Scene: The back room at the Wood-n-Tap, Monday July 7, 2008. A group effort moneymaker, aimed at achieving public financing thresholds for state representative Kelvin Roldan and candidate for state representative Hector Robles.
Organizers advertised it on a Facebook page. More than 35 people, including City Hall’s usual suspects from City Council, like Cal Torres, from the mayor’s office, like Glendowlyn Hall, and from the Registrar of Voters office like Sammy Vazquez paid to populate the room. They noshed on hors d’oeuvres with members from the Democratic Town Committee and others in political circles.
I. Rep. Kelvin Roldan
Roldan, the 29-year-old state representative, maintained I am not fair to him. In March 2007, I wrote a column about him landing a plum $90,000-a-year job at the Hartford Board of Education. He also makes $30,000 or so a year as a state representative.
In total, Roldan takes in $120,000 at the public trough – a pittance compared to what Dick Cheney’s pals take from the U.S. treasury, but still, Roldan is part of Eddie’s coterie and your friends are your mirrors.
And I think that $120,000 in taxpayer salary for a 29-year-old man, no matter how accomplished, is too much. Roldan could argue that it is the same salary as a Superior Court Judge, and I would argue back that hey, a Superior Court Judge has to have had at least three years of school and another decade as a lawyer in practice.
Roldan swears that he works hard for his money. And he uses his salary for good. Like he said he financed exactly half of his trip to Kalamazoo, MI last month to learn about Promise Zones, a program that helps a municipality to borrow money through bonds to pay for high school graduates to go to college.
Mayor Perez’s Rising Star Foundation paid for the other half of the junket, Roldan said. Not understanding the concept of a city taking out student loans for those who can beat the poverty gauntlet and earn a high school diploma, I asked him why he didn’t as a legislator just work on a bill that provides for free college tuition at state universities?
He skirted the question. But he made it clear that in his first term as a state representative, he created a position for a bilingual advocate for the department of Veterans’ Affairs that helps the 8,100 or so Spanish-speaking veterans in Connecticut.
Roldan said he also sponsored legislation that raised the threshold for what qualifies as a small business from $3 million to $10 million so that more businesses qualify for special privileges.
And with his taxpayer-funded campaign dollars, Roldan said he expects to run a strong effort with the individual voter contact necessary to achieve the turnout he needs.
“I will inform them of the work I’ve been doing,” he said. He has no primary, just a general contest against former Mayoral candidate and head of Hartford Public Access TV, J. Stan McCauley.
So, Roldan probably expects to win handily. Roldan knows where his bread is buttered, though. In 2007, at the minimum, he plowed $2,250 from his fat paychecks back into the political system.
Regular financial reports from the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee tell that on April 12, 2007, he donated $1,750 for the primary season. On this form, he wrote his job was a State Legislator working for the State of Connecticut.
Campaign finance filings from Chris Dodd for President, Inc. indicate that a week later, on April 19, 2007, Roldan donated $500 to Dodd’s primary bid. Roldan here listed his occupation as a director with the Hartford Board of Education.
II. Candidate for First Senate District Ed Vargas
Ed Vargas, who needs to raise some money to reach his public campaign finance threshold, sat at a table with a few folk, talking politics. And before I continue, in full disclosure mode, a close friend of mine recently took a job with his campaign as a staffer.
The primary is just weeks away, but Mayor Perez hasn’t backed either Vargas or his opponent, incumbent John Fonfara. Vargas has volunteered for the Mayor many times over the years.
“I think Eddie is staying neutral,” Vargas said. “The Senate gives the city a lot of money, and Senate Democrats have a lot of control over state aid to the city.”
“It’s not only [Perez],” Vargas said. “Other organizations and groups that normally would support me have taken a neutrality stance or in some cases supported John.”
The show of loyalty doesn’t surprise Vargas.
“John is an incumbent,” Vargas said. “They tend to circle the wagons around their own. This is hardball politics.”
Vargas projected confidence that he would triumph, and by the time this is published, he may have earned access to the clean election fund.
“I went to barbeques over the Fourth of July weekend and I got a warm reception,” he said. “People are excited about my campaign.”
Fonfara may be trying to woo community leaders with promises, Vargas said, but at the grassroots level, the incumbent is a virtual unknown.
