Berlin State Rep. Goes Low With “Pro-Criminal Democrats” Rhetoric

By John McNamara

BERLIN – State Rep. Donna Veach (R-30), a first-term Republican state representative representing Berlin and Southington, is calling Democrats “pro-criminal” on a campaign billboard.

Rep. Veach, however, received a rebuke from constituents at a candidate forum held at the Berlin Senior Center last week when she again attacked Democrats and, by implication, her Democratic opponent, Denise McNair, the former town manager, for being “pro-criminal.”

“Why are you calling Democrats pro-criminal on your billboard? It’s divisive and it’s an insult,” asked a senior center attendee. Veach at first responded by doubling down on her rhetoric as the crowd objected to her name calling. Only then did Veach apologize for the “bad phrasing” as the billboard at issue remains prominently on display in town.


State Senator Rick Lopes (D-6), representing Berlin, New Britain and a portion of Farmington, also attended the forum and said Veach’s “rambling backpedaling was too little too late.”

“The question is how can Rep. Donna Veach represent a district when she disdains half her constituents? How can Democratic constituents — really anyone not a registered Republican — expect to be heard at all when she puts her name on billboards calling them “pro-criminal,” asked Lopes.

Said Lopes: “She embarrassed herself. Except for her, all the other candidates of both parties spoke about being inclusive and stopping negativity that is disliked by the voters. She chose to go hyper-negative and attack everyone.”

Veach’s “hyper negativity” is really no different than the fear-mongering theme on crime being waged by many Republicans in CT, including Bob Stefanowski for Governor, Leora Levy for U.S. Senate and George Logan for Congress in the 5th Congressional District. The rhetoric may be more nuanced but these nominees rail about Democrats being too soft on criminals as they oppose common sense gun controls that many police chiefs and law enforcement organizations support to reduce gun violence. It’s also part of the GOP’s mantra to demonize Democrats with incendiary talk. Just last month Ronna McDaniel, the national Republican Party’s Chairperson and Donald Trump sycophant, made her way to New Britain to blast not one Democrat but all Democrats as favoring “greed, communism, and crazy. And that’s what they are for.” 

Unfortunately Veach’s “Against Pro-Criminal Democrats” billboard is an old story for Republicans who offer little in the way of substantive policy or solutions to fight crime. Instilling fear and dividing constituents is their formula to win but not to govern.

It is encouraging to know that Senator Lopes called her out and the crowd over at Berlin’s Senior Center last week rejected the low road taken by Donna Veach.

The fictional “Bob” in the new commercial is the same “Bob” who ran for Guv in 2018

by John McNamara

Bob Stefanowski’s story is the stuff of hardscrabble immigrants making it to America in the 20th century to raise their families and realize the American Dream.

That is the narrative in Republican Stefanowski’s re-branding to voters in his first television commercial for Connecticut’s GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2022. No doubt that Mr. Stefanowski’s parents worked hard, played by the rules and got a piece of that American Dream for their son to attain wealth gained in a career in financial services at GE Capital, UBS and a London-based investment and private equity company. Bob ’22 wants you to know he is just a son of hometown North Haven who can make Connecticut more affordable with the business acumen he acquired in those investment banker jobs.

Surrounding himself with working folks in the commercial (if you watch television only a little you’ll see the ad multiple times) Stefanowski pledges to cut sales taxes and keep cutting taxes after he forensically takes state spending apart to identify all the waste that he implies exists. State Comptroller Natalie Braswell can save the Bob campaign the trouble by pointing out the forensics on the state budget already exist. They are continually updated at the “Open Connecticut” website created by former Comptroller Kevin Lembo where every payroll, contract and purchase in state government can be found at the click of a mouse.

Once Stefanowski gets “under the hood” it follows that he will then be able give voters specifics on where the waste is and exactly what state government should be spending tax dollars on in his first biennial budget.

The race for Governor is shaping up as a re-run of Stefanowski versus Lamont

Don’t count on it. Even Chris Powell, the very conservative Journal Inquirer columnist with a disdain for anything liberal, points to the empty rhetoric of Bob ’22: “Stefanowski’s critique of government in Connecticut was fair enough – that the state has become less affordable for the middle class and less safe. But he did not offer a detailed platform. While he noted that Connecticut can’t cut taxes without cutting spending, he didn’t specify where this should be done.”

