NB Politicus

Beware of Professional Politicians Accusing their Opponents of Being A "Professional Politician"

Posted in city politics and government, national politics by nbpoliticus on September 17, 2011

I once knew a state representative in Lynn, MA who came up with a winning slogan: “Tim Bassett Is A Lousy Politician”.  As I recall, the  Lynn lawmaker used the phrase to win  a term or two or three up on Beacon Hill giving  meaning to the use of irony in politics.

That same claim has been resurrected over and over again at every level and every year since I first heard it.

In presidential politics this year Mitt Romney, the former Governor of MA, the  former nominee for U.S. Senate and 2008 presidential contender, is using the line again, having accused his GOP opponents of being “professional politicians” in a recent speech. Shameless.

In New Britain, Mayoral Nominee Tim O’Brien’s primary opponent, a multi-term alderman and office seeker, labeled himself the “people’s advocate, not professional politician!!!”  Shameless again.

Most voters easily dismiss the “professional politician” charge because it always comes from a professional politician trying to deflect attention from issues and their own credentials.   The use of the tag line, however, is just another way of putting down the pursuit of politics and public service — a meaningless phrase that further contributes to voter apathy and indifference.
And what’s wrong with voting for a professional politician? He or she may know what their doing when they attain public office.

Hearing on FY 12 City Budget May 12th at Slade Middle School

Posted in city politics and government, municipal budget by nbpoliticus on April 21, 2011

Now that the Stewart administration has put a $216 million budget on the table officials have set a public hearing for Thursday May 12th at 6 p.m.   The hearing will be held at Slade Middle School, not the high school as originally announced.

With federal recovery act funds gone and a best-case scenario of level funding for state education aid, the operative word is “layoff”from the brass at the Board of Education and the Mayor’s Office.

At City Hall, Mayor Stewart says $11 million must be saved via layoffs or related reductions in or to the work force.

Should New Britain Follow Tulsa And Consider Mediation at City Hall?

Posted in city politics and government by nbpoliticus on February 25, 2011

A Mayor and City Council majority are facing a big divide over budgets, policies and ethics.
The verbal disputes get heated with name calling and over the top rhetoric that pit one branch of government against another. All of this is occurring weeks ahead of what will be a very difficult municipal budget process.

The situation sounds a lot like New Britain and the continuing breech between the Mayor, his Republican allies on the Council and the Democratic majority on the Council — a breech that grew worse when the Mayor lost a special election for state Senate this week and the Council leadership moved for a moratorium on city work for elected officials because of charges of favoritism towards them.

As much as it sounds like New Britain,  similar conflicts are occurring in Tulsa, Oklahoma where the idea of mediation has surfaced as a way to get the city’s business done.

The news story from a local TV station quotes a local judge that seemingly intractable differences could be addressed  “in 30 days” if all sides agreed to sit down.

TULSA, OK — There’s talk of reconciliation between Tulsa’s Mayor and the City Council.

The mayor and council might go into mediation to talk out their problems – and Thursday both sides took a step in that direction.

With Mayor Bartlett looking on, the City Council quizzed two retired judges about whether they could repair the mayor and council relationship.

“We can get for you what you want for the citizens of Tulsa and we can do that through mediation,” Sam Joyner, a retired judge, said.

Sam Joyner and Daniel Boudreau have offered to serve as unpaid mediators and think they can settle the issues.

“If everyone wants to participate in the process, I think we could get it done in 30 days,” Joyner said.

A short list of the issues includes the claim that Bartlett and Terry Simonson lied to the council and their ethics complaint against him. There’s an allegation the council shouldn’t have a city attorney, a lawsuit claiming the council violated the open meetings act and a threatened defamation lawsuit as well.

New Britain should be a big enough town to identify a judge or mediator who would enjoy the confidence of all sides so that the city’s business could get done.  It’s a certainty that the political and personal differences that have arisen aren’t likely to be eliminated. But a reduced level of acrimony, respect for the rules and charter and some greater level of constructive communication between elected officials from opposite parties are in the best interests of the city.

If they are out there judges or diplomats may apply at City Hall.

Tim Stewart As Mayor and Senator? City Charter Says Not So Fast

Posted in city politics and government by nbpoliticus on January 10, 2011

In declaring his candidacy for the vacant 6th District State Senate seat on January 7th, Mayor Tim Stewart said at his announcement he “would not rule out the possibility of keeping both jobs” if elected to the Senate.

