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October 4, 2007

Stir Fry

Candidate Leddy addresses "the people."

Words and pictures by Sharon Bass

There was a lot of chicken smack dead center in the room: chicken teriyaki, chicken with broccoli, chicken lo mien and sweet and sour chicken. Along the periphery were tables of politicians and their friends who came to China Lantern Wednesday evening to help Democrat Jim Leddy raise a few bucks for his 9th District bid.

“As I look around the room, I see a lot of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated,” said Leddy, a retired Hamden fire chief. “This is the voice of the people.”

Former Mayor Amento with Councilman Pascarella.

His people last night were Democrats former Mayor Carl Amento, Mike Crocco, Public Works Director John Busca, Town Clerk Vera Morrision and hubby, John Morrison, PTA Council president Marjorie Clark (who lives in the 9th) and former Republican Councilwoman-turned-Democrat Marie Scharf, who served on the Council from 1989-1997. Among many others.

Elephant-to-donkey Marie Scharf.

“Mr. Republican” Tony Raccio was there as were other Hamden Repubs. His son, A.J. Raccio, an independent, is Leddy’s campaign manager. He said over 100 tickets at 50 bucks a head were sold.

Tony "Mr. Republican" Raccio (far left), Paul Jacques, Capt. John Lujick, Deputy Police Chiefs Bill Onofrio and Bo Kizak and detective Quinn.

Some of this year’s Council candidates came out for Leddy: John DeRosa, Dem for the 8th District; Paul Jacques, at-large independent; Democratic Councilman Mike Colaiacovo, going for a second term on the 7th; at-large incumbent Democrat Jim Pascarella, also going for another two years; and Council President Al Gorman seeking to retain his at-large seat. First District incumbent Matt Fitch, also up for reelection, made a pit stop at the tail end.

Democratic Council candidates for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th districts and two at-large (Jack Kennelly and Carol Noble) were no-shows. Mayor Craig Henrici and Democratic Party Chair Joe McDonagh made brief appearances at the start of the 5 p.m. fundraiser.

Vera and John Morrison.

“I’ve lived in this town all my life,” said Leddy of why he’s running. “I worked for the town for 33 years and want to make sure the town is well taken care of.”

October 3, 2007

Round 1

Republican Ron Gambardella.                              Democrat Craig Henrici.

Story and visuals by Sharon Bass

The two mayoral candidates set out to differentiate themselves last night at their inaugural debate at the Keefe Center. And that they did.

Democratic Mayor Craig Henrici brought crib notes, a pad of paper and pen. Republican challenger, Councilman Ron Gambardella, brought only himself.

Henrici stumbled quite often in his verbal replies, was fidgety and more than once made condescending remarks to both his opponent and a resident who asked a question. Gambardella was uncharacteristically low-key, and inarguably came across as the more confident and composed candidate.

About 100 folks came to watch. The questions were written by audience members.

Sue Hutchinson moderated the debate, which was sponsored by the Greater Hamden Plains/Wintergreen Civic Association. It lasted one hour.

In his opening remarks, Henrici said, “In 2005, we were in real trouble. There were large and growing deficits. Our Finance Department was in disarray. It was my pledge two years ago to restore town finances.”

He said “experts” say the town audit is “clean as a whistle and we’ve doubled our contribution to the pension fund.” (Actually, increasing the fund by $3 million a year, which is what Henrici and his Legislative Council have done, the auditors call the “Amento Plan.” Former Mayor Carl Amento started injecting the retirement account with $3 million more a year during his last term.)

Henrici pointed to the completion of Borgnine Park and the middle school as accomplishments during his first term.

“It’s not what you do but how you do it,” he said. “I work well with the Legislative Council. I’m back here tonight to respectfully ask for another two years in office.”

Gambardella spoke of his background in finance and the increase in taxes since Henrici took over in 2005.

“The budgets went up $20 million in the last two years,” said Gambardella. “Anybody can raise taxes and let the citizens of Hamden deal with it. People are outraged. The mayor refused to look at a [revaluation] phase-in.”

Gambardella explained his idea for a street and sidewalk authority, comprised of residents representing the nine districts, to “take the politics” out of deciding which roads get on the list. Gambardella said each district would get a certain amount of money for infrastructure improvements and the neediest streets would get priority.

“I am optimistic about Hamden and excited about being your next mayor,” he said.

Question: Why did taxes go up so much?

Henrici: “Two years ago we went through a painful revaluation. We had a pension fund that was starving. I’m not doing anything for political expediency.”

Gambardella: “As I mentioned earlier, the budget went up $20 million in two years. Eighty percent of the people experienced significant tax increases. Some as high as 30 percent. People are hurting out there. [Henrici] wants to bond the pension. If we bond the pension the only way the taxes will go is up.”

Question: How helpful is the help desk?

Henrici: “It has helped about 1,500 residents. When Darlene Butler answers the phone,” it’s a direct link to the mayor. (Butler is one of the mayor’s three full-time aides and one of several employees who answers the help-desk line.)

Gambardella: “The help desk is a waste of money. That position is $50,000 plus $15,000 in benefits.” He suggested instead of hiring someone to answer the phone, having town department phone numbers listed in the local weeklies. “It would be much cheaper.”

