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A Valuable Visit

Support for Dodd, Money for East Hartford Firehouse

DANIELA ALTIMARI and CHRISTOPHER KEATING

December 12, 2009

HARTFORD - Vice President Joseph Biden couldn't have been more effusive in his praise of U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd.

At a Friday afternoon fundraiser for Dodd at the new Connecticut Science Center, Biden called the senator an honorable and courageous leader someone who "keeps the deal" and is "the single most gifted legislator in Congress now that Teddy Kennedy's gone."

If only Dodd had been there to hear it.

Connecticut's senior senator decided late Thursday to skip his own fundraiser so he could tend to congressional business in Washington. His wife, Jackie Clegg Dodd, accompanied the vice president instead.

Biden's unwavering support for his fellow Democrat, a man he called his best friend, sent a message to the 175 powerful Democrats who filled the room. He urged them to stick with Dodd, who has struggled in the polls and faces a brutal re-election campaign in 2010.

"Chris is getting the living hell beat out of him, the living bejesus beat out of him," Biden said. "Why? Because he's being a leader."

The "Dump Dodd" protesters stood outside, ringing bells and waving signs; they have become a fixture at most Dodd events.

Inside, the crowd of about 175 people included many of the state's Democratic Party power brokers. They paid $500 each to hear Biden, sip passion fruit Bellinis, and snack on house-made sea salt chips, hummus, local farm vegetable wraps, and ham and brie sandwiches amid science center exhibits on robotics and wind power.

Biden spoke of Dodd's dual roles leading the Senate banking committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee at a time when financial reform and health care are among the top priorities of President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress.

The vice president painted Dodd as a master multitasker who had "the guts" to stand up to the banking industry while helping to craft a health care bill without which the overhaul effort would have probably failed. Dodd also continues to be the Senate's go-to guy on all things involving Latin America, Biden said.

The visit marks Biden's second appearance in Connecticut since October. He spoke of the tight bond he shares with Dodd. The two served in the Senate together until Biden assumed the vice presidency earlier this year.

Biden recalled the time Dodd campaigned for him in Delaware when Biden was facing a political battle of his own. He pledged to do the same for Dodd.

"This is going to be a hell of a race, and it's an uphill race," Biden said, "but Chris Dodd will prevail."

East Hartford Visit

After the fundraiser, Biden dashed off to East Hartford to shower the town with millions of dollars for a new firehouse.

Standing in front of a red ladder truck and using a TelePrompTer, Biden talked about the federal economic stimulus package to more than 100 people who had gathered inside the fire headquarters on a cold day.

Biden talked about his blue-collar roots in Scranton, Pa., in describing how the stimulus package had helped prevent another depression.

"We inherited this hole," Biden said. "It's our problem now. We've got to put a ladder down that hole and pull those people up."

Biden announced that East Hartford will be receiving $3.4 million in stimulus funds to help build a new firehouse on Brewer Street in the town's southwestern corner. The town paid $180,000 for the land and will seek bids as soon as the federal money arrives.

The overall cost of the project is expected to be $5.6 million, with East Hartford taxpayers spending more than $2 million on a project that was already approved at a referendum. Besides a two-bay fire station, the project will include a three-bay repair station.

East Hartford Mayor Melody Currey, a former state legislator, told reporters that Dodd was the driving force to secure the money for East Hartford. She acknowledged Dodd's low poll numbers but said Dodd should not drop out of the race.

"It would be a shame to lose him," Currey said. "We have to remember what the man has done over the years. I definitely want Dodd on the ticket."

Biden spoke for about 25 minutes at the four-bay headquarters complex in front of off-duty and on-duty firefighters who were prepared to leave the building on a moment's notice.

"Fellas, thank you for letting me in your house," Biden told the group. "I owe the fire service for my life, and that's not hyperbole."

Biden told stories about a tragic car accident and how his house was struck by lightning and how the first responders arrived to help. He noted that firefighters now must respond to biological agents and complex chemicals that were not prevalent decades ago.

"This ain't your father's fire service, man," Biden said. "We owe you."

Dodd's Democratic opponent, Merrick Alpert, waited at the corner of School Street and Burnside Avenue with about six supporters.

Alpert said afterward that more and more Democrats are telling him that Dodd needs to drop out of the race.

"Six months ago, I was the only one saying it out loud," Alpert said. "I'm out there seven days a week. Every day, there's no secret. Merrick Alpert gets stronger, and Sen. Dodd gets weaker. ... He's not out there each night. Let's face it."

Alpert said that he would force a primary for the first time in 30 years in the U.S. Senate race and that he intended to be battling in early August against Dodd.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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