Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Aldermanic and Mayoral History

Whenever there's a political or social controversy, it can be helpful (or at least interesting) to take a look back through history to see how we got to this point. I've spent some time over the past week or so sifting through newspapers on microfilm and in online databases, and rooting out old charter revision reports tucked away in the basement of the Bronson Library. As a result, I've found some interesting information about the origins of Waterbury's Aldermen at Large system, which will be coming to an end next year.

The City of Waterbury was incorporated in 1853, but included only the center of Waterbury, where the population was the most dense. The Town of Waterbury formed a ring around the City, extending out to the current borders of Waterbury. The City and the Town each had their own form of government: the Board of Aldermen and the Selectmen.

1874 Map of Waterbury, showing the City of Waterbury highlighted in yellow, surrounded by the Town districts, which formed the basis of some of today's neighborhoods. (Map courtesy of UConn Libraries)



The division between the Town and City has lingering effects today. The outer ring neighborhoods, which were part of the Town of Waterbury, have a much more suburban feel to them than the neighborhoods that were part of, or close to, the City of Waterbury.

The City of Waterbury was divided into four wards, while the Town of Waterbury had ten districts. By 1893, the population in the Town of Waterbury had grown large enough to be in need of city services.


Waterbury's four city wards in 1893 (soon after, there were five wards). Everything outside of the wards was part of the Town of Waterbury, which had a separate government system. All that remains of the old division between the City and the Town is the existence of a City Clerk and a Town Clerk. (Map courtesy of David Rumsey Map Collection)


A merger of the City and the Town was approved by the Connecticut General Assembly in 1895. The new City Charter specified that the Board of Aldermen would consist of three Aldermen elected from each of five wards. The Town and City were fully consolidated as a single government in 1902.


Waterbury's Aldermen in 1898, as listed in the Municipal Register.




I was wondering when we switched to the Aldermen at Large system, and I came across this tantalizing paragraph printed in the Hartford Courant in 1931:

"Democrats Elect Hayes in Waterbury," Hartford Courant, 7 Oct 1931.
(Waterbury municipal elections used to be held on the first Tuesday in October.)


Although the above snippet of an article implies that Hayes instituted Aldermen at Large during his time as Mayor, I have since found out that it actually went into effect earlier (you can't trust everything you read in the news, even back in 1931).

Until 1917, Aldermen were elected by Ward: three Aldermen from each of five Wards. During this time period, a majority vote was defined as a two-thirds vote of all members.

Board of Aldermen listed in the 1917 City Directory


In 1918, a hybrid system was introduced: two Aldermen from each of five Wards, and five Aldermen at Large.

Board of Aldermen listed in the 1918 City Directory


Finally, in 1920, the system switched to only Aldermen at Large. During this period, until 1927, the Aldermen had staggered terms of office, similar to the Board of Education. I haven't figured out all of the details of how the elections were run during this period. There were seemingly endless amendments to the City Charter during the 1920s, and the newspapers weren't too interested in writing about the details.

Board of Aldermen listed in the 1920 City Directory


Waterbury fell afoul of serious political trouble beginning in 1918, the same time that the Board of Aldermen began transitioning from being elected by Ward to at Large. By 1920, the city's expenses were spiraling out of control and the Board of Aldermen raised the mill rate to what was then a record high of 29.55 mills ("Committee Now '100%' Guilfoile," Hartford Courant, 4 Jan 1920).

The Hartford Courant later described the period beginning in 1918 as “Twelve years of misgovernment,” involving out of control municipal spending and increasing municipal debt (“Waterbury Airs Fight At Hearing,” Hartford Courant, 8 Apr 1931). By 1929, the fiscal crisis in Waterbury was so bad that the State Legislature’s Finance Committee established a special commission to conduct a two-year study and find solutions to the problem.

Waterbury's voters were fed up with mismanagement by the "at large" Board of Aldermen, and they eagerly embraced transferring power from the Aldermen to the Mayor. Waterbury's charter was changed to establish what was then called a "strong Mayor" system of government. It was also sometimes called a “business man’s government” (“Cellar ‘Plottings’ in Waterbury Told,” New York Times, 2 Feb 1939). This wasn’t exclusive to Waterbury—“strong Mayor” governments were a popular trend during the 1920s and ‘30s, placing most of the government power with the executive, ideally to create an “efficient and economical” administration.

Waterbury's voters were ready for a strong mayor to take charge of the city’s finances. What they got was T. Frank Hayes.

Hayes was elected Mayor in 1929, after campaigning as a business man who would run the city like a business. Sounds good, right?

Full page campaign ad in the Waterbury American, 2 Oct 1929
(Microfilm at Silas Bronson Library)



As it turned out, trusting Frank Hayes with power was a terrible idea. Almost as soon as he was in office, he took advantage of his power to award no-bid city contracts to associates who kicked back a large portion of their pay to Hayes and his cronies. Over the span of eight years, Hayes and his friends skimmed more than $1 million (possibly as much as $3.5 million) from the city coffers, raising the mill rate to 40 in order to support his scam.

Hayes was a major proponent of a 1930 Charter Revision, which gave the mayor power to name all the members of city boards each year, and to veto any measures enacted by the Board of Education. The proposed Charter Revision also included the creation of a Council-Manager (or city manager), who would run the city. This part of the Charter Revision Report was rejected.

The proposal to adopt a Council-Manager system of government was hotly debated for over a decade in Waterbury. The city’s Republicans were divided on the issue, while the Democrats were all opposed (Frank Hayes was a Democrat). William J. Pape was a supporter of the system, voicing concern that if current trends weren’t stopped, Waterbury would end up with “a Socialist mayor” (“Waterbury Airs Fight At Hearing,” Hartford Courant, 8 April 1931).

Opponents of the system preferred revising the charter to give the mayor more power. It finally came to a referendum vote in 1939, when voters were given a choice between adopting a city manager charter or keeping their existing “strong Mayor” charter. The campaign for a city manager charter was led by the Waterbury Good Government Association, which had been involved in exposing Mayor Hayes’ corruption. Despite Frank Hayes’ rampant abuse of the “strong Mayor” system, the city voted 14,726 to 10,513 to maintain the dubious status quo (“Waterbury Turns Down City Manager Proposal,” Daily Boston Globe, 4 Oct 1939).

From 1939 on, Waterbury was firmly committed to the "strong Mayor" system of government. When a good Mayor is elected, the system works well; but when a corrupt Mayor is elected, it's a catastrophic disaster.

The Hartford Courant said it best in 1938: “In the end, the real assurance of a good government is the constant vigilance of the electorate.” It falls on each one of us to be vigilant, to pay attention to what's happening in local politics, and to encourage good people to get involved.

Now that we are switching to Aldermen by District, I hope that Waterbury's neighborhoods will be empowered to get involved, to think about who in their district would be a good representative, and to encourage the Town Committees to select those individuals as candidates.

The system will work if the voters do their part. It starts with finding great Aldermanic candidates for the new districts.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Museum Graffiti

I finally got a chance to take a close look at this new artwork commissioned by the Mattatuck Museum. I had seen photos posted by the museum on Facebook, but seeing art in person is always better. This impressive graffiti was created by New Jersey artist Joe Iurato.



