July 14, 2015

Roche says no to City Council bid


So what are the city's Democrats doing? Who knows?
They still don't have a mayoral candidate or half the City Council candidates. But, hey, it's only mid-July.
One possible council contender, Dave Roche, announced this morning he's not going to run.
He posted this on Facebook: 

Just wanted to say thanks to all the calls asking me to run for Bristol City Council, after much thought I have decided not to run at this time, I have to put 100% of my time leading my brothers and sister Sheet Metal Workers and State Building Trades, along with trying to enjoy my kids and grandkids. To divide my time up any more would not be productive or effective. I will be there to support those who are running and wish you as all good luck. P.S. this doesn't mean I'm done with politics you never know what I may do next but whatever it is it will be for the best interest of the people I represent and it will be when I can put a 100% into it,and that's when I'm at my best.

 
Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 2, 2015

Closing the deficit and fixing I-95, too

Bear with me because I know this sounds crazy. But perhaps it's not.
One way to close the deficit and put the state's finances on more solid ground is to create a Connecticut Highway Authority and sell it I-95. After all, the highway is worth billions of dollars.
The authority, which would be an independent government agency just like New York's Turnpike Authority or the Port Authority in New York City, would sell bonds to pay for the road and its modernization, too.
It could charge tolls to get the cash to pay back bond purchasers.
But the authority could also develop state-owned land along or above the road to make even more money.
I don't profess to have the details, but I am reasonably sure that there's big money to be made through some kind of deal that transfers the busy highway to an authority that would be obligated to maintain and improve it.
It's not as if we'd be selling it to a private company. An authority would be a governmental entity, just not the state itself.
And it would, of course, mean that driving on I-95 would no longer be free. But, hey, paying for the right might make it so those who do shell out some toll money would actually have the opportunity to drive on the highway instead of sitting in traffic.
Anyway, it's something to think about it. Selling the highway would close the looming budget deficit and it might, at the same time, open the door to a better future for the road itself, which clearly needs some help.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

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 28, 2014

Is the mall site's future coming into focus?

When you put the pieces together, it sure looks as if city leaders have something in mind for the 15 empty acres where the mall once stood on North Main Street.
They seem to have worked out a compromise that sets up this situation:
1. Renaissance gets until Jan. 31 to come up with a financing plan for a building along Main Street that is mostly market-rate apartments, but its ground floor would have commercial space that, with luck, would wind up including a restaurant or two.
2. The city will spend about $2 million on infrastructure work on the site that includes streets, lights, water and sewer pipes and such. It would also include the much-discussed public piazza behind the building on Main Street.
3. The Bristol Downtown Development Corp., which has overseen the project since former Mayor William Stortz set up the nonprofit to keep former economic development director Jonathan Rosenthal out of it, will likely disband, handing oversight of the parcel to the Bristol Development Authority and its energetic new leader,Justin Malley.
4. After Jan. 31, if Renaissance doesn't have an approved plan in place -- and city leaders doubt it will be ready by then -- other developers can step in to move forward with the overall Depot Square plan. That sounds better than it probably is in real life because nobody's waiting in the wings and, in truth, only Renaissance has the background to keep pressing ahead quickly.
5. Except... Bristol Hospital's interest in putting up 60,000 square feet of new medical offices, which are inherent top-notch, high-quality spaces, makes for a potentially critical shift in the picture we've been seeing. If the hospital were to work something out to put those offices, which it wants in the downtown area, on the ex-mall site, then suddenly the prospects for swift development pick up sharply.
Yes, there are issues about parking and questions about whether medical offices attract the young people and empty nesters eyed by Renaissance to fuel its pedestrian-friendly urban center concept. But there have always been questions about parking.
Perhaps Mayor Ken Cockayne's boosterism for Tom Foley may come in handy should the GOP gubernatorial candidate win next Tuesday. If that happens, there would be a governor who might be more amenable to having the state pay for a parking garage, for instance. But even a second-term Gov. Dannel Malloy might be willing. The state has expressed support for revitalizing downtown Bristol for a decade or more. At some point, it has to put up some money to make that talk mean something.
Of course, there's no guarantee that any of the pieces of this puzzle will ultimately fit together. It could remain a dusty jumble of competing notions for years to come.
But there is a glimmer of hope there that with luck and care, Depot Square might become something more than a pretty picture on a Renaissance slide show.

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

October 16, 2014

Marketing panel set up for Bristol

The city's temporary marketing committee became a permanent one this week.
"We are ready to move into the next phase," Mayor Ken Cockayne said.
Replacing the ad hoc panel that led the effort to create the "Bristol - All Heart" campaign will make it possible for the city to ensure that somebody's keeping close tabs on marketing opportunities.
Cockayne appointed five men to the committee: former city Councilor David Mills, who led the earlier panel; Howard Schmelder, a longtime Bristol Development Authority commissioner; John Smith, vice chairman of the Board of Finance; Mickey Goldwasser, another veteran BDA commissioner; and Jack Ferraro, who's done lots of volunteer work on the Memorial Boulevard School project and the Mum Festival.
All served on the earlier marketing committee.
Still, it's curious that a committee established to try to sell the city consists solely of older white men.
Trying to sell the city without including women, young people, minorities or others who don't fit the demographics of City Hall's typical profile is at least a questionable move.
But not a single city councilor piped up to ask about it.
Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

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