Taking Sides on Charter Revision In New Britain

Mayor, Yes Committee To Hold “Education Session” Tuesday, October 18 at City Hall

by John McNamara

The Yes on Charter Revision Referendum Committee will hold an “educational session” on October 18th featuring members of the charter commission to promote passage of amendments that have far-reaching implications as to how city government will be governed. Tuesday’s session will be held in Room 504 at City Hall, 27 West Main Street, at 6:30 p.m.

Heading into the final stretch of the 2022 campaign, pros and cons are being raised in letters to the editor and campaign literature with absentee voting already underway. Mayor Stewart has been pushing approval in her monthly opinion column in the New Britain Herald. The New Britain League of Women Voters (NBLWV) has been circulating a fact sheet on referenda to appear on the ballot at its voter registration sessions. The New Britain Democratic Town Committee adopted a resolution opposing charter changes.

There are three questions on the November 8th ballot in New Britain.

Question 1 is a statewide referendum on a constitutional change to permit early voting in Connecticut, one of only four states that does not allow voting ahead of election day now. It appears to have broad-based support except for factions in the Republican Party who push the need for “election security” and oppose voter access reforms.

Questions 2 and 3 pertain to the City Charter amendments. In June, the Common Council condensed the separate recommendations into two questions, ignoring specific questions contained in the commission’s report.

Question 2 asks that at large (citywide) representation on the 15-member Common Council end to be replaced by three councilors to be elected under the minority representation law in five wards (council districts). Currently, five council members are elected at large and 10 are elected in the wards. The current hybrid make up of the Council was created after charter changes re-establishing ward representation that was led by Democrats.

Question 3 asks that the remainder of the changes be adopted including the proposed chief administrative officer to perform mayoral duties in January 2023 and appointing instead of electing the Tax Collector and Town and City Clerk in 2025. Another revision sensibly calls for a charter commission review every five years but it is lumped into the question with the more contentious changes.

Question 3 has led to objections from both proponents and opponents because it lumps major changes into a broad question that leaves out what voters are being asked to decide.

The Yes on Charter Committee will promote passage of changing the composition of the Common Council on one question and in a vaguely worded second question creating a chief administrative officer in the mayor’s office, ending the election of Town Clerk and Tax Collector and several other amendments.

The Council adhered to Mayor Stewart’s wishes and eliminated the ballot questions proposed by the charter commission that included:

  • Shall the positions of Revenue Collector and the Town and City Clerk be changed from elected to civil service, appointed positions?
  • Shall an appointed Chief Operations Officer, who shall report directly to the Mayor, be responsible for the daily management of certain City functions?
  • Shall the remainder of the changes to the Charter as recommended by the Charter Revision Commission be approved, which changes include a provision requiring periodic Charter review every five years at a minimum?

All of those questions haven been incorporated into “Shall the remainder of the changes to the City Charter, as recommended by the Charter Revision Commission, be approved?” Yes or No”. The rationale for consolidating questions is purportedly to keep all questions on a one-sided ballot.

Don DeFronzo, a former mayor, state senator and state DAS commissioner, called the wording of Question 3 “disrespectful, patronizing, and perhaps deceitful, in dealing with New Britain voters” in a September 26th Opinion published in the New Britain Herald.

DeFronzo wrote that Question 3 is “generic, non-specific” and “poorly worded question with no informational context.” He also disagreed with the amendment for a new chief administrative officer: “While not disputing the need for strong professional management, many students of public administration would see the retention of both a full-time mayor and a high-salaried COO as a duplicative expenditure, leading to more bureaucracy and a fragmentation of authority.” The charter change will retain both a full time Mayor with a current salary of $100,000 and, if approved, bring on as of next January a city manager (COO) with a likely salary well over $100,000. The appointment of a tax collector and town clerk would not take effect until 2025.

Text of an amendment to the City Charter creating a Chief Operations Officer

In an October 6th Herald letter to the editor, John Board, who has served as a city commissioner in the Stewart administration, urged a yes vote to “help New Britain adopt 21st-century public administration best practices.” Board, however, acknowledged transparency problems with a “catchall” Question 2: “A lot of the recent chatter I’ve heard around town has been related to the process of how the final questions are structured and presented — those discussions absolutely have merit. Personally, Treasurer Danny Salerno’s approach of considering that question two be separated into a third question or more detailed provided would have given the greatest level of transparency for voters.”

