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September 28, 2007

Dear McDonagh: Reconsider

‘HART is the local equivalent of MoveOn.org’ -- Joe McDonagh

By Sharon Bass

A local tax group sent the Democratic party chair a letter inviting his candidates to an Oct. 30 forum. The party chair wrote back declining the offer. The tax group responded yesterday, saying it was “extremely disappointed” with the decision and charged the chair with making unfair and inaccurate statements about the group, Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation.

The chair, Joe McDonagh, said HART is biased and has shown that by letters members have written to local newspapers in support of the Republican mayoral candidate, and a demonstration last April in front of Town Hall where Democratic councilpeople were mocked.

“HART has made no official endorsements and doesn’t plan to,” said HART cofounder Carol Christmas. “It’s all just been personal, individual endorsements. We really do try to keep it democratic.”

While the group said it won’t make endorsements, HART recently established a political action committee “to raise and expend funds for electoral advocacy in connection with the November 6, 2007 municipal general election, among others. The individual candidates who will be supported or opposed by HART-PAC have not yet been determined,” quoted from HART’s Sept. 27 letter to McDonagh. (Click here for the entire letter.)

“HART is not the League of Women Voters. HART is not the Chamber of Commerce,” McDonagh said of organizations he feels are nonbiased and are sponsoring local election debates next month. “If next year moveon.org offered to sponsor a debate between the Democratic and Republican candidate for president, what do you suppose the Republican candidate would say? To my knowledge, moveon.org has never endorsed any candidates but they are partisan. HART is the local equivalent of moveon.org or the Swift Boat group. It’s not just disingenuous, it’s deceptive.”

McDonagh said he’s not alone in his assessment of HART. In the group’s first letter to the chair, it said the forum would be sponsored by community organizations.

“Where are they?” he said.

Christmas said she asked the League of Women Voters and the PTA Council, but neither took up the offer. She said she also invited about six civic associations. “The only response came from Hamden Plains because of Rosalie Cavanaugh [HART and Hamden Plains member],” she said. But the Greater Hamden Plains/Wintergreen Civic Association had already planned its own candidate forum for Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. at the Keefe Center.

So far, the Republican Council candidates and Paul Jacques, who’s running as an independent for an at-large seat, have committed to the HART function, said Christmas. Questions will come from the tax group as well as the audience. Three local broadcast journalists -- Steve Kalb, Ken Venitt and Paul Knapp -- will moderate.

Christmas said she hasn’t given up on the Dems. “I’m hoping that when it gets down to the wire that the Democrats will say, ‘We’d better be there,’” she said. “It’s going to be a media blitz.”

“None of the candidates with whom I spoke are planning to attend the HART forum,” said McDonagh. “There are umpteen other opportunities. And all of the good candidates are walking door to door.”

He said he spoke to 11 of the 13 Council candidates, and couldn't remember which two he didn't. Eighth District candidate John DeRosa had told the HDN he would have attended if not for an "important" family commitment. And incumbent Mike Colocaiacovo, 7th District candidate, and newcomer Gina Cahill, going for the 2nd District seat, said they are open to the event.

McDonagh pointed to HART’s political demonstration last May, where members dressed up like clowns and donned masks of the mayor and Democratic council members. It was on the evening of the school budget vote.

“Is there an apology forthcoming from that? That lowered the debate,” he said. “That lowered the standards of political debate in Hamden below anything I’ve ever seen in Hamden. It was insulting and obscene.

“You tell me, how willing are you to participate in something when the sponsoring organization has depicted you as a clown? That’s not a reputable bipartisan organization.”

McDonagh added: “I do not tell Democratic candidates what to do.”


72 Woodbine Street
Hamden, Connecticut 06517


Joseph P. McDonagh
Chair, Hamden Democratic Town Committee
P.O. Box 185658
Hamden, Connecticut 06518

Re: HART Candidate Forums

Dear Mr. McDonagh:

We were extremely disappointed to receive your letter of September 24. You say that HART has “misleadingly portrayed itself as an unbiased and nonpartisan organization.” On this point you are plainly mistaken.

The term “partisan” refers to an identification with a political party. In that sense, HART is prototypically non-partisan. We are a true grass-roots organization – we have members and leaders who are Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and truly unaffiliated. The only prerequisite to membership is that one share a commitment to municipal property tax relief. Period.

We have also heard concerns expressed by you and other Democrats that HART is a partisan organization because certain of our individual members have made personal public statements identifying themselves as persons who oppose the re-election of Mayor Henrici.

Certainly many of our members have decided personally to oppose Mayor Henrici’s re-election, but that is not a universal sentiment within HART. Nor is there a “unanimous” opinion within HART as to the merits of individual Council candidates. We are a large and diverse group, with many different opinions as to the best means to achieve our fiscal goals. 1

1 A subset of HART members, together with others, have recently formed an independent, non-partisan political committee -- HART-PAC -- to raise and expend funds for electoral advocacy in connection with the November 6, 2007 municipal general election, among others. The individual candidates who will be supported or opposed by HART-PAC have not yet been determined. It was the hope of HART-PAC that the HART Candidate Forums could provide it with additional relevant information to assist in that determination.

But more fundamentally, it is simply not fair or appropriate to impute the personal statements of individual members to organizations to which they happen to belong.2 Likewise, if legitimately non-partisan organizations are shunned due to the private advocacy of their members, then those members’ First Amendment rights are chilled. We’re sure that the Sierra Club, the NRA, and the Realtors each have members from all political parties, and of course it would not be fair to inhibit their members’ exercise of First Amendment rights by imputing all of their personal views to the organizations as a whole.

Although we are stridently non-partisan, we readily admit that we are a group committed to advocacy of an issue (tax relief) on behalf of a particular constituency (taxpayers). But in that sense we are no different from other civic groups – such as the Hamden Land Conservation Trust, Save Open Space (SOS), Chamber of Commerce, etc. – which have particular concerns for which they advocate on behalf of their constituencies.

Thus, we find it odd, for example, that you have no problem with Mayor Henrici appearing for a debate sponsored by the Hamden Chamber of Commerce, an organization which advocates for specific issues (business interests) for a narrow constituency (businesses), and whose Chairperson is Betty Wetmore – a Republican Councilperson who has been an outspoken critic of Mayor Henrici and strong supporter of Ron Gambardella.

We also wonder if you would respect a decision by the Republican Town Committee to bar Ron Gambardella from participating in the upcoming Open Space Forum because sponsoring organizations such as the Hamden Land Conservation Trust have members and board members who are Democratic elected officials, Democratic Town Committee members, and outspoken opponents of Mr. Gambardella?

You are obviously applying a double-standard. What you are necessarily saying is not that you don’t want your candidates participating in a forum sponsored by an advocacy organization, but rather, that you are uncomfortable with our particular issue (tax relief), membership, and means of advocacy.

Mr. McDonagh, although we are steadfast in our belief in the foregoing principles, we are not naive. We are sensitive to the unique circumstances that attend the issues and personalities in a town the size of Hamden, and we understand that sometimes appearances are as striking as realities. That is why, in structuring the format of these fiscally-oriented forums, we took pains to introduce the medium of independent moderators with full discretion in the selection and formulation of questions.

2 In a few instances, it is unfortunate that publication editors have taken it upon themselves to attach an affiliation statement (e.g., “Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation” or “HART”) to certain letter writers’ signatures. Such affiliation statements did not reflect the intention of the writers or HART.

We urge you not to allow your or others’ personal grudges with any of our individual members to hamstring your candidates’ campaigns and/or our good faith attempt to disseminate important fiscal information to the Hamden electorate.


Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation

3 Cracked for Coke

From Capt. Ron Smith:

On Sept. 26, the Street Interdiction Team conducted a narcotics investigation in the area of Whitney Avenue and Ives Street. Officers observed a motor vehicle entering a parking lot and Carl Nystrand getting in..

