NB Politicus

Tribute To Bart Fisher, the Herald’s Historian-In-Residence

Posted in Hard Hittin' New Britain, journalism, sports by nbpoliticus on January 27, 2013

Herald sportswriter Bart Fisher, who died last week at age 68, touched many, many people with his coverage of sports, “encyclopedic” knowledge of athletics and community and informative pieces about the city’s history.  Invariably a Bart Fisher column would reveal little known but important aspects of New Britain’s past that gave us a deeper understanding and appreciation of where we live.

Dennis Buden, a former Herald writer, gave one of the tributes to his mentor:

Bart’s Hardware City History column in The Herald offered a weekly chance for nostalgic readers like me to fondly recall the New Britain of a kinder, gentler time. His Around Town column highlighted the special people and places in our community, and always brought a smile. His reporting and countless columns as Herald sports editor, chronicling the exploits of New Britain’s athletes over the last 40 years, preserve a permanent and poetic record of New Britain lore as only Bart could tell it.

Link to tribute:

The New Britain Herald : New Britain, Conn., and surrounding areas (newbritainherald.com)

Community Journalism Gone Bad

Posted in Housing, journalism by nbpoliticus on January 27, 2013

The New Britain City Journal, once a promising venture in community journalism, has plunged into a tabloid gutter of innuendo, rumor and personal attack over the issue of regulating non-owner occupied housing and paying for code enforcement in the city.  

The City Journal, violating basic rules of journalism with all kinds of unsubstantiated accusations, has taken sides and cast its lot with out-of-town landlords, particularly their loudest voice,  New Yorker Sam Zherka, the owner of Farmington Hills apartments (formerly Ledgecrest Village) and publisher of The Westchester Guardian

Yellow Journalism In New Britain

Every week now scurrilous stories and anonymous advertising of questionable legality are hammering the O’Brien administration and members of the Common Council. 

The latest “news story” in the January 25th edition, offers readers a $25,000 reward for information leading to “the arrest and conviction” of Mayor O’Brien and Aide Phil Sherwood to “clean up city (sic) of a corrupt and dirty administration.”  The Journal, at Zherka’s behest, is relying on readers to come up with the “dirt and corruption” to bring down Mayor O’Brien. 

Wrote City Journal Editor and Publisher Robin Vinci: “Anyone who has any information is asked to send it to: The New Britain City Journal….and it will be forwarded to ‘Taxpayers and Associates affiliated with Farmington Hills.”  

The situation at the New Britain City Journal is akin to what occurred at Zherka’s Westchester paper in 2010.   
In his column, “The ‘Zherkus’ is back in town,” Phil Reisman of  The Gannett-owned Journal News wrote a story on the resignation of the Guardian’s editor in chief, Sam Abady: 

“The falling-out was caused by the Sept. 16 issue, which featured a cover story about Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone titled,’Rumours (sic) Of Impending Indictment?’ The piece by Hezi Aris, who succeeded Abady as editor, is all over the map in its criticism of the Mayor, but it never says exactly why Amicone is supposedly in hot water. It is overwrought, rife with tortured metaphorical references to the battle of Gallipoli, Shakespeare and ‘Waiting for Godot’ — and thick with innuendo and winking, read-between the lines suggestions of criminality. Nothing is substantiated. But the most damning piece is that Aris all but admits he didn’t have the only metaphor that matters — the smoking gun. The self incriminating sentence is as follows: ‘The rumor mill has been spewing out tidbits of information accepted as ‘facts’ by some, yet is unsubstantiated to date.” 

In that 2010 column Reisman reported that Zherka, the organizer of a Tea Party demonstration in White Plains (confirming his right-wing, extremist views),  had won a 1st amendment lawsuit when the Yonkers Mayor overstepped his bounds during a longstanding feud and ordered removal of newspaper dispensing boxes.  

“Besides owning a topless bar in New York City and publishing a vanity newspaper filled with political conspiracy theories, Zherka is known for being a self-styled ‘player’ with a flare for attracting attention,” wrote Reisman, “Zherka is also notorious for filing lawsuits against public officials he believes have crossed him. There are many who fall into this category — and many have also been the subject of sensational attack stories in The Guardian since it was started in 2006.”

When the City Journal began in October 2009 it was the subject of a laudatory post by NB Politicus. Then known as the Hardware City Journal, the grassroots, free-circulation paper was praised on this blog:

New Britain’s “October surprise” has nothing to do with the upcoming municipal election and everything to do with what may be a revival of community journalism in town.
The first edition of Hardware City Journal (HCJ), a 16-page free circulation paper, began circulating Friday (Oct. 16th) packed full of local news and information. The paper, with only a handful of ads upon which free circulation newspapers usually depend, is similar in content and appearance to the Berlin Citizen weekly next door. The upstart HCJ appears to be the brainchild of Robin Vinci, a former Herald reporter who covered Berlin and a native of New Britain. Vinci’s love for her native city comes through in an opening letter on the editorial page. She is a journalist who knows the town she is writing about past and present, a factor which can count for a lot in delivering news you may not find elsewhere.