While Stewart  may want to hold both elective offices and the salaries that go with them,  the New Britain City Charter says otherwise in Article V. Section 5.

The Mayor shall devote the full time necessary to the duties of the office and shall have no other occupation during the term of office and shall keep the office open during such hours of each business day as the Ordinances of the City shall direct.

Unlike municipalities with full-time city managers and mayor/legislative bodies, New Britain requires nothing less than a full-time mayor to manage a $220 million budget and “keep the office open.” The last revision of the city charter gave even more powers to the executive branch, making moonlighting at the State Capitol a stretch whether the charter states “no other occupation” or not.

Out of the Senate campaign starting gate, however, Stewart is showing no small amount of hubris in suggesting he could do both jobs and adequately serve the people of the 6th District and the city at the same time.

The charter prohibition aside,  city residents deserve and require a full-time CEO.

The over-reaching Mayor would have been wise to check with the corporation counsel before saying he’d keep a public office twofer under consideration.

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

Posted in city politics and government by nbpoliticus on May 17, 2010

 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.

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

Posted in CCSU, city politics and government by nbpoliticus on February 21, 2010

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

Trash Talk From Mayor Sets Wrong Tone At Start of New Term

Posted in city politics and government by nbpoliticus on November 14, 2009

Mayor Stewart began a new term this week with an official call for an “end to political warfare” between his office and the City Council, according to Courant coverage

And there was some high-minded rhetoric from Stewart to get things going:

“Today we stand at the threshold of becoming a new and exciting city, one that will be the centerpiece of central Connecticut — at the crossroads of prosperity and the future home of new and emerging workplaces for our citizens to grow and prosper. Our city has seen days of glory and days of decline, but surely our best days lie ahead of us.”

At Thursday’s first Council meeting Stewart urged civility, according to Jim Craven’s story in the Herald under the headline “Stewart Demands Civility“.

But Stewart’s admonitions to the Democratic City Council were quickly contradicted in a series of published quotes from the Mayor in both daily newspapers: Council leaders Phil Sherwood and Mike Trueworthy are “hacks” , “carpetbaggers” and “liars” who will obstruct his agenda over the next few years.

In a story by Don Stacom in the Courant, Stewart didn’t hold anything back:

“I don’t like Michael [Trueworthy], but I can talk with him. Phil Sherwood? He’s a carpetbagger and a partisan hack. I don’t like him and I don’t respect him — never did and never will,” Stewart said last week.

Stewart and Republicans call out Democrats on the Council for going after department heads and showing disrespect to developers; a questionable charge when it is the obligation of the Council to oversee budget and policy matters and to ask pointed questions when you are committing city resources to major investments. Democrats assert that the Mayor’s office is over the top in keeping a tight lid on public information that should be available to them.

The Mayor, perhaps realizing the discord his words were sowing, backtracked late in the week and “apologized” for remarks he attributed to the heat of the campaign. His verbal shots at Sherwood, however,(“nobody I would break bread with”) continued. And in a serious blow to mayor-council cooperation at the start of a new term, Stewart shut the door on regular meetings with Council leadership to work on city business.

At this early point in the new term, relations between the administration and council are no better off than they were during last spring’s budget debate and in the run up to the municipal campaign.

At the time New Britain Democrat observed:

Some observers may say that Stewart has to be on guard and keep his cards close to his vest all the time because of the dominance of Democrats on the Council. That assumes, however, there is not an ounce of good will from Democrats and that the partisan divide will never be bridged. But voters, who’ve opted for divided government in recent elections, want and expect their elected officials to end the campaign the day after the election and govern without partisan sniping at every turn. Politically, the Mayor has benefited from a “me against them” strategy; he may feel that partisanship is the winning strategy, even if that strategy is not always a good way to govern.

Sherwood and the Democrats issued their own calls for cooperation and appeared more surprised than angry at Stewart’s post-election diatribes.

“The challenges to the city are so severe and numerous. I don’t think we have to agree on everything, but we can be less suspicious of each other,” Sherwood told the Courant. Rep. Tim O’Brien, the Democratic mayoral nominee, issued a conciliatory statement pledging to continue work on the issues he raised in the campaign.