Police subsequently stopped the vehicle at Whitney Avenue and West Woods Road. Investigation led to the search of the driver of the vehicle. Officers recovered eight bags of crack cocaine. The street value is estimated at $160.

Two New Haven men and one Hamden man were arrested.

Nystrand, 45, of 39 Ives St., Hamden, was charged with criminal attempt to possess narcotics. He and the New Haven subjects were detained at Hamden police headquarters, each on a $25,000 bond.

September 26, 2007

Another Chance

Joseph Troutman’s trying to change his life. Photo/Sharon Bass

Hamden's welfare-to-work training works for most

By Sharon Bass

In 1997, Joseph Troutman had just finished playing a basketball game at Hamden High when two teens jumped him and beat him over the head with a heavy object. That put Troutman in a coma for three months, dashing his dream to go pro.

In 2001, after years of getting into trouble with the law, the Hamden man wound up behind bars. Then, he said, his thinking changed. “I started over, doing everything right. I started thinking more about my kids and what I wanted to be,” the 29-year-old father of two girls said.

In August 2007, Troutman enrolled in the town’s More Than Just a Job, a welfare-to-work program held at the Keefe Center. He’s got a couple of weeks left and then it’s job time -- something he said he’s very much looking forward to.

He’s the only male in a class of seven, learning computer, résumé-writing and job-interviewing skills. The program, run by Community Services job counselor Sue Hutchinson, is nine years old and funded with federal tax bucks. The purpose is to move folks on welfare to work. Many of the students are nearing the end of their 21-month lifetime max on state welfare and must get employed.

But Troutman said he’s just been on welfare for several months. He signed up for the work program because he’s pursuing another dream. He wants to own a clothing shop and needs to get a good job in order to save up for the retail venture.

“I think I could convince people to buy clothes and sneakers,” the soft-spoken man said yesterday, after wrapping up another 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. day at Keefe. “I get along with people very well.”

Troutman said he’s learned a lot so far. Such as how to use a computer and the Internet, how to prepare for and dress for a job interview and how to manage personal finances. He said he’s never had a checking account or a credit card and plans to get the former but not the latter.

“My mom has taught me and my brothers to never get a credit card,” said Troutman. That advice was reinforced by his teacher at Keefe.

“It’s a good program. I feel good coming here every morning,” he said. “It’s keeping me out of trouble.” He’s working on his third résumé and hopes to score a nighttime warehouse job and start saving for that frock shop.

Some Stats

Hutchinson predicted Troutman will be one of her success stories.

“I have complete faith that Joseph is going to be a complete success,” she said. “He has the determination and the drive.”

Not everyone who goes through the 10-week program lands a job and sticks to it. Hutchinson said there’s about an 80 percent success rate, but clients are only tracked for 90 days after they graduate. There’s a second work-to-welfare class for those whose first language is other than English, which is 15 weeks long.

From July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007, Hutchinson said 109 students were enrolled, of which 75 completed the program and 61 became employed. She said the yearly budget is $270,000. Much comes from Workforce Alliance in New Haven, which distributes the federal grant money.

An item on the Sept. 24 legislative Planning & Development Committee agenda called for approving $165,000 from Workforce for the current fiscal year. Councilwoman Berita Rowe-Lewis said she had a problem with the welfare-to-work project because some graduates lack a high school education and are not easily employable.

Hutchinson said one of her criteria is for all incoming students to have a high school diploma or GED, but said case managers at Workforce occasionally ask her to make an exception. Those clients are then hooked up with Hamden Adult Ed to study for the GED.

“Every success is like a million successes because I know what that success has gone through,” said Hutchinson. “The barriers and obstacles they’ve overcome to get to that place.”

Troutman graduated Hamden High in ’97 and worked briefly in a warehouse. On Oct. 10, when his training at More Than Just a Job ends, he said he hopes to have a job. Not just for his future but to make his daughters proud. “I want to be successful for my kids,” he said.

The HDN plans to check back with Troutman next month to see how he’s doing.
September 25, 2007

Not Quite Unanimous

Joe McDonagh. File photo

By Sharon Bass

Democratic Party Chair Joe McDonagh sent a letter to a local tax group yesterday saying all his Council candidates agreed to take a pass on the group’s upcoming candidate forum.

“The 2007 Democratic candidates for Hamden’s legislative council met recently, and unanimously decided not to participate in the Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation’s forum on October 30, 2007,” McDonagh wrote. (Click here for the entire letter.)

Technically, that statement is not true. At least three Democratic candidates said they didn’t agree with McDonagh.

“I have nothing to fear,” said John DeRosa, who’s running for the 8th District seat. He said he would attend the HART event but has a family commitment that day.

At the Sept. 17 Democratic Town Committee meeting, McDonagh told the candidates he felt HART is biased and urged them not to attend the forum. And most, but not all, agreed.

“They didn’t think it was right because they said [HART] is biased and is supporting Republicans,” said DeRosa.

Gina Cahill said she also disagreed with McDonagh. “McDonagh asked the candidates if everyone agreed and they kind of nodded their heads. It was pretty informal,” the 2nd District candidate said. “I think I would have considered going if my district was invited.”

And 7th District Councilman Mike Colaiacovo, who’s running for re-election, also didn’t share the chair’s opinion.

But there is a caveat of sorts. The HART forum originally didn’t include the 2nd, 7th or 8th district candidates, although at the Sept. 17 DTC gathering, McDonagh addressed them along with their fellow candidates as a group.

Others say they are with McDonagh.

“I agree with the Democratic Party’s position [about] not debating with the HART group. I think Joe spelled it out,” said 9th District candidate Jim Leddy.

“Joe spoke for all of us in the letter,” said at-large Councilwoman Kath Schomaker, who’s running unchallenged for the 5th District seat this November.

“I wasn’t endorsed [by HART],” said Council Prez Al Gorman, who’s vying to retain his at-large position. “Why should I go?”

The forum is still on, said Carol Christmas, a founding member of HART. She said the reason the three districts weren’t originally included in the forum is that there are others planned just for the 2nd, 7th and 8th. However, she said her forum is now open to Cahill, Colaiacovo and DeRosa as well as the others.

“Mr. McDonagh's letter lacks credibility. We have already spoken today [Sept. 24] with candidates who say they did not participate in any decision to avoid candidate forums sponsored by HART. In their own words, that decision was ‘dictated by Joe McDonagh,’” said Christmas.

"Our invitation still stands. All the Democratic candidates are invited to our independently moderated forum on Oct. 30,” she said.

The Hamden Daily News has been asked to cosponsor the event.

Hamden Democratic Town Committee
PO Box 185658 ● Hamden CT 06518

Joseph P. McDonagh
Vice Chairman
John Morrison
Bernard Nitkin
Corresponding Secretary
Holly Masi
Recording Secretary
Rose Mentone



September 24, 2007


Joan Warren
Carol Christmas
Diane Hoffman

Dear Ms. Warren, Ms. Christmas and Ms. Hoffman:

The 2007 Democratic candidates for Hamden’s legislative council met recently, and unanimously decided not to participate in the Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation’s forum on October 30, 2007.  They asked me to communicate their decision to you, and to HART.

We mean no disrespect to the three capable and independent moderators who have agreed to participate in the program.  However, we are very concerned about HART’s participation in this forum. From the start, HART has misleadingly portrayed itself as an unbiased and nonpartisan organization. As you and your fellow HART members know, that is untrue.

All the Democratic candidates for office are willing and eager to participate in forums sponsored by legitimate, non-partisan organizations.  Mayor Craig Henrici plans to participate in at least four forums and debates, and the other candidates have communicated with local civic organizations and the League of Women Voters, regarding their willingness to participate in any scheduled events.

