projects contingent on state reimbursements.  State Representative Bobby Sanchez (D-25), the Chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee, has successfully worked to get a 95% reimbursement from the state for a renovated Chamberlain School in the east end and roof upgrades to two middle schools.

The proposed School Building Committee resolution is certain to raise new concerns by Common Council Democrats over the propriety of removing Council and BOE checks and balances on school construction.  School construction projects involve millions of dollars in state bond and local funds that need to be allocated with competitive bidding and full transparency, which is what the existing ordinance ensures.  Ceding all power now to the Mayor’s office and the Mayoral appointed SBC creates a process that will eliminate oversight by elected BOE and Council members.

Related Story:  School Building Committee Pick For Architect of Smalley Academy Renovation Has Its Share of Troubles.

Related Story from New Britain Herald  Construction Bill Will Fund Three New Britain School Projects

 

 

 

 

The National “Fight For 15” Will Continue After COVID Relief Act Passage

Posted in economy, labor, living wage, minimum wage by nbpoliticus on March 4, 2021

Connecticut and other states are on a path to $15 an hour but the federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009 when it went from $6.55 to $7.25 per hour, an amount that keeps the working poor in poverty or juggling multiple jobs to survive.

By Eshawney Gaston | March 3, 2021

I’m one of America’s millions of essential workers. We’re working in your children’s schools, at your grocery stores, and at drive-through windows. We’re cleaning your homes.

We care for your parents, children, and homes. We should make enough to care for our own, too.

And we’re struggling so hard to make ends meet.

Congress is debating whether to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Experts say this would raise wages for 32 million workers like me.

Supporters had hoped to pass the increase as part of the COVID-19 relief package, but an obscure parliamentary rule says they can’t. Now supporters in Congress will have to decide how hard they’ll fight for us.

I want to share a bit about what it’s like to work for less than a living wage — especially during this pandemic.

In my last job, I sold vacuums door to door. My coworkers and I had to go into strangers’ houses to demonstrate the equipment. But our company didn’t provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and it didn’t require employees or clients to socially distance or wear masks.

Eventually, I caught COVID-19. Instead of supporting me, my manager repeatedly questioned me for quarantining. I didn’t want to risk my life for a low-wage job with no benefits, so I left.

Now I work two low-wage jobs, but neither has benefits. The safety precautions are a little better, but as a home care worker, I’m caring for patients who may or may not wear masks.

It’s especially stressful because I live with my mom, who’s in several high-risk categories. My two jobs aren’t enough to afford an apartment with utilities, furniture, and other expenses, so we’re living in a hotel.

The pandemic made this harder, but the truth is that it’s always been hard — I’m 23 and I’ve already had too many jobs to count. I keep changing jobs to escape poverty wages, harassment, discrimination, exploitation, danger, and a lack of health care. Wherever I go, it doesn’t seem to get better.

This isn’t right. And that’s why I’ve learned to fight back.

When I was working at McDonald’s for $7.25 an hour a few years ago, a co-worker told me she was going to a rally for the Fight for $15 campaign. I asked to go along. It was an amazing experience. We were all there for each other, working for structural change so that we don’t have to live this way. So no one does.

I started dedicating my life to achieving a living wage, union rights, and health care for all. And right now, we’re so close to $15.

Some lawmakers don’t think essential workers like me need a livable wage. I want to tell them they’re wrong. We’re the ones taking care of your ailing parents, teaching your kids, and putting food on your table.

My mom and I deserve a place to call our own. My fellow low-wage workers deserve to be able to buy good food, get quality healthcare, and securely house their families in exchange for their hard and often dangerous work.

Even before the pandemic, 140 million Americans were poor or low-income. Now the economy is down 10 million jobs since the pandemic hit, and at least 8 million more of us are living in poverty.

I don’t want to have to struggle so hard to survive. I don’t want that for anyone. We’ll need more than a living wage to make ends meet for all of us — we’ll need stronger unions and better health care, too — but fair pay for hard work would be a great place to start.