The image of the two police officers is based on a photograph from 1931, of Frank McHard and Bernie Burns wearing the new uniforms issued by the police department. The photograph is part of the museum's great collection of historic images of Waterbury.

The process for creating the graffiti image is similar to screen-printing. The artist builds up the image in layers of color. Each layer of color is added by spraying the paint through a stencil.

In some places, you can see hints of the process--marks that are obviously made by spray paint, and a smudge mark from where the stencil left a little extra paint.

The overall impact of the work is fantastic. Photo-realistic, larger than life paintings of Waterbury police officers from almost a century ago, standing guard on the side of the museum. I highly recommend stopping by to check it out. Since it's on the outside of the building, on Park Place, you can see it any time you want.




 

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Mayor's Reply

As you probably know, last week I wrote a letter to the Aldermen, telling them that there's a lot of distrust and a lot of concern that they will try to hijack the establishment of Aldermen by District. I came to this conclusion following conversations with numerous city residents from all walks of life. I hadn't encountered anyone who expressed optimism or trust in the Board of Aldermen regarding this issue, and I found this to be very alarming.

The distrust and concerns seemed validated by an article in the Rep-Am last week, "What's minority to do?," which detailed a disagreement between Jason Van Stone, Waterbury Republican Party Chairman, and Alderman Anthony T. Piccochi, Democratic Majority Leader.

Van Stone noted that the Board of Aldermen's "supermajority," the number of votes needed to pass or reject major Board decisions, would be changed from the current 10 to 11, as specified in the Final Report of the Charter Revision Commission. It's a logical change, since the new system of Aldermen by District could result in the Board having ten Aldermen from a single party, as opposed to the current maximum of nine Aldermen from any one party. The concept of the supermajority guarantees that at least one minority party member must agree with the majority in order for Board decisions to pass. Without a supermajority of 11 for the new Aldermen by District system, if there were 10 Aldermen from a single party, they could pass anything their party wanted, without having to work with the other five Aldermen.

Alderman Piccochi was quoted as stating that the supermajority number will remain 10, that the vote in favor of Aldermen by District had no impact on the supermajority. Just in case the readers might have thought he was confused, the article went on to clarify his position: "Under that system, the majority party wouldn't have to "work the room," Piccochi said." In other words, Piccochi fully understands the implications. Readers of the Rep-Am were left to draw the pretty obvious conclusion that Alderman Piccochi is trying to take advantage of the language on the ballot to hijack the intent of the Charter Revision.

The article then noted that Mayor O'Leary can't guarantee that the city will implement all of the details of the Charter Revision, and that he's having the city's Corporation Counsel decide what to do--a standard political speech that does nothing to reassure the voters.

The online version of the article has a comment at the bottom of the page, written by Charter Revision Commissioner Thomas Van Stone, Jr., who expresses immense distrust of the Board of Aldermen based on the way they have handled the measure so far.

It was a very disheartening article, and it contributes to the voter's lack of trust in their elected officials.

The only other commentary I had seen from any of the Aldermen were snide remarks on Facebook expressing ongoing disdain for Aldermen by District. Again, this makes voters feel like they can't trust their Aldermen.

I had not seen any Alderman state support for the measure. I had not seen any Alderman declare that they will honor the wishes of the voters and ensure that the new system is implemented in the most ethical, honest, and open manner.

Our Aldermen had done nothing to reassure voters that they can be trusted to implement Aldermen by District as it was intended. Instead, they have, for the most part, made it clear that most of them will continue to resist Aldermen by District and seek any opportunity to gain an unfair advantage for their party and, presumably, for themselves.

On Friday morning, I was listening to WATR on my way to work and heard a snippet of Mayor O'Leary stating that the Board of Aldermen would be responsible for appointing the commission to draw up the boundaries of the new Aldermanic districts, and that the Board of Aldermen would have the final say in the implementation of the Charter Revision. My heart dropped into my stomach. I would have trusted Mayor O'Leary to appoint the commissioners, but I don't trust the Board of Aldermen. They've proven themselves to be biased and petty in regards to this issue.

So that's where my thoughts were when I wrote my letter to the Aldermen. I had listened to voters express their ongoing distrust, and everything I had read or heard from the Aldermen indicated that voters' distrust was warranted.

I wrote the letter so that the Aldermen would know how people feel, to politely admonish them for their biased statements, and to encourage them to reassure the voters that they can be trusted.

I sent the letter to them as an email on Friday. To date, I have received three replies.

The first was sort of a form letter, from Aldermen DePillo, who thanked me for my interest and encouraged me to speak more on the subject at the next Board of Aldermen meeting.

The second was from Aldermen Lopez, who thanked me for my comments, and added "As City elected officials, maintaining the public trust is paramount. It is important to keep an open-minded approach and cultivate a behavior which does not compromise the trust our electorate has placed in us. Just within the last days we have witnessed how far Waterbury has removed itself from the days of corruption and mistrust. As a member of the Board of Alderman I am delighted the voice of the people has been given the power to make history in our City."

Aldermen Lopez's response was fantastic, exactly the sort of statement that should be coming from all the Aldermen.


The third response was from Mayor O'Leary. I've debated whether or not to share it publicly, but he copied John Murray and Penny Overton, as well as all the Aldermen, on the email, so that does imply it's for public consumption.


Dear Raechel,

I have waited to respond to this email as I wanted to thoroughly digest it. When I first read it I thought it was insulting to both the Alderman and myself. In my humble opinion each member of the Board of Alderman understands what the “will of the people” is from the vote concerning alderman by district. While many did openly state they weren’t supportive of the proposed plan they are all professionals and very dedicated to their elected positions. For you to suggest that people do not “trust” them just is not fair to them and I’m surprised you would say that to them. As far as your statement of witnessing “years of political corruption in this city” I take personal offense to. This administration had tried to be as open and transparent as possible and your cynical remarks sadden me.

I have always respected you Raechel for your tenacity and commitment to this city. Don’t fall into the trap of naysayers and draw conclusions before you get an opportunity to see how things are going. You are better than that.    

Neil M. O’Leary
Mayor, City of Waterbury


Now, I've taken a little bit of flak over the past few days from people who are opposed to Aldermen by District, but none of that really bothered me. If you voice your opinions, sooner or later someone is going to argue with you. That's just how it goes.

This letter from Mayor O'Leary was very upsetting to me. I have a lot of respect and admiration for the job he has done as Mayor of Waterbury. He has really turned this city around and set us on the right path to success.

His letter left me shocked and dismayed, not because he's apparently angry with me, but because he is completely oblivious to how Waterbury's voters feel about their Aldermen and the city's politics.

It is absolutely fair to say that people do not trust our Aldermen. It's the truth.

It is absolutely fair to say that Waterbury has witnessed years of political corruption. It's the truth. It will take more than three years of one good mayor to restore the people's trust in their elected officials.

I've seen "how things are going" regarding the implementation of Aldermen by District. So far, they're going very poorly. That's why I wrote the letter, in the hopes of turning things around, in the hopes of alerting the Aldermen to an alarming problem that only they can fix.

If the Aldermen and the Mayor bury their heads in the sand and pretend that there isn't a problem, if they find it insulting to be told that voters don't trust them, what hope is there for Waterbury?

