The arrest and jailing of former Farmington Hills Apartment Complex owner Sam Zherka earlier this month was a fresh reminder of the collusion between and among New Britain Republicans, the New Britain City Journal and a small group of out-of-town landlords throughout 2013.
Zherka faces a long indictment for alleged bank loan fraud, income tax fraud and witness tampering . Two of the bank fraud charges relate to his ownership of Farmington Hills complex in the Ledgecrest Avenue area.
In New Britain, Zherka was a ring leader for out-of-town landlords who, in Zherka’s own words, put together $100,000 last year to “wipe out” Mayor O’Brien and Democrats on the Common Council.
The political spending began at a raucous November 2012 City Hall hearing on proposed fees for absentee landlords to pay for housing and code enforcement. Zherka admitted to transporting tenants and paying them to go to City Hall to oppose the policy. Thereafter the assault on the truth in the pages of the City Journal began.
At a CT Property Owners Association meeting at Stanley Golf Course in November 2012 former Mayor Tim Stewart gave a glowing introduction to Zherka who then announced the raising of $100,000 to “wipe out” elected officials in New Britain.
At the same meeting, current Corporation Counsel Gennaro Bizzarro ( this year’s 24th District Republican for state representative), addressed the CTPOA group. Bizzarro, in addition to his City Hall duties, has represented the CTPOA through his law practice. Mayor Stewart and other members of the Republican slate addressed CTPOA meetings pledging to repeal absentee landlord fees.
Following Zherka’s arrest this month, the New Britain Republican Town Committee blocked the video of Stewart, Zherka and Bizzarro speaking together; covering up the off the books financial help and gutter political action carried out by Zherka on their behalf last year. Last year’s cash cow and friendly political provocateur is this year’s liability.
The Waterbury-based Connecticut Property Owners Alliance (CTPOA), led by Bob DeCosmo , later established a political action committee to finance a campaign against Democrats. But the CTPOA PAC was merely a front group. Very little campaign money was raised in legitimate and legal ways by the out-of-town landlord PAC for Stewart or any other candidates.
The “$100,000” announced by Zherka almost certainly was poured into the New Britain City Journal to enable it editor and publisher, Robin Vinci, to mail her publication into households week after week. Postage costs alone run into the thousands of dollars for one mailing to New Britain households. Zherka’s largesse to Vinci also included the services of a “reporter” from his New York newspaper, to write a laudatory piece on Zherka
Scurrilous is too kind a word to describe the numerous editions of the City Journal throughout 2013 and into 2014 which contained misrepresentations and inflammatory language against O’Brien and members of the Common Council.
Perhaps the most damning example of spreading falsehoods and Vinci’s vitriol is found in January 24, 2013 story in the City Journal offering a $10,000 reward for Mayor O’Brien’s arrest and conviction “to clean up a corrupt and dirty administration.”
After extensively quoting Zherka attacking the O’Brien administration, Vinci took leave of her questionable status as a journalist to write: “Anyone who has any information is asked to send it to: The New Britain City Journal, PO Box 2111, New Britain, CT 06050 and it will be forwarded to Taxpayers and Associates affiliated with Farmington Hills.”
Zherka and the CTPOA also created a now defunct website, http://www.savenewbritain.com, that spread the City Journal’s false and inflammatory information on the city administration and council Democrats last year.
Don’t count on Sam Zherka’s name appearing in the pages of the City Journal nor at the GOP town committee site anymore. It’s an open question, however, whether Zherka’s ill-gotten money and publishing resources may still be underwriting the City Journal that has morphed into a newsletter for Mayor Erin Stewart in the first year of her administration.
Residents of all political stripes committed to the rule of law and civility in local politics can only hope that dark campaign money, voter intimidation and yellow journalism masquerading as community journalism will not be repeated in our city.
What occurred during the 2013 municipal election was an assault on democracy for which many questions remain to be answered.
Correction: An earlier version of the post referenced a CTPOA meeting”at the height” of the 2013 campaign. The meeting was held in November 2012