The minimum wage must be raised to $15 an hour. Join the Fight for $15 where you live, and call on your representatives to make it happen. Together we can make this a reality.

Thanks to http://otherwords.org for providing this commentary

New Britain Common Council Vacancy: An Opportunity For Bipartisan Cooperation

Posted in City Hall, city politics and government by nbpoliticus on December 5, 2020

By John McNamara

The alderman-at-large vacancy caused by the election of Emmanuel Sanchez to the 24th District House seat is an opportunity for some all too rare bipartisanship on the closely divided City Council of eight Republicans and seven Democrats.

Starting with an endorsement from Rep.-elect Sanchez, a top vote getter in the 2019 municipal election, Veronica DeLandro is the consensus pick by the Democratic Council caucus and Democratic Town Committee to fill the vacancy. The City Charter requires that Sanchez’ successor must be a Democrat for the unexpired term that ends with next November’s municipal election.  The full 15-member Council fills the vacancy and may do so Wednesday, December 9th.

DeLandro, a former District Director for U.S. Rep, Jahana Hayes and Council Clerk of Committees, is part of a new generation of Democrats in the city who has “paid her dues” politically and has long been involved in the community on boards and organizations supportive of women and educational opportunity. She ran for a Ward One Council seat in 2017 and has elevated her voice on municipal and education issues in campaigns and testimony to the Council and Legislature.

CITY HALL WATCH

As Democratic momentum builds for DeLandro, Daniel Salerno, the Republican caucus leader, intervened last week by saying he “welcomes resumes and cover letters of interested candidates” to fill the the Sanchez seat. Salerno, a registered Democrat who runs with the GOP and is confined to the Republican caucus, boasts that he is the “longest serving Democratic Alderman” on the Council, an assertion refuted by Democratic Councillor Chris Anderson who pointed out the departing Sanchez is the longest serving Democrat on the Council now.

Salerno’s announcement implies that he is the hiring authority with his one-vote majority and that candidates are applying for a job at City Hall with “the requisite experience needed”  as if the voters who elect council members are not a part of the process at all. This not only upends the City Charter but contradicts a longstanding practice of local boards and councils in Connecticut where the council as the appointing authority defers to the town committee, Democratic or Republican, to choose a replacement from their own ranks. That just occurred in New Britain when the Council unanimously appointed Democrat Joey Listro to the Board of Education for Diane Leja who resigned very early in her four-year term. In many towns deferring to town committees has been formalized and is not just an informal tradition.

In New Britain BOE vacancies, which are four-year terms and based on the minority representation law, have cropped up much more than a rare Council vacancy.  But it’s instructive to go back to 2008 when a Democratic Council majority acted badly over a vacancy on the Board of Education. The Republicans’ nomination of former Alderman Jamie Giantonio was tabled and Council Democrats arbitrarily filled the vacancy with Leslie Jacobs, a Republican who was not the choice of her party.  At the time former Republican Town Committee Chair Paul Carver justifiably told the Hartford Courant that the Council majority was “ignoring a city tradition of endorsing candidates nominated by the appropriate town committee for such vacancies.”

The pending Council vacancy is an opportunity to set aside a political power play and partisan grudges that would usurp the will of voters. It would end the year on a note of cooperation as the city deals with the pandemic and before the 2021 municipal election cycle begins. Importantly, it would set a precedent for both political parties and current leaders to follow in the future.  The GOP caucus would be doing itself a favor by deferring to Democrats and seating the well-credentialed Veronica DeLandro for the remainder of Sanchez’ term.

 

New Britain Is Using Two Ballot Drop Boxes At City Hall For Now: Legislators Get Two More OK’d For Heavy Presidential Turnout

Posted in 2020 Election, Voting Rights by nbpoliticus on October 4, 2020

By John McNamara | nbpoliticus.com

With absentee ballots expected to be mailed to voters in the coming days for the November 3rd Presidential Election, New Britain election officials are using two ballot drop boxes at New Britain City Hall. With an expected uptick in absentee voting because of COVID 19,  two more have been made available to the city by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.