If you need any further information, please feel free to contact me, at XXXXXXX, or at XXXXXXXXXXXX.


Joseph P. McDonagh
Chair, Hamden Democratic Town Committee

Paid for by the Hamden Democratic Town Committee, Bernard Nitkin, Treasurer

Terms of Confusion

PW’s new labor agreement seems to favor workers, not the town

By Sharon Bass

The legislative Labor Committee tackled the proposed Public Works union contract last night with more questions than could be adequately answered.

“I think it’s a very fair deal for the town,” said Bridgeport attorney Chris Hodgson, who does Hamden’s labor negotiations.

But some councilpeople sounded skeptical. The four-year labor contract -- which runs retroactively from July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2009 -- includes yearly pay hikes but the separate medical agreement (July 1, 2006 to June 30, 2010) contains a hike in employee health premiums and co-pays. However, that savings to the taxpayers is offset by the pay hikes and other employee goodies.

Lou Panzo, the town’s insurance agent of record, kicked off the session explaining the increased employee contributions to the self-insured health plan. He said Public Works employees currently pay 5 percent of their premium, which would increase to 10 percent and then 11 percent under the new medical contract.

“Besides insurance, what else did the union have to sacrifice?” said Councilwoman Gretchen Callahan.

“We were able to settle for less than a 3 percent [salary increase],” said Hodgson. But that’s just for the first year (FY 2006) of the four-year labor deal. According to Personnel Director Ken Kelley, the last three years are 3 percent hikes each.

“How much savings is there?” asked Callahan.

Panzo said the town would save $60,000 in the first year and slightly more the next two with the higher medical contributions, but factoring in the pay increases the town would be spending more under the proposed contract.

Kelley said workers will get retroactive pay from July 1, 2005, but their higher health contributions would not be retroactive.

“Can you explain why the longevity increased so much?” said Callahan.

“Actually, there was no change,” said Kelley.

“That’s not clear at all,” Callahan said. “You do have in this contract quite a few [longevity] increases for employees.”

But Kelley said the amount has held steady for several years, and the tentative contract before the committee was not finalized and needed some rewording.

“It’s give and take with the union,” said Hodgson.

Councilwoman Betty Wetmore asked about the four-hour overtime minimum provision, which was also in the old contract. If an employee is called in two of more times a day on an emergency or urgency and just worked an hour or so each time, would he get paid for four hours each time in the same day?

“Yes,” said Hodgson.

“Every worker gets $60 extra in his paycheck every week whether they work or not,” Wetmore read from the contract.

Kelley said that pertains only to drivers and mechanics doing snow removal. Councilman Jim Pascarella asked if “there’s any thought to decreasing” double time on winter holidays for snow removal. “What about consolidating Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays with Presidents Day?”

Kelley said the 13 paid holidays for Hamden employees are the same as for the state, except town workers get the day after Thanksgiving off which state workers don’t.

Hodgson said if a holiday was taken away “we would need to give a floating day.”

Councilman Matt Fitch praised the agreement to put new employees in the state’s Municipal Employees Retirement System in lieu of the municipal pension fund. However, that provision has not been written into the new contract.

“You can’t look at employees without looking at their pension,” said Fitch. “I’m pleased with Mr. Hodgson’s work.”

Councilman John Flanagan disagreed about the benefit of moving town employees into the state retirement system. “You’ll see that MERS is not the panacea you think it is,” he said. “But that’s for other councils.” Flanagan lost the Sept. 11 primary.

An outspoken union advocate, Flanagan said the proposed labor agreement “came out in favor of the union, but not severely.”

“No agreement is perfect,” said Council President Al Gorman. “You’ve done due diligence and compared it to other surrounding communities. The contract has been a long time coming. The Public Works Department is obviously a valuable asset to Hamden and justifiably deserves to be treated fairly.”

Wetmore wanted to know why workers get an extra 50 cents per hour when they pave streets.

“I think it’s a moot issue,” said Hodgson.

Busca said major road jobs are outsourced and town employees only do minor work.

“But why do they get an extra 50 cents?” Wetmore asked again.

“I’ll have to look into that,” said Busca. “It was set before my time.”

And Wetmore had another bone to pick. According to the tentative contract, a town vehicle must be provided for fetching coffee. Busca explained.

“When we’re on the job and have five trucks, we don’t want a parade [of trucks] going down to the coffeeshop,” he said. So one town car is made available for java pickup.

Councilwoman Berita Rowe-Lewis called attention to “a lot of outdated languages that need to be cleaned up. What the town has given [to labor] to what the town has gotten is really negative.”

“I will say to the Council that there’s a lot of language that can’t be taken out because it wasn’t negotiated with the union,” Hodgson said.

Next Monday, the full Council will take up and possibly vote on the Public Works labor agreement. A few years ago, the United Public Service Employees Union replaced the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as the department’s union.
September 18, 2007

Ambulance Accident Investigated

From Capt. Ron Smith:

Yesterday at 10:05 a.m., Hamden police were dispatched to Ridge Road and Haverford Street on a report of a motor vehicle accident with injuries. One of the vehicles was an ambulance, which was lying on its side.

Fire Department personnel arrived at the accident site and extricated two American Medical Response employees, who were trapped inside the ambulance. The ambulance, which was traveling northbound on Ridge Road with its lights and siren activated, was responding to a medical assistance call on Hamden Hills Drive. The ambulance was struck by a Toyota that had previously stopped at a stop sign at the intersection of Haverford and Ridge.

The two AMR employees and the operator of the Toyota were transported to the hospital with injuries. The injuries are not considered life threatening. 

The Hamden police Traffic Division is conducting the investigation. Witnessess are asked to contact officer Stephen DeGrand at 230.4036 with any information.

September 17, 2007

No Dif

Over at the 8th D table, counter Marjorie Clark and Pete Vining, town election official. Photo/Sharon Bass

Today’s recount indicates the new voting method is right on

By Sharon Bass

You could hear a pin drop this morning in the room where 653 primary ballots were being counted by hand. At 10:05 a.m., the paper votes for the 2nd and 8th districts were being recounted because under state law they had to be. The vote spread between candidates was under 20.

By 11:36 a.m. the deed was done. And the new Diebold optical scan machine results were perfectly matched by human brains and fingers. Gina Cahill still ousted 2nd District incumbent John Flanagan by 115-107, and John DeRosa still ousted incumbent Mike Germano by 219-212 for the 8th District seat. Two absentee 8th D ballots were discarded because both candidates' ovals were filled in. But they weren’t counted in the original vote on Sept. 11.

“I didn’t expect [the outcome] to change,” said Flanagan.

He was the only candidate who came to the ground-level conference room in Government Center where Amy Ruhlman and Gary Schark counted the 2nd D ballots and Marjorie Clark and former Councilwoman Mattie Mims did the 8th D. Hamden election official Pete Vining oversaw the recount. Both registrars of voters and Town Clerk Vera Morrison were also there on official duty.

A handful of others came to observe, including Jim O’Brien, Anne Ramsey, Rose Mentone and Mike Crocco -- all members of the Democratic Town Committee. Some paced in and out of the room during the time-consuming count. With the old voting machines, recounts were done quickly and simply by checking the backs of the machines.

The 2nd District recount, which had about half the number of ballots as the 8th, went rather smoothly. But there was trouble in the 8th. Each candidate had his own stack. Mims accidentally put two DeRosa ballots in the Germano pile, which she and Clark caught right away.

The tension in the room heightened.

Beforehand, there was an initial count. Then the ballots were separated into candidate piles and counted again.

“If this happens [a recount] during a regular election, we’ll be done by Christmas,” Flanagan said in the hallway.

