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City Council Candidates Question A Bill

Democratic Town Committee Members Charge For Primary Work

By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

September 22, 2007

When does a campaign worker become paid political consultant?

That's a question being asked by perplexed members of Hartford's Democratic council slate who were billed by town committee members for thousands of dollars of campaign work during the recent city primary.

A majority of the six council candidates said they never asked for the work to be done - and at least two are refusing to pay.

Prenzina Holloway - who two years ago was fined by the State Elections Enforcement Commission for absentee ballot fraud - and five others sent bills to the endorsed Democratic council candidates in the days before the primary. Her daughter, Councilwoman rJo Winch, who hand-delivered some of the bills, said the slate had agreed to hire her mother and several other campaign consultants.

None of the five other candidates recalls a specific discussion about Holloway's campaign work. Two are trying to figure out what to do with the bills, and two others say they won't pay.

"I looked at it and I said, `I think this is a mistake, because I haven't asked for consulting services,'" said Councilman Pedro Segarra. "I'm not paying it."

Councilman Calixto Torres hasn't paid yet and is reviewing the bills.

"I want to make sure that any services that we are billed for are services that were in fact provided to us," Torres said.

Only two candidates have paid Holloway and the other consultants: Winch and Matt Ritter, the party's highest vote-getter in the council primary, who is seeking his first term. Ritter said he thought the slate was splitting the cost for the work equally.

"I paid my portion," Ritter said.

Holloway, a member of the Democratic town committee, is no stranger to elections and electoral controversy.

In 2005, after the State Elections Enforcement Commission concluded she had committed absentee ballot fraud the year before, Holloway signed an agreement to pay a $10,000 fine and not to distribute absentee ballots or assist voters with ballots for two years. That prohibition expired in April. The commission agreed to accept $2,000 because Holloway demonstrated financial hardship.

In 2006, the commission investigated a complaint that Holloway had handed out absentee ballots on behalf of the campaign of U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in violation of her 2005 agreement. The commission eventually dismissed that complaint for lack of evidence.

Reached Thursday, Holloway, who is listed on some public records as 70 and others as 69, declined to comment about the campaign billings.

"You know what? I'll take it up with them," she said, referring to the council candidates. "I don't want to talk about it. I'll take it up with them. Talk to you later. Bye."

Winch, the slate's lowest primary vote-getter - said the matter of the consulting was something the council candidates and Mayor Eddie A. Perez had agreed on.

"We talk about everything in advance," Winch said.

But Kenny Curran, Perez's campaign manager, said that although Perez paid Holloway $1,800 for consulting work in August, his campaign acted on its own.

According to bills provided by Ritter's and Winch's campaign finance filings at city hall, Ritter paid the campaign workers a total of $1,135, with $525 going to Holloway. Winch paid the workers a total of $1,115, with $560 going to her mother.

Town committee member Clorinda Soldevila received $170 from Winch and $175 from Ritter. Asked whether she expected to get paid, Soldevila said, "They always give me something because I've been working years and years."

Ritter and Winch also say they paid a Luz Torres for campaign work. Ritter paid her $50; Winch paid her $45.

Town committeewoman Luz Torres, who lives at the address listed in Winch's filing, said Thursday, "I'm on the town committee but I didn't charge anybody and I didn't do no bills, so I don't know what you're talking about."

Ritter said that his campaign used a mix of volunteers and paid workers, but that he doesn't recall discussing paying for consulting services. When he got the invoices, he assumed they were for work that was to be paid equally by all members of the slate, so he paid them, he said.

"Everyone got the same exact bills," Ritter said. "You can multiply what I gave you by six."

But campaign records show Ritter and Winch paid different amounts, and no other council candidate has paid the bills.

Segarra, who said he had been billed a few days before the primary, said he thought Holloway was working on the campaign as a volunteer "because of her wanting to be involved in politics."

"I guess there's people who are involved in politics that really do a lot of work, and they expect to be compensated," Segarra said.

Councilman Kenneth Kennedy Jr. said the bill Winch hand-delivered to him was for more than $1,000. He said he wouldn't pay it.

"Two reasons," Kennedy said: "One, I didn't hire the consultant, or any of the consultants."

Second, he said, "I was uncomfortable with paying town committee members for work. There's a lot of town committee members who contribute time in the election process and most of them do it without pay."

Councilman James Boucher said he didn't hire Holloway and isn't sure what to do with the bills.

"I did not have the expectation of payment or that we had hired her," Boucher said.

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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