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Fun with Maps!

The big question on everyone's mind is the drawing of Aldermanic district boundaries. We're unlikely to see the official boundaries until later this winter or in the spring, but I'm an impatient kind of woman, so here's a first effort at what the map might look like.

To start, here is a map showing the existing House District boundaries. If you read my previous post, you'll see that the new Aldermanic District boundaries will need to be based on the House Districts. Because the 71st District includes Middlebury, they can't be exactly the same.

State House Districts



Next is my first attempt at drawing boundaries that are based on the House Districts, are modified for hypothetical population figures, and make sense in terms of geography and neighborhood issues.

Remember, this is a hypothetical map based on guesswork, not data. If I spent some more time with it, I'm sure I would make some alterations. Generally, however, this is what I expect to see next year (unless the whole thing gets hijacked by the Board of Aldermen, who clearly don't want to see districting happen).

Hypothetical map of Aldermanic Districts



But why stop here? Everyone can get involved! Right click on the blank map below to save the image to your computer, color it in, then send it to me, waterburygirl@gmail.com. I'll post all entries on this blog in December.

When coloring in the map, please adhere to the following rules:

1. There must be five districts of substantially equal population (use the existing House Districts to gauge population density);
2. Districts must be as compact and contiguous as practicable;
3. District boundaries must follow geographical divisions and currently existing State Representative Districts wherever practical.

(Rules are taken from the Final Report of the Charter Revision Commission.)



When you send me your map, please indicate if you prefer to remain anonymous. Otherwise, I will use your first name and last initial, or your email handle if I don't know your name.

Any images containing profanity or similarly inappropriate content will not be posted.

This is a chance to have some fun with representative government, while also giving some serious thought to an important change in our city government.

I look forward to seeing your maps!

Aldermen by District Charter Language

After a flurry of campaigning led by John Murray, publisher of The Waterbury Observer, the Charter Revision establishing Aldermen by District was passed by Waterbury's voters. So what happens next?

We're changing from a system in which Aldermen are elected at large to a system in which they are elected from within set districts. This requires rewriting a portion of the City Charter, as well as drawing up the boundaries of five districts.

The Final Report put forth by the Charter Revision Commission on August 25, 2014 proposes the following charter description for the Board of Aldermen. Read this closely. This is what is supposed to happen.

CHAPTER 3. THE BOARD OF ALDERMEN

PART A. POWERS.

Section 3A-1. Board of Aldermen vested with the Legislative Powers of the City

(b) Composition of the Board of Aldermen. The Board of Aldermen shall consist of fifteen (15) Aldermen and Alderwomen (collectively referred to as "Aldermen") with three (3) Aldermen from each of the five districts as approved by the Board of Aldermen. The three candidates with the highest votes in each district will be elected. Of the three Aldermen elected by each district no more than two shall be from one political party.

            (1) Voting Districts. The City shall be divided into five (5) voting districts. Said voting districts shall each contain substantially equal population. Voting districts shall be established in as compact and contiguous form as practicable and boundaries must follow geographical divisions and currently existing State Representative Districts wherever practical. Such city districts must conform to applicable state and federal laws.

              (2) District Reapportionment. On or before the fifteenth day of February next following adoption of this charter revision, the Board of Aldermen shall appoint a District Reapportionment Commission to determine the five (5) districts. The District Reapportionment Commission shall be comprised of eight (8) electors, no more than four members from any one party selected by the majority leader and the minority leader of the Board of Aldermen. The District Reapportionment Commission shall report to the Board of Aldermen within sixty (60) days after appointment, and may utilize demographic data assembled by the planning Board, computer resources of the City, and such other resources, facilities and funding as the Board of Aldermen may deem desirable to carry out the purpose of this section. Within sixty (60) days after receipt of said report and after a public hearing thereon the Board of Aldermen must either accept or modify the report and enact any necessary ordinance to implement the proposed districts, in compliance with this charter and all state, federal and general laws.

             Thereafter, within sixty (60) days after any new decennial federal census figures are made available to the City, the Board of Aldermen shall use this same procedure to appoint a new District Reapportionment Commission to review and, if necessary, revise said districts to conform to the new census, and state, federal and general laws. No elected official shall have his or her office vacated by reason of a district boundary change until completion of his or her term of office.

               (3) District Aldermen Eligibility. In order to be eligible to be a District Alderman the candidate must be an eligible elector in the district. Any District Alderman who moves out of the district which he represents during his term of office, shall be rendered ineligible and shall cease to hold his office as of the date of said removal. The vacancy shall be filled in accordance with Section 2B-4 and paragraph four (4) of this section, below.

                (4) Vacancy. Vacancy of an office of any Aldermen is to be filled according to Section 2B-4. With respect to any District Aldermen, any vacancy, from whatever cause arising, including ineligibility from ceasing to reside in the voting district he represents or by reasons of expulsion or removal as set for in Sec. 3B-3(c) of the Charter, will be filled according to Section 2B-4; however, said vacancy must be filled with an eligible elector who is from the same district and party as the incumbent.

[Note: "elector" is any person who has the right to vote in an election.]

This next part clearly establishes the "supermajority" as eleven Aldermen. Some of the current Aldermen apparently neglected to read this section (as reported in the Rep-Am article, What's Minority To Do?), perhaps because they assumed/hoped the Charter Revision wouldn't pass.

Sec. 3A-2. Powers of the Board of Aldermen.

The Board of Aldermen shall have the following powers:

(c) to oversee and adopt legislation pertaining to the finances of the City, including, but not limited to the following:

               (2) to manage, regulate and control the purchase of real property, subject to the approval by an affirmative vote of eleven (11) members of the Board of Aldermen;

(d) to adopt ordinances, by a majority vote of the Board of Aldermen, pertaining to the management, regulation and control of the finances and property, real and personal, of the City, including the disposition of the improvements thereon, including, but not limited to the sale and lease thereof ("Disposition");

                (1) All said Dispositions shall be subject to the approval by an affirmative vote of eleven (11) members of the Board of Aldermen;

...and so on. Every place where the charter specifies a majority vote, that majority is defined as eleven (11) members of the Board of Aldermen.



Friday, November 07, 2014

Open Letter to the Board of Aldermen

Dear Aldermen,

After listening to Mayor O'Leary on WATR, it is my understanding that the boundaries for the new Aldermanic Districts will be drawn up by an outside consultant, guided by a commission to be selected by the Board of Aldermen. It is also my understanding that final approval of the plan rests with you.

This is an incredibly important moment in Waterbury's history. Unfortunately, it seems that many of Waterbury's voters do not trust you, their Aldermen, to honor the intent of the Charter Revision. Everyone I have spoken with has expressed concern that you will hijack the democratic process and disregard the will of the people. Some of this distrust comes from the fact that many of you openly stated that you are opposed to the Charter Revision. Some of it comes from a general mistrust of Waterbury politicians, developed from years of witnessing political corruption in this city.

You have been given an opportunity to restore the public's trust in their elected officials.

It is vital that the appointed commissioners be people who understand the city's neighborhoods, who know where the neighborhood boundaries are, and who are in support of the Charter Revision for electing our Aldermen by District. The commissioners must respect the citizens of every neighborhood and must be free from prejudice toward any racial or economic group.