“Of which year?” asked O’Brien. “Don’t just give us a holiday.”

“It’s certainly more work but you have a paper trail,” said Vining. And it’s more accurate than reading the machines' behinds, he added.

Neither Clark nor Mims was aware that the 8th District machine tally was tied 208-208 on primary day and expressed surprise at the tied hand count. DeRosa got 11 absentees to Germano’s four for the win.

“It’s reassuring is what it is because you have the actual ballots in your hand,” Clark said of the morning’s exercise.

“The recount is evident that every vote counts,” said Mims.

Democratic Registrar of Voters Peggy Rae said since she was elected in 1998, there’s been a 2nd District recount every election. Recounts are state mandated if there is less than a 20-vote difference or one-half of 1 percent.

Flanagan said he’s probably done with elected office.

“I served 12 years on the council,” he said. But he’s not through with town government. He said he’d like to sit on a commission. Asked which one, Flanagan said perhaps a “charrette” commission, if one is created on the heels of the town’s upcoming “intensive planning and development conference,” scheduled for the end of October.

September 13, 2007

One More Time

Councilmen John Flanagan and Mike Germano narrowly lost at the polls Tuesday. File photos

By Sharon Bass

The 653 paper ballots that were slipped through the new Diebold optical scan machines on Tuesday will be recounted next Monday at 10 a.m. As will the 20 absentee votes. Since the two Democratic primary races resulted in less than a 20-vote difference, the recount is automatic unless the losing candidates say otherwise.

Gina Cahill, an animal control officer, ousted incumbent John Flanagan in the 2nd District by a vote of 115-107. John DeRosa, a self-employed electrician, beat incumbent Mike Germano 219-212 for the 8th District seat.

The ballots are being kept safe and sound, locked inside Town Clerk Vera Morrison’s vault. “They’re impounded by the town clerk under the law,” she said yesterday.

The hand count is expected to take up to two hours, said Morrison, and will probably be conducted in the lower-level conference room in Government Center.

A cast of political characters has been assembled to count and observe. Morrison and Democratic Registrar of Voters Peggy Rae will hand over the ballots on Sept. 17 to counters Marjorie Clark, Mattie Mims, Amy Ruhlman and Gary Schark (two per district). Pete Vining will moderate. Democratic Town Committee Chair Joe McDonagh, Republican Registrar of Voters Tony Esposito and the four primary candidates are expected to watch.

This is the first time Hamden has used the new voting method, which replaced the old levers.

“We’re a little anxious,” said Morrison. “We’re all used to our lever machines. It’s been a real learning experience for all of us and continues to evolve every day. So I’ll be interested as everyone else to see what the final result is.”

This past April, Bethany did such a recount, Morrison said. There was a slight difference between the optical-scan count and the hand count, “maybe five votes,” she said. That difference can be the result of ballots on which both candidates for the same office are marked, and the machine didn’t catch them.

In Hamden, Rae said, two ballots weren’t included in the final tally because they “weren’t marked correctly.”

Too late to do a Lieberman but …

Flanagan and Germano cannot get on the November ballot as independents. The deadline for filing with the state to run as an independent was Aug. 8. At-large Council candidate Paul Jacques made that deadline.

But there is another option for the losing candidates. They can become write-ins, according to the Secretary of the State’s Office. They have until 14 days prior to the Nov. 6 election to submit to the state their name, address, contact info and the office sought.

“We mentioned it as a possibility to John Flanagan [Tuesday] night,” said Rae.

Messages seeking comment from Flanagan and Germano were not returned.

September 12, 2007

DeRosa, Cahill Prevail

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

In a sign the Democratic Party machine may be losing its stronghold over Hamden, two political newcomers beat incumbents in yesterday’s primary election. After two straight years of tax hikes and questionable decisions made by Henrici rubberstamps on the Town Council, voters apparently decided to try something different.

John DeRosa grabbed the 8th District from incumbent Mike Germano by seven votes (219-212, including 15 absentee ballots), and Gina Cahill prevailed over Councilman John Flanagan in the 2nd by eight votes (115-107, including five absentees). DeRosa and Flanagan were endorsed by their party districts in July.

A recount is automatic when the spread is 20 votes or fewer, unless the losing candidate waives that right. Pete Vining, head moderator for town elections, said Flanagan has already requested a recount but as of last night Germano hadn’t. Recounts must be done within five days.

The 8th District has 1,505 registered Democrats, and the 2nd has 1,218, according to the registrar of voters.

“I didn’t win. The people won,” said DeRosa. “I’m exhausted. I’m tired. I’m overwhelmed.” He will face Republican Ed Sullivan, a Board of Ed member, on Nov. 6.

Germano at the Bear Path polling site.

Even with solid support from Mayor Craig Henrici and other machine Dems, Germano couldn’t pull it off. A handful of voters at Bear Path School yesterday said the mayor called at the last minute to ask them to vote for Germano.

“Mike Germano has been very supportive of my administration,” Henrici said Tuesday afternoon from his office. “And win or lose, I believe loyalty should prevail over party politics.”

Germano did not respond to a message left for him Tuesday evening.

Flanagan in front of Helen Street School.

Flanagan blamed his narrow defeat on the rain.

“It was the weather. My seniors did not come out to vote. I knew at 1 o’clock I was in trouble,” he said. “This is the lowest turnout of any primary I’ve ever been involved in. [But] she won fair and square.”

Asked if he’d consider running for public office again, Flanagan said, “The way I see town government going, the Board of Education can do no wrong. I don’t know if it’s worth it anymore.” This is the first time Flanagan lost a Council primary. In 2003, former Mayor Carl Amento beat him in the mayoral primary.

Cahill said she was elated to get the voters’ nod.

“I’m very proud to be surrounded by the people I love. My whole family came out and fought for me. It was a great feeling to not only win but to be surrounded by my immediate family and friends,” she said.

Cahill will run against Republican Gabe Lupo in the general election. Both work for the town. Cahill is an animal control officer; Lupo is a police lieutenant.

“Right now I feel I can take on the world. I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “I know this is the first leg of the race, but everybody keeps reminding me to enjoy this. ‘You’ve done something nobody else has ever done which is to beat John Flanagan in a primary.’ I’m trying to hang onto the moment. I know I have a lot of work ahead of me. The way things worked out tonight I know I have the ability to win. I just know I can do it.”

Seen at Bear Path yesterday.

Seen at Helen Street yesterday.

September 11, 2007

‘John’s His Own Guy'

DeRosa faces the room. Photo/Maryellen Kennelly

By Sharon Bass

John DeRosa apparently left a good impression on the 30-odd folks who came to hear what he had to say last night at the Dunbar Hill firehouse. His challenger for today’s 8th District primary, Councilman Mike Germano, said he was unable to attend. Both were invited.

So all eyes and ears were on DeRosa. The man the Democrats picked at their July convention.

A quiet, reserved man, DeRosa displayed no pretenses and made no promises, except to pledge he’d listen and learn if elected to the Legislative Council this November, if he survives the primary.

“I’m not running with any negativity [towards his opponent],” said DeRosa, the father of two girls who went through the Hamden school system. His youngest is a senior at Hamden High this year. “I think we need more accountability [in local government]. Accountability on spending. I’m not going to say I’m going to lower taxes. I’m not going to say I’m going to promise you I’m going to change the world.”

“That’s a fair and honest statement,” said Tom Alegi of the 7th District.

“I think John’s his own guy,” said at-large Councilman Jim Pascarella, who lives in the 8th and is seeking re-election. “I’ll be happy to say why I’m endorsing John.”

