November 4, 2014

Voting today in Bristol, updated for 8 a.m. counts

In the first hour of voting today in Bristol, turnout totaled 4 percent the city's 31,499 registered voters.
Turnout was highest at Chippens Hill Middle School, witi 6 percent of voters showing up at the polls before 7 a.m., and lowest the Bristol Elks Club, where only 2 percent made an early appearance.
Overall, the turnout rate matched the rate of the 2010 election, which wound up with 54 percent casting a ballot, the same rate as the city saw during the 2002 gubernatorial race.

UPDATE FOR 8 a.m. --
Turnout reached 9 percent by 8 a.m., the same figure Bristol saw in 2010's gubernatorial race at the same time. The highest turnout is at Chippens Hill, at 12 percent, while the Elks Club and Mt. View School are at 7 percent each.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 29, 2014

Mailings turn negative in Senate race's final days (Updated at 11 a.m.)

I've asked both candidates in the 31st District state Senate race about these mailers, which I won't characterize except to say that many of the people receiving them have told me they are offensive.
I don't know who started it. I only know these exist.
I flipped a coin to see whose mailers would be posted first, but the order means nothing. You can click on the images to see a larger version.
First, here's one that the Republicans sent out about Democratic contender Rob Michalik:





And here are a couple from Michalik's campaign about Republican contender Henri Martin:


And in black and white:



And this one:


And in black and white:



If anyone can provide me with better copies, I'd love to have them. I asked the campaigns to send me copies as well.
Anybody who's interested in expressing their opinion of them for a news story, feel free to send me a note at scollins@bristolpress.com. Be sure to include your name and let me know if you're connected to the political world somehow.
Update at 10:30 a.m.: Martin sent along a half dozen copies of mailings his campaign has used. Here they are.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 16, 2014

Democrats: Republicans should stick to facts

The other day, city Democratic Chairman Dean Kilbourne and Vice Chairman Bill Wolfe sent along this response to a recent GOP open letter:

DEMOCRATS RESPOND TO REPUBLICAN LEADERS


There they go again – the Republican Town Committee leaders are on the blog with negative attacks on our Democratic elected officials and candidates.  What would be more beneficial to the readers and to the voters are actual ideas and plans.  Answers that include: what would you do, and how would you accomplish your goals.


Voters on all levels, local, state and federal are tired of partisan politics.  Stop the bickering and the negative campaigning and put a plan into action.

If the Republican leaders are not able to put forth their plans for the City, then, at the very least, they have an obligation to write with some semblance of a factual basis.

First, as to Rob Michalik – let’s look at the facts: 

From 1999 to 2009, Plainville had the 11th lowest annualized effective tax increase in the state (out of 169 towns).  Rob was on the council for six of those years.  Also, while on the town council, Rob spearheaded various efforts to save the town money.  For instance, Rob pushed the town to purchase its streetlights from CL&P, thereby saving the town approximately $50,000 per year in maintenance costs.  He advocated that an Ebay-like auction procedure be implemented for the sale of bonds, which saved thousands of dollars in interest costs.  In addition, Rob championed an aggressive delinquent tax program, which has led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes being collected and reduced the tax burden on those who pay their taxes on time.  At DEDC, Rob worked primarily on efforts to help small businesses.  He worked on the Small Business Express program, which assisted more than 1,000 small businesses in Connecticut (including several in Bristol) and created or retained thousands of jobs across the state.  Rob proudly worked extensively in helping to establish a new Manufacturing Innovation Fund in the state, which will assist small manufacturers in making the investments in equipment, technology and job training to remain competitive, win new businesses and grow jobs.

Rather than focus on the upcoming election of our state candidates, the Republican leaders attack our three Democratic Council members who all have taken a stand on some very difficult issues; slinging mud and calling them hypocrites.  In particular, they politicize the downtown/
Renaissance issue. 

