Over a year ago, I told the Hartford Republican Town Committee that I was hearing the rumblings of a possible takeover of the City of Hartford's finances by the State of Connecticut as they were considering placing Hartford into receivership.
For all realistic purposes, the Hartford GOP has been suffering a slow but steady death march into political oblivion. That death march has been aided by the voting record and conduct of the lone Republican still hanging by a thread on the City Council. In a time when leadership is needed more than ever, our lone Republican, Veronica Airey-Wilson, continues to "abstain" when many key issues are called to a vote. She has abstained on budget votes and other key issues that would seem to evoke a strong Republican response, rather than a spineless abstention. Even more damaging to the Republican Party has been Airey-Wilson's involvement in the ongoing corruption probe, including a search warrant executed on her home and a search of the West Indian Social Club and the West Indian Foundation as a result of a continuing investigation by the Office of the Chief States Attorney. Information from sources indicates that additional arrests in this probe, possibly including Airey-Wilson, may be happening any time now.
In a period when the Republican Town Committee has done virtually little or nothing to build the party in Hartford or hold the Perez Administration accountable, it seems rather unusual that they would now be calling for a state takeover of Hartford's government. It is easy to sling mud, but can the Republicans really claim that this current budget disaster is new to them? For anyone paying attention, think back almost three years to former Republican John O'Connell claiming that the City of Hartford was on the verge of bankruptcy. That was laughed off by the Hartford Republican Town committee leadership as the rantings of a crazy man. It seems to me now that it might have been a good idea for the RTC to pay attention at that time and build their message to call for fiscal responsibility.
Rather than get their lone Councilperson on board and spread the Republican message and try to keep Hartford's spending in check, the RTC instead chose to support a politician that was in bed with Perez and working deals to get her share of the granite countertops, forgetting about the damage that was being done to Hartford's residents and business people with every extra dollar spent.
I was surprised to hear that at the April 2009 RTC monthly meeting, a vote was taken and approved to draft a letter to Governor Rell requesting a state takeover of the City of Hartford. The same style of takeover that no one wanted to discuss when I brought the issue up a year earlier. Jeff Cohen at the Hartford Courant reported on his blog, courant.com/cityline initially about the talk of a state takeover. I spoke with several RTC members who were at the meeting and they confirmed motion and the vote taken to draft a letter requesting a takeover.
Imagine my surprise last Tuesday at the city budget hearing when I saw RTC Chairman Mike McGarry running to the microphone at the close of the hearing requesting to speak. McGarry claimed that he was misquoted by Cohen from the Courant and the RTC was not requesting a state takeover, merely "looking into" options. The entire content and transcript of McGarry's comments are as follows:
McGarry comments at Budget Hearing:
McGarry: “Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman… could I uhh ..just a second to correct a an uhh mistake in the Courant
Torres: I’m sorry?
McGarry: Could I… just one second to correct a public statement, uhhh that affects all of you , just can I have a second, I couldn’t sign up earlier, so I just need a minute uhh you may have seen in yesterday’s Courant it stated that we the Town Committee were trying to push for a state takeover, that’s not correct. What we said to the Courant and we’d like to say to you is Republican Town Committee is studying the effects of state turnovers in other towns . We have sufficient personnel, very well trained lawyers and we are looking at what happened in other towns , what conditions brought that on and whether or not that applies to Hartford. We think it s definitely possible that it could happen to Hartford in the next few years , ahh, if we go on this route we are headed for a hundred mill rate which is impossible, but we did not call for a the takeover, and I would like to ask the Mayor to ask his staff not to respond so quickly, call first please, because the Courant says it (inaudible)and they paraphrase you sometimes and in this case they paraphrased us incorrectly. We are….we are gonna study it closely and we’ll report to you as soon as we can
Torres: Thank you, that was Mr. Mike McGarry
Ok, from those comments it seems pretty clear that McGarry might have been misquoted and the RTC was not calling for a state takeover. But then, the following day I get a draft of a letter addressed to Governor Rell, signed by Michael T. McGarry, Chairman, City of Hartford Republican Town Committee. In the letter, McGarry clearly calls for Rell "to take control of the City and it's soaring spending" and asks Rell to "consider taking any and all actions necessary to restore the financial functionality of our City's government".
"Any and all actions necessary"? What's up Mike, it sure sounds like a request for a takeover to me. It sure sounds like that was the intent of the RTC and its members when they voted. Who was McGarry representing when he went before the Budget Hearing and back pedaled? Certainly not the RTC, or was he representing his business interests with the City. Perez might not be willing to send City business to a vendor that is calling for his takeover. But then on Thursday, it was all back on track as the letter was drafted calling for a takeover. But then again, the letter hasn't hit the mailbox yet, there is still plenty of time for it to get "lost".
A better idea, and definitely more productive, might be to mend the Republican fences and bring John O'Connell back into the fold and champion some real cuts, sensible cuts. Even the Democrats on the Council are using O'Connell's knowledge, it might just show some leadership if the Republican's did the same thing.
But then again, it's easier to abstain, you can't take any blame that way.
To watch McGarry's comments on Youtube, click below