Republican Town and City Clerk Mark Bernacki told me that two drop boxes have been installed for both the August Primary and November election in accordance with the Secretary of the State’s requirements. One is outside City Hall’s main door at 27 West Main Street for “24/7 public access” and the other is outside the Clerk’s Office which is available during regular business hours.  Bernacki says the box outside his ground floor office is where walk-in voters may submit applications and ballots “in order to practice safe, social distancing in a busy lobby.” Both applications and the actual ballots may be dropped in the boxes instead of sending them by U.S. Mail.

In early September, Democratic State Representatives Rick Lopes, Peter Tercyak and Bobby Sanchez asked Secretary of the State Merrill for additional drop boxes for the City of New Britain and the request was granted. 

Democratic Registrar of Voters Lucian Pawlak and Democratic city councillors have reportedly urged Bernacki to deploy at least one more ballot drop box elsewhere in the city to expand access and make voting easier for a Presidential election where turnouts can exceed 70% compared to city and state elections where voter participation is significantly lower. Greater use of drop boxes was raised at September’s Democratic Town Committee meeting as local campaigns address the challenge of getting out the vote amid COVID 19 conditions. Firehouse and school locations have been suggested. So far Bernacki is confining use of the drop boxes to City Hall and is reluctant to set up more citing insufficient personnel and time constraints to  collect applications and ballots elsewhere.

“It would be very disappointing if the City Clerk did not use this opportunity to assist New Britain residents in accessing their right to vote,” said Rep. Lopes who is the Democratic candidate for 6th District State Senator. “It’s not asking too much to check a drop box once a day.  This pandemic has asked many sacrifices from all people. As public servants we need to accept the fact that when times are tough, we need to work harder and complain less.  I would ask that we all come together to find a way to help people vote instead of trying to find ways to not help.”

Election officials stress that all polling places will be open on November 3rd at their normal times from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The city has received federal funds to run the election to address the costs of voting amid a pandemic. “With 17 polling places, the registrar’s office is already planning on hiring more poll workers for Election Day and making sure everyone feels safe, which is the biggest challenge, The New Britain Herald’s Catherine Shen reported on September 25th. “They are also doubling up on absentee ballot counters to respond to the expected high influx of mail in ballots.”

Using ballot drop boxes as an alternative to the Post Office has become an ever more contentious issue in battleground states where voter suppression tactics by Republicans have gone into overdrive.

Last week Texas Governor Greg Abbott severely restricted the number of ballot boxes per county and a voter rights’ suit has been filed over an edict clearly designed to block voter turnout in urban and minority areas. Texas and other states also allow early voting in addition to voting by mail, an option that won’t be available to CT voters until a constitutional change occurs.

“Republicans are making it hard to vote even where drop boxes are set up and working,” according to a Washington Monthly story about the “GOP’s multi-front war on voting.” The report said: “In Ohio, for example, each county’s drop box will be located outside of that county’s board of elections buildings. That sounds innocuous enough, but consider Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati. It recently moved its board of elections site from downtown Cincinnati to the northern part of the city, making it much harder to access without a car.”

 

 

 

Republican Candidate For 26th District Stirred Social Media Controversy in 2015

“Racially Divisive” Posts Sunk Ceglarz’ Council Candidacy In The ’15 Municipal

By John McNamara

The New Britain Republican Town Committee’s (NBRTC) slate of legislative candidates for the November 3rd Election includes a nominee who stirred controversy in 2015 that forced his withdrawal from the Councillor-At-Large race that year.

Piotr (Peter) Ceglarz, a member of the NBRTC from Ward 4, is making his second run at incumbent Democrat Peter Tercyak for the General Assembly District that includes John Paul II, Pulaski Middle School, Saint Francis Church and Holmes School polling places.