Stefanowski is not likely to offer that “detailed platform” of draconian cuts and lower taxes before November 8. He’ll continue to serve up slogans within a make-believe, trickle down economics policy that leaves middle income and working families behind every time.

In 2018 Stefanowski bought the Republican nomination, bypassed a convention of party regulars and won a plurality in a crowded primary field to take on Ned Lamont. He edged out candidates such as Mark Bouton, the multi-term Danbury Mayor, who many observers thought would have been a more formidable general election foe against Ned Lamont. Boughton is now Lamont’s Tax Commissioner in charge of doling out federal infrastructure money. With the departure of former legislative leader Themis Klarides for GOP Governor, Stefanowski’s strategy is likely to work again for the nomination.

At issue is whether the CT Republican Party, its identity frayed by the wrath and authoritarianism of 44, can serve up a wealthy businessman for a fourth time. Tom Foley lost to Dannel Malloy twice and Stefanowski lost a close race to the self-financed Lamont in 2018 as Lamont bucked a trend of candidates of the same party not succeeding the incumbent.

The path for a wealthy Republican or any Republican to take back the Governor’s office won’t be easy. The 2018 Election was a better opportunity at the end of Governor Malloy’s two terms. Democrats are hoping a Republican nominee who demonizes government and has no public service record will fail a fourth time.

Governor Lamont, touting his moderate’s socially liberal and fiscally responsible brand, enters the 2022 gubernatorial race with a record of managing the mother of all crises (the pandemic) competently, a growing surplus and new federal help to address infrastructure and transit needs that didn’t exist four years ago. He’ll use those incumbent tools to offer targeted tax cuts of his own that will likely blunt the empty bromides from Bob Stefanowski who despite the new branding and pledge to cut taxes (it’s the sales tax not the income tax this time) is the same Bob who ran in 2018.

Republican Candidate For 26th District Stirred Social Media Controversy in 2015

“Racially Divisive” Posts Sunk Ceglarz’ Council Candidacy In The ’15 Municipal

By John McNamara

The New Britain Republican Town Committee’s (NBRTC) slate of legislative candidates for the November 3rd Election includes a nominee who stirred controversy in 2015 that forced his withdrawal from the Councillor-At-Large race that year.

Piotr (Peter) Ceglarz, a member of the NBRTC from Ward 4, is making his second run at incumbent Democrat Peter Tercyak for the General Assembly District that includes John Paul II, Pulaski Middle School, Saint Francis Church and Holmes School polling places.

In 2014 Tercyak defeated Ceglarz for re-election in an uneventful race with both candidates participating in the Citizen Election Program (CEP) of public financing.  In the 2015 municipal election Ceglarz joined the Erin Stewart slate as one of five at large Council candidates.

His short-lived campaign for city office was anything but uneventful.  Soon after the July nominations racially-charged social media posts attributed to Ceglarz’ Facebook page surfaced spreading white nationalist, hateful memes that have become all too familiar in Trump Republicans’ playbooks and are ever present on Facebook and Twitter.

At issue were Facebook posts by Republican Ceglarz in which he shared and agreed with messages from right-wing groups defending the Confederate flag and referring to such organizations as the NAACP, United Negro College Fund and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund as “racist.” In another post President Obama is linked with Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin over gun ownership rights. Ceglarz also disparaged minimum wage workers in disseminating his views at the time of his candidacy for City Council.

The offensive posts led to immediate calls for Ceglarz to exit the campaign by Democrats and drew in media coverage that eventually caused Stewart, protecting her “socially liberal” Republican brand outside of New Britain, to dump Ceglarz once the television and newspapers came calling.

The social media-savvy Mayor with a constant presence on Facebook professed no knowledge of the Ceglarz posts on the day she asked him to leave the slate. “Earlier today I became aware of several postings on Facebook, made by Peter Ceglarz, that were both ill-advised and indefensible in their nature. While I consider Peter to be a good friend, there is simply no room in this campaign for that sort of divisiveness,” the Mayor responded in a written statement.