Among the group gathered for the Dunbar Hill Civic Association’s monthly meeting were former Police Chief and Democratic at-large Council contender Jack Kennelly; Public Works Director John Busca; Republican Board of Ed member and 8th D candidate Ed Sullivan; Republican mayoral challenger Ron Gambardella; Republican candidate for the 7th Sarah Morrill; 7th District Councilman Democrat Mike Colaiacovo, party-endorsed for another term; 7th District Democratic political player Mike Crocco; and Republican volunteer firefighter and at-large Council candidate Vic Mitchell.

DeRosa was asked for his position on opening up the Town Charter, a document that was last revised Nov. 8, 1983, and now contains defunct information. A committee of three -- Councilpeople Matt Fitch, Carol Noble and Betty Wetmore -- was assigned last year to look into charter revision but so far no action has been taken.

“I think it does need to be revisited,” said DeRosa, who’s been a resident elector on the School Building Committee for the last six years. “Whether I can get that done, I don’t know but I’ll try. I don’t think a tweak is sufficient. We need more economic development in this town. I pay taxes just like you do.”

While campaigning door to door, DeRosa said people complained predominantly about roads needing repair, the school system and taxes being "so high. It’s all about the people. This is not about me,” he said.

Mitchell asked for the candidate’s opinion on where the new police and fire headquarters should be built. DeRosa said he’d need more information before making an informed decision.

“Ambulance services in other town are heavily subsidized by the taxpayers,” said Alegi. One of Mayor Craig Henrici’s three campaign promises in 2005 was to create a municipal ambulance service, which many feel is not feasible.

DeRosa said he’d need more data about starting an expensive and risky venture like that, but felt it was probably not a sound, fiscal idea.

Kennelly asked about quality-of-life issues for the 8th, such as starting a block watch.

And DeRosa repeated his oft-mentioned plan to meet quarterly with his constituents. “You can get more information from people, as we’re doing here,” he said. “My understanding is that the roads are addressed from the mayor’s office. The selection starts there.” (Gambardella has suggested forming a volunteer Local Street and Sidewalk Authority to take the politics out of the selection.)

“I think you have the right attitude,” said Alegi. And the room applauded.

Afterwards, Pascarella was asked why he’s taken such a public stand for DeRosa. Though DeRosa is the party-chosen, machine Democrats have been supporting Germano, as evidenced last Friday at Germano’s fundraiser, which Henrici attended and gave his endorsement, according to some who were there.

“I’ve been friends with John for years,” answered Pascarella. “I think John has a deep knowledge of the district. He’s lived in it for a long time. I think John’s going to be a good district representative because he’s honest. You don’t have to be outspoken to be effective. He’ll go to the meetings. He’ll go to the PTA meetings.

“Mike Colaiacovo is a terrific district rep and I think John has a lot of the same qualities as Mike has,” Pascarella said.

DeRosa said he felt he got a good reception last night in the volunteer firehouse. “The questions were fair. It’s up to the people now. It’s their decision,” he said.

Primary Premiere

Rose and Tony Mentone with a little help from Esposito (center, back) assemble the new plastic voting booth contraptions.

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

Tony Esposito had a crazy Monday afternoon. The Republican registrar of voters is the town’s expert on the new Diebold voting machines and thus was the “it man” to help set up for today’s primaries in the 8th and 2nd districts.

First stop was Bear Path School, where Esposito showed longtime 8th District Democrats Rose and Tony Mentone how to insert hollow aluminum legs into plastic bases to make the new voting booths, which cost $225 apiece. Six booths, including a broader one for folks who use wheelchairs, had to be set up. It was harder than it looked as legs kept popping out.

“There used to be one machine,” Esposito said of the old days. Now there is a medley of components.

With the new paper ballot in lieu of the lever comes the plastic privacy booths, an electronic scanner, a compartment that stores the ballots and a fax/phone setup for those who are visually impaired. That one cost $240, Esposito said.

Esposito gives Diebold instruction to Iris Corriher (middle) and Amy Ruhlnan.

Staying longer at Bear Path than expected to help the Mentones, Esposito then dashed off to Helen Street School to get the 2nd District voting poll ready to go for today. There he met up with Iris Corriher, 6th District assistant registrar, and Amy Ruhlnan, 4th D registrar. Both women are Dems and volunteers. Things went a little smoother there.

Esposito is a Diebold trainer for the Secretary of the State’s Office. “I teach people how to set up equipment, set up polling places and troubleshoot problems,” he said. The dough for the new equipment came from the feds trickled down to the state and disbursed among the towns. In other words, recycled tax dollars.

Voting takes place from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. today. In the 8th, party-endorsed John DeRosa is being primaried by Councilman Mike Germano. Gina Cahill is challenging endorsed Councilman John Flanagan for the 2nd.

September 8, 2007

‘I Look in Your Faces and I See Hope’

Gov. Rell stumps for Ron Gambardella, who stands next to his wife, Kathleen Gambardella.

Story and visuals by Sharon Bass

Folks were surprised -- and of course pleased as punch -- at the hefty turnout last night for mayoral candidate Ron Gambardella’s fundraiser at Colonial Tymes. About 175 attended. It didn’t hurt that the guest of honor was Gov. Jodi Rell, who came to give her political blessing to the Republican candidate.

But in a town with 4,314 registered Republicans, 13,164 Democrats and another 13,762 unaffiliated (the majority presumed to be liberal), it was “astounding,” as Republican Town Committee Chair Mike Iezzi said, to be able to over-pack the place for a GOP contender.

Mike Iezzi with Chris DePino, a former chair of the State Republican Committee.

“This is a great evening because we do have momentum going for a great candidate for the town of Hamden, which is Ron Gambardella,” Iezzi said to the crowd moments before Rell took the mic.

“Gov. Rell is living proof that Republicans can win Hamden easily,” said Austin Cesare, Gambardella’s campaign manager. “I believe that Ron Gambardella will be following in those same footsteps in November.”

Austin Cesare, former Republican Congressman Larry DeNardis, and Board of Ed member/8th District candidate Ed Sullivan.

Asked why she came to Hamden to support Gambardella, Rell said, “Ron understands the issues of the town and is a fiscal conservative. Somebody’s got to mind the tax dollars. And he’s a nice guy and I like nice guys, I’ll be honest with you. I support candidates that I believe in.” Rell said she knows Gambardella but not well. She said she has endorsed nine or 10 mayoral  candidates so far this season and has a long list of requests.

Then she addressed the Republicans, Democrats and independents who paid $125 apiece to attend Friday's fundraiser.

“You know what I really love about this group? You have the young and the older,” said Rell, casually dressed in black slacks and a button-down blue shirt. “That’s important because you don’t know how good it is to see young people involved in the Republican Party.

The candidate (right) with his campaign manager.

“What you need is someone who’s going to lead the town into the future,” the governor continued. “One of the things I like best about Ron is he isn’t going to make promises he can’t keep. People appreciate what’s honest, even if you don’t like the medicine.”

Gambardella followed Rell at the podium. “I look in your faces and I see hope and the hope is that we will have a town administration that I will hopefully lead up -- and I believe I will -- that will reflect your values,” the candidate said.

Democrats Jackie Downing and former Police Commissioner Neil Longobardi.

Jackie Downing, former Mayor Carl Amento’s chief aide, was one of the Democrats to show up. She wore a “Gambardella Hamden’s Next Mayor” sticker. Downing said she is supporting the Republican because of the party politics and cronyism in the Henrici Administration.

“They’ve reduced everything to party politics,” she said of the Democratic machine. “I was never part of the politics of the Democratic Party. I worked for the town of Hamden. What is happening in Town Hall is unconscionable. The blatant cronyism. The lack of inclusion of the public. The lack of planning.”

Downing said though she was hired by Amento while her brother, Ed Beaudette, sat on the Legislative Council, she got her job because she was qualified. “I came with 26 years of nonprofit experience,” she said.