Question: How would Gambardella build a new police headquarters (on the Dadio Farm) without raising taxes or borrowing money?

Gambardella: “I never said we wouldn’t borrow money.” Federal and state funding would first be sought and then bonding. “Here’s my promise. There’s no way I’m going to do anything that will raise taxes."

Henrici: “Ron, that’s illogical. You want to build a police station on property that can be on the tax rolls. It’s the most illogical thing I’ve ever heard. Every time I drive by Memorial Town Hall (where the new police headquarters is slated to be built), I feel sad. There’s nothing in it.”

Question: What about charter reform to allow for a referendum vote on the budget?

Henrici: “You should be the last one to want charter reform,” Henrici said to Gambardella. “You’re only on the Council because of the charter. You only got 18 percent of the vote [in 2005].” Henrici said the charter works fine and doesn’t need to be changed.

Gambardella: “We absolutely need charter reform. We need to have a referendum for the budget.”

Question: Why did Henrici ask for a raise this year?

Henrici: “I didn’t ask for a raise. I asked for a raise for the next mayor. If [Gambardella is] conceding the election now, we’re wasting our time [debating].”

Gambardella: If elected, he said he would not accept the raise.

Question: Why is Gambardella advocating a 40-hour workweek for municipal workers?

Gambardella: “We have people who are running the town working 35 hours a week. You pick up productivity when you increase hours.”

Henrici: “Town workers are paid by the hour. What Ron is proposing is preposterous. It’s a ridiculous idea and it’s political pandering.”

Question: What can be done about the increasing crime in the Arcadia Avenue neighborhood? (Neither candidate could directly address the question.)

Gambardella: “I’ve been walking the streets with Lt. Gabe Lupo [Republican Lupo is running against Democrat Gina Cahill for the 2nd Council District]. He’s just phenomenal.”

Henrici: “Mr. Lupo does a good job and he works hand in hand with Police Chief Wydra.”

Question: What do you think about the Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation, and having a place for taxpayers to speak about the Hamden budget?

Henrici: “I’ll tell you where to go -- to the budget meetings. Like I told you earlier, the charter works. The system works. But you have to get out there and let your feelings known.”

Gambardella: HART, he said, tried just that but was “shut down” when members came to a number of Council meetings earlier this year pleading for a reval phase-in. “Right now I don’t feel like the people in Hamden are being represented.” He said he’d create a bipartisan administration.

Hutchinson took two more questions from the audience. A man in the second row asked Henrici, “Why are you against Quinnipiac housing?”

Henrici: “That’s the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard. This administration has worked with [Quinnipiac] and got them to commit to building dorms. We’ve done great things.”

Gambardella: “The university has made several donations to the town in terms of vehicles. But I think they could do more by having its own police department” and taking the strain off Hamden’s. “Donations are great but it would be better if they hired certified police officers.”

Henrici threw Gambardella a little surprise toward the end. He said while his Republican opponent talks about escalating taxes, Gambardella’s only went up 4.8 percent in the last two years. Henrici said he gathered the information from “very public” sources.

Right after the debate -- when Henrici went flying out of the Keefe Center -- Gambardella was asked if Henrici was correct. Gambardella said he would check his tax information when he got home. He then e-mailed the HDN saying his house tax bill was $3,738 in 2004 and $3,953 in 2005 (Amento’s last term) and $4,336 in 2006. His car taxes stayed “essentially the same.”

However, Gambardella said he receives a “veteran’s allowance because I served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam era,” which gives him a tax break.

Audience Reaction

“I thought it was good,” said Mike Conklin of Hamden Plains. “I thought Gambardella had some strong points of view. I think he’d be a positive change.”

Council President Al Gorman gave the event two thumbs down. “I thought it was a Republican convention. They were loud. They talked through the answers. I don’t think we learned anything new tonight,” he said.

There was more cheering and clapping for Gambardella than for Henrici, but there were actually more Democrats than Republicans in the room. However, some Dems were not Henrici Dems.

Democratic Councilman Mike Colaiacovo called it a “fair and honest debate. It was an excellent forum to start off the election.”

Self-described lifelong Democrat George D’Addio, of Wintergreen Avenue, said taxes are his main gripe. “Taxes is what bother me. They’re actually killing me. I thought [Gambardella] was stronger. He convinced the people,” said D’Addio.

Perhaps the most unbiased words came from 12-year-old Rebecca Muolo, a Hamden Middle School student.

“I thought [the debate] was very structured. The questions were dealt with in an ordinary manner,” she said. “And the candidates were respectful, at times.” Rebecca said one candidate was “ruder” but didn’t want to say which one.

Check “Mark Your Calendar” for the complete list of political debates and fundraisers this month.

Police Find Pistol-Whipped Man

From Capt. Ron Smith:

On Oct. 1 at approximately 9:45 p.m., Hamden police responded to a Brentwood Drive residence on the report of a robbery and assault. Upon arrival, Manilal Patel was being treated for injuries as a result of being "pistol whipped."

Investigation revealed that as Patel arrived at his residence at 59 Hampton Drive, two individuals -- one brandishing a handgun -- grabbed him and demanded money. He was thrown to the ground and hit in the head and face. The individuals fled with an undetermined amount of cash.

Patel was transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital. The Detective Division is conducting the investigation.


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