The Mayor’s intemperate remarks, perhaps fueled by Democrats’ continued dominance onthe Council, can’t help his administration nor the city amid a difficult recession and the “challenges” everyone agrees we face.

Although shuttle diplomacy is not often raised in local politics, the prospect of a continuing City Hall stalemate left one observer wondering if there are influential individuals outside of the process who could bring the Mayor and Council leadership into a room to get down to the business of governing and set aside the campaigning for a while.

State Rep. O’Brien Poised To Take Mayoral Plunge

Posted in city politics and government by nbpoliticus on July 12, 2009

State Rep. Tim O’Brien (D-24) is set to make an announcement on his political plans this year at an announcement on July 17th to be held at the Pulaski Democratic Club, 89 Grove Street, from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

O’Brien formed an exploratory committee earlier this year to consider running for Mayor and he has since been meeting with voters and groups to gauge and build support for a possible mayoral run.

According to the Democratic Town Committee (DTC), no other Democrat has expressed an interest in the running for Mayor in the run up to endorsements to be held later this month.

O’Brien, a former councilor at large, was elected to the state House in 2002 and has made clean elections, property tax reform and equitable funding for cities cornerstones of his legislative efforts.

If nominated, O’Brien is expected to take on Republican Timothy Stewart who is expected to seek a fourth two-year term in the heavily Democratic city where Democrats currently dominate the City Council 13 to 2 and hold all state legislative seats. Stewart, a firefighter on leave of absence from his job as fire marshal, defeated Democrat Lucian Pawlak in 2003 riding a wave of anti-tax sentiment when property valuations soared by 40 percent. Stewart has successfully played a “me against them” theme in subsequent elections against Democratic opponents.

O’Brien has been a leading advocate in the legislature of comprehensive property tax reform that would reduce the property tax as a levy to pay for schools and other local services. During his tenure as Vice Chair of the GAE Committee, public financing and clean elections law was finally adopted. A blogger, O’Brien initiated the move by public officials late last year to seek the help of the state Department of Economic Development to save the New Britain Herald when the bankrupt Journal Register Company was ready to shut down the Herald and Bristol Press. In January, publisher Michael Schroeder emerged to revive the local dailies following the DECD’s efforts to identify buyers for the local papers.

In considering a run for municipal office, O’Brien is breaking the mold for New Britain Democrats over the last generation. Elected Democrats have often moved from city government to the state legislature but not the other way around.

New Britain Democrats are scheduled to endorse their candidates on July 28th.

Stewart’s double standard on state budget priorities

Posted in city politics and government, state aid by nbpoliticus on April 8, 2009

Mayor Tim Stewart has lashed out at New Britain’s all Democratic legislative delegation for reductions in local aid made in a Democratic state budget plan presented last week.

Stewart, facing the prospect of higher property taxes in a bad economy, delivered a “broadside” that takes aim at State Rep. John Geragosian (D-25), the House appropriations Chair, and the entire delegation for a proposed reduction in state aid from casino revenue.

Gambling dollars, originally sold as a means of supporting education, have become another component of state aid to cities and towns since a portion of income from the slots started coming in the early 1990s. The casino revenue is another form of payments in lieu of taxes since the two tribes with casinos are considered sovereign under federal law.

In a statement released this week Stewart takes issue with a reduction in gambling aid in a Democratic plan that addresses a confirmed $2.7 billion shortfall in Rell’s original budget proposal presented last February. “Stewart said he was extremely disappointed upon learning the proposal would mean a reduction of $865,000 in state funding for the city,” according to the Herald’s coverage.

Stewart’s complaint, however, rings hollow when you compare his response to the Democratic budget plan with his effusive praise of Governor Rell’s budget. In a joint statement last month Stewart and Bridgeport’s Democratic mayor, Bill Finch, praised Rell’s budget for not reducing allocations for schools under the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula.

What Stewart and Finch forgot to mention was that most other forms of state aid to their cities was cut by substantial amounts in Rell’s proposed budget. With her balance sheet more than $2 billion out of whack, you would think Rell could have preserved other forms of local aid. Rell, for example, reduced PILOT funds (payments in lieu of taxes for CCSU, hospitals and state agency property) by $1.6 million. Overall, Rell’s numbers give New Britain 2.2% less by reducing PILOT, casino, capital improvement and town aid for roads, not to mention elimination of state services that benefit city residents.