State law (Sec.9-369b) requires the Town and City Clerk to print and disseminate “concise explanatory texts or other printed material with respect to local proposals or questions approved for submission to the electors at a referendum.” Each explanatory text, says state law, shall specify the intent and purpose of each proposal or question. In the July 19th New Britain Herald the Town and City Clerk, in apparent conformance with the law, published the charter amendments and strike throughs (deletions) in a small-type, two-page spread without any “concise explanatory texts.”

Officials have made assurances that prior to November 8th the public will be officially informed about the content of all the charter changes with explanatory literature for voters at the polls and in public notices.

In Lieu Of Early Voting CT Has A New AB Voting Option For The 2022 Election

The land of “steady habits” Is one of only four states without early voting but fear of COVID Gives Residents Another Way To Vote Without Going To The Polls

By John McNamara

A pandemic-inspired change in CT’s Absentee Voting Law will be the closest residents will come to early voting in the November 8th mid-term election as voters decide whether to change the state Constitution to allow a real form of early voting in future elections.

In October, 33 states will open polling locations to vote early at various starting dates. Six states, including the battlegrounds of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, opened for voting in the last week of September.

The General Assembly, still concerned over the lingering effects of the pandemic, made a fix to the statute this year enabling any voter to avoid voting in person: “This includes voters who are unable to go to their polling place because of a sickness or physical disability of another person, or because of the continued presence of a sickness, such as the COVID-19 virus. That provision has been added to the customary reasons for an Absentee Ballot (AB) that include military service, absence from the town, sickness, physical disability, conflict with a religious holiday on election day and being a poll worker other than at your own voting place. The change can hardly be called a reform toward more voter access but it’s a legal loophole to allow no-excuse AB voting within the strictures of the state Constitution.

The November ballot will ask voters to amend Connecticut’s constitution to make voting possible for a period ahead of Election Day. Currently the state constitution’s 18th century prohibition on voting unless you show up at the polls leaves the Nutmeg state in the company of MIssissippi and three others without the early vote option.

A 2014 referendum to drop the early voting restriction lost. That setback for election reformers eight years ago may be attributed, in part, to a wordy, multi-faceted question that 52% of the electorate turned down: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to remove restriction concerning absentee ballots and to permit a person to vote without appearing at a polling place on the day of an election?”

This year the ballot question makes the issue clearer: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting? Proponents can hope that the clarity wins this time because they don’t seem worried about the outcome. The endorsements for Question 1 have been plentiful from Democratic pols and good government groups but there is very little in the way of a coordinated campaign either for or against the measure.

Connecticut is neither the hardest nor the easiest to vote, according to the 2022 Cost of Voting Index as reported in the New York Times on September 20th: In addition to many red states imposing new restrictions on voting, “politically divided states like New Hampshire and Wisconsin and deep-blue ones like Connecticut, have had limits on access to the ballot for years.” Connecticut remains nearer the bottom than the top in ease of voting despite reform efforts by successive Secretaries of the State going back to Miles Rapoport in the 1990s and including Susan Bysiewicz and Denise Merrill. Rapoport, a West Hartford resident who went on to lead Common Cause and DEMOS, is now a voice for universal, compulsory voting akin to jury duty and other gateway reforms at all levels of government as described in “100% Democracy” , his book co-authored with Journalist E.J. Dionne, Jr.

A “Yes” on Question 1 will empower the legislature to adopt early voting and vote by mail options that are already on the books almost everywhere else in the nation.

A Lamont campaign mailer as absentee ballots become available in Connecticut

Absentee applications are available at the Secretary of the State’s Election Page or in New Britain by calling the Town and City Clerk at 860-826-3349. Completed applications should be mailed to Mark H. Bernacki, Town & City Clerk, City of New Britain – Attn: Elections, 27 West Main Street – Room #109
New Britain, CT 06051.

Why Trump’s Party Rallies in New Britain

Mayor Stewart’s former campaign headquarters is one of 20 “RNC Community Centers” in the nation where “Stop The Steal” workshops are occurring

By John McNamara

Ronna McDaniel, the national Republican Party’s Chairperson and Donald Trump sycophant, made her way to New Britain this week to blast not one Democrat but all Democrats as favoring “greed, communism, and crazy. And that’s what they are for.” New Britain may be an unlikely town for the Republican Party to base its operations in blue Connecticut, but early this year Mayor Erin Stewart handed the keys to her West Main Street headquarters over to the Republican National Committee (RNC).