At-large Councilwoman Wetmore.

Republican Councilwoman Betty Wetmore said she was “just astounded” by the evening’s turnout. “It shows that Hamden is tired of the high taxes, the cronyism, the no-bids,” she said.

“We got a lot of people coming out,” said Gordon Miller, who’s challenging Democratic incumbent Matt Fitch for the 1st District. “To tell you the truth, it was more than I expected. There might be a good [mayoral] race.”

Carol Christmas and Mark Sanders of Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation.

Mark Sanders, a member of the Green Party and a vocal critic of the Henrici Administration, said he’s supporting Gambardella because “he has had the right answers. On the [reval] phase-in they were wrong from the beginning and Ron was the champion of that issue. Everything out of Ron’s mouth is nonpartisan. I honestly don’t think I’ve heard the word ‘Republican’ twice tonight.”

Gambardella with Democrat Ed Beaudette and Beaudette's mother.

Gambardella said he was “overwhelmed” by the outpouring of support. “I can see it in their faces a smell of victory in November,” the candidate said. “I will work my hardest not to disappoint them.”

“If we have this kind of enthusiasm right now, if we can keep building on that momentum, we will win this election,” Rell advised the crowd. “What you really have to do is get behind the candidate and talk them up … and then you have to turn out to vote.”

A piece of the spread Friday evening at Colonial Tymes.

Campaign manager Austin Cesare says Gambardella is "what this town needs." Click arrow to hear what else he says. (Apologies for the dark videos.)

Gov. Rell stomps for Gambardella.

Gambardella addresses his supporters.

September 7, 2007

Now Hiring

Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

Mark Barletta retired as Hamden’s fire marshal on June 30, 2006. Mayor Craig Henrici then named Deputy Fire Marshal Brian Badamo as the acting marshal, after unsuccessfully trying to make Badamo chief.

Since he didn’t have 10 years on the job -- a minimum requirement -- Badamo couldn’t become the official marshal. Not until now. This month he has earned that decade and the job -- which must be posted, per Town Charter -- has been posted, on Sept. 4. It expires at 4 p.m. Sept. 11, said Personnel Director Ken Kelley.

Asked why the position, vacant for over 14 months, had not been opened up sooner, Kelley said, “I have no idea. I just got the request from the fire chief.”

Chief Dave Berardesca could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Henrici said he didn’t want the marshal’s job filled. “I wanted Brian to be the acting,” he said. The deputy post has also been left vacant since June 2006. The Fire Commission chooses the marshals, not the mayor.

“Brian’s been doing the work of two people and he’s been doing it very well,” said Henrici. He said he didn’t know if a deputy would be hired.

In his 2007-’08 budget proposal, Henrici funded the deputy position at $12,214. The Town Council upped it to $36,642, allowing a deputy to come on board months sooner. Neither number represents a full year’s pay.

Barletta was earning $75,809 when he retired as marshal. In the new operating budget, the job pays $66,956, before overtime.

The position is only being advertised internally, said Kelley. “We never go outside for fire,” he said (with the exception of the new chief who came from the Wallingford department). However, he said if there are no qualified internal candidates the search would be extended.

Kelley said he didn’t think any applications have come in yet. “They tend to come in the last couple of days,” he said.

If no more than three apply, civil service testing won’t be necessary since the commission looks at the top three candidates, ordinarily decided by the exam, said Kelley.

September 6, 2007

‘I’m Very Upbeat’

Chief Wydra. File photo

As ideas for the new police station get ironed out, thumbs are going up

By Sharon Bass

The new Hamden police headquarters will likely be attached to Memorial Town Hall and use some interior space.

The new Hamden police headquarters will likely be built where the current crumbling one stands, with its own entrance on Dixwell Avenue.

Those statements are not contradictory, even though there’s common thought that they are.

“We should have our own building,” said police Sgt. Bill Sikorsky when asked what he thought of the current plan to use part of Town Hall for the new digs.

Ditto, said Sgt. John Sullivan. He said he wants a brand new building at the current location. “Everyone knows where the Police Department is. And it’s centrally located,” he said.

According to the Middletown architect recently hired to draw a preliminary picture, Sikorsky, Sullivan and the other 131 police employees will pretty much get what they want.

“Part of the misunderstanding was the entire Town Hall would be turned over to police,” said Jeff Bianco of the architectural firm Bianco/Giolitto/Weston. “Part [of Town Hall] is planned for police offices, but a new structure will be built where the current headquarters are.”

His $45,000 assignment also includes coming up with a plan to renovate the entire Town Hall, with a price tag attached for the whole shebang. Bianco’s deadline is Halloween. He said he thinks he’ll be able to hand in his homework sooner.

For the last few weeks, Bianco has been talking with Police Chief Tom Wydra and his deputies, and Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson. While Wydra was hesitant at first about using Town Hall, he has since warmed up to the idea.

“I’m very upbeat about what I’ve seen so far,” he said yesterday of his discussions with Bianco. “We’re talking about a whole new building attached to Town Hall. It has to be its own self-contained secure building. Whatever part of Town Hall we’d take would be walled off. From the outside it would look like one building. On the inside, it would be two separate buildings. It has to be.”

Portland built its new police headquarters onto town hall, same as Hamden is considering doing. Courtesy photo

Exactly, said Bianco. His firm did just that in Portland, Conn., which has a much smaller department.

Jackson said he too is optimistic about the development and that it wouldn’t adversely affect the aesthetics of the historic property.

“They [architects] will refuse to ruin the looks of Town Hall,” he said. “We are not going to lose our signature building.”

This is the first time the town has done a feasibility study for a police headquarters, Jackson said. Two previous studies done during the Amento Administration were for a Town Hall rehab only, he said. Late last fall, the Legislative Council approved a $435,000 bonding package for the studies and design work.

Building down

For a force Hamden’s size, Wydra said four to five acres are needed for the headquarters, but the architect has just roughly 2.3 to play with. That space squeeze could jack up the price. For one thing, a semi-underground parking lot is being seriously considered. The bottom level would be for police vehicles only and locked off to the public. On top, there’d be public parking for about 100 cars.

“In my opinion that’s the only way this would work,” said Wydra, who’s been an integral part of the decision-making.

“If you had twice as much space and it was out in a cornfield, it would be open parking but not as secure,” said Bianco. “The security is a real benefit because it protects the cruisers from the weather and vandalism.”

Another matter is the old police buildings and garages. They are doomed for the wrecker’s ball, by all accounts, except there could be a little hitch with the Detective Division building, which was formerly the library and deeded to the town. In that deed, there may be a restriction about razing it.

Council President Al Gorman, who met with Bianco yesterday for the first time, said the deed hasn’t been researched. “I don’t know the answer. If that [building] cannot go, the police building will be structured around it,” he said. “That building could be used for Parks & Rec, for example.”

Bianco said the former library cannot be incorporated into the project, but can be woven around. “It gets complicated as we move forward. I think it’s a great project,” he said.

But Wydra said it doesn’t make sense to even think about saving the old library structure, despite what the deed says.

“What does that mean? Certainly the needs of the town and Police Department and the health and welfare of the officers outweigh any importance of any restrictions on a deed,” he said. “I can’t even hear that.”


When Gorman met with Bianco Wednesday, they discussed among other things the historic considerations of the project. Memorial Town Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places and Gorman sits on the Historic Properties Commission.

“It’s preservation theory,” said Bianco. “What we’re committed to doing is meeting the Secretary of the Interior’s guidelines for historic buildings, and that says when you do an addition it should look like a new addition so you can see the original building in its original format as much as possible. You’re not creating Disneyland.”

The architect said there will be three parts to Town Hall after the makeover. The fire station will remain, some municipal offices will return and the police will occupy space, the amount not yet determined.