Ellen Zoppo-Sassu has offered a compromise agreement that does not involve handing over city money to a private entity, but still gives the City a stakeholder position in the development.  Council member Zoppo-Sassu has moved a substantial amount of business forward for the City in her eleven months back on the City Council. 

They twist Mary Fortier’s statement about Renaissance being the preferred developer and point out that there is now new proposals at Ten Main Street and other sites.  These proposals are not on the seventeen acres and Renaissance is not the preferred developer of those new projects, yet it proves Council member Fortier’s point that private development may stimulate what is being proposed on the seventeen acres.

Lastly they criticize Calvin Brown for describing this as an emotional issue for the City and characterize his stance as absurd.  Calvin is 22 years old.  He was the highest vote getter in Council District 1 and city-wide.  Voters identified with his idealism.  It is Calvin’s generation that we need to retain and attract in order to maintain our middle class with young families choosing to live here, buy homes here, and put their children in our schools.

The Republican leaders conclude by stating that we cannot afford more of this “leadership.”  That is the key word – leadership.  Our elected officials and candidates take a stand on the issues.  They make their positions known.  We welcome and encourage public participation and input.  We are willing to engage in meaningful debate.  There is too much at stake for negative politics and sitting idle.  It’s time to put words into action!

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Council to meet on Oct. 30 about Renaissance

The special City Council session on Renaissance and Depot Square is slated for 6 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 30 in the council chambers at City Hall.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 6, 2014

GOP takes aim at Democrats on issues

Republican leaders just sent this out:

Over the past two weeks, we have heard from numerous candidates and elected officials on topics of interest to the community, including unfunded mandate relief, taxation, and Depot Square.

We’ve heard from Democrat State Representative Chris Wright that he supports unfunded mandate relief, yet in his six years as a representative of the 77th District, Chris has presented ZERO bills to the State Legislature to rescind, repeal, suspend, or alter any unfunded mandates.

Derek Czenczelewski
We’ve heard from Democrat State Senate Candidate Rob Michalik that he believes the State needs to get its fiscal house in order, and that our taxation woes have stalled economic recovery. This we can certainly agree with, but the source of the statement leaves us skeptical. Rob has served as a member of the Economic Development Staffs to US Congressman Chris Murphy and Governor Malloy, yet we have nothing to show for it other than millions of taxpayer dollars going towards multi-millionaires to move their companies from one Connecticut town to another. Further, as an elected official on the Plainville Town Council, Rob Michalik repeatedly supported tax increases on his constituents.

We’ve heard from the three Democrat City Councilors that the City should be open to providing in-kind services, such as road paving, sidewalk construction, and other infrastructure upgrades necessary to promote downtown’s revitalization, as well as waiving fees such as costly sewer connection fees. Yet just last year, then-Candidate Zoppo questioned the Council for waiving building fees for the $10+ Million, privately financed new home for the Bristol Boys and Girls Club. Citing what she felt was a slippery slope that would lead to other groups requesting similar waivers, it now seems that she has completely changed course and believes that waiving fees and spending additional taxpayer money on private development makes sense.

This shouldn't come as a surprise as Councilor Zoppo voted in favor of purchasing the mall property with taxpayer funds in 2005. What is surprising is her apparent frustration with the process for handling the mall property – a process she was instrumental in creating years ago.

We’ve heard from Councilor Fortier that “no one is banging down the doors of City Hall for a chance to develop this parcel”, yet two developers, including a local, intend on re-developing Ten Main Street, while another group has its eyes set on redeveloping the former Bristol Press building. It should be pointed out to Councilor Fortier that as the Preferred Developer, Renaissance Downtowns is currently the ONLY developer who has exclusive development rights to Depot Square, rendering her point moot. It’s tough to gauge interest when opportunity does not exist.

We’ve heard the romantic words of Councilor Brown equating downtown Bristol to a heart in need of surgery – at any cost. We honestly can’t even comprehend how desperate, absurd, and irresponsible that statement is. It shows a complete disregard for the public’s financial stability and cost of living, and is the exact kind of decision making that leads to bigger issues down the road.