Ceglarz complied with Erin Stewart’s order to withdraw but without any apology or remorse saying he was the victim of “a political hit job.”  Reacting to the press coverage back then Ceglarz, in a comment to the New Britain Herald, called the paper “the most biased and liberal paper in the state. Sorry but your recent story about me was the biggest B.S. and P.O.S. NICE way to kiss ass with (former Democratic Chair John) McNamara and (former Councillor David) DeFronzo and then calling things racist. Get your facts straight and cover the truth and not lies.”

Coming off the GOP bench to run a third time, the unrepentant 2020 Ceglarz has scrubbed his social media of any of the publically shared racist taunts that abruptly ended his run for office five Augusts ago.  Of more concern, however, is how his personal views may inform his stances on legislative issues that effect the residents of his district in a multi-cultural, diverse community. 

Unfortunately, Ceglarz’ 2015 posts are an example of the vitriol that has been injected via social media into New Britain politics going back to at least 2009. 

Last year older posts attributed to  Democratic Council candidate Antonio Lavoy, Sr. were widely condemned for vulgar remarks directed at Erin Stewart, transgressions for which Lavoy apologized.  And early in 2019 former Mayor Timothy Stewart referred to Democratic women in Congress as “bitches in heat” in a Facebook post during the State of the Union address, a flip remark that brought his forced resignation as head of the Chamber of Commerce after dodging an earlier controversy with the help of State Senator Gennaro Bizzarro, the city corporation counsel and Chamber Board Chairman. 

“Stewart had already been facing calls that he resign or be removed as the head of the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce from a scandal from 2017 in which he made a comment that was widely criticized as racist,” according to the New Britain Progressive. “Stewart had made an online comment that, ‘Unfortunately the inmates continue to run the neighborhood,’ in a discussion regarding the city’s North Oak neighborhood, a neighborhood that has a large Latino and African American population.”

Inflammatory rhetoric, personal insults and racial invective are nothing new in political discourse in New Britain and elsewhere.  But social media — pervasive and unfiltered — accelerates division and does harm to  civic engagement.  There’s no stopping the bigoted and uninformed, egged on by the highest office in the land, to post their rants. But elected leaders and those who aspire to leadership have a special responsibility not to offend nor tolerate those who do so.

(Editor’s Note:  In 2015 I was the Democratic Party Chair and Mayoral candidate and was among Democrats calling for the withdrawal of Ceglarz from the Council race.)




Did Stewart Get A Prohibited Campaign Freebie In Mailing Of Car Tax Bills?

By John McNamara

New Britain motor vehicle owners finally got their bills on September 1 along with  a glowing missive from Mayor Erin Stewart that makes the case for her re-election.

The city held up auto tax notices this year, blaming the state budget impasse for the two month delay. Uncertain was whether the auto levy would be lowered to 32 mills or stay at 37.  Given the state deficit then and now,  it would have been a safe bet to go with the 37 mill rate in July rather than wait.  The $241.5  million municipal budget for the year that began July 1st is based on what New Britain got from the state in the 2017 fiscal year.

In a city election year the delay in mailing tax bills is giving incumbent Stewart a prohibited taxpayer-funded freebie — an expensive city-wide mailing to everyone who owns a car or truck — to boost her campaign closer to the election.

Don’t expect Stewart and her full-time image team in the Mayor’s office  to miss an incumbent’s prerogative of using public funds to deliver a not so subtle piece of campaign promotion. Normally there’d be nothing wrong with it.  It’s done here and in many places all the time — an advantage to incumbents in local races with no public financing

Brochure advancing Mayor Stewart’s candidacy sent with motor vehicle tax bills this week. State law bars use of public funds for candidate promotions within three months of elections.

The issue usually arises over “franking privileges” for state and federal lawmakers who send their own positive mailers back to their districts on accomplishments and legislation.

At issue here is whether Stewart used the good offices of the Tax Collector to promote her candidacy within three months of an election.  That’s where the Connecticut General Statutes come in. State law prohibits any use of taxpayer money by incumbents within 90 days of an election for self promotion.

From Connecticut general statutes 9-610

(d) (1) No incumbent holding office shall, during the three months preceding an election in which he is a candidate for reelection or election to another office, use public funds to mail or print flyers or other promotional materials intended to bring about his election or reelection.