The historic building will also need some modifications for folks with handicaps. Adjacent to the front steps, Bianco is planning a new exterior door at ground level.

The proposal needs Planning & Zoning approval, said Gorman, and likely Inland, Wetlands & Watercourses as well.

September 5, 2007

8th District Dough

John DeRosa and Mike Germano. File photos

By Sharon Bass

Sept. 4 was another candidate filing deadline, but the only financial reports found in the Town Clerk’s Office yesterday were for the two men duking it out for the 8th District Council seat.

Councilman Mike Germano, who is primarying Democratic Party-endorsed John DeRosa for the 8th, has not yet held a fundraiser. But he’s gotten two contributions, according to his filing. Councilman Matt Fitch gave him $250, and Board of Ed Chair Mike D’Agostino threw $200 bucks Germano’s way.

Some $298 has been spent, leaving Germano with a balance of $176.

Fitch contributed nothing to DeRosa’s campaign, even though DeRosa is the party-chosen.

“Mike asked me to” contribute to his campaign, said Fitch. “And I’m supporting Mike.”

The Committee to Elect John DeRosa held a fundraiser on Aug. 22. Total contributions reported in the Sept. 4 filing ring in at $2,856; expenditures, $238; cash on hand, $2,591.

DeRosa’s Donors

Jack O’Donnell, attorney, $50
Jennifer Rignoli, attorney, $50
John Morrison, 4th District DTC member, $50
Maria Moniello, teacher, $50
Angelo Vitale, 8th D DTC member, $50
Janet Mills, 7th D DTC member and police commissioner, $50
Rev. Richard Morton, 5th D DTC member, $50
Ozzie Brown, 3rd D DTC member and district Council candidate, $50
Christine Bonanno, $50
Michael Colaiacovo Sr., $50
Carl Amento, former mayor, $50
Jim Leddy, retired fire chief and 9th D Council candidate, $50
Barry Herman, 7th D DTC member, $50
Lou Affinito, former town finance director, $50
Michele Mastropetre, $50
Jim O’Brien, 8th D DTC member, $100
Deborah DiLeone, 7th D DTC member, $100
Jack Kennelly, retired police chief and at-large Council candidate, $100
John Busca, Public Works director, $100
Rose Mentone, 8th D DTC member, $100
Joe McDonagh, DTC chair, $100
Mike Colaiacovo, 7th D DTC member and district councilman running for re-election, $200
Mike Crocco, 7th D DTC member, $200
Bill LaVelle, $250
Jim Pascarella, at-large councilman going for re-election, $250
Hamden Democratic Town Committee: $500

Vehicular Madness

Council spars over payment method for fire mobiles

By Sharon Bass

The Fire Department needs three new rescue vehicles and a pumper truck. No one on the Legislative Council disagreed with that last night. It was how to pay for those items that led to all the discussion and commotion -- with one councilman angrily accusing another of grandstanding during this “silly season.” In the end, the Council approved the rescues and tabled the pumper.

First up were the three rescue vehicles, for a total of $265,000. The Council was asked to approve a three-year lease contract with a 3.68 percent interest rate, instead of buying the vehicles through long-term bonding.

“It doesn’t seem logical to me to lease-purchase instead of bonding,” Councilman John Flanagan said to Finance Director Mike Betz.

Since bonds are usually issued for a 20-year period and the rescue vehicles typically last just five to six (the three being replaced are eight years old), Betz said leasing is preferable because it’s not prudent to be paying on equipment after it expires. He said he didn’t know if it would be cheaper to lease or bond.

However after the meeting, Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson explained that bonding is more expensive in the long run because it’s a 20-year loan, whereas leasing hits the operating budget harder at first but lasts for a much shorter period.

The Council was confused and unconvinced.

“Fire vehicles should last 20 years,” said Councilman Jim Pascarella. He said before he could make a decision, he wanted to see the terms of the warranty and know the amount of the trade-in value on two of the three old rescue units (one will be kept as a spare).

“Isn’t it standard practice that you can’t bond something for longer than its life expectancy?” Councilman Matt Fitch said.

“That’s what Mr. Betz was getting at,” said Jackson.

“If the town could afford it, we should be buying the emergency vehicles out of the operating budget,” said Betz, thus avoiding interest charges. “But we can’t. Leasing is a good option.” He said there are more extra costs with bonding, such as legal fees.

Councilwoman Betty Wetmore and Councilmen Ron Gambardella and Mike Colaiacovo asked Betz a battery of questions about why bonding couldn’t be done. Wetmore said she was confused. They all asked for more time to make a decision since the item just came before them.

“Is leasing fire equipment common?” asked President Al Gorman. “Can you get the same product as bought?”

Fire Chief Dave Berardesca said in the West and Midwest, leasing is “fairly common” in larger-city fire departments and is just beginning to catch on in Connecticut. And the same product can be procured through leasing.

Bond this?

The $420,000 pumper truck acquisition necessitates amending the ’06-’07 capital improvement budget. Betz recommended bonding the item because its lifespan is reportedly 25 to 30 years. The new pumper would replace one of the town’s two 1984 pumpers.

But this time the Council wanted to know why leasing wouldn’t be a better option.

“Why purchase this and not the three rescue vehicles?” said Pascarella.

“We should look into a lease,” said Wetmore.

Gambardella and Colaiacovo requested more time to look into leasing for the new pumper.

Then Councilman Curt Leng lashed out, particularly at Gambardella.

“If we were talking about bonding a fire truck a year ago, there would not have been a problem,” Leng said. “I object to politicizing the issue. It shouldn’t just happen because it’s silly season.”

Wetmore shot back. “I wasn’t going to say anything but this has nothing to do with election time. My point is the taxpayers are spending enough on taxes and if we can save some money ... not because I want to get re-elected, Mr. Leng,” she said.

Flanagan agreed with Gambardella. “We are dealing with an ordinance [the capital improvement plan],” Flanagan said. “We get this tonight and we’re expected to vote on this ordinance tonight. People have 21 days to petition against it. I’m agreeing with Mr. Gambardella tonight. I’m going to vote against this ordinance.”

“Why are we talking about this matter?” said Leng. “Because we have a light agenda? We never go through this psychoanalyzing, why the finance director” is suggesting leasing or bonding.

Councilwoman Carol Noble jumped in. “Because it affects the tax rate,” she said. And then moved to table the pumper.

Fitch, Leng and Mike Germano voted against tabling.

Tobacco Mobile

Germano says NO to Big Tobacco’s “gift”

By Sharon Bass

Calling it “blood money,” Councilman Mike Germano made an impassioned plea to his peers Monday evening to reject an ATV from a chewing tobacco company. As part of the national tobacco settlement, Skoal is offering free Polaris Ranger utility vehicles to communities on the condition that Skoal can advertise the community on its corporate Web site.

(While being named on the site was the Council's major concern, it apparently didn't know that "Hamden Fire and Emergency Services" is already listed on the Skoal site.)

Germano suggested putting the surgeon general’s smoking warning on the back of the vehicle. It wouldn’t bear the Skoal logo. He also mentioned that in its settlement with the states, the Stamford, Conn.-based company admitted no wrongdoing by selling its product, though it runs a warning label that it “may cause gum disease and tooth loss.” Chewing tobacco has also been strongly linked to oral cancer.

Though most Council members said they agreed with Germano’s sentiment, they didn’t find the tobacco donation as offensive.

“This is part of the settlement and I’ll take it,” said Councilman John Flanagan. “It won’t cost the taxpayers anything.”

“I’m all for it,” said Councilwoman Betty Wetmore. “We’ve accepted other [tobacco settlement] money.”

“It’s part of a lawsuit,” said Councilman Mike Colaiacovo. “It’s going to enhance public safety.”