An RNC Center in New Britain is purportedly part of an urban strategy to help George Logan, a former state senator newly relocated to the 5th Congressional District (CD), defeat U.S. Rep Jahana Hayes (D-5) on November 8th. Large winning margins for the Democratic nominee in New Britain have kept the state’s most competitive CD blue ever since Chris Murphy toppled Nancy Johnson (R-6) in 2006. The RNC gambit here is to cut into that Democratic base with outreach to Hispanic and Black precincts in the cities. Like Hayes, Logan is an African American.

On Wednesday (September 14) McDaniel was touting Logan and U.S. Senate Nominee and Trump endorsed Leora Levy of Greenwich at the store front gathering of Republican officials that drew plenty of Connecticut media.

NB Politicus

“The Democrats do not care about our families, they do not care about our kids, they do not care because their priorities in Washington have done anything but help the American people and they do not care, but you know what? We do,” said McDaniel in shrill talking points on behalf of Republican candidates as reported by CT News Junkie.

Not to be seen at the rally, however, were Republican Gubernatorial Nominee Bob Stefanowski and Mayor Stewart, who obligingly cut the ribbon on the RNC Community Center in March but was no where near the place this week.

Stewart would have had a hard time standing next to McDaniel as McDaniel accused Democrats of not caring about our “families” and “kids”. Her administration is using the Biden Administration’s $56 million in local COVID funding as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a law that was enacted without a single Republican vote in the U.S. House. Stewart is announcing initiatives and projects with barely a mention that the money comes from the Democrats’ “Washington priorities” trashed by McDaniel, Logan and Levy on the campaign trail. Now the Inflation Reduction Act is on the way, also without a single Republican vote in Congress, with provisions on energy, climate and local aid that mayors are lining up for in a pandemic recovery.

In state politics, Stewart doesn’t really owe Republicans anything for this election cycle. They have not been kind to the multi-term mayor in a Democratic city who pundits say would have cross-over appeal in a general election. Her cancelled gubernatorial run and primary loss for Lt Governor in 2018 showed the GOP base would never support her socially moderate views and weren’t interested in her “fiscally responsible” budgets that, Democratic critics say, rely heavily on borrowing to kick current obligations down the road.

It’s also possible that Stefanowski, who purchased the Republican nomination for a second time, snubbed Stewart even to be on a short list in picking a Lt. Governor candidate this year. With the Trump effect still in play, the party has moved further to the fringe on a woman’s right to choose, guns and the right to vote. Though Stewart is as partisan a Republican as there is in governing, it is not in her interest inside New Britain to be associated with the Republican Party at least for now. Her plentiful “Democrats for Stewart” lawn signs in municipal years confirm the unwritten rule that the label Republican shall never be used.

New Britain’s RNC Center, one of 20 around the country targeting Black and Hispanic voters, does not appear to be an operations center yet for turning blue to red in New Britain aside from some anecdotal reports of door-to-door activity in the city. The office has been largely shuttered save for a grand opening in March and this week’s rally. Ominously, it has been the site for the GOP’s “election security” training held out of the public eye. A “Learn how to become a poll watcher” workshop drew the ire of Democratic Party Chair Nancy Dinardo and Common Cause CT in July, a sure sign that even in Connecticut the “Stop the Steal” movement and false claims of 2020 vote fraud are being embraced by the CT GOP to the detriment of voter access and participation in 2022.

Related Links and Credits:




Does New Britain need both a chief operating officer and a full-time mayor?

Misleading Referendum Proposes High Level Patronage Job To Manage Municipal Government

by John McNamara

NEW BRITAIN – Creating a new chief operating officer to manage the municipality and making town clerk and tax collector jobs appointed instead of elected offices are big and very different questions for a referendum vote in November.

Voters, however, won’t have a choice if they favor one change but not another. Both proposed changes are rolled up into one innocuous question that deliberately obscures what could be the most significant revisions to the city charter in a generation.

In June the Common Council, at the behest of the Mayor’s office, accepted recommendations for City Charter change from a five-member charter commission, but did not adhere to the Commission’s breakdown of specific questions for the ballot on all the changes: “Shall the remainder of the changes to the City Charter, as recommended by the Charter Revision Commission, be approved? Yes or No”

Included in this one ballot question are both minor concerns over language and titles and substantive changes that aren’t “housekeeping” matters at all:

  • Creation of a chief operating officer for the daily management of the city government within the scope of the office of mayor.
  • Appointment of the Tax Collector and Town and City Clerk positions instead of by popular vote beginning in 2025
  • Mandating a charter revision commission at least every five years.
  • Changing the Director of the Water Department title to “Deputy Director of Public Works Utilities”
  • Updating language and removal of inactive commissions and committees.

