NB Politicus

Landlord Group’s “cage fight between Lamont & Zherka” remark stumps the press, brings apology to Governor

There’s No Mystery About Who Sam Zherka Is In New Britain

By John McNamara

West Hartford-based Connecticut Coalition of Property Owners (CCOPO) had to issue a quick apology on May 19th over its first version of a press release opposing an eviction moratorium and use of $400 million in federal pandemic aid to landlords and tenants, according to a Hartford Courant story by Daniela Altamari.

“The governor needs his ass-kicked,” stated the initial release sent to the Capitol press corps announcing a press conference later in the week, “and we set up a celebratory cage fight between Lamont & Zherka to raise funds for orphaned children.” The “bizarre” statement was followed by CCOPO’s condemnation of the Unite Connecticut program that is meant to provide both tenants and landlords with help paying bills in the recovery from the pandemic.

The January 13, 2013 front page of the now defunct New Britain City Journal that was backed by notorious landlord Sam Zherka at the height of a housing controversy in New Britain.

The reference to “Zherka” left reporters and editors who received the press statement puzzled. At first, news stories speculated that it referred to Jon Zherka, a controversial and banned social media streamer.

But in New Britain there is no mystery as to who CCOPO was referring to in its provocative public statement.

The name Zherka brings back memories of a well organized mob descending on City Hall in 2012 over a proposal to assess fees on absentee landlords to pay for code enforcement. The issue led to scurrilous, months’ long attacks and threats against the Democratic Mayor and City Council during the 2013 municipal campaign. It was a dark money political attack aided and abetted by the Waterbury-based CT Property Owners Alliance and Selim “Sam” Zherka, an absentee landlord who would later be indicted and jailed for mail fraud in New York.

Nine years ago Zherka owned a large apartment complex in New Britain and lent heavy support to the now defunct New Britain City Journal which carried unfounded accusations and personal attacks on Democrats in a well-financed direct mail, free circulation campaign supported by Zherka and out of town landlords, who pledged a $100,000 off the books fund to defeat Democrats. The New Britain Republican Town Committee and Erin Stewart were quick to embrace Zherka and absentee landlord support in her first, successful campaign for Mayor and she’s never looked back.

To clean up the “cage fight between Lamont & Zherka” statement this month, Publicist Ann Baldwin did her best at damage control for the CCOPO, which had also stridently taken issue with the Unite Connecticut program by saying “the people that are not paying never intended to pay so there is no reason for them to apply for the funds, these tenants are most of the 19,000 that try to live for free annually in CT.”

Baldwin’s revision softened the group’s position, according to press reports, by saying the landlords’ goal is just to “keep good people living in their homes” and calling for the Lamont administration to “fully fund” the eviction moratorium.” CCOPO President John Souza backtracked further in an apology saying “I would never condone violence against the Governor or anyone else, even in jest.”

In response to the first CCOPO release the CT Fair Housing Center’s blog responded: “This attitude illustrates both the need for a Right to Counsel for tenants facing eviction as well as why the Governor and/or Connecticut legislature should require landlords to participate in Unite CT. Tenants must be protected from the landlords who believe that the Governor “needs his ass-kicked” because he dared to protect vulnerable Connecticut residents. Please join us as we work to ensure that tenants are protected from the landlords who believe tenants deserve to be punished for being poor.”

The flap over a press release shows that it’s never an easy task for government to fairly balance the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. The pandemic has caused hardships on all sides and made evictions a serious threat to thousands of rentpayers. While the Governor extended an eviction moratorium until July 20, the administration is ramping up the Unite Connecticut program that enables both landlords and tenants to get pandemic aid for their losses.

CCOPO describes itself as a “constructive voice for responsible landlords” for “mom and pop” business people who presumably could benefit from the Unite CT program while keeping tenants in their homes.

But invoking the Zherka name as unintentional as it was shows that some members of the landlord group may not be interested in fairness or playing by the rules at all. Nobody knows that better than folks in New Britain who lived through the Zherka-led, local assault on democracy here that bears a striking resemblance to the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th of this year


Will Erin Stewart Get Another Off The Books Push From An Absentee Landlord in 2017?

By John McNamara

On the eve of  the 2015 municipal election scores of  tenants in New Britain got a notice about a possible rent increase from their landlord.

It wasn’t an official increase but a not so subtle endorsement of Mayor Erin Stewart who at the time was cruising to re-election for a second term.

The unsigned communication in English and Spanish read:

“To our residents: In order to help keep your rent from increasing we suggest that on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd, you vote for  Mayor Stewart and her entire Row B Team.  It’s important that we all work together to keep rents from increasing by electing responsible leaders like Mayor Erin Stewart  as she has restored New Britain to a place where people can afford to live.”

If anyone thought this message  — mailed first class by The Carabetta Companies of Meriden —- was  a civic-minded promotion of voter turnout by a major out-of-town landlord they were mistaken.  Carabetta’s  tenants were being warned in intimidating fashion: Vote for the Republican Stewart or your rent will go up.

carabetta

Bilingual letter to tenants of Carabetta properties mailed on the eve of the 2015 municipal election.

The “To Our Residents” note amounted to an unreported  corporate contribution with promotion of  the Stewart re-election phone number for a ride to the polls and offer of help on getting registered to vote.  “A Team Stewart member will assist you,” said the notice not attributed to any political committee as it should have been.

State election law spells out the kind of violation that could be involved here (see below).  Moreover, penalties could potentially  apply to the Stewart committee for “coordinating” activities with their off the books landlord friends.

