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.

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 The address is PO Box 2111, New Britain, CT 06050

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

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.

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

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.