By contrast the Common Council let stand the wording from the charter commission on what the composition of the 15-member Common Council should be. The ballot question clearly asks if five at large councilors can be dropped in favor of three members from each ward under the minority representation law.

The Charter Commission’s specific language for questions on a chief operating officer and tax collector and town and city clerk were ignored by the Council.

Whether the city should have a COO or appoint rather than elect the tax collector and town clerk deserves broad awareness, public discussion and, above all, clear language on the ballot questions. But the Council majority, doing the bidding of Mayor Stewart, has ensured there’ll be no clear language on the ballot. When Justin Dorsey, Mayor Stewart’s Chief of Staff, was asked by a former elected official why the charter questions were combined, he reportedly gave the flimsy excuse that the ballot would have to be printed on two sides.

Inserting a COO job into the charter to perform mayoral duties is likely to raise concerns in a city with a strong mayor-council form of government and growing concerns over debt obligations. Voters will need to get to the fine print to understand what the vague ballot question involves short of hearing about it in a vigorous public awareness campaign.

In a recent New Britain Herald Op-Ed, Mayor Stewart insisted that the public will find out what’s on the ballot if they read her column. “I will use this column over the next couple of months to go into more detail about a different aspect of the proposed Charter revisions.”

The Mayor should be asked to justify the move to create an executive job to perform mayoral duties. The COO proposal comes on the heels of a 12.5% salary hike for the Mayor from $87,971 to just under $100,000 ($99,027) in the fiscal year that began July 1. The mayor’s pay hike is not the issue here. Arguably, some sort of increase has been overdue for some time. At issue is the padding of the City Hall bureaucracy with a patronage job in the Mayor’s office within a City Hall with high level managers in all city departments. If approved the new charter language creating a chief administrative officer would, in effect, turn the running of the city over to a city manager performing mayoral duties but retaining the full-time mayor. Presumably a COO’s salary would be equal to or likely exceed the mayor’s salary adding a another six figure post to the Mayor’s office that is not directly accountable to voters. In other communities comparable to New Britain with a COO or appointed manager, there’s customarily a “weak” and ceremonial Mayor without the six figure salary. In 2023, a COO would further add to the budget in the Office of the Mayor that under Erin Stewart has increased salaries for all positions by 27% over the last five years, going from $325,146 in 2019 to $414,027 in the 2022-23 fiscal year.

Setting aside the merits of the charter changes, the Common Council’s failure to adopt clear and concise ballot questions in the Commission report is a blow to transparency and has undermined the charter revision process. Those of us opposed to a politically appointed Chief Operating Officer but very much for a Civil Service appointed tax collector and clerk have been disenfranchised.

Attorney Geragosian Remembered As Passionate Defender, Advocate For Social Justice

Attorney Harold J. Geragosian, 94, whose “one-man general law office” served scores of New Britain clients and organizations from the 1950s to 2018, died on August 1.

Long before the creation of Neighborhood Legal Services Attorney Geragosian’s civil and criminal law office, located for many years on West Main Street, served public employees, churches, unions and other organizations with an unfailing and tenacious commitment to justice and helping those in need. “Harold was devoted to legal aid and represented countless individuals regardless of their means,” stated his obituary. Geragosian’s cases and appeals included representing clients on up to the Connecticut and United States Supreme Courts if necessary. Respected by his peers Attorney Geragosian was elected President of the New Britain Bar Association in the 1970s.

“Harold was a believer and a fighter,” wrote Attorney John King, formerly the City Corporation Counsel and former New Britain Democratic Town Chairman upon Geragosian’s passing. “He kept me up all night one more than one occasion during the Civil Service hearings nearly 40 years ago as he passionately defended his clients.”.

In the community Geragosian served on the boards of Connecticut Legal Services, New Britain EMS and supported progressive candidates and causes at local, state and national levels. Geragosian’s son, John, served the city’s 25th District in the Connecticut General Assembly and is the state Auditor of Public Accounts.

For Geragosian, alongside his wife, Realtor Harriet Geragosian, social and economic justice work have lasted a life time. In 1957 Geragosian, proud and recognized for his Armenian heritage, offered his law office as a meeting place to members of the city’s Puerto Rican community. In addition to helping Puerto Rican residents fight discrimination, Attorney Geragosian helped draft the charter to establish the Puerto Rican Society. His contributions to founding the group were honored in July 2007 when the Society marked its 50th anniversary.