Sec. 9-613. (Formerly Sec. 9-333o). Business entities. (a) Contributions or expenditures for candidate or party prohibited. No business entity shall make any contributions or expenditures to, or for the benefit of, any candidate’s campaign for election to any public office or position subject to this chapter or for nomination at a primary for any such office or position, or to promote the defeat of any candidate for any such office or position. No business entity shall make any other contributions or expenditures to promote the success or defeat of any political party, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section.

 

No doubt the tactic from one of the city’s absentee property owners was a throwback to the 2013 municipal campaign when Stewart and the Republicans teamed up with outside landlords to wage a scorched-earth, months-long campaign against Democrats pouring as much as $100,000 of dark money into the election.

At issue was a controversial  ordinance that set fees for non-owner occupied properties to pay for housing and code enforcement — a policy subsequently repealed that can be found without controversy in hundreds of communities across the country.  Ironically — aside from concerns about blight and raucous parties in rentals around CCSU — the issue that caused the vitriolic campaign in 2013 never surfaced in 2015.

Team Stewart and friends just couldn’t help themselves go low when they could have taken a pass on intimidating tenants into voting a certain way in 2015.   In the era of Citizens United and the anonymous corporate money throughout the political and legislative system it’s easier to make the calculation that any judgment on blatant violations of the law would come months later when the State Elections Enforcement Commission rendered a decision.  And any SEEC fine levied would be worth the  investment to get away with messing with tenants about how they should vote.

As Election Day 2017 approaches consider this a cautionary tale.  Team Stewart — now in an increasingly tight race for City Hall — won’t hesitate to use all manner of 11th hour mischief to stay in power like the tenant notice of two years ago.  Voters need to know that their franchise is personal and private and not subject to influence by their landlord, their boss or anyone else.

Full disclosure: I was the late starting and under-funded Democratic nominee for Mayor and the Democratic Chair in 2015 not willing to see Ms. Stewart go unchallenged. Consequently, any rent increases incurred over the last two years have come on Ms. Stewart’s watch) 

 

 

ALEC: Buying Influence and Tilting Laws Against Solar Energy

Posted in Campaign Finance, energy, environment, Money in Politics, Solar Energy by nbpoliticus on January 2, 2014

Let the Sun Shine In

Isaiah_Poole

Now the Koch brothers are coming after my solar panels.
I had solar panels installed on the roof of our Washington, D.C. home this year. My household took advantage of a generous tax incentive from the District government and a creative leasing deal offered by the solar panel seller.
caf-alec-Brookhaven National Laboratory

Brookhaven National Laboratory/Flickr
Our electric bills fell by at least a third. When people make this choice, the regional electric company grows less pressured to spend money to expand generating capacity and the installation business creates good local jobs. Customers who use solar energy also reduce carbon emissions.
What’s not to love?
According to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative network better known as ALEC, our solar panels make us “free riders.” What?
Yes, according to ALEC, an organization that specializes in getting the right-wing agenda written into state laws, people like me who invest in energy-efficiency and shrinking our carbon footprints ought to be penalized.
Why does ALEC want us punished? Since it’s bankrolled by, among others, the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, it’s hard not to surmise that they’re worried about a threat to fossil fuels businesses. Koch Industries’ operations include refineriesoil and natural gas pipelines, and petrochemicals
That’s no conspiracy theory. Recently the British newspaper The Guardian wrote aboutthe assault on solar panels as part of a broader exposé on ALEC.
John Eick, the legislative analyst for ALEC’s energy, environment and agriculture program, confirmed to The Guardian that the organization would support making solar panel users pay extra for the electricity they generate. That’s already about to happen in Arizona, where homeowners who use solar panels will pay an average of about $5 extra a month for the privilege, starting in January.
The solar power industry called the new rule a victory only because power companies in the state were demanding assessments of as much as $100 a month — more than high enough to deter families from considering switching to solar.
Making solar energy cost-prohibitive for homeowners and businesses is part of a larger ALEC objective, affirmed at its recent annual meeting, to continue its effort to eliminate state renewable energy mandates.
According to meeting minutes, ALEC has already succeeded in getting legislation introduced in 15 states to “reform, freeze, or repeal their state’s renewable mandate.” ALEC lobbyists are pushing policies through states that will speed up climate change and increase pollution. They’re threatening the renewable energy industry, which is already creating new jobs and saving money for homeowners and businesses.
Without the current policy paralysis in Washington and a lack of bold, creative thinking about how to build a new, green economy at the national level, they wouldn’t be making so much headway.
My organization, Institute for America’s Future — together with the Center for American Progress and the BlueGreen Alliance — recently published a report that shows what’s at stake with ALEC’s destructive agenda.
Our “green industrial revolution” report recommends tying together a series of regional solutions that take advantage of the unique assets of each part of the country, such as the abundance of sun in the West and the wind off the Atlantic coast, into a cohesive whole.
These regional strategies would be supported by smart federal policies, such as establishing a price for carbon emissions and a national clean energy standard, creating certainty and stability in the alternative energy tax credit market, and providing strong support for advanced energy manufacturing.
This is the way to unleash the kind of innovation and job creation our economy — and our rapidly warming planet — desperately needs.
My solar panels are the envy of my block and I wish more of my neighbors will be able to make the same choice I did. But they won’t if fossil-fuel dinosaurs like the Koch brothers and right-wing organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council keep casting their dark clouds on efforts to build a clean energy future.
It’s time for them to step aside and let the sun shine in.
Isaiah J. Poole is the editor of OurFuture.org, the website of the Campaign for America’s Future. OurFuture.org
Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org