Noel McGregor Jr. must have mixed emotions as he leaves his position as Hartford Democratic town chairman after six years. On the one hand, he did little to restore the town committee to the position of influence it once held, or to do such things as increase voter registration.
On the other hand, he made a bundle of money over the period doing business with the city.
Mr. McGregor was a supporter — some would say surrogate — of Mayor Eddie Perez. Mr. Perez promised a progressive government run with the "highest ethical standards." However, the mayor's dealings with Mr. McGregor are redolent of old-style patronage politics.
A former police officer and city council member, Mr. McGregor runs a private detective agency, McGregor Investigations & Consulting LLC. According to city records, Mr. McGregor has made about $330,000 since 2003, apparently for doing investigations for some city departments. Mr. McGregor also receives an annual police pension of more than $48,000.
Dipping further into the public trough, Mr. McGregor managed to sell a small piece of property to the city in 2006 at a price much higher than its appraised value.
The city paid $120,000 to Mr. McGregor for an old gas station-turned-Jamaican restaurant on Albany Avenue, despite city appraisals of $23,000 and $55,000 for the property.
City officials said they were faced with a deadline to spend or forfeit federal funds, and so overpaid to avoid eminent domain and litigation. Serious questions remain.
Mr. McGregor's departure as town chairman produced another curious scenario. A group of insurgents apparently had the 30 votes it would have taken to elect their candidate, city council aide Georgiana "Jean" Holloway.
But suddenly two committee members resigned and were replaced by longtime North End ward boss Abe Giles and a young man, Miles Wiles, said to be a relative of Mr. Giles'. Ms. Holloway then bowed out, leading to the election of Sean Arena, who is widely thought to have the backing of Mayor Perez.
Like Mr. McGregor, Mr. Giles has benefited financially from doing business with the Perez administration.
In a city with an overwhelming Democratic majority, the party's town chairman can be — and has in the past been — a force in city politics. The chairman should be pushing for reforms such as banning city employees and contractors from serving on the committee because they may be vulnerable to control by the mayor.
But instead of enriching the process, Mr. McGregor mostly enriched himself. It may not be illegal, as far as we can tell, but it is certainly uninspiring.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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