Using her campaign slogan “Leading The Way” in the taxpayer-funded brochure, Stewart cites saving the city from fiscal ruin, good bond ratings, reorganizing city hall departments “to find efficiencies and improve customer service and “a continuous commitment to provide our teachers and our children with the proper tools for learning and exploring.”  The official message is a carbon copy of what can be found on Stewart’s campaign website.

Any and all of the Stewart’s tax mailer assertions, of course, can be challenged in an election year.  A closer look at the  municipal budget shows higher spending  trumps efficiency at City Hall. A hefty jump in interest payments looms on short-term borrowing because Stewart and the Common Council deferred on paying bills coming due last year. And that  “continuous commitment” to education?  It’s  hard to find in a Stewart budget that continues to spend more at City Hall but didn’t add a dime to schools in the current budget.

In politics timing can be everything and can determine what is allowed and what isn’t under the law.

By incorporating her campaign promotion in the late auto tax notices , Mayor Stewart ignored the law that bans incumbents from using public funds “to mail or print flyers or other promotional materials” for reelection.



Inside City Hall: Stewart’s Civil Service Commission Abuses Power, Violates Charter

The Civil Service Commission’s  efforts to remove from office and impose fines on Council President Pro Tem Suzanne Bielinski over the Council’s hiring of her niece, Jessica   Gerratana.  as the Common Council secretary,  is a costly misuse of government for partisan purposes.

Ignoring  the City Charter , the Commission voted last  October 6th for the ouster of the long-serving  Bielinski  and  for a $2,500 fine on the alderwoman after  Commission members agreed to take up  a complaint and the unsubstantiated accusations of  Ward 5 Republican Ald. Louis Salvio.  The Commission’s latest gambit came last week when, upon advice of lawyers from  Murtha Cullina, it backed away from recommendations for  a $2,500 fine and the removal of Bielinski , referring the matter “informally”  to the Common Council for action, but still insisting on a $250 penalty.

Civil Service Commissioners, acting without a shred of legal standing  and with the tacit approval of the Stewart Administration and its Corporation Counsel,  attempted to set  itself up as judge and jury of Alderwoman Bielinski’s conduct. Despite high-paid legal advice to back off, the commission continued to double down on its illegitimate actions.

Nearly forgotten in this charade of an “investigation”  and abuse of power by the commission is the earlier decision by the city’s ethics commission to throw out Salvio’s complaint for insufficient evidence.  By charter and ordinance,   the ethics commission is the only municipal body sanctioned to consider conflicts of interest by the Mayor and Council members.

By retaining an outside firm to avoid any “conflict of interest” in advising the Civil Service Commission,   Corporation Counsel  Gennaro Bizzarro side-stepped his non-partisan responsibilities in favor of rewarding political friends.

His choice of a law firm reinforces the partisan nature of the Civil Service Commission’s actions against Bielinski.  Murtha Cullina’s partners are Republican-leaning, having represented New Britain Republicans in the Ward 5 ballot case in 2013 and serving as “observers” on Election Day last November in an intrusive attempt to challenge Democratic voters at the polls.

Attorney Bizzarro knows very well that one of the city’s full-time staff attorneys could have interpreted the City Charter and rendered  an opinion in a heartbeat.  The City Charter could not be clearer on this issue. A commission in the executive branch of government has no role in the censuring or removal of a Council member.

With litigation and a grievance pending Ald, Salvio and the Republicans are heading for the exits and doing damage control. The immediate and unfortunate result, however, is that legal costs to the city are likely to escalate by the tens of thousands of dollars because of the partisan use of government  by New Britain Republicans. It’s budget time and not a good time to be playing politics on the taxpayer’s dime

State Republicans Retreat To New Britain

The Republican State Central Committee, hit hard by losses in state House races last year, left Hartford for New Britain’s A.H. Harris Building in December in office space that is “twice as big as our current digs and provides us with some exciting new opportunities,” according to a GOP blog. The opportunities, say the Republicans, involve a facility big enough for in-house training classes “so that our candidates can improve their communication skills, learn about web-based tools…and engage in discussions on key policy questions with the smartest people we can find.”

In Scott Whipple’s recent Herald story on the Republicans’ move, State Chair Chris Healy explained:

“New Britain is really the heart of the state..Not just geographically. It’s emblematic of the kind of hard-working, family-oriented, community-involved city where we want to be…..The city has its own notable Republicans: Mayor [Tim] Stewart, Nancy Johnson and Tom Meskill. We didn’t need to be in the capital city, yet we wanted to stay in metro Hartford.”