In 2014 Tercyak defeated Ceglarz for re-election in an uneventful race with both candidates participating in the Citizen Election Program (CEP) of public financing.  In the 2015 municipal election Ceglarz joined the Erin Stewart slate as one of five at large Council candidates.

His short-lived campaign for city office was anything but uneventful.  Soon after the July nominations racially-charged social media posts attributed to Ceglarz’ Facebook page surfaced spreading white nationalist, hateful memes that have become all too familiar in Trump Republicans’ playbooks and are ever present on Facebook and Twitter.

At issue were Facebook posts by Republican Ceglarz in which he shared and agreed with messages from right-wing groups defending the Confederate flag and referring to such organizations as the NAACP, United Negro College Fund and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund as “racist.” In another post President Obama is linked with Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin over gun ownership rights. Ceglarz also disparaged minimum wage workers in disseminating his views at the time of his candidacy for City Council.

The offensive posts led to immediate calls for Ceglarz to exit the campaign by Democrats and drew in media coverage that eventually caused Stewart, protecting her “socially liberal” Republican brand outside of New Britain, to dump Ceglarz once the television and newspapers came calling.

The social media-savvy Mayor with a constant presence on Facebook professed no knowledge of the Ceglarz posts on the day she asked him to leave the slate. “Earlier today I became aware of several postings on Facebook, made by Peter Ceglarz, that were both ill-advised and indefensible in their nature. While I consider Peter to be a good friend, there is simply no room in this campaign for that sort of divisiveness,” the Mayor responded in a written statement.

Ceglarz complied with Erin Stewart’s order to withdraw but without any apology or remorse saying he was the victim of “a political hit job.”  Reacting to the press coverage back then Ceglarz, in a comment to the New Britain Herald, called the paper “the most biased and liberal paper in the state. Sorry but your recent story about me was the biggest B.S. and P.O.S. NICE way to kiss ass with (former Democratic Chair John) McNamara and (former Councillor David) DeFronzo and then calling things racist. Get your facts straight and cover the truth and not lies.”

Coming off the GOP bench to run a third time, the unrepentant 2020 Ceglarz has scrubbed his social media of any of the publically shared racist taunts that abruptly ended his run for office five Augusts ago.  Of more concern, however, is how his personal views may inform his stances on legislative issues that effect the residents of his district in a multi-cultural, diverse community. 

Unfortunately, Ceglarz’ 2015 posts are an example of the vitriol that has been injected via social media into New Britain politics going back to at least 2009. 

Last year older posts attributed to  Democratic Council candidate Antonio Lavoy, Sr. were widely condemned for vulgar remarks directed at Erin Stewart, transgressions for which Lavoy apologized.  And early in 2019 former Mayor Timothy Stewart referred to Democratic women in Congress as “bitches in heat” in a Facebook post during the State of the Union address, a flip remark that brought his forced resignation as head of the Chamber of Commerce after dodging an earlier controversy with the help of State Senator Gennaro Bizzarro, the city corporation counsel and Chamber Board Chairman. 

“Stewart had already been facing calls that he resign or be removed as the head of the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce from a scandal from 2017 in which he made a comment that was widely criticized as racist,” according to the New Britain Progressive. “Stewart had made an online comment that, ‘Unfortunately the inmates continue to run the neighborhood,’ in a discussion regarding the city’s North Oak neighborhood, a neighborhood that has a large Latino and African American population.”

Inflammatory rhetoric, personal insults and racial invective are nothing new in political discourse in New Britain and elsewhere.  But social media — pervasive and unfiltered — accelerates division and does harm to  civic engagement.  There’s no stopping the bigoted and uninformed, egged on by the highest office in the land, to post their rants. But elected leaders and those who aspire to leadership have a special responsibility not to offend nor tolerate those who do so.

(Editor’s Note:  In 2015 I was the Democratic Party Chair and Mayoral candidate and was among Democrats calling for the withdrawal of Ceglarz from the Council race.)