Of course, none of these examples of hypocrisy can top Governor Dannel Malloy’s comments from four years ago when he said “the last thing we are going to do is raise taxes.” This statement was followed shortly thereafter by Malloy passing the largest tax increase in State history. And what do we have to show for this tax increase? Did it solve the Legislature’s spending problems? Nope. In fact, the state of Connecticut is facing multi-billion deficits for the next two years. How will that deficit be closed? Based on previous actions and track records, if Governor Malloy or any of these Democrat candidates for office are elected (or re-elected), our spending habits will be “fixed” from additional massive tax increases. We cannot afford more of this leadership.

Sincerely,

Derek Czenczelewski, Bristol RTC Chairman

Jeff Caggiano, Bristol RTC Vice Chairman

Tom Hick, Bristol RTC 2nd Vice Chairman

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

What's going on with Renaissance?

Developments are piling up quickly so I figured I'd put up some links to help anyone who's lost track:

Monday, October 6: The Republican majority on the City Council said this week it won’t take a stand on Depot Square until the Bristol Downtown Development Corp. makes a recommendation.
Mayor Ken Cockayne and the three GOP councilors – Henri Martin, Eric Carlson and Rich Miecznikowski – said that “in the interest of good faith negotiations and contractual agreements” they have to follow the agreed-on process for a decision on the project. LINK

Saturday, October 4: Bristol Downtown Development Corp. leaders are worried about potential litigation in the wake of the city’s hiring of an outside consultant to review the financial plans submitted by Renaissance Downtowns for the initial phase of the proposed Depot Square project.
Jennifer Arasimowicz wrote in an Aug. 25 email to the nonprofit’s lawyer that she had “basically laid out how I think the city stupidly set us up for a lawsuit” with its hiring of East Hartford’s Goman + York Property Advisors.
Arasimowicz said in the email that she had laid out the case “in a momentary lapse of all common sense” in a secret email exchange she had in August with Frank Johnson, a BDDC board member and former chairman.
She wrote the email obtained by The Bristol Press to plead with attorney David DeBassio to find a way to keep details of her exchange with Johnson confidential. LINK

Friday, October 3:  A Hartford-based multi-unit housing developer who partnered until recently with Renaissance Downtowns has agreed to buy an historic Main Street office building.
Martin Kenny, a Hartford apartment developer, has signed a purchase deal for 10 Main St. that will likely be complete by year’s end. Construction could begin as soon as next spring, he said Thursday
“It’s a great old historical building with great bones, in tremendous condition,” Kenny said.
Kenny and a Bristol firm, D’Amato Construction, pulled out of the Depot Square project in recent weeks to focus on the prospect of creating housing in the five-story building that would not require a city or state subsidy.
“We stepped aside,” Kenny said, calling it “a political football there with the project” planned for the former mall site.
“I want to do something” rather than “going to town meetings and having everybody mad at each other,” he said. LINK

Tuesday, Sept. 30:  With a showdown on the future of Renaissance Downtowns drawing near, a partisan split has developed at City Hall as the three Democratic city councilors endorsed the developer while their Republican counterparts remained on the sidelines.
“Renaissance has made a commitment to Bristol and Renaissance deserves renewed commitment from us,” said city Councilor Mary Fortier. “Renaissance has taken risks in Bristol and Bristol needs to move beyond the risk.”
After all, she pointed out, “no one is banging down the doors of city hall for a chance to develop this parcel.”
The three Democratic councilors – Fortier, Ellen Zoppo-Sassu and Calvin Brown – each issued long statements detailing their positions on Renaissance and its Depot Square proposal to revitalize the 15-acre city center site where the mall once stood. LINK (Note: The full statement of each of the councilors is on this blog below.)



Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

October 2, 2014

Republicans say they'll wait to take a stand on Renaissance

Press release from Mayor Ken Cockayne and the three Republican city councilors: 

Bristol, CT: On October 2, 2014, GOP Council Caucus Official Statement on Depot Square Project
The Depot Square project is currently in the hands of the BDDC, as it has been over the last several years. A project decision schedule has been outlined and adhered to, and that process will continue to be followed. 

While we appreciate our Democratic council colleagues offering their opinions on the project in public, we are refraining from issuing a public position on the project until the BDDC makes their final recommendation to the City Council, thereby placing the authority in the City Council's hands to render a decision. In the interest of good faith negotiations and contractual agreements, this is the process that must be followed, has been followed, and will continue to be followed. 

The beliefs we can share with the public regarding the project are the following:
  • We believe that redeveloping downtown is a crucial part of the City's long-term financial viability, economic growth, and image.
  • We believe in fiscal conservatism and ensuring that current and future generations are not being saddled with unaffordable tax liabilities. 
  • We believe that the public should have input in the final decision, particularly if government or taxpayer dollars are to be used. 
 This is where we currently stand, and as we've said, once every option is explored and the BDDC offers its final recommendations, the public will be informed of the details and options, public feedback will be requested through a variety of means, and our opinions will be detailed for our constituents.

Sincerely,
Ken Cockayne, Mayor of Bristol
Eric Carlson, City Council - District 1
Henri Martin, City Council - District 2
Richard Miecznikowski, City Council - District 2

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

The NRA tries to get me to become a member

Listen to the National Rifle Association try to sell me a membership today. I love the bonus gift it offers to throw in at the end.
Sorry for some buzzing during Wayne LaPierre's message.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

September 26, 2014

Zoppo-Sassu: Let's get going with Renaissance

Statement on downtown by city Councilor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu:

Since elected officials were not allowed to comment at last week’s public hearing, I join my Democratic City Council colleagues, Calvin Brown and Mary Fortier, in issuing a statement on downtown so our constituents will know where we stand.  

My biggest concern at this time is the dueling perceptions of Bristol residents not wanting to invest in themselves. We CAN have a vibrant downtown. And I think we CAN address people’s concerns so that we achieve an outcome that the majority supports.

In 2005 the city wisely voted to purchase the old mall as a means of controlling our own destiny and shaping our own future. We wanted our citizens to come downtown for more than just city services.

Then, some potential plans called for a new Boys & Girls Club to be relocated on the Mall property, as well as a field house and some mixed use retail, office space and a parking structure. The voters who came to those public hearings objected to the land being used by entities that would not generate tax revenue. In late 2006, the Mall site was on the short list for the location of the new West Bristol School, but people again objected and the school was eventually built on a remote section of Chippens Hill.

Today, people are asking why the new Club, built on a small parcel on West Street, couldn’t have been built facing Brackett Park? Why is the new school as far west as it could possibly be while still being considered a Bristol school?  The fact that the hue and cry from angry citizens 10 years ago that prevented either of these plans from happening is indeed ironic. Recently the discussion has turned to more open space and a synthetic field from the school of "something is better than nothing" and "let’s get something going," even though the economic benefits of these scenarios would be marginal at best.

Are we destined to repeat history? I sure hope not. But our track record is not great for getting it right, dating back to the problems surrounding downtown urban renewal in the 1960s and early 1970s.

So what do I think today, after being back on the City Council for almost a year and being immersed (again) in a variety of reports, data, and public hearings on downtown?

First, I understand why people are opposed to investing $6 million of taxpayer money into a private investment when the economy is only slightly improving and people are watching every dollar. There are a lot of unknowns that would have to be hammered out with the City having an equity stake and deed restrictions if public money were part of the equation.

I understand that people want a say and are asking for a referendum. But what is the question? Are we asking taxpayers to approve the plan as presented, or is it about the $6 million that Renaissance asked for from the City?

They have now publicly stated that they are no longer asking for $6 million so this now appears to be off the table as a main argument for referendum.