Waterbury's citizens will be watching you closely in the coming months. Now is the time to set aside your opposition to the Charter Revision, and to do your part to ensure that this process is handled in an ethical, honest, and open way. I hope that you will rise to the challenge.

Sincerely,
Raechel Guest

Monday, October 27, 2014

Underhanded Opposition to Aldermen by District

It was very disappointing to read today's coverage of the Aldermen by District issue in the Rep-Am. At first I was confused by their one-sided, inaccurate, and unappealing reporting. Then I went back and read today's Editorial, in which they clearly state that they think Aldermen by District is a bad idea. Then their appalling coverage made sense--forget journalistic integrity, the Rep-Am is trying to torpedo the Charter Revision.

First off, let's look at their excessive use of the word "ward." Nobody has been referring to electing Aldermen by Ward. Nobody has been talking about dividing Waterbury into different Wards. It's an ugly word that conjures up images of ghettos and urban corruption. The Rep-Am's decision to change the language of the debate is a sneaky, underhanded ploy to manipulate the voters. They should be ashamed of themselves, but they probably aren't.

Secondly, let's look at their choice for front-page coverage of the story. "Charter change seen boosting minority clout," an article that makes it sound like the point of Aldermen by District is to take power away from the white people in Town Plot and Bunker Hill and give it to the blacks and Hispanics in the inner city. Again, this is a sneaky, underhanded ploy to manipulate voters, the same trick that was used to defeat a similar proposal during the 1990s. Opponents of Aldermen by District are hoping to play on the latent racism, the fear of urban minorities, that still exists in Waterbury. It worked in 1999, and they are hoping it will work again in 2014.

Front page of the Rep-Am, October 27 2014


Then there's the Paul Pernerewski factor. Pernerewski, who has served as President of the Board of Aldermen for many years, has been a vocal opponent of Aldermen by District, but he's been clever about his opposition. Instead of coming right out and saying he thinks it's a bad idea, and instead of saying why he thinks it's a bad idea, he spins it to make it sound like you shouldn't bother voting for it, because no one cares about it. When Pernerewski was talking to Larry Rifkin on WATR last week, he said something to the effect that he voted to put it on the ballot so that voters would feel like they had a voice, but that of course it won't pass. In other words, toss them some crumbs, it won't change anything. The Rep-Am included a quote today in which Pernerewski again says that it won't pass because no one is interested in it.

But here's the thing. The Rep-Am almost did some good journalism on this. They used velvet gloves, but they did point out that Pernerewski is at risk of losing his seat on the Board of Aldermen if the measure passes. They spun it to make him sound noble--oh gosh, he voted to put it on the ballot, even though he could lose his position, what a great guy!--when in fact he's been actively trying to sabotage the measure. If you're going to quote someone who is opposed to a ballot measure, and it's obvious that person has a personal stake in the game, call them out on it. This applies to pretty much all the aldermen, as well as all the major players on the Town Committees. If they are opposed to Aldermen by District, we have to consider how the shift in power will effect them personally.

As for the other reasons to vote against Aldermen by District:

1. Aldermen by District will pit neighborhoods against one another.

This argument is being made by people who live in the neighborhoods with plenty of representation on the Board of Aldermen. They are in the privileged neighborhoods, so they don't see that we currently have neighborhoods pitted against one another. That's the system that has existed for decades: the "nice" neighborhoods vs. the "bad" neighborhoods. The "nice" neighborhoods get represented. The "bad" neighborhoods get ignored. We already have "little fiefdoms," it's just that the folks currently in power don't want to give up that power. The fact that people in the "nice" neighborhoods think everyone is being treated equally is proof that we have a problem. Aldermen by District will give representation to all neighborhoods, ending the current system of inequality and injustice, ending the domination of three or four fiefdoms over the rest of us.

2. If certain neighborhoods had better voter turnout, they would be better represented.

This is one of the biggest lies in town. It's a trick I've seen used repeatedly for years. When a group complains that they are being ignored, they're told it's their fault because they aren't more like the group in power.

Here's how the current system really works. Each political party has a Town Committee with members from each of the five legislative districts. Membership to the Town Committee is all about cronyism. If you're on the Town Committee, you nominate your friends and family members to join the committee whenever there is a vacancy. The Town Committee decides who their candidates will be in every election. The selection has nothing to do with where the candidates live. It has to do with who is the right "fit" for the political party. It has to do with who has political clout. It has to do with whether or not the Town Committee is feeling pressure to include a minority candidate. Ultimately, however, most of the candidates are pulled from the same small group, who tend to live in the same small handful of neighborhoods. It's cronyism, with an occasional minority allowed in to keep up the appearance of inclusive government.

3. The current system works just fine, everyone's happy with it, and no one really wants to change it.

Waterbury is well known for its history of political corruption, so I suppose it makes sense that the people in power are insisting that the system isn't broken, and I suppose it makes sense that the people in power are trying to mute the voices of the disenfranchised voters who want to change the system.

4. Voters will lose power, because they will be limited to voting for only 2 candidates, instead of 9.

It took me a while to figure this one out. The way I see it, voters will be empowered, because instead of trying to choose between 27 candidates, they'll be presented with a manageable, realistic 4 to 6 candidates. And the three candidates who win in their district will be directly accountable to them

Then I noticed that this criticism is pretty much always tied to a concern that neighborhoods with low voter turnout will be electing inferior Aldermen, and that people in the neighborhoods with high voter turnout will suffer as a result. Translation: people who live in the outer ring neighborhoods, the ones near the borders with Middlebury, Wolcott, and Cheshire, don't want the people living in the inner city to have any say in what happens with our city government.


The Rep-Am claims that there haven't been any groups organizing to support Aldermen by District, that there "isn't much chatter about it," that there hasn't been any community outreach campaign, that there have been no leaflets distributed--but those things have been happening.

Hiding the truth is a sneaky trick used by people in power to suppress people without power. It's usually associated with countries like North Korea or Russia, who use the media to control what information is available to their people. The Rep-Am and certain political players have done a good job of trying to suppress the truth about what's going on with the Aldermen by District issue this year. We'll find out next week if they've succeeded.

For reasons to vote yes on Aldermen by District, check out my blog post on all the ballot questions, and read John Murray's article for the Waterbury Observer.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Delinquent Property Tax Rules

After reading coverage in print and online of Andre Michaud's difficulties with the Tax Collector's Office, and knowing how overwhelmingly frustrating it is to be railroaded by bureaucracy, I decided to figure out what was going on. The "he said, she said" coverage of the story in the Rep-Am did nothing to help readers decide who was right. The official report issued by the city's Corporation Council did little to clarify the matter, as it avoided answering any questions about how the delinquent tax system works.

It's taken me hours to unravel what really happens, even though this is information that should be readily available to the general public. What I discovered is that the system by which real estate property is auctioned off for delinquent taxes is shrouded in mystery and confusing legal jargon.

I had always assumed that if you failed to pay your real estate property taxes, and if the city seized the property and sold it at auction, you lost the property and no longer had to pay the delinquent taxes. The truth is that you lose your property and still owe the difference between the sale price and the total taxes owed. In other words, if you have $30,000 in back taxes owed on a property, and the city sells the property at tax auction for $10,000, you still owe $20,000 in taxes.

