NB Politicus

Zherka Arrest A Reminder Of Yellow Journalism And Dark Money In 2013 City Campaign

Posted in Campaign Finance, city government, courts, Hard Hittin' New Britain, Housing by nbpoliticus on September 28, 2014

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.

From http://www.newbritaindemocrat.org

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

State Marshals: It’s Not What You Know But…….?

Posted in county government, courts, state marshals by nbpoliticus on June 21, 2009

A recent Courant story on the hiring of state marshals suggests that a little cronyism and political backscratching may be creeping back into a relatively new system for the hiring of marshals — the individuals who serve the legal papers on behalf of lawyers and courts.

At issue is whether more reform would be appropriate for a state that uses independent contractors (marshals) not officers of the court to notify the innocent and the guilty of legal proceedings impacting their lives.

If you get to be a marshal and have cultivated a relationship with one or more law firms, the gig can be down right lucrative. Fees can range from picking a nice $25 or $30K a year to supplement the family budget to seven-figure businesses that rival or exceed the pay of senior vice presidents at insurance companies. There’s a risk side to all of it. A marshal serving an eviction notice or coming to foreclose on a home doesn’t know who’s behind the door when they come knocking. And marshals need to run a business that may entail taking on hired hands to keep the records straight.

These risks and responsibilities, however, are outweighed by the financial rewards. So wouldn’t you be outraged if you “aced” the test only to find the Lt. Governor’s low-scoring pal got the appointment?

This latest flap over appointments should be a cause for concern. But it can hardly compared with the old. In the bad old days of the county sheriffs, appointments were almost exclusively a patronage domain of the political parties.

The high sheriffs with offices in the county courthouses would be elected every four years. Incumbents had the advantage of shaking down the appointed deputies and deputy wannabes. The high sheriff, who picked the high paying assignments for himself, would also control the judicial court sheriffs who would staff the halls of justice without the union protection afforded all state employees. The only thing high sheriffs had to worry about was securing the endorsement and nomination of their parties for re-election. The sheriffs would continually patronize the local party chairmen and elected officials, and provide no small amount of financial support and election help for the party bosses.

This last vestige of county government was finally vanquished in a 2002 referendum. The state Marshal Commission was set up to replace the county sheriffs, toppling them from their courthouse fiefdoms and ending the pure political patronage upon which serving legal papers had been based.

The new commission under Governor Rowland, working with a small budget and few resources to develop better ways to manage the sheriffs (marshals), instituted the current system of merit exams, qualifications, standards and reporting requirements to regulate the state marshal conduct. The legislation mandating a referendum also allowed for the “grandfathering” of incumbent sheriffs to be appointed marshals with commission approval. Many of those who worked in the old sheriff system are still there, among them a top tier making millions of dollars a year. (I recall this having been a member of the marshal commission in its first two years).

The marshal commission itself is still a politically-driven body with its appointees coming from the Governor, who controls the majority, and the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate. Lt. Governor Fedele should hope that he’s covered his tracks in denying he had nothing to do with the appointment of his friend.

The rampant sheriff patronage is gone in 2009 but political favoritism may be making a comeback to influence who gets the badges and the remuneration that goes with them.