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

What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate: Rock Cats Owners Didn’t Even Bother To Tell The Big Club

Posted in baseball, city politics and government, Hard Hittin' New Britain by nbpoliticus on June 13, 2014

One of the biggest complaints coming out of the pending deal by the Rock Cats and the City of Hartford is that key “stakeholders” were not let in on the talks nor intentions of the team’s ownership to vacate New Britain Stadium in 2016 for the proposed I-84 linked Parcel 12B in downtown Hartford.

Neither New Britain’s Mayor Stewart nor State Senator Eric Coleman nor even the team’s big corporate sponsor, The Stanley Works, among others, were consulted or given as much as a courtesy call.

Well move over Erin and Eric. As it turns out local officials and sponsors were not the only ones left out of the loop. The ownership group led by Boston real estate mogul Josh Solomon didn’t even bother to inform the big club in Minnesota.

A news blog out of Minneapolis reports that the MLB Twins of which the Rock Cats are a Double A affiliate in the Eastern League were also blindsided by the New Britain to Hartford project. And we’re not talking about the busway here.

“The Twins were not consulted about the plans of their Class AA affiliate, the New Britain Rock Cats, to move into a $60 million stadium in Hartford, Conn., for the 2016 season, a deal announced in the state’s capital Wednesday. But Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said the Twins understand why owner Josh Solomon is making the move, and will likely support him,” wrote Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on June 5th

Hartford city officials are giving the Rock Cats owners a pass about their insistence on cloak and dagger negotiations. Hartford’s Development Director told Connecticut Public Radio  that development proposals, if they are to come to fruition, need to be  under wraps before moving into the public domain.

So much for planning the use of taxpayer money with transparency. And the Twins — a long way away from New Britain anyway — are excusing the Solomons for their pursuit of a new park in secrecy.

The Rock Cats owners, however, may be in for a rude awakening now that the $60 million plan is subject to oversight and the full involvement of stakeholders in the process.

They want to walk away from New Britain’s sweetheart deal of a $120,000 or so annual lease because they want even more public subsidies from their current local government.

They see dollar signs and corporate sky boxes at their proposed band box of a publically financed park in downtown Hartford. But if it can’t be built, if the project won’t survive a legitimate public vetting, they — the fans and corporate sponsors –will not come.

Mr. Solomon may think he has a back up in Springfield but there are no guarantees there.

In the end the Rock Cats owners may have to come crawling back to hard hittin’ New Britain just for a place to play two years hence. If that occurs let’s negotiate the deal in the open with the involvement of all stakeholders.

NB Holds Its Own With Population at 72,939: Counting Heads Key To Amount of Funds City Can Receive

Posted in federal funds, Hard Hittin' New Britain, U.S. Census by nbpoliticus on May 22, 2014


New Britain’s population is holding steady according to US Census data estimates reported by the Courant May 22nd.

The city’s estimated population in 2010 was 73,202 and was 72,939 in 2013, a drop of 263 residents.

The census counts are a key to funding formulas for a wide variety of state and federal funding programs that support cities and towns.

A Brookings Institution brief points to the importance of population numbers in terms of public investments and economic aid. Billions of federal dollars flow into communities based on the results of the census that is taken every 10 years.  The latest numbers show New Britain — an economically distresses city — is faring no better or worse in the way state and federal funds are disbursed.

The count also figures in the way Congressional districts and political boundaries are drawn.

For example, New Britain was once part of the 6th Congressional district prior to 2000 but population drops reduced the number of Congressional districts to five.


It May Be A "Magic Bus" After All: NB As The Center Of Rapid Transit

Posted in downtown, environment, Hard Hittin' New Britain, transportation by nbpoliticus on January 26, 2014

CT Fastraks — called the “magic bus” to critics such as former Governor John Rowland — will start rolling 12 months from now (February 2015) on the 9.3-mile rail right of way from New Britain to Hartford.

The New Britain Herald’s Scott Whipple previews the potential of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for New Britain folks using the bus to get to Hartford’s theater and cultural institutions in a Sunday story.

At drive time I’ve listened to WTIC’s Rowland carp about a project (ironically) launched during his time in the Governor’s office.

But next winter I am counting on it to get to the job in Hartford instead of sitting in stalled traffic on I-84.  It just so happens that the I-84 trek that intersects with I-91in Hartford has the most traffic volume anywhere in the nation. Not surprising given the limits and difficulty of what CT Transit busses currently offer.