A quick glance at a sampling of tax auction sales suggests that most of the delinquent properties are being sold for less than what is owed in back taxes on them. My understanding of the law (but I'm not an attorney, so don't quote me!) is that the delinquent taxes remaining after auction can be forcibly collected only through a lawsuit, or through other legal means such as booting your car if you owe taxes on it.

If you owe the city back taxes for a property that was sold at tax auction, the city can sue you and get a court order to garnish your wages or seize your bank account. Bear in mind, however, that unless there is a court order, the city can't just take money out of your bank account without your permission. They can report your delinquent debt to the credit rating agencies, lowering your credit score. In other words, delinquent taxes owed post-auction are the same as any other debt owed to a corporation.

Some municipalities have a clearly written policy for delinquent taxes readily available on their websites (for example, Manchester, East Hartford,  and Norwalk). It would be helpful if there was one for Waterbury.

If you want to spend hours delving into Connecticut property tax laws, start with the website of the Connecticut Tax Collectors Association.


Now for the rules. These rules are taken from Chapter 204, Section 12 of the Connecticut State Statutes and are "translated" from barely decipherable legal speak to layman's language. Waterbury's ordinance regarding delinquent taxes adheres closely to the state statute.

1. Taxes are due by a set date every year. If you don't pay your taxes on time, interest of 1.5% will accrue monthly.

2. Unpaid real estate taxes are subject to an interest rate of 18% per year on the delinquent principal. Interest will continue to accrue from the date is was due, until the date on which it is paid. The Tax Collector can round up any part of a month to a full month's worth of interest.

3. Partial payments are applied to reducing the interest owed, not to the delinquent principal. The principal owed is reduced only if the interest is paid off. It gets more complicated if you are delinquent on multiple properties.

4. Businesses can lose their license or permit if they are delinquent on their taxes for more than one year.

5. The city can withhold any payments due to a business if that business is delinquent for more than one year on its property taxes; the amount of payment withheld can not be larger than the amount owed by the business. This rule applies only to a business enterprise, not to the individual person who owns the business.

6. This next rule is from 2003 and is oddly temporary, but apparently is still on the books. If you or your spouse are in the military serving active duty in Iraq, you are exempt from being charged interest on delinquent property taxes.

7. If you do not pay your taxes on time, the Tax Collector "shall make personal demand of such person therefor or leave written demand at such person's usual place of abode" or send a notice in the mail. There's also a few mentions of posting information on the town sign post, even though that's really antiquated.

8. If a corporation or LLC or other legal entity is delinquent on their taxes, the Tax Collector can send the written demand for payment to the person who officially represents that business ("upon whom process may be served to initiate a civil action against such corporation").

9. After demand for payment of past due taxes has been made, the Tax Collector can place a lien against the property.

10. The Tax Collector can sell the property for unpaid taxes. The person who owes the delinquent taxes is not allowed to purchase the property from the Tax Collector.

11. The delinquent property owner will be sent a notice, at least twice, of the pending sale of his or her property by certified mail, return receipt requested. That notice will include the amount of taxes owed, as well as all the various fees involved. Notice will be sent between nine to twelve weeks before the sale is scheduled. Notice will also be posted in the local newspaper at least once a week for three weeks.

12. The Tax Collector can sell the property at auction to the highest bidder to pay the taxes, as well as the interest, fees, and other charges allowed by law.

13. The Tax Collector can sell the property to the city if there has been no bidder or if the bid amount is less than the amount due.

14. The Tax Collector shall post a written notice of the amount due on the property at the auction.

15. If the city hires an auctioneer to run the auction, the cost is shared equally by all the properties being sold.

16. The Tax Collector shall issue a deed to the purchaser or the city within two weeks of the auction. The deed shall remain unrecorded for six months, allowing the original owner time to redeem the property by paying the delinquent taxes and fees.

17. The original owner will be sent notification of the amount they need to pay, and the date by which it must be paid, if they want to reclaim their property after the tax auction.

18. If the original owner does not redeem the property in time, the person who bought the property at the tax auction becomes the legal owner.

19. The property can be redeemed by someone other than the original owner and other than the person who bought the property at auction, provided that person has a legal interest in the property.

If the property was abandoned (or for other reasons as outlined in the City Ordinances, Chapter 32, Section 24) and was sold for less than the total amount owed at the auction, anyone with an interest in the property other than the original owner has 60 days from the date of the auction to redeem the property for the full amount owed.

If the property was not abandoned, anyone with an interest in the property other than the original owner has six months from the date of the tax auction to redeem the property for the full amount owed.

The person who pays off the full amount owed will then have a legal claim against the person who was responsible for paying the taxes. The person who bought the property at the tax auction will be notified and reimbursed within ten days.

20. The city will insure the property against fire and other loss during the redemption period. The person who bought the property at the tax auction is not liable for the property during the redemption period.

21. If the property sells at auction for more than what is owed on it, the excess amount shall be placed in an interest-bearing escrow account. If the property is redeemed, the amount held in escrow shall be returned to the person who tried to buy the property at the auction; the interest accrued shall remain with the city.

If the property is not redeemed, the amount held in escrow may be used to pay other delinquent taxes owed by the original property owner. The details of this are complicated and involve the Appellate Court. Since this scenario is unlikely to happen anytime soon, I'm going to skip it.

22. All taxes owed are a legal debt that must be paid. The city may pursue the payment of that debt by any legal means, which means suing the delinquent taxpayer. The results of the lawsuit can include garnishing wages and seizing bank accounts, but these actions must be court approved.

23. The city can attempt to collect the taxes owed through levy and sale, enforcement of a lien, or any other legal proceeding (i.e., the city can sue for the taxes to be paid). The delinquent taxpayer has to pay all the related costs incurred by the city in its efforts to collect the debt.

24. The Tax Collector can serve a warrant for the collection of any tax assessed.

25. The city can petition the Superior Court to place a rental property into receivership. The appointed receiver shall collect the rent payments and use them to pay the delinquent taxes, and then any utilities that would normally be paid by the rent payments. The receivership ends when the delinquent taxes are paid.

26. The Tax Collector has 15 years in which to collect delinquent taxes; after 15 years, the delinquent tax is expired and can't be collected by the city. Improvement liens are exempt from this limitation.

-------------------------------


While I believe firmly in paying taxes on time, and I know how important the tax revenue is for the city, I also know that sometimes people make mistakes, and sometimes people are lose their jobs and aren't able to keep up with all their bills.

Over the years, I've known a few people who have fallen behind on the property taxes for their homes. Usually these are older homeowners who are going through difficult financial problems and don't have enough money to make ends meet. In these instances, they were able to resolve the problem by going to the Tax Collector's Office, explaining the situation, and agreeing to a payment plan. However, it is usually an extremely stressful process, since the Tax Collector's Office continues to send warning notices and threatens to take their homes for tax auction, which would leave them homeless.

The Tax Collector's Office shouldn't be too quick to seize properties. If a property is owner occupied, it's better to work out a payment plan than to take someone's home away from them.

