August 21, 2014

Like it or not, Bristol should seize busway opportunity

When the argument about whether to build the busway between New Britain and Hartford raged, Bristol's officials mostly lined up firmly against it. They argued that the $575 million busway would do nothing for Bristol.
When Gov. Dannel Malloy opted to plunge forward with the new bus-only road, Bristol carped from the sidelines and placed its hope in a $1 million commuter rail study that appears to be stalled on some abandoned tracks somewhere.
Meanwhile the busway is drawing ever closer to completion. By next year, it will be operating.
Whether that's a good thing or a bad one doesn't really matter now. What does matter is that Bristol find some way to take advantage of its existence.
Aside from a few folks with extremely rosy glasses, there's a wide consensus that the new line is going to have a hard time drawing the number of passengers projected. True or not, the state is going to be trying to up the use, because it makes sense, given the buses running up and down the 9.1-mile route all day and much of the night.
That's an opportunity for Bristol.
Though officials never talk about it in public, they should be eyeing ways to help commuters reach the busway and use it. It's foolish to ignore it, particularly since the state might be willing to help upgrade the availability and quality of the buses serving Bristol commuters.
It's not hard to imagine a new "station" of some sort, perhaps at the mall site, which isn't getting used for anything else. It's got plenty of parking and a little bus shelter with some style might actually improve the place a bit. It would certainly bring more folks downtown.
No doubt there are lots of other ideas out there. The city should be talking about them, at every relevant board meeting and to anyone who might be able to help. The public will be skeptical, of course, but even busway foes aren't stupid. Let's see how this costly new transit system can boost Bristol. 

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

August 20, 2014

Brown says he won't cave to condescending mayor

Mayor Ken Cockayne and city Councilor Calvin Brown clashed at this week's Police Board meeting. See the story here.
Here's an open letter from Brown with his take on what it all means:

The Mayor recently attacked me at a public meeting for being someone who “does not pay property taxes.” His condescension has been directed at me and other colleagues many times. As we all know, after all, the Mayor’s favorite catch phrase is “Because I’m the Mayor and I said so!” With an ego that big – let’s face it – a little condescension every now and again is to be expected.
But since his comments were particularly personal in nature and irrelevant to the discussion at hand at the time he made them, I feel compelled to make a public disclosure:
Yes – I still live at home with my mother. No – I do not own my own home. While the Mayor seems to think this makes me less of a person, I think it makes me a prime example of the generation that will soon be taking the reins in society: in business, in government, in academia. Plus, the Mayor drastically underestimates the burden of my own personal circumstances. Like so many people of my generation, I come from a household with divorced parents. Since my parents’ divorce in 2009 (at the height of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, mind you), I have had to work to earn money to help make ends meet around the house. My mother and I shared the financial burden that comes along with trying to put food on the table, keep the lights on and the water flowing in the house, and planning for the future at a time when things seemed despairingly uncertain. On top of all this, we had to figure out what on earth we were going to do when it came time for me to go to college.
                Luckily for me, I was able to manage notable scholastic achievement, and when I graduated high school in 2011 I got accepted into the Honors program at Central Connecticut State University. In the program, any student that can complete the increased rigor of the coursework and still maintain an overall GPA of 3.5 or higher is privy to a full academic scholarship. I’m truly privileged to say I was able to do that, and I will graduate from college this upcoming December without any student loan-debt.
This privilege has enabled me to continue to work, and use all of the money I earn to support my family when it’s needed. Working with my mother and now my brother, we are able to all pool our resources together so that we can keep food on the table, and we can repair our cars, and we can keep the lights on in our home. No, Mayor, I don’t own a home or pay my own property taxes. But the only reason me and my family have been able to stay in our home is because we work with one another to make ends meet.
The Mayor seems to think I should be ashamed of that; that my voice and experience doesn’t matter. But I say to the Mayor and to everyone else – young or old – that’s ever found themselves in a situation like mine: I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do to help my family, and I do know what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet. My voice does matter. Our voice matters.
Yes, the Mayor thinks that people who don’t pay property taxes don’t matter. But I think to disregard the voices of thousands of young up-and-comers in our city simply because they do not yet pay property taxes is penny-wise and pound-foolish (… then again, that does seem to be the Mayor’s idea of ‘fiscal conservatism’). Young people should be encouraged to exercise their voice in government. They should be encouraged to be involved! And they do matter, whether they own homes yet or not.
I just want to say to the Mayor: you can be as disgusted as you want with what I have to say about the city’s public policy and the expenditure of taxpayer resources. You can insinuate all you want that my voice doesn’t matter because to you it appears as though I don’t yet pay property taxes. But Mayor, I don’t work for you. I work with you. And I will use my voice for my constituents whether it annoys you or not.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