New Britain’s Terminal Takes Shape (CT DOT)

Right now, if the work day in downtown Hartford takes me past 5:30 pm, I’ll miss the last departure for the “2” Express to the commuter lot at Brittany Farms.  I am left to get home some other way.  The CT Fastraks — BRT or Bus Rapid Transit is a better name — will keep going well into the night for the same regular bus fares we pay now.

For New Britain  the BRT system means a lot more than getting back and forth from Hartford for work, school or seeing the sites. The  terminal being built at the old Greenfield’s site is the only stop with a significant amount of parking.  The two large municipal garages are expected to be utilized in an a yet to be defined arrangement between the city and the state Department of Transportation.

With ample parking and unused, long vacant commercial property in the center of New Britain,  BRT  is setting downtown up for  transit-oriented developments in retail, housing and new businesses. A small-scale renaissance is possible bringing people and commerce back after they left for the malls and the burbs a generation ago. Not exactly the “magic bus” Rowland and the naysayers are predicting.

Critics like Rowland linger. They predict low ridership will turn the region’s first real stab at rapid transit into a boondoggle.   But more knowledgeable opponents who favored rail over a BRT system are resigned to making the project work as part of a network inclusive of rail or other options that will reduce traffic on the deteriorating I-84/I-91 corridor and connect communities for work, school and just getting around.

Twelve months and counting.

Digging Out Slowed By Storm Intensity, Accumulation

Posted in global warming, Hard Hittin' New Britain, weather by nbpoliticus on February 10, 2013

The storm that moved into the city at mid day on Friday dumped upwards of 27 inches of drifting snow. It will likely take two to three days to get streets back to normal in cities such as New Britain and Hartford.

By 9 p.m. Saturday many residential side streets remained unplowed as crews labored to get major thoroughfares cleared for emergencies and public safety responses.

The intensity of the storm and Friday night blizzard conditions forced crews off the roads disrupting a normal schedule of snow clearance that occurs with less severe storms.  Public and private crews have been working all day Saturday and will continue through the night to make all streets passable by some time Sunday, officials said.

“You can’t even quantify how bad it is out here,” said one private plow operator about the situation in New Britain. “Take the 2011 storms and triple it. I’ve been stuck in the truck 10 times. There are places I can’t even do with the truck. There is just too much to plow.”

In an update Mayor O’Brien said that all streets should be clear by Sunday:

“In New Britain, city crews have been working around the clock, under difficult conditions, since during the storm, to clear the snow. As of right now, it looks like city streets will be opened by snowplows sometime tomorrow (Sunday).
With the massive amount of snow, the clearing has been tough and slow-going. To get the city up and running, the city has been clearing the major roads first and working to the neighborhood streets.
The job is so large because of the historic snowfall that the city workers actually have to use pay loaders in addition to plows to clear the large amount of snow. And because there is so much snow to be removed, it is going to take time to completely clear the streets. It is a tough job, given how severe this storm was, and other cities and towns are experiencing similar challenges.”

A pristine Brighton Street near CCSU in the Belvedere neighborhood was among many secondary roads that were still waiting for street plows late Saturday night.  Friday’s blizzard forced crews off the roads for a time during the storm. 

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)

LTE from Billy Mac: Don’t Trash Talk New Britain

Posted in Hard Hittin' New Britain by nbpoliticus on June 6, 2012

In a letter to the Hartford Courant, former six-term Mayor William McNamara upbraids a wise-cracking reader who posted a not -so-nice put down of his city:

Shame on The Courant for allowing a comedian from East Hampton to ridicule the city of New Britain. In the Caption Contest of June 3, the cartoon shows two people sitting on a bench, waiting for a bus, wondering “Once we get to New Britain what do we do?”
I am sure all 26 or so elected officials, and the scores of appointed officials from New Britain have already written The Courant, defending the city’s honor and objecting to this low-brow sense of humor. I would, however, suggest the following:
1. Visit the American Museum of American Art (the oldest and perhaps the best museum of American art in the country).
2. Enjoy a Class AA Rock Cats baseball game at New Britain Stadium (you will probably see a future Major Leaguer). As an enticement, I am sure I can arrange to get you a free bag of peanuts.
3. Visit New Britain s Industrial Museum. You will learn that New Britain was known as the Hardware City of the World. In fact, you probably have at least one Stanley tool in your home!
4. Enjoy a concert by the New Britain Symphony Orchestra.
5. Stop by the admission’s office at Central Connecticut State University; perhaps you can make arrangements to get your G.E.D. there.
6. Take in a play presented by the Repertory Theater of New Britain.
Oh yes, a question: The contest winner’s hometown, East Hampton, is known for what?

Way to go Billy Mac