Through the City’s 5 Year Capital Improvement Program, the City spends millions each year on projects that the taxpayers don’t even know about, much less have input into or for many, even know they are occurring or how they are funded.

For example, in the spring of 2013, the then-elected officials approved a $6 million renovation project for the Fire Department’s Engine 4 – a fire house located off of Route 229 next to the Public Works Yard and the Sewer Plant. Let’s just think about the irony of this for a minute – there is currently a $6 million project – the same amount as was being discussed for downtown - being launched for ONE fire house, in the southeast section of the city - that no one is talking about. A project that even many of the firefighters think is ridiculous.

The amount being spent would still be ridiculous if it was for the fire headquarters on North Main Street, but at least one could weakly argue that the $6 million would at least be benefiting a building that was more centrally visible and part of downtown.

So philosophically, if we are already bonding $6 million for a firehouse, why couldn’t we transfer that money to the downtown project that would benefit the entire community? Since it’s already budgeted, the taxpayers would feel nothing, and the Engine 4 fire house expansion could be put on the shelf for another year. Or better yet, put these large-ticket items up for referendum.

I know that Bristol has a lot of housing in the downtown area. Some of it has been the subject of code enforcement actions and we must also acknowledge that third floor apartments in restored Victorians do not appeal to all young professionals. I can support some new housing construction in downtown, but I have not supported the number of  housing units that Renaissance desires. I think that is too much density for this site but if they build it, I do hope they fill it with the type of sustained residential population that will represent the 7 day a week customer base that businesses need to thrive.  

I think we need to compromise and get the ball rolling. The City of Bristol should offer to partner with Renaissance with in-kind services to help them achieve their financial package needs. This would mean taking responsibility for the creation of the Piazza, roads and sidewalks, street lights, a shared parking plan for all parcels, and the necessary hook-ups for water and sewer. While this may amount to less than $2 million in city costs and services, it would be way to demonstrate support and buy-in in an area where the City has experience and ability.  The City can also be of assistance by continuing its aggressive marketing and business recruitment activities on other parcels that will bolster downtown – the recent sale of 10 Main Street, the former Press building and helping other downtown landlords fill their spaces – as well as supporting projects such as the Memorial Boulevard which is another piece of the puzzle.

I think both the Renaissance work and some of the recommendations of the Goman + York report go back to what we knew in 2005 – sometimes a public driver is needed to stimulate private investment. Whether it’s going to be a Piazza or skating rink or something else, the City of Bristol needs to have a role.  And I would really love to see ESPN involved as a partner in designing housing tailored to their employees’ needs.

Last spring, I talked to a number of local developers and real estate experts about their thoughts on downtown. One theme that did emerge from all of these separate conversations was making the project more manageable. Renaissance needs to be encouraged in their role as gatekeeper and the preferred developer to bring other developers to the table for the remaining parcels. We have design and zoning regulations for downtown in place and with careful, collaborative efforts, we could possibly have several developers at the table at the same time, all working with Renaissance to create a synergy for the 15 acres.

I like that the Mayor called a joint meeting of the BDDC and City Council. We all need to show leadership, keep the lines of communication open, and continue to work together and decide on a path that works for everyone and gets shovels in the ground sooner rather than later. While the Democrats have not been at the table for the negotiations, I think I speak for all of us when I say we are anxious to be part of the solution.

No downtowns are perfect. They are all, regardless of size and demographics, a work in progress with a mix of businesses that appeal to some people and not others. But if Southington, Plantsville, and New Britain can re-build their downtowns with a mix of government center, independent retail and restaurants and other activities, so can we.

In fact, we have a blank slate of 17 acres to draw our future. It’s time we got our paints and start putting color on the canvas. 

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

September 24, 2014

Martin's online advertisement promises to turn Connecticut around

Here's an advertisement that Republican state Senate candidate Henri Martin has on YouTube:




Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com