Attorney Harold J. Geragosian and Realtor Harriet Geragosian at a 2011 campaign fundraiser for former Alderwoman Shirley Black. (courtesy of New Britain Democratic Town Committee)

On more than a few mornings Harold and his wife Harriet (Unique Realty) would start their work days as octogenarians with breakfast at New Britain Diner. If you were ever lucky to get a seat at his table Harold could regale you as he did me with stories of his days as a law student at Boston University, lawyering before city commissions and courts and offering wry takes on politics and politicians past and present.

Harold Geragosian, to borrow from a famous quote by the Methodist John Wesley, “did all the good he could, for all the people he could, in all the ways he could, for as long as he could” in his native city of New Britain. He was one of those extraordinary citizens and neighbors who made you a better person for having known him.

Condolences to Harriet, his son, John (Audrey) Geragosian, his granddaughter, Molly, and his grandniece, Terra Michalowski and the many friends of the Geragosian family Services and Obituary

Donations in Harold’s memory may be made to Connecticut Legal Services, 62 Washington Street, 4th Floor, Middletown, CT 06457. https://ctlegal.org/

John McNamara

COO Patronage Job, End To Elections Of Clerk and Tax Collector Are On The Nov. 8 Ballot

Fuzzy Charter Question Will Keep Many Voters in the Dark

by John McNamara

New Britain voters will be deciding much more than who should be the Governor and making their picks for other elective offices on November 8th. City charter revisions will, if approved, make the biggest changes in a generation as to how Connecticut’s eighth largest city is governed.

On June 22nd the Common Council accepted the recommendations of the Charter Commission whose five members held hearings and meetings this year to amend the charter for the first time since a 2016 referendum was held. The Commission, chaired by former Alderwoman Sharon Beloin Saavedra, straightforwardly proposed four major changes for referenda that could be considered by voters on their merits and that would take effect next January.

On the composition of the Common Council the Commission called for ending the five at large seats on the 15-member council and electing three members per ward under the minority representation law. That resulted in the Council approving one of the two questions adopted: “Shall the Common Council be comprised of fifteen (15) members, consisting of three (3) members elected from each of the five (5) Common Council Districts, with the minority party requirements of the Connecticut General Statutes applying to each of the five (5) Common Council Districts separately?

City Charter Amendment Excerpt published in New Britain Herald July 19th

On other significant changes the Charter Commission specified three specific questions for the ballot:

2) Shall the positions of Revenue Collector and the Town and City Clerk be changed from elected to civil service, appointed positions? (effective 2025)

3) Shall an appointed Chief Operations Officer, who shall report directly to the Mayor, be responsible for the daily management of certain City functions?

4) Shall the remainder of the changes to the Charter as recommended by the Charter Revision Commission be approved, which changes include a provision requiring periodic Charter review every five years at a minimum?

The Mayor and her Council majority, however, abandoned the Commission’s language in favor of an imprecise, “housekeeping” ballot question that gives no hint on what changes are proposed: “Shall the remainder of the changes to the city charter, as recommended by the charter revision commission be approved?”

Transparency and directness have been thrown out by Mayor Stewart and her Council caucus in the wording of the second charter referendum question and voters will be deprived of a clear idea of the big changes they will be asked to approve when they get in the voting booth or vote absentee notwithstanding the opportunity to read the little noticed fine print. The situation is akin to the tactic used by the Stewart administration in the 2016 charter referendum when multiple changes were made to the charter in a “housekeeping” question that went far beyond language changes. In a separate question that year a four-year mayoral term was comfortably rejected by voters.

Hidden in the “remainder of the changes” question is making the tax collector and town clerk jobs appointive rather than elected through a civil service process. More controversial is the creation of a six-figure Chief Operating Officer (COO)– the equivalent of a city manager – to handle executive duties that by charter are now the responsibility of the Mayor with the Mayor having appointment (patronage) powers in filling the position. It’s debatable whether such a post belongs in the city charter when a Council resolution could accomplish the same thing. The move by the Stewart administration also comes shortly after the Mayor’s annual salary got a double digit percentage increase and a process was established to hike elected officials’ pay on a regular basis. The COO job amendment, like appointing Clerk and Tax Collector via Civil Service, needed a separate ballot question just as the Charter Commission stated in its final report.