Robin Vinci denies that anything has changed at the City Journal or that it has become Sam Zherka’s “vanity newspaper” in New Britain.   She maintains the out-of-town landlord’s money and influence are not a part of her publication. It’s hard to believe, however, that print and online ads  in a 16 page tabloid alone are paying for mailings of the paper into 23,000 households and for the addition of  “writers” and ad reps who may be imported by Zherka himself.  

Whatever the Vinci-Zherka relationship,  the tone and content of Ms. Vinci’s stories over the past few months calls into question her credibility as a reporter.  Her tirades without facts about the O’Brien administration sound more like a propagandist  beholden to special interests, the Republican Party or both.  

The City Journal has  abandoned the mission that you can still find on its online masthead: We will not publish accusations or hurtful comments. We feel New Britain is a great city and want to focus on the brighter, positive aspects of it.”

This is not the same City Journal that won praise here three and a half years ago.  The promise of “honest, straight-forward reporting” has given way to the strident and sensational and an agenda that is not in the public interest.


Sunshine On State Budget: Lembo Launches Open Connecticut

Posted in Comptroller, state budget, state government by nbpoliticus on January 14, 2013

Score one for State Comptroller Kevin Lembo on the government and transparency front to start 2013. .

Lembo has launched a new website for the public to get an unabridged and politically neutral one-stop source for where state government spends its money, gets its income and borrows. If there are inefficiencies or redundancies to root out as CT faces billion dollar budget deficits this is the place to find it. “Sunshine,” the Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “is the best disinfectant.”

Open Connecticut is more comprehensive than the website served up by the Yankee Institute — a right wing think tank — that paints state employees with a broad brush whether they are earning their keep or notand uses data to tear down government  

According to Lembo’s office Open Connecticut — www.osc.ct.gov/openct —centralizes state financial data and simplifies access to important information about the state budget and its financial future.

Here’s more from the Comptroller’s Office:

“It’s your money, and you have a right to know,” Lembo said. ‘That’s the simple message behind Open Connecticut. ‘Pockets of state financial information have long been available, but scattered across state agencies. Those who actually have the time to locate information often discover the next difficult step – understanding the information. ‘Through Open Connecticut we want to accomplish at least two things – we want to end the scavenger hunt for taxpayers by creating a centralized warehouse for financial information, and we want to help explain and break down the state’s financial processes as simply as possible. ‘We want to help answer basic questions that the public may have – and deserves to know – about state government. For example, what exactly is in the state budget? Where did our deficits or surpluses come from? How much did we spend on a particular vendor or program? And what should we expect in future years?” Open Connecticut is currently organized into seven sections: STATE BUDGET: Provides access to the state budgets for current and previous years, annual end-of-year financial reports, deficit mitigation plans and results-based accountability (RBA) reports that serve as report cards on how state money was spent on certain projects. STATE INCOME: Features monthly reports by the Department of Revenue Services on the amount of state revenue received, as well as reports on income tax collected by bracket and by town. STATE BORROWING:  Provides access to the state’s Bond Allocation Database, which contains information about projects approved by the State Bond Commission. This section also features background about the State Bond Commission, its members and how the bond authorization and allocation process works.  FUTURE COST OBLIGATIONS:  Provides background and links to actuarial reports on the state’s various retirement systems and retiree health care (known as the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) report). FOLLOW THE MONEY:  Features links to transparency.ct.gov, an existing searchable website maintained by the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) that already provides information (from the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC)) about employee salaries, vendor payments, retiree pensions and other detailed information about state spending. FINANCIAL FORECAST:  Includes links to monthly independent financial forecast reports by the OSC, OFA and Office of Policy and Management, as well as links to fiscal accountability reports and consensus revenue projections.  TAX BREAKS & EXEMPTIONS: Provides links to reports by OFA and Department of Economic and Community Development on the cost of tax expenditures and evaluations on certain tax credit and abatement programs. Open Connecticut also features brief tutorials on issues such as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the state spending cap and consensus revenue. “This site is by no means a finished product – but a starting point towards greater transparency and connectivity between the public and state government,” Lembo said. “My goal is to see this site evolve and expand to include more information as it becomes available. I encourage state residents to use the site, to better understand their government – and to let us know if they have ideas to improve the site going forward.” Lembo, as state comptroller, is the state’s chief fiscal guardian. In that capacity he monitors state finances and issues monthly and annual financial reports. Elected in 2010, Lembo previously served as the state’s Health Care advocate..