If a property is a rental unit, the city is more likely to see the back taxes paid if the owner still has a source of revenue from the property. The law allows the city to place a rental property into receivership, using the rent to pay the taxes (see Rule #25 above); this seems like the best solution if a landlord is delinquent on property taxes.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Election 2014 Voter Registration and Ballot Questions

Are you ready to vote on November 4?

Check your voter registration status online to make sure you're registered where you currently live.

If you need to register, or if you need to change your address, or if your name has changed, you can register online; OR,

         Download the registration form, print it out, and mail it to Registrar of Voters, Chase Municipal Building, 236 Grand Street, Floor 1, Waterbury, CT 06702 postmarked no later than October 21, 2014; OR,

         Download the registration form, print it out, and deliver it in person to Registrar of Voters, Chase Municipal Building, 236 Grand Street, Floor 1, Waterbury, CT 06702 no later than October 28, 2014.

You can also register and vote in person on Election Day if you aren't registered in Connecticut at all, or if you have moved to a new town. You will need to provide proof of identity and proof of address. You must call the Registrar's Office at 203-574-6751 to find out where to go for this.





Ballot Questions


In addition to the slew of candidates, this year's ballot includes four important questions to answer.


1. Shall the Constitution of the state be amended to remove restrictions concerning absentee ballots and to permit a person to vote without appearing at a polling place on the day of the election?

The short explanation: Currently, absentee ballots are available for people who can't vote in person on election day, but only if they will be out of town, sick, physically disabled, or if their religion forbids voting on election day.

Voting YES on this question will change the rule so that anyone can vote by absentee ballot, with no reason needed. Voting YES will also remove the current deadlines for submitting election results to officials.

Think of it this way: since Election Day is not a holiday, most people have to find time in their already busy day to schlep to their polling place. If you are careful and can time it just right, you won't have to stand in line and the whole process chews up only half an hour of your time. If you aren't lucky, you have to stand in line for who knows how long, losing an hour or more of your day.

Voting YES will make voting easier for many people.

Click here for the official explanatory text.



2. Shall the Charter be revised to provide for four year terms of office for the Mayor, the Town Clerk and the Registrar of Voters?


If this Charter Revision passes, it goes into effect with the next election cycle. The Mayor's current term in office would not be extended. He will have to run for re-election next year, as regularly scheduled.

This question has been on the ballot before, and has been voted down. The usual argument I hear for keeping two year terms of office is to be able to vote out bad Mayors. This is a false argument. Giordano was as bad as they come, everyone knew he was a louse, but he wasn't voted out of office--the FBI had to take him out in handcuffs. Jarjura was voted out, but only after ten years in office and a massive, expensive campaign.

Under the current system, each Mayor gets one year off from active campaigning. The next election is constantly on the horizon, which means that each Mayor is constantly thinking about keeping major donors happy. Those major donors end up with more control than they would have otherwise--if they don't like something, all they have to do is tell the Mayor they won't fund his campaign next year/this year to get what they want. Switch to a four year term, and those donors will have less control--Mayors will have years to cultivate new donors, or maybe even not bother with donors at all, if he or she thinks four years is enough time to be in office.

If we switch to four year terms, each Mayor will enter office knowing that there is ample time to get the job done before worrying about campaigning.

The standard business model in use today is to have a five year plan (year five is usually a little vague). Waterbury's Mayors enter office with a two year plan, which limits their effectiveness and creates more stress than needed.

Additionally, switching the Mayor over to four year terms will "liberate" the candidates for the Board of Aldermen from the Mayoral candidates. The Aldermen will continue to run for election every two years, running independently from the Mayoral candidate.

As for the Town Clerk and the Registrar of Voters: these positions have been held by the same people for a very long time. Frankly, I think the Town Clerk should be exempt from political campaigning entirely and instead be a standard employee position, filled by the most qualified candidate.

Voting YES will reduce the insanity of Waterbury politics. Voting YES will allow our Mayors to focus on their jobs, instead of on their re-election campaigns.



3. Shall the Charter be revised to provide that three Aldermen shall be elected from each of five equally populated districts rather than the current manner of electing fifteen Aldermen at large (citywide)?

The short version of what this means: the city would be divided into five districts similar to the existing State Representative districts (71, 72, 73, 74, 75). Each political party would have two candidates in each district. Each district would elect three Aldermen.

Efforts to switch to Aldermen by District have been ongoing since at least the 1990s.

Currently, voters get overwhelmed by the number of candidates running for the Board of Aldermen. Each party can run nine candidates, which means there are typically 27 candidates to choose from. It's unrealistic to expect every voter familiarize themselves with all 27 candidates. As a result, voters often vote blindly for the entire slate, or pick a few with familiar sounding names and then give up.

With the proposed new system, voters would have to choose between only six candidates (or four, if the Independent Party doesn't run), making it easy to learn about the choices and make an informed decision.

Voting YES will empower voters.
Voting YES will give voters the ability to make sound decisions about their voting choices.

Aldermen will be required to live in their district. Currently, our Aldermen live almost exclusively in four neighborhoods: Town Plot, Bunker Hill, Bucks Hill, and the East End. Only one Alderman lives outside those neighborhoods. While at least some of the Aldermen try to keep up with what's happening in neighborhoods around the city, it's not realistic to expect them to truly know what issues are facing every part of the city.

Voting YES will give every area of the city representation on the Board of Aldermen.

Voting NO will keep political power concentrated in the same small handful of neighborhoods where it's been for decades.

It's been argued that switching to Aldermen by District would somehow mean that the Board of Aldermen would no longer focus on citywide issues, that instead each Alderman would care only about what matters in his or her neighborhood. I see no reason for this to be true. If the Board of Aldermen is made up of equally distributed representatives from throughout the city, they will be better able to address citywide issues, because they will truly know what those citywide issues are.

With the current system, most of the city is not represented on the Board of Aldermen, making it difficult for them to really know what's going on everywhere. Switching to Aldermen by District will improve the Board's ability to understand what issues are happening citywide and how their decisions impact all of Waterbury's residents.



4. Shall the Charter be revised to require the Board of Aldermen to appoint a new Charter Revision Commission within 10 years of the previous Charter Revision Commission's Final Report?

Currently, the Charter Commission is appointed every ten years regardless of whether or not a final report was issued within that time frame.


Click here for the official explanatory text of all three Charter Revision questions, as found on the Town Clerk's webpage.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Election 2014 General Candidates

Secretary of State

We've all heard about the U.S. Secretary of State, an appointed position currently held by John Kerry, previously held by Hillary Clinton.

In Connecticut, the Secretary of State oversees elections, business filings, notaries, and other duties related to public records and documents. It's sort of the paperwork department for the State of Connecticut.

This year's candidates are:

Denise W. Merrill, Democrat, former State Representative for the 54th District, Secretary of State since 2010.

Peter Lumaj, Republican, Albanian immigrant, attorney.

S. Michael DeRosa, Green Party, radio show producer.


Treasurer

The Office of the State Treasurer handles the state's money. This includes cash management, debt management, pension funds management, workers' compensation funds, and unclaimed assets.

The candidates are:

Denise L. Nappier, Democrat, formerly Hartford City Treasurer, State Treasurer since 1998.