III. Mayor Eddie Perez
“I’m not going to talk about that,” said the Mayor when asked about who he is supporting between Vargas and Fonfara. Mayor Perez said he was at the Wood-n-Tap to support Roldan and Robles.
IV. Mayoral Aide Derek Donnelly
“This isn’t open to the press,” said Mayoral Aide Derek Donnelly to me after I talked to Mayor Perez for a moment. “This is for contributors only.”
I can’t contribute because it would compromise my ability to remain independent, I told him.
“These things are not open to the press,” Donnelly repeated.
Well then, Derek, I said, throw me out.
See, it’s a public event. I can wait until the next round of campaign finance filings come into the Secretary of the State’s office and see who attended the fundraiser, or I can simply show up and get the information myself. I prefer the latter.
V. Mayoral Chief of Staff Matt Hennessey
Matt Hennessey just got back from Boston, and he said it was worth every penny of the $60,000 of taxpayer loot to send him to Harvard for economic training for eight weeks.
Of the 161 people in the class, Hennessey said about nine percent of them were government employees from city, state and national governments globally. His fellow students included members of the federal reserve board.
“It was excellent,” he said. “It was a lot of work.”
But he took the time off to go there as vacation. I’d love eight weeks of vacation a year, myself, especially considering what a pain law school is. Hennessey said that a few years back, he tried law school, but he had enough of it after one year.
“I covered that base,” he said. “It was time to move on.” After a clerkship with a judge, he decided Western New England School of Law wasn’t for him. But Harvard on Hartford’s dime, on the other hand, had something to offer.
One of the best concepts he acquired at Harvard was how to “make a return on our capitalized assets,” he said. He talked about maximizing financial situations and maintaining infrastructural security when the city has downsized from 175,000 residents to 125,000 residents.
What about the closing of the library branch on my street, I wondered?
Isn’t that part of the infrastructure that the city has to maintain?
“The library is not part of the capital infrastructure,” he said. The Hartford Public Library is independent. Yet Hennessey confirmed that the Hartford Public Library gets $8.2 million annually from city coffers.
So why couldn’t the city stop the Mark Twain branch from closing? Why is the $60,000 to you worth more than a library branch that benefits hundreds in Asylum Hill?
“That’s the choice,” Hennessey said. “Can the city make an investment in its personnel? I think it’s great we can make that investment.”
Since he’s going to be here the next three years, perhaps its not a bad idea. He said he will be giving city department heads presentations about how to deliver services the way the private sector can. He will soon be working in a team decision making process, devising development deals to finance bonds.
VI. Senator John Fonfara (D-1st District)
Hi, Senator, Ken Krayeske with the Hartford News, can I have a minute of your time?
Not now, he said. I’m trying to talk to people.
Senator, I only need two minutes to interview you about your campaign.
I don’t even know who you are, he said.
I find it hard to believe that you don’t know who I am, I said.
I wasn’t trying to be arrogant, but thinking to myself, I know that the story about me being the guy who got arrested taking pictures of the Governor was pretty hot news in the state capital for a little while last year.
And I wonder that if he doesn’t know me, is he under such a rock that the people of south Hartford are not being represented well? If he does know me and he is lying, well, I’ll leave it to the loyal reader to decide which is the worse sin.
VII. Democratic Town Committee Chairman Sean Arena
If Strom Thurmond could serve in the U.S. Senate until he was well over 90, then there is room in the Connecticut state legislature for octogenarian power broker Abe Giles, who is challenging incumbent state representative Marie Lopez Kirkley-Bey.
“I think the voters will decide,” who is the better candidate. As head of DTC, Arena sides with Perez-ally Giles, the endorsed candidate. But he’s not met with either, although he has heard Kirkley-Bey is running a good campaign.
Do you think Giles got the nod because he supported you in the hotly-contested DTC chairmanship election, and Marie was against you? And she is against Eddie? Were there any phone calls, discussions about ousting Marie?
“His political resurrection started before that,” Arena said of Giles and the primary. “I think that is the farthest thing from the truth. I’ve never heard that. I don’t see that conversation taking place.”
Of course, Arena’s cell phone remembers the Mayor's digits, but they only talk once every six to eight weeks, Arenas assured me.
As for Fonfara and Vargas? “I think John is going to win hands down,” Arena said. “John’s been in there 22 years. He has worked the neighborhood.”