CONTENTIOUS NEW BRITAIN MAYORAL RACE AT FINISH LINE

The most hotly contested municipal race in the state may very well be in New Britain where Democratic state Rep. Tim O’Brien is challenging three-term Republican Mayor Tim Stewart in a battle that has included charges of political dirty tricks and “special deals” that rip off taxpayers.

O’Brien is a well-known state rep. and the most formidable opponent Stewart has faced since he unseated Democrat Lucien Pawlak in 2003. In a recent mailer, O’Brien highlighted property tax increases during Stewart’s tenure as one reason to change leadership. Stewart says O’Brien is playing fast and loose with the figures, using only the last three years—during which revaluation took place—and not the first three in which there were tax cuts. Stewart said O’Brien “…should be ashamed of taking the low road…[and will] do or distort anything to get elected.”

But the more headline-grabbing charge O’Brien and some of his colleagues in the General Assembly have leveled against Stewart is that the mayor has been building up credit toward his firefighters pension despite taking an extended leave of absence from his job as a fire marshal when he took office in 2003. State Rep. Christopher Caruso (D-Bridgeport) said in Hartford Courant article, “It is wrong for elected officials to use their powers of office to put taxpayers’ money in their own pockets through a special deal no one else could get.” The state labor board has said state law allows Stewart to accrue the credit during his leave of absence.

New Britain is a heavily Democratic industrial city but Republicans have built a power-base in city hall for the last six years. It’s certainly a race to watch Tuesday.
*

On another matter, Caruso won a victory, albeit possibly a temporary one, when the proposed new, $15-million juvenile detention center for girls in Bridgeport was pulled from the State Bond Commission agenda Friday. He did so with the help of state Attorney General (and bond commission member) Richard Blumenthal. Gov. Rell apparently jumped the gun in announcing plans for the new project with much fanfare early last week.

Caruso said state agencies basically kept him and local residents who would be affected out of the loop. The area had been the site of offices but the building was knocked down to make room for the detention center. Caruso said he was “delighted” with the postponement and that there is no need for a $15 million jail in a densely populated residential neighborhood.

Blumenthal weighed in on the matter prior to the bond commission meeting saying “even if not legally required, it would be advisable to provide community forums and ample outreach prior to site selection and initiation of such [a] project. Such communication should have occurred prior to the announcement of the project’s location and its placement on the Bond Commission agenda. Input and support from neighborhood residents and groups and local leaders are critical to the facility’s long-term success.”

Rell budget chief Robert Genurario said the project could be back on the bond commission’s agenda as soon as it’s next meeting which hasn’t been scheduled.
*

Many voters from across the state got their first real look at one of the Republicans seeking the chance to try to unseat US Sen. Christopher Dodd when economist and author Peter Schiff of Weston logged some TV face time Sunday on both Channel 3’s Face the State with Dennis House and FOX 61’s The Real Story with Laurie Perez. Schiff has some curious policy positions for someone running in Connecticut where Republicans are usually of the more moderate stripe. One of his favorite lines is that “there are no solutions that involve more government.” Schiff opposes federally-subsidized student loans, supports medical marijuana, gay marriage and abortion rights and says Social Security “is a Ponzi scheme” comparable to the operation Bernard Madoff ran.

Schiff’s big claim to fame is that he precdicted with impressive accuracy, the financial turmoil of the last couple of years.

Schiff was clearly a bit nervous, particularly on Face the State, where he opened the segment by saying he was being encouraged to run via e-mail by “people and kids from all over the world.” It’s a bit hard to believe anyone, especially say, a 10-year old, from Uzbekistan, Turkey or Brazil really cares who runs for the US Senate from Connecticut.

Later in the interview, Schiff first claimed his father (who is in jail for not paying his taxes) went to college on the G.I. Bill. Then in a moment of “oh, no, they might check” thinking, he quickly said, “No, he didn’t use the G.I. Bill.” Strange.

Incidentally, the Courant’s Rick Green, a guest interviewer on FTS, showed himself to be every bit as tough a journalist on television as he is as a columnist and blogger. He initially brought up the G.I. Bill question (whether Schiff would have supported it). Green wouldn’t let Schiff dance and Schiff eventually said he didn’t know because he wasn’t there at the time and didn’t know the circumstances.

All in in all, Schiff appears to be a person who is more interested in national media exposure (he announced his candidacy on MSNBC rather than say, on the green in New Haven, his hometown) than listening to the concerns of the people of the state of Connecticut.