Timothy M. Herbst, Republican, First Selectman (i.e., Mayor) for the Town of Trumbull.


Comptroller

The Office of the State Comptroller oversees many financial matters for the State, including the payroll and benefits for state employees, and the state budget.

The candidates are:

Kevin Lembo, Democrat, formerly the State Healthcare Advocate, Comptroller since 2010.

Sharon J. McLaughlin, Republican, formerly employed as Logistics Coordinator for Siemens IT Solutions and Services, currently volunteer Treasurer of the Ellington Congregational Church.

Rolf W. Maurer, Green Party, thinks he is running for both Treasurer and Comptroller (says he is a candidate for Treasurer/Comptroller on his Facebook page). Please don't vote for this man. He doesn't know what office he's running for.


Attorney General

The Office of the Attorney General oversees cases involving the State of Connecticut, acts as Counsel to the State Senate and House of Representatives, and represents the State of Connecticut at civil trials. The Office is staffed by attorneys who are hired, not elected. It's sort of like a law firm whose only client is the State of Connecticut.

George Jepson, Democrat, attorney, former State Representative for the 148th District, former State Senator for the 27th District, State Attorney General since 2011.

Kie Westby, Republican, attorney.

Stephen E. Fournier, Green Party, former attorney, writer.


Judge of Probate

The Probate Court is run by a judge, and oversees matters like the estates of the deceased and custody of children. Waterbury's probate judge has been Thomas P. Brunnock since 2003. He is the only candidate on the ballot this year.


Registrar of Voters

Each of the three parties has a candidate this year. Patricia Mulhall is the Democrat candidate; Timothy DeCarlo is the Republican; and Michael Telesca is the Independent. If Mulhall and DeCarlo are the top two vote getters, then they will remain as our only two Registrars of Voters. If Telesca comes in first or second place, then all three become Registrars.

Basically, in order for the Independent Party to be deemed worthy of a Registrar of Voters, their candidate needs to do better in the election than at least one of the two major parties.

Election 2014 State House of Representatives Candidates

Waterbury is divided into five legislative districts: 71, 72, 73, 74, 75.

You can find out which district you vote in by first checking your voter registration information, and then going to the Waterbury Registrar of Voters webpage to see where your polling place is located. (For example, my polling place is Reed School, which is in the 72nd District.)

You can also use the district map provided by the Connecticut State Library to find out which House and Senate districts you live in--but you vote based on where you are registered, so if you didn't update your voter registration after the last time you moved, you might not be voting in your home district.

Now, on to the candidates!


71st District

The 71st is the only Waterbury House district to include another town, spreading into Middlebury from Town Plot. The incumbent legislator is Republican Anthony D'Amelio, who has served in the State House of Representatives since 1996.


Anthony D'Amelio
(photo from CBIA website)

D'Amelio's only opponent in this election is Independent candidate Raymond E. Rivard. He lives in Middlebury and grew up in Waterbury. He does not appear to have a campaign website, and instead has appeared on cable access to present his position. He was a petitioning candidate for the Middlebury Police Commission in 2011, and lost that election.


72nd District

The 72nd has been my home district for many years. Democrat Larry Butler has been our State Rep since 2006. He cares about his district, is involved with what happens here, and has done a good job as our legislator. He has worked well with Waterbury's delegates in Hartford, a solid member of a good team of legislators.

Larry Butler
(photo from state website)


Butler's Republican challenger is Ruben Rodriguez. You may remember Ruben Rodriguez from the 2011 election, when he was a Democrat candidate for the Board of Aldermen on Neil O'Leary's slate, until he dropped out of the race. I worked for that campaign, so what I write next is based on my personal experiences and opinions. This is what I remember happening. Back in 2011, David Aldarondo was the State Rep for the 75th District, and he had a fair amount of clout. Aldarondo chose Rodriguez to be the Aldermanic candidate representing the Hispanic community, and then he demanded $50,000 from the O'Leary campaign to fund campaign operations in the 75th District, significantly more money than could possibly be justified. O'Leary refused, stating something along the lines of "I know a shake-down when I see one." Aldarondo wasn't going to take no for an answer. He wanted that money, and he was furious to have been denied. He threatened to have Rodriguez drop out of the race, which would leave the Democrats short one candidate and saddle the campaign with a potential publicity fiasco. O'Leary again refused to give Aldarondo what he wanted. Rodriguez promptly dropped out of the election, too close to election day for a substitute to be found. The Hispanic community rallied around O'Leary, and a year later, Aldarondo was voted out of office. (Note: while I did not personally hear Aldarondo's demands and threats, I did see him storm out of the campaign headquarters with Rodriguez in tow. Everything I witnessed supported what I was told about the discussions I didn't witness.)

Ruben Rodriguez
(photo from campaign website)

Now, three years later, Ruben "Quitter" Rodriguez has resurfaced as a Republican running for state office. There's been no sign of him in the past three years, nothing to indicate a continuing interest in public affairs or in helping the community at large. If Rodriguez volunteers for any organizations, I can't find that information. His website, Facebook page, and Twitter account don't reveal anything about him beyond his candidacy. His only known political experience: quitting a few weeks before he would have been elected to the Board of Aldermen. Based on what I learned about him in 2011, even before he quit the campaign, I would have to say that he is not even remotely qualified to serve in the Connecticut House of Representatives. I'm shocked and appalled that the Republicans put him on the ticket, and I would not be surprised to learn that there are financial shenanigans happening with his campaign. His candidacy diminishes the entire Waterbury Republican Party.

Perhaps something has happened that I don't know about. Perhaps Rodriguez regrets his actions and has renounced his dubious association with Aldarondo. But I still don't think he's qualified to serve as a State Representative.


There is a third candidate for the 72nd: Richard J. Cam, whose large signs are seen every election cycle. This year he's added "CT Veteran" to the tops of the signs. As with most minor party and no party candidates, Cam doesn't have any online presence, making it pretty much impossible for voters to know whether or not they want to vote for him.



Richard Cam campaign sign


Seriously, guys, it's 2014--get a free Blogger, WordPress or Facebook page and put your full candidate biography and platform on it. Don't have a computer? Use one of the public computers at the library. Find someone computer savvy to assist you. If you can't get your act together well enough to put a biography and platform online, you aren't ready for public office.



73rd District

The 73rd District is currently represented by Democrat Jeffrey Berger, who has been in office since 2001.

Jeffrey Berger
(photo from state website)

Berger's opponent in this year's election is Independent candidate Francis J. Caiazzo, Jr., co-owner of Frankie's, who has previously served on the Waterbury Board of Aldermen as a Democrat. This race is interesting, since it is basically pitting two well-known Democrats, both with solid political experience, against each other. However, since Caiazzo is running as a candidate with the Independent Party, I don't think he has much of a shot. I say this not because of any opinion about how the party is viewed in Waterbury, but because they seem to be in total disarray. They have a website, but it hasn't been updated since before last year's election. They used to have a Facebook page, but that appears to be gone now. They have a YouTube channel, but that also hasn't been updated since the last election. It would seem that Waterbury's Independent Party is the Larry DePillo Show, and if he isn't running, then none of their candidates will be promoted by the party.