Councilman Matt Fitch said the vehicle is needed to rescue distressed or injured folks on Sleeping Giant, which is in his district, the 1st. “This is a vehicle that can save lives,” he said. “It’s a tradeoff, obviously.”

Councilman Curt Leng vowed to vote against accepting the Skoal donation. “I disagree with Mr. Fitch. I think it’s unfair to say we’ll save a life with this,” he said.

Deputy Fire Chief Clark Hurlburt secured the deal for the ATV. Councilman Jim Pascarella asked if it was possible to accept the tobacco gift without having a photo of Hamden fire officials on the Skoal Web site. Hurlburt said 30 percent of the towns listed on the site are without photos.

Leng suggested that the town buy an ATV for Sleeping Giant. Sarcastically Flanagan retorted, “If the town buys its own vehicle, I want the money to come from businesses that sell tobacco products.”

“This is something that comes from Big Tobacco,” Germano made a final plea. “This [settlement] money was supposed to go to education. I’m sorry if you were lied to [about the dangers of tobacco]. My generation takes [smoking] more seriously.” He said the town should sell the ATV and put the money into anti-smoking education.

Germano and Leng were the only no votes. Hamden gets a Skoal mobile.

September 4, 2007

Primary Labor

On the campaign trail

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

Gina and John and Mike and John went walking yesterday. Each in their own direction. The HDN decided to catch up with the four Democratic primary candidates to see how they were doing a week before the Sept. 11 election.

First stop, Pine Rock Park on Brook Street. Gina Cahill is primarying party-endorsed 2nd Council District incumbent John Flanagan. The 46-year-old mother is an animal control warden for the town. This is her first attempt at elected office. She lives up the street on Brook.

Cahill takes a campaign break on the wooden overpass.

“I’m hearing it’s time for a change. I’m hearing, unfortunately to my dismay, that people don’t get involved because they don’t have any faith in the system,” Cahill said when asked what people are saying to her as she goes door to door. “There are a lot of negative remarks. I felt unwelcome in a lot of homes. I actually caught people’s attention by telling them that I’m not a politician.”

She said more than once during the Labor Day interview that she has “nothing against” Flanagan. That she wanted to get involved in local politics.

“And when you say you want to get involved, how do you do that? You have to run in the district where I live,” said Cahill.

Standing on the Pine Rock Park bridge, she visually scanned the park and said it needs help. Typically, there are broken beer bottles, drug paraphernalia, empty drug bags and condoms on the grounds, she said. Instead of relying on the town to clean up the park, the candidate suggested the neighborhood should organize and do it.

 “We shouldn't always feel there’s some division in the town who’s required to fix the problem,” said Cahill. “[A neighborhood cleanup] lightens the load on the town and they can get the bigger projects done.

“We don’t do that whole neighborly thing anymore,” she continued. “[Some people’s attitude is] ‘I’m a taxpayer. Fix it for me.’”

Cahill said “close friends” from her district and beyond are helping on her campaign. But said she was turned down by friends on the town committee. “I asked a few friends who happened to be on the town committee but they declined, because they said it was a conflict of interest,” she said, since she's not the party chosen.

Speaking of conflicts of interest, Cahill was asked about sitting on the council and being a town employee.

“I understand that there will be issues I’ll have to abstain from,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a big deal. I shouldn’t vote on the animal control officer’s salary. [The job] is part of what brought me closer to wanting to go into politics. I hear the voice of the people.”

Next stop, Westminster Street. Councilman Mike Germano, 8th District, didn’t get the party nod this year. It went to John DeRosa. But that’s nothing new for Germano, 25. He didn’t get the party endorsement in ’05, either. The Quinnipiac University grad owns Carrot Web design. He lives on Forest Court North.

Germano stops for a bit on Westminster.

So, what are folks telling Germano when he knocks and they open?

“Actually, they’re happy that I’m running again. They like the fact that I offer some youth and am clearly outspoken,” he said. “I made a promise at my first campaign to make Quinnipiac University held responsible on all levels. To guarantee student housing for four years.

“I got a lot of things started this term and I want to make sure I had a second term to get things accomplished,” Germano said.

In ’05, like nearly all the local Democratic candidates, Germano won his district (both in the primary and general election) by a very healthy margin. Because of his success at the polls, he said his district committee should have endorsed him this summer instead of DeRosa.

“I would hope that getting an overwhelming majority [of votes] would have constituted endorsement from the seven people [on the 8th District committee]. I think it’s important to know that two years ago, those people chose Tony [Mentone] and the 8th District Democrats rejected that nomination and they’re going to do that now,” Germano predicted.

He said after the July 23 Democratic convention, he received over 40 phone calls and e-mails from supporters.

“I stand behind my record 100 percent and if Mr. DeRosa wants to challenge me on my record, that’s fine,” Germano said. “If the Town Democrat Committee wants to keep the old boys’ club in place, I know the voters will reject that.”

He’s campaigning on getting roads paved, having an accountable government, keeping constituents updated with district and town news and stimulating economic growth.

“I’m looking to make our town one of the first towns to have all council meetings on the Internet,” said Germano. “You need to have a loud voice that’s willing to fight and be accountable to the residents all year round.”

He said he’s signed up about 30 new voters but didn’t know how many are college students.

Third stop, the Paradise Avenue duck pond. This is John DeRosa’s first stab at elected office. The 59-year-old electrician was unanimously endorsed by the 8th District town committee. He lives on Heathridge Road.

DeRosa takes a breather at the breezy pond.

“What I’m hearing [at people’s doors] are concerns about the taxes, the infrastructure, the spending,” he said from a bench overlooking the pond. “They’re worried about economic development, to take the tax burden off the residents.”

Folks in the 8th are also telling DeRosa they want to see a different legislative council makeup in November. “They’re not happy with the Council’s performance. They don’t feel [some members] are working in the best interest of the townspeople,” he said.

His district’s needs are common in Hamden. “Obviously, streets have been neglected for the past two years, except for Forest Court North. We need everything. The roads are sinking, there are potholes. Nothing’s been done,” DeRosa said.

“People have been complaining about how they called numerous times to Town Hall to have trees taken down and it hasn’t been done, for whatever the reason,” he said.

So, DeRosa said “when” he’s elected this November, he plans to hold quarterly district meetings to hear constituents’ grievances and keep them informed on what’s going on.

“The response has been very good,” he said of his door-to-door effort. “I’ve been well received. I’ve been working the streets. The only way to make change is to get people involved. And to get out and vote.”

Final stop, Helen Street School. John Flanagan is also going through his second primary in as many elections. The outspoken 2nd District councilman served his district from 1987-’93, and at-large from 1999-2003. He was elected again in ’05. The 60-year-old is a self-employed building inspector. He lives on Chester Street.

Flanagan wraps up the day on Gorham Street.

Flanagan sat at a table in the back yard of the school. Dusk was near. He’d pounded enough doors for the day. Labor Day.

“Some are asking questions about why the taxes have gone up and a lot of it is paying back bills from the Amento regime,” he said of the constituents he’s chatted with. “We haven’t had a fully staffed fire and police department. They’re asking about school department spending. A lot of them feel there’s spending on stuff not related to the kids.

“We need streets paved, curbs fixed from snowplow damage. Sidewalks need repair. We need some flood control by Church Street School. The parks need maintenance. We just got the swings fixed over at Hamden Plains. We just passed the monies for the playground for Dunbar Hill,” said Flanagan.

He wants another 24 months in office to “straighten out the mess that built up over the eight years previous. People play silly political games. And I want to see if we can get the education department finances straightened out.

And, I want to stop any bonding of the pension.”

Mayor Craig Henrici wants to borrow $55 million to feed the pension fund but has been unable to get Council support, so far. However, the item is sure to reappear, perhaps some time later this year.


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