Assurances, of course, have been made that the city will fully disclose the content of all the charter changes with explanatory literature for voters at the polls and in public notices. State law (Sec.9-369b) requires the Town and City Clerk to print and disseminate “concise explanatory texts or other printed material with respect to local proposals or questions approved for submission to the electors at a referendum.” Each explanatory text, says state law, shall specify the intent and purpose of each proposal or question.

The City is not off to a very “concise” start in fulfilling the public’s right to know. In the July 19th New Britain Herald the city, in conformance with the law, published the charter amendments and strike throughs (deletions) in a small-type, two-page spread. For those of a certain age or visual acuity a magnifying glass will be needed to identify amendments buried in the text. Town and City Clerk Mark Bernacki will presumably do better in preparing posters for the polling places.

Two City Charter questions will be on the ballot on November 8th to vote up or down. While changing the Common Council to 15 district representatives is clear in the first question. The Mayor and Republican caucus are deliberately keeping voters in the dark on the second question. This warrants a “No” from any voter wanting to vote on the merits of each major proposal.

Remembering April 4, 1968 In 2022

By John McNamara

On Saturday, April 2nd the City will observe the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr with a 10 a.m. program at Smalley Elementary School that will be followed by wreath laying at MLK Park hosted by the Mary McLeod Bethune Club at 12 noon.  Anyone of age in 1968 probably remembers where they were that year on that day as I do in this re-posting from NBpoliticus.

I remember exactly where I was on April 4, 1968.

That sunny and warm Thursday, like many others in my senior year in high school, I drove to Bradlee’s Department store on the Lynnway in Lynn, Massachusetts after school to punch in for the evening shift, earning some money before entering Boston University in the fall.

News spread quickly into the evening that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was dead at the age of 39.

It didn’t take long to realize that my shift as a retail clerk would be different from all the others. The store quickly emptied out. Not a customer in sight all night. No need for Mr. Silverman, the shaken and somber store manager, to send me out on outside carriage control. The bullets in Memphis were enough to bring a normal business day to a halt in Lynn and most of the nation as big cities teetered on the brink of a violence that King sought to avoid with acts of non-violent resistance.

New Britain’s Memorial at MLK Park.

Just five short years before I had come home from junior high on a late summer day to watch King deliver his “I Have A Dream” speech – an event that would inspire so many of us to become community and political activists.

There are many good remembrances of what King said and stood for on his national holiday and at the permanent memorial in Washington every year.

But the nation could stand to be reminded again of the day King was killed and why he was in Memphis a few years after the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts became the law of the land.

By 1968, Rev. King was widening the concerns of his movement. In Where Do We Go From Here?  King, much to the consternation of the more cautious members of his movement and the political establishment, opposed a Vietnam policy that had begun to break the nation further apart. The lunchroom sit-ins and battles over accommodations and voting rights were giving way to a broader agenda. He was planning a new march on Washington – “the Poor People’s Campaign” — when he decided to take up the cause of 1,300 Black sanitation workers in Memphis, a city of southern segregation, where the white power structure opposed the right to unionize and the Mayor vowed never to bargain in good faith in a way that would give the sanitation workers their dignity. The strike and a citywide economic boycott were a cause King knew he could not ignore.

King’s prophetic “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech on the eve of the assassination is his best known from Memphis. But two weeks earlier, on March 18th, King galvanized support for strikers by saying: “So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs…..One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive.” Following King’s assassination, the Memphis power structure gave up its intransigence – recognizing the union, awarding pay raises and instituting merit promotions.

Fifty years later Rev. King’s work goes on and is being renewed for a new generation. Led by the Rev. William Barber of North Carolina and others a “moral direct action” campaign is mobilizing a 2018 Poor People’s Campaign  for the same principles  that led Rev. King to Memphis and his last days.

King’s campaign for striking AFSCME sanitation workers reaffirmed his greatness at the hour of his death and resonates today in the cause of social and economic justice. That’s why I’ll always remember 4/4/68 as a day frozen in time not to be forgotten.

Adapted and updated from an April 2007 post.

Campaign dollars soared in ’21 municipal election but voter participation declined

28% Turnout Continues A Downward Trend In Voting For Local Office Holders

By John McNamara

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics” goes the observation first coined in the 1960s that applies to almost every state and federal election cycle as all kinds of committees and special interests raise billions in reported and anonymous donations.