Nonetheless New Britain seems an unlikely place for the state GOP to locate an office. There are 18,072 Democrats here (12/31/2008) compared to about 3,699 Republicans — part of the surge that favored Democrats everywhere in 2008. When unaffiliateds (11,749) are counted, Republicans account for little more than 11 percent of the electorate. Republicans would counter that they hold the Mayor’s office with incumbent Tim Stewart, who rode into office when residents were hit with 40% revaluation hikes a few years ago. Stewart certainly didn’t get elected because he is a Republican; the electorate in a divided government mood voted the incumbent out for ignoring assessment hikes in a property tax system that state Republicans, by and large, want to maintain. Two years ago, however, Stewart’s expected coattails didn’t materialize as the GOP lost ground on the Common Council. His state party’s presence is also a double-edged sword for the Mayor. The only party affiliation you’ll find on his lawn signs is “Democrat” (as in “Democrats for Stewart”). The same could be said for former Congresswoman and New Britain resident Nancy Johnson who finally lost in 2006 when her Republican antics and actions in Washington finally outpaced her moderate, bi-partisan tone back home, complete with the “Democrats for Johnson” lawn signs all over town in her recent elections.

The often acerbic and confrontational Healy appears to be borrowing a page from the national strategy of former Democratic National Chair Howard Dean whose 50-state strategy is credited with turning red states to blue in the Presidential and congressional races last year. He says his party’s candidates need to get support from all parts of the state, not just Fairfield County where even the last of the GOP members of Congress in New England, Chris Shays, lost last year.

Healy’s challenges, however, run much deeper than finding and training candidates to run for office. In the Herald story, he unwittingly lets us in on the problem with the Republican brand:

“I’m not worried. We have plenty of talented people who want to run. We’ve got Republican mayors in Danbury, Middletown and New Britain with ability and passion. Democrats will always have people who want to make a career out of politics. A lot of Republicans come from the real world; they’re not interested in government.”

They’re not interested in government. That statement provides as good an explanation as any of the mounting foreign and domestic troubles of the country with Republicans in charge of the White House and Congress over these last eight years. You might say Bush and the Republicans “weren’t interested in government working effectively,” leading to the train wrecks left to the Obama administration to solve now.

And in New Britain, Healy couldn’t be thinking of his Mayor, Tim Stewart, with his lifelong career in government in the Fire Department. Nor his local party chair, Paul Carver, who left the private sector years ago to take a Rowland patronage appointment to the DPUC. Actions speak louder than words, and phony arguments that always tear down the public sector can’t help our current difficulties when public and private solutions are needed for the recovery. Whatever happened to that well-known Republican Abraham Lincoln who famously said the role of government is “to do for the people what they can’t do for themselves.”

Healy’s mantra and that of many of his Republican brethren remains that the individual is more important than the community; that private interest and gain should always trump the public interest even in these dire economic times. Witness the incredible display of selfishness by Republican House members last week in Washington: not one GOPer voted for a federal stimulus and reinvestment package that would reach down and provide some measure of relief to local governments, schools and the unemployed. Better to fork over more tax breaks to the wealthy and continue Wall Street welfare; promise that all of the government largesse will eventually trickle down to the rest of us living in Hooverville.

The acerbic Healy knows that that message will never sell in New Britain. He must know that a conservative Republicanism serving the interests of corporate giants over Main Street and small business is morally and politically bankrupt. The only thing left to do is to keep tearing down Democrats without offering much in the way of solutions or programs in return. In his new New Britain digs, Healy joins kindred spirits with the likes of Mayor Stewart, Ald. Lou Salvio and Chairman Paul Carver who could write a book on petty politics. Instead of reaching out to govern on a bipartisan basis between elections, their tactics frequently involve personal attacks, using official complaint processes for partisan ends and losing one Freedom of Information case after another to keep public information from Democrats and everyone else.

Let the battle for the hearts and votes of New Britain voters begin in 2009. Meanwhile, New Britain Democrats welcome the state Republican office to New Britain.

And kudos to State Party Chair Chris Healy for demonstrating that New Britain is not a bad place to re-locate a business or a group seeking to rebound from a disaster.

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