BDDC watching from the sidelines while city takes the lead on mall site

That's downtown consultant Michael Goman speaking to the City Council on Monday evening about Renaissance's plans for the former mall site. He got nearly an hour to lay out his recommendations and field a few mild questions from council members.
In the front row, watching, were members of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp., which has oversight over the mall site's revitalization. They were told they couldn't even ask questions.
It's not quite clear what's going on between the BDDC, Mayor Ken Cockayne and the council, but it's at least odd that the nonprofit created to deal with the city center property is watching from the sidelines while a city-hired consultant has the spotlight on him.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

August 18, 2014

Contrasting proposals for former downtown mall site

There's a lot going on all of a sudden with the former mall site downtown. You can read the latest story here.
A link to the Goman+York report is available here.
Here is the revised financial proposal from Renaissance Downtowns, which includes information about the funding options for Building B, a mixed-use structure that would face Main Street:

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

August 16, 2014

West End could be transformed by road changes

Proposed changes in West End, looking west from School Street.

A preliminary plan for the reconstruction of the West End’s jagged junctions calls for the demolition of two commercial buildings and a handful of residential homes.
The state Department of Transportation plan, kept under wraps for a couple of months, would close off the eastern end of Divinity Street, change the access to Landry Street and shift Route 72 closer to the Pequabuck River.
The two commercial buildings, each more than a century old, are on the northwest corner of the junction, with the recently-reopened Wah Lung restaurant the best known establishment housed in them.
“This really dresses up the West End,” said Mayor Ken Cockayne. Click here to read the story.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

August 14, 2014

Witch's Dungeon to stay in Bristol

The Witch's Dungeon Classic Movie Museum isn't moving to New York after all.
It's moving instead to the Bristol Historical Society's quarters in the city's first high school on Federal Hill.
Cortlandt Hull, the museum's linchpin, said the new place will be larger by far than the small outbuilding on Battle Street that has housed it for 48 years.
This fall, the display will offer more life-size figures than ever along with original movie props Hull has acquired over the years.
Hull said that Jim Albert, the president of the Bristol-based Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, is largely responsible for making it possible for the museum to stay in its hometown.
I'll have much more about this in the days and weeks ahead.
It's a relief to all of us who know what treasures Cortlandt has to see a resolution that saves the museum for Bristol while simultaneously lending a hand to the historical society and its underappreciated assets. 

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

August 13, 2014

Don't count Rydingsward out for good

Though Mary Rydingsward came up short in the primary fight Tuesday to see who the Democrats would back for registrar, don't count her out of politics yet.
The final tally against former city Councilor Kevin McCauley was pretty close. And he was always pretty good at racking up votes in his council races.
It's certainly possible that Rydingsward could jump into the municipal election next year as a 1st District City Council candidate -- watch out, Eric Carlson! -- or perhaps even for mayor. She could perhaps give possible mayoral contender Ellen Zoppo-Sassu a tough fight if that ever came to a primary.
After all, even after Tuesday's loss, Rydingsward still has winning record in primary campaigns. And she's never hesitated to take on the Democrats' chosen candidate.
Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

August 12, 2014

Reaction to a judicial ruling that favors cafeteria workers

Reactions to this story about a judicial ruling that went against the Board of Education yesterday:

Mike Petosa, president of the Greater Bristol Labor Council:
"It's time for the Board of Education to stop this madness and to put their people back to work the way it used to be.
"... Go back to the status quo.Let them do the job they were initially hired to do."
He said the judge's decision shows once again "the dedication and hard work" the union has demonstrated in trying protect 53 cafeteria workers whose jobs would be lost if the school cafeterias are privatized.
He said the unions in Bristol "will always fight" to protect the rights of working people that are under assault across the country from Republicans "who want to bust the unions and knock down the middle class."
"We're going to fight it in this city. This city is about taking of its people."