That old saying about money in politics applies less frequently to local elections where votes are more easily won (or should be) on the ground and neighbor to neighbor without big outlays for media and consultants. You can’t say that about New Britain’s 2021 municipal election when the money race accelerated, voter participation declined and the status quo at City Hall was overwhelmingly sustained.

Last year marked the first time in memory that turnout dropped below 30 percent while mayoral campaign money for the November 2 election exceeded $30 for every vote cast. New Britain is not alone in a decline in voter participation for local elections, especially in mid- and large-sized cities. Cities across the state and nation continued to register lower turnouts last year. But by bottoming out at 28%, New Britain fell below the already dismal 32.13% statewide turnout.

Last year marked the first time in memory that turnout dropped below 30 percent while mayoral campaign money for the November 2 election exceeded $30 for every vote cast

Incumbent Erin Stewart handily won a fifth term over State Rep. Bobby Sanchez (D-25) and swept a Council majority in with her as a super majority of eligible voters failed to show up.

Because of a Presidential Year bounce in 2020, there were 2,270 more eligible voters in 2021 than in 2019. In her landslide win, however, Erin Stewart received fewer votes than the 2019 totals as the turnout gap widened between municipal and state and federal ballots.

Despite campaign cash aplenty voter turnout continued a decline in the 2021 municipal election. (newbritainprogressive.com)

Four mayoral campaigns involving three Democrats and Republican Stewart reported contributions totaling $384,900 by the end of 2021. The Democratic and Republican Town Committees added another $53,000 to the “off year” election cycle bringing the reported political cash to $437,900 to get out the vote. The totals do not include under ticket slate or candidate committees that drove donations well past $450,000.

Mayor Stewart’s “Re-Elect Erin” Committee raised $178,835 and spent $175,835. Stewart, tapping the advantages of incumbency, outpaced Bobby Sanchez’ fundraising by nearly $60,000. Sanchez’ committee raised and spent $116,518. Democratic mayoral challengers Veronica DeLandro and Alicia Strong raised another $90,000 combined. Strong raised and spent $21,000 in losing to the endorsed Sanchez in September’s primary. DeLandro’s committee raised approximately $69,000 but her committee failed to gather sufficient signatures to get on the primary ballot. DeLandro has subsequently formed her own “Bee The Change” political action committee (PAC), and may have converted a significant treasury into an ongoing PAC.

Last year’s surge in fundraising can be attributed to several factors. Incumbent Stewart did not take the potential of a serious and well-funded challenge for granted. She ramped up her fundraising and leaned into the perks that go with incumbency. “The Democrats showed early signs of political energy, with three determined candidates running for mayor.” observed a post-election story in The New Britain Progressive. “Whether that early momentum will continue into success in future elections remains to be seen, but it certainly did not manifest in the November elections in 2021.”

Stewart effectively pursued a Walnut Hill Park “Rose Garden strategy” in winning a fifth, two-year term. Few sparks flew between Stewart and Sanchez to stir voter interest with the incumbent largely ignoring the Democratic nominee. The incumbent even managed to ungracefully ignore a traditional League of Women Voters debate that would have been the only public forum of the campaign. Her salvos were directed at the school administration over social media related disruptions at the high school last fall making it seem at times that Erin Stewart was running against School Superintendent Nancy Sarra. For his part Sanchez earnestly pointed to his work as the Legislature’s Education Chair in delivering record amounts for school construction and school aid and called for a City Hall more responsive to neighborhoods. Stewart, meanwhile, cut the ribbon on renovations at the Chamberlain School and other developments in romping to a low-turnout victory.

While voter turnout in the 2020 Presidential Election was close to 70 per cent in the year of the pandemic in New Britain, the 2021 municipal race continued the widespread slide in the number of voters who elect local office holders. Some reformers at think tanks that study voting patterns have proposed aligning all elections from dog catcher to President to even numbered years for bigger turnouts. Legislatures or localities, however, show no signs of taking that step which involves a lengthy process of changing statutes and charters.

For New Britain it will surely take more than campaign dollars that were so plentiful last year to reverse that decline in voting in 2023.

Voter Participation In Last Three Municipal Elections In New Britain

  • 2017 Voter Participation 30% | 31,899 Eligible and 9,684 Voting
  • 2019 Voter Participation 32% | 31,205 Eligible and 9,945 Voting
  • 2021 Voter Participation 28% | 33,475 Eligible and 9,333 Voting

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.