The Mayor conveniently ignores the features of Rell’s plan that would severely compromise New Britain’s ability to deliver essential services. And Stewart, a Republican, has shown no inclination to ask his Republican Governor to work for a fairer deal for the city.

The Democratic legislative delegation remains a favorite target of Stewart’s derisive comments and partisan charges. It’s a refrain all too familiar for Stewart who has sniped at legislators in prior years. For all of Stewart’s years in office, the delegation and Legislature took on Rell and significantly upped state aid to the city when the economy was better and state revenues weren’t dropping off a cliff. Stewart has been the chief political beneficiary of using state aid to hold the line on property taxes thanks to the lawmakers he is so quick to criticize.

A comparison of Rell’s proposed budgets and those adopted through the Legislature has a consistent outcome: state aid amounts would have been a lot worse for New Britain had Governor Rell prevailed in the last state budget. And they would be a lot worse for New Britain this year if Tim Stewart’s friend in the corner office of the State Capitol has her way.

The reality of this budget cycle, as one state lawmaker put it, is that the Governor and Legislature have “to pick their poison” to balance the budget and maintain services. Stewart’s “blame game” tactics are predictable. But given the severity of the budget crisis, it would be a good time for the mayor to set aside partisan sniping and work cooperatively with the delegation. Time is running short as the city and state face a June deadline to adopt budgets for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

The Courant: Then and Now

Posted in city politics and government, journalism by nbpoliticus on March 2, 2009

I had the privilege of raising money for Hartford’s Camp Courant back in the early 1990s. For one year I walked to a small cubicle assigned me in advertising at the newspaper’s 285 Broad Street offices to seek support for the century-old free day camp serving thousands of Hartford’s 5-12 year olds. Every day I would go down a corridor passing stacks and stacks of the newspapers left for easy reference — an experience akin to a kid in a candy store for someone like me whose first job out of journalism school was covering city hall, state government and anything else newsworthy for a weekly paper. In the early 1990s the Courant didn’t publish just one or two editions, but more than 10 different “zoned” editions. Bureaus from the Shoreline to the Northwest hills were plentiful and the “oldest continuously published newspaper” in the country probably had three or four times the number of people in editorial and news than is the case now. Before online news took hold, CT’s biggest daily offered a news digest every day at 3 p.m. faxed on one sheet to subscribers who wanted tomorrow’s headline and stories a day early. I remember senior managers saying that lay offs just didn’t happen at a paper that was so dominant in its circulation area.

All of this is a sentimental way of saying that things have changed drastically for our metropolitan newspaper of record. Until a few years ago, even as the internet became pervasive ,the Courant was a public utility for news and commerce that thoroughly “penetrated” the marketplace of ideas and business.

The business models of the linear age and the increasing concentration of newspapers into a few corporate hands are decimating what’s left of newsrooms — last week’s Courant layoffs of State House reporter Mark Pazniokas and others being the latest blow to good reporting and decent coverage in the capital city. You would think the Courant would want to sell off some physical assets, or rent some of the empty cubicles on Broad Street to maintain that kind of experience and talent, if only for a while longer.

Here in New Britain the dismantling of the metropolitan newspaper is complete. The bureau and home to a string of good journalists through the years (Lisa Chedekel, Joanne Klimkiewicz, Mike McIntire to name a few) on South Street quietly closed, consolidated to a regional Middletown office. Gone is the coverage of important City Council meetings and other government actions on a regular basis. The reporters who are left are gamely covering many more towns and doing what they can to deliver the news regionally and with less space in the print edition.

To some extent the revival of The Herald and its new local ownership has abated a total news blackout of what’s happening in politics and government.

And there is still the largely untapped potential of local journalism to define itself in cyberspace: “The ease of blogging and exchanges of opinions online are addressing some gaps in the greatly diminished coverage of the dailies. It’s also true that there is infinitely more news and opinion available globally for any interested reader,” a recent blog noted about saving the hometown dailies.

But the situation remains difficult for an effective “Fourth Estate” locally and regionally. The further erosion of reporting and coverage by the Courant is a painful reminder that a void in how we keep the politicians honest and stay informed will get worse before it gets better.

(You can make a donation to Camp Courant at the above referenced website. It’s a nonprofit bearing the newspaper’s name that is a very worthy cause in Hartford)