Mary Fortier, Democratic city councilor:
"I am certainly happy with Judge Schuman's ruling but it is a shame that the cafeteria workers have to continue to be ping pong balls in this mess."

Calvin Brown, Democratic city councilor:
School board members "Fitzgerald, Amara, Dolan, Morgan, and Dube have continued to morbidly abuse these 53 cafeteria workers for well over a year now. The Commissioners lost the Labor Ruling, now they've lost their misguided request for a stay on that ruling, and they'll lose again if they continue to fight this vindictive legal battle in the courts. It's time for the Board of Education to admit they illegally bargained in bad faith and stop wasting taxpayer time and money."

Karen Vibert, Democratic Board of Education member:
"On the record, all responses to media are supposed to go through the BOE chair; however, the BOE chair, contrary to Robert's Rules, did not allow me to speak at the last meeting, basically cutting me off and ending the meeting because I disagreed with him, so I will speak here.
"I have been a supporter of the cafeteria workers because last year the BOE negotiating committee and the Union reached a tentative agreement and the Union gave back more at the table in terms of wages and benefits than I ever imagined they would.  It was more than fair.  It was unfortunate that the full Board then voted against the agreement and the issue then went into the costly world of egos and legal battles.  These legal battles may take months, if not years, before final decisions are rendered.  The Republican majority voting to sign a contract with the Whitson company put the Board into more legal and financial jeopardy.  To quote the judge's order, 'The Plaintiff; -- the Board of Education -- 'must accept the consequences of its own choice.'"

Chris Wilson, Democratic Board of Education member and former chairman:
"First of all please be aware my response is my own and not that of the Bristol BOE, However the minority position has not been articulated because it has been in opposition to the majority.
"I believe the Tentative agreement negotiated between  Bargaining unit 2267 and the Bristol BOE was fair. Both sides gave concessions to reach a settlement.
"Unfortunately, the Republican Majority (none of which had been involved in negotiations as a BOE member) decided not to support the agreement.  The arbitration ruling allowed that the BOE could privatize. But one still is compelled to negotiate in 'good faith.' The Labor Relations Board determined that had not happened and their remedy was to put in place the Tentative Agreement.
"At this point,  the majority, has decided to appeal and requested a stay of the Labor Relations ruling. Now that stay request has been dissolved.
"It is clear the board acted prematurely in executing a contract with Whitson’s prior to all of the legal remedies being exhausted. This case is now in the hands of the courts to determine if MR. Amara did not negotiate in 'Good Faith.'
"Since , that ruling,  and any appeal thereof could go either way, I believe it is time to put this matter to rest and not spend any more money on this matter.  From the beginning, this case has been  framed by the majority as saving considerable amounts of money.  It is clear any savings will be eaten up in legal fees.
"I see no reason to spend bad money after good. The cafeteria workers have been put through the mill,  it is time for it to stop. If,  through the tentative agreement the shortfall cannot be reduced then the administration will need to reengineer how it delivers food service. Labor can and should be a part of that discussion.
"It is time for all parties to begin working together instead of in opposition to each other. Enough is enough!"

Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, Democratic city councilor:
"I believe the cost savings that implementing the Tentative Agreement would have achieved last winter would have far outweighed whatever alleged savings and beyond  that is now being spent by the Republican leadership on legal fees to justify their shaky position. The fact that, after yet another setback, they are still trying to insist they are right, is sad and is a distraction from what they should be doing as elected leaders. Three wrongs don't make a right."