Behind Mayor Stewart’s War On Supt. Sarra and the BOE

By John McNamara

The vandalism and trouble that occurred at New Britain High School in September needlessly escalated the rift between Mayor Erin Stewart and New Britain School District leaders.

Incidents of student misbehavior fueled by social media have not been limited to New Britain as districts in CT and elsewhere re-opened this fall.

Mayor Erin Stewart, however, used the disruption to immediately berate School Superintendent Nancy Sarra and educators for not cracking down enough on youthful offenders. The call to meet and work together came second only after Erin Stewart got her licks in on the campaign trail. Harsh criticism of educators is a central theme of Ms. Stewart’s re-election campaign. The NBHS incident was just an opening for the incumbent mayor to score political points at the expense of school officials dealing with Tik Tok-related misbehavior and parents wanting assurances that their children would be OK.

The Mayor’s social media response to the high school incident could be forgiven if it was a one off dispute between City Hall and the School District. The dialogue gets predictably contentious every year over local funding for schools as New Britain has ranked near the bottom on school spending during the Stewart years.

Mayor Stewart maintains that the schools need to “operate differently” before she’ll support additional city dollars for education. When Council Democrats proposed a meager $1 million increase in this year’s municipal budget Stewart and her Council Caucus opposed it. A $500,000 boost was OK’d but the City is holding onto that money four months into the fiscal year claiming that it has increased local aid to education without giving up a dime.

Stewart skewers the school district for being “dead last” in student achievement while her budgets give New Britain almost dead last ranking in how they support public education. Previously, the Mayor has expressed little concern or no concern over school achievement as she denies BOE requests each year. “In recent years, educators have said they need at least $5 million more than their regular budgets to catch up with similar districts. The nonpartisan School and State Finance Project last year reported that only Danbury spends less on each student than New Britain does, with even deeply impoverished systems like Bridgeport, Waterbury and Windham spending more,” according to a story by The Hartford Courant’s Don Stacom.

In her escalating feud with Sarra and the bipartisan Board of Education, Stewart employs Paul Salina, who has held a $90,000+ patronage job (interim director of operations) at City Hall since 2018. A former NBHS Principal and band leader who retired in 2003, Salina, 72, later returned to the public schools as an administrator before and after Kelt Cooper’s superintendency holding down a $146,000 operations officer job. When Superintendent Sarra reorganized and reduced administrative overhead, she reduced Salina’s role and salary. Salina retired again but quickly joined the Stewart administration with a vague and largely undefined strategy and policy role.

Erin Stewart and Paul Salina in a recent campaign mailer.

Within the last year the Stewart-Salina duo has ramped up the fight with the BOE on a range of issues from the hiring of a football coach to school funding to control of school construction leaving no space for any kind of cooperation.

The fight over the last year has primarily involved the School Building Committee (SBC) and the attempted hiring of another retired school official and colleague of Salina for an oversight job on the Chamberlain School renovation project.

“Relations between the Mayor’s office and the BOE, contentious over budget issues in most years, have become even more adversarial over the SBC’s move late last year to hire Ray Moore, a retired school facilities director and a colleague of Paul Salina, as a consultant or “construction representative” on the Chamberlain School project at a six-figure annualized salary. BOE President Merrill Gay, Vice Chair Nick Mercier and Dr. Violette Jimenez-Sims criticized the attempted hiring with “no request for proposals or bidding for this position,” asserting that the role could be filled with existing school staff to save money for other education needs. Intervention by the BOE’s attorney averted a full appointment of Moore at that time to the consultant post. Republican Mercier’s public opposition to hiring a consultant without BOE input and questioning the Stewart-controlled SBC also led to the Republican Town Committee’s ousting of Mercier in July for a nomination to a third term on the BOE. A longtime Republican activist and music teacher, Mercier will stand for re-election to the BOE as a petitioning candidate for his efforts at accountability on school construction issues. ” from New Britain Progressive, August 22, 2021;

‘The Return of Tim Stewart: Ex-Mayor Chairs SBC As $50M School Project Begins”

The flap over the hiring of a Chamberlain project consultant demonstrates what is behind the barrage of attacks against Sarra and the school board which have become fodder for Team Stewart’s campaign of misinformation.

At issue is power, patronage and the special favors that Stewart and her cronies want and used to get but are not getting anymore. Nancy Sarra won’t have any part of the political games Stewart and Salina want to play. She and the current BOE’s Democratic and Republican members who have her back are resisting inappropriate power grabs from City Hall as they focus on the challenges of educating in a chronically under-funded urban school system.