Francis J. Caiazzo, Jr.
(photo from Rep-Am website)





74th District

Republican Selim Noujaim has been the State Representative for the 74th District since 2002. He's another one of those great politicians who does his job well, takes his responsibilities seriously, and is respected by pretty much everyone.

Selim Noujaim
(photo from state website)

The Independent Party has put forth a candidate to run against Noujaim. Margaret A. O'Brien, who ran as an Independent Party candidate for the Board of Education last year, works as an advocate for special needs children. I can't find any campaign related information about her.

Margaret A. O'Brien
(photo from Independent Party website)


75th District

Democrat Victor Cuevas became the Representative for the 75th District in 2012, after an impressive, monumental grass roots effort to mobilize the Hispanic community, which has a long history of not being involved in Waterbury politics.

Victor Cuevas
(photo from state website)

There seems to be some disarray within Waterbury's Republican Party, at least in regards to the 75th District. The Republican candidate, Jesus Vazquez, was forced to withdraw from the race because he doesn't live in the 75th District. A recent article in the Rep-Am suggested that the Republicans weren't aware that a state law, which permitted candidates to live outside the district until elected, had been changed so that they must live within the district while a candidate. The local Republican Party officials really should have been aware of this.

Meanwhile, Republican John "Jack" Alseph, Jr. is running as the Independent Party candidate for the 75th District. Last year, he was a candidate for the Board of Education on the Republican ticket. In 2012, Alseph was the Republican candidate for the 75th District.

The same Rep-Am article I mentioned above suggests there is a rift between Alseph and the local GOP, which is why he isn't their candidate this year. Alseph doesn't come across well in the article, which states that he doesn't have the time or money to run for office, that he's too busy preparing to get married, and that he's running only because he doesn't want Cuevas to win. Considering that Alseph is retired, saying that he doesn't have time to campaign is not going to help him win. If he doesn't have time to campaign, how will be have time to be a legislator?

John "Jack" Alseph, Jr.
(photo from VanStoneforMayor website)

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Election 2014 State Senate Candidates

So many races, so many candidates! Waterbury falls within two State Senate districts, the 15th and 16th.

15th State Senate District

This district includes most of Waterbury, as well as parts of Middlebury and Naugatuck.

Joan Hartley (D) has been the State Senator for the 15th District since 2001. I'd be very surprised if anyone in Waterbury disapproves of the job she has been doing. It's clear that she loves this city, and that she is highly capable of making good things happen here. Hartley's dedication to her constituents is remarkable. She is a bundle of positive energy, with a no-nonsense, can-do attitude. She is a model of what a politician should be.

Joan Hartley
(photo from state website)


However, with that said, there are two candidates running against her. The Republican candidate is Karl D. Shehu, a young attorney who is new to the political scene. His platform suggests his novice status. For example, he proposes reducing Connecticut's gas taxes to the same amount as in Massachusetts, without mentioning that Massachusetts more than makes up the difference in tolls. Shehu also proposes increasing the number of charter schools and technical schools in the state, but I'm not sure how that will be managed if his proposal to reduce the state's tax revenue goes through. Basically, he's new to politics. Maybe someday he would make a good politician, but right now I see no reason to vote for someone with no experience, when the incumbent is superb.

Karl D. Shehu
(photo from campaign website)


The third candidate is Blair Bertaccini of the Working Families Party. Bertaccini does not appear to have a campaign website, but he has been a regular candidate for the 15th district for many years. He is employed as a wage enforcement officer for the State Department of Labor.

Blair Bertaccini
(photo from Rep-Am website)




16th State Senate District

Waterbury's East End is in the 16th District and is currently represented by Republican Joe Markley. I confess I don't know too much about him. I do get regular eBlasts from his office, so I know he does pay some attention to Waterbury, but his district is primarily located in Wolcott, Southington, and Prospect.

Joe Markley
(photo from Facebook page)


There is no Democrat candidate running against Markley. The Working Families Party candidate is Christopher R. Robinson, who does not have a campaign website. I was unable to find any information about him.

Election 2014 Congressional Candidates

Waterbury is divided between two U.S. Congressional Districts: the 3rd and 5th.

Third District Congressional Race

The 3rd District includes some of Waterbury (most of what's to the south of I-84), Naugatuck, New Haven, Wallingford, and so on. Rosa DeLauro (D) has served as the Congresswoman for the 3rd District since 1991. I've never met her, and it seems like she barely notices that Waterbury is in her district. Govtrack.us seems to have some good data on her performance in the U.S. Congress.

Rosa DeLauro
(photo from Govtrack.us)

DeLauro's opponent in this year's election is Republican James Brown of Stratford. According to his campaign website, Brown is a high school math teacher and track coach. He joined the Stratford Republican Town Committee in 2012; I don't see any other political experience in his background. It appears that he supports unlimited gun rights, opposes the Affordable Care Act, opposes bailing out failing companies (like banks or car manufacturers), and seems to think that if the U.S. starts declaring war, there will be fewer wars. In other words, Brown is more or less a Tea Party candidate with no real political experience.

James Brown
(photo from campaign website)


Fifth District Congressional Race

The incumbent for the 5th District is Elizabeth Esty. I like Esty. She attends as many local functions as she can, and she always seems to genuinely care about and like her constituents. She takes the time to listen to what her constituents have to say, and she makes sure that anyone sending her a formal invitation to an event receives a written reply. This is only her second year in Congress, so she is still working on establishing herself in Washington. She has sponsored bills for Manufacturing Universities; Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship; and Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention. Check out Govtrack.us for more on what she's done so far in Congress.

Elizabeth Esty

The challenger in the 5th District race is Mark Greenberg. Greenberg's campaign seems to be mired in ugliness. When I visited the landing page of his campaign website, it was loaded up with negative campaigning against Esty, connecting her with inflammatory words including "hate," "lying," and "failure." That first page of his campaign website was so ugly, it almost made me want to close my browser window. But for the sake of this blog post, I continued on to Greenberg's stand on the issues.

Interpreting the vague generalities of Greenberg's platform, it looks like he favors reducing or eliminating some government programs, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, while spending more money on the military; reducing taxes for the wealthy; repealing the Affordable Care Act (seriously, the GOP hasn't given up on that yet!); drilling for oil in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (which he prefers to call the Alaskan Coastal Plain, so maybe you won't notice); unlimited gun rights; and banning abortion. I guess that billboard suggesting Greenberg is a Tea Party candidate isn't too far off.

Mark Greenberg
(photo from campaign website)


Finally, there is the John Rowland factor. Poor Mr. Greenberg. When Rowland allegedly approached him with a campaign scam four years ago, Greenberg refused--although he admitted in court that it took him a long time to work up the courage to turn down the offer. He also did not have the courage to say anything about it until two years ago, when Rowland was arrested for running the same scam with Lisa Wilson-Foley and Brian Foley. The scenario woven by Greenberg's testimony is one in which Rowland is allowed to think that Greenberg is interested in his offer for a long time, while Greenberg avoids turning him down. The awkwardness of Greenberg's encounter with Rowland would never have come to light if it weren't for the recent trial. Greenberg's testimony shows us that he has some ethics, but not enough backbone to stand up to political corruption. Now, maybe that can be suspected of every politician, but with Greenberg, we know it's true.