Jill Fitzgerald, Republican Board of Education member:
"No comments on the ruling. Need to hear from legal counsel."

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Major changes eyed for West End

This is a close up of a proposed reconfiguration of the West End intersections, looking north toward the main junction of Park and West streets. I'll get a better version soon. This one is grabbed off a picture Mayor Ken Cockayne just posted where he's showing it off to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
Here's a story I wrote in May about the overall project.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

2010 primary results in Bristol, for statewide offices

Here are the results of the 2010 primaries in Bristol, which should come in handy for making sense of today's numbers:

Tom Foley -- 477
Mike Fedele -- 543
Oz Griebel -- 303

Lieutenant Governor:
Mark Boughton -- 564
Lisa Wilson-Foley -- 681

U.S. Senator:
Linda McMahon -- 679
Peter Schiff -- 337
Rob Simmons -- 330

Ann Brickley -- 632
Mark Zydanowicz -- 649

Attorney General:
Martha Dean -- 777
Ross Garber -- 510
Dan Malloy -- 1,808
Ned Lamont -- 1,369

Lieutenant Governor:
Nancy Wyman -- 1,984
Mary Glassman -- 1,154

Secretary of the State:
Denise Merrill -- 1,975
Gerry Garcia -- 1,137

Kevin Lembo -- 2,130
Michael Jarjura -- 905

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Voters scarce in Bristol, but there are a few

Bristol Elks Club this morning
You have to look pretty hard to find a voter in Bristol today.
Though both Republicans and Democrats are holding a primary, turnout has been abysmal so far.
Registrars office this morning
In the most hotly contested race, the GOP had turned out 242 voters in the first three hours of the day -- out of a total of 6,525 in all. That's a measly 3.7 percent.
Even so, I did find a voter.
At Greene-Hills School, Jim Couture, who brought along his young daughter, said he headed to the polls to protect his Second Amendment rights.
Couture said he based his choices on which candidates defended gun rights best, casting his vote in the Republican primary for former Ambassador Tom Foley. Foley, the endorsed gubernatorial contender, is facing a challenge from state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney.
The Democrats aren't seeing much of a turnout either, but didn't have solid numbers available.
Outside the Bristol Elks Club, former city Councilor Kate Matthews said she couldn't wait to get inside and vote for "the best darn choice for Democratic registrar of voters," her former council colleague, Kevin McCauley.
McCauley, who has the party's backing, is facing a primary against the incumbent, Mary Rydingsward.
Since Rydingsward has twice before beaten her party's chosen candidates for registrar, party officials are worried that McCauley might face a tough time.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

August 11, 2014

Betts predicts Foley, Bacchiocci as GOP primary winners

Here's what state Rep. Whit Betts, a Bristol Republican, predicts for Tuesday's GOP primary:

"Turnout for the primary on Tuesday will be low. A lot of folks are on vacation this
week, and they will not be here to cast a vote (although they could with an absentee ballot).

"My guess is a low turnout helps [John] McKinney while a large one will likely be good news for [Tom] Foley.

"Whichever campaign gets out their targeted supporters to vote will win. Based on what I have hear and been told there is more support for Foley because a lot of folks are upset with McKinney over his support for the new gun law. Further, I believe Foley beat [Dannel] Malloy in Bristol in the last gubernatorial race in 2010. So I expect Foley will win in this area.

"Personally, I think both Foley and McKinney will support Bristol because of the good working relationships they have with many of the Republicans leaders in Bristol and Plymouth.

"With respect to Lt. Governor's race my guess is [Penny] Bacchiocci will win in a tight contest. Of the 3 candidates my sense is she has the experience and organization for getting out her base of supporters to vote. However, if the voter turnout in Fairfield County is heavy than [Dave] Walker may end up winning. I don't see [Heather] Somers winning based on the aggressive ad she just put out against Walker. This type of negative ad suggests she had to do something dramatic to counter low ratings that she internally may have discovered from a poll survey."

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at