April 30, 2009

Ward formally declares his bid for a second term

Mayor Art Ward formally declared his intention Thursday to seek a second term in the city’s top job for another two years.
Ward said the post has turned out “quite a bit different than I envisioned it” because of the recession that has clobbered government along with most taxpayers.
Despite the hard times and hard choices, he said, “We can still move Bristol forward. We just need to do it together.”
Ward, a Democrat, attracted about 300 to his $50-a-person fund-raiser at Nuchies, including two gubernatorial candidates, the attorney general, the state comptroller and at least a handful of Republicans.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called Ward “a great friend” and insisted the mayor “is always fighting for the public interest, for the people of Bristol.”
Ward, a former state veterans’ counselor, has been unopposed since the only GOP contender dropped out of the race this week for personal reasons. He said, though, he expects to have an opponent again before the race is through.
Ward said that given the tough times, people who have jobs are worried they’ll wind up unemployed and those who have lost jobs already “are worried about surviving.”
He said that looking out for the interests of so many struggling families means he has had to make decisions “that were not very popular” – and doesn’t expect to see it get easier for awhile.
Ward said the key is for everyone “to work together as a team” and put partisanship aside in order to ensure the opportunities provided to people today are still there for “our children and grandchildren.”
“We can do it,” Ward said. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts.”
In times like this, state Comptroller Nancy Wyman said, “Bristol needs a good team” and it needs the “outstanding leadership” Ward has offered.
It will take “hard work, compassion and fiscal responsibility,” said Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz.
Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy said Ward “is one of the finest people I’ve had the pleasure of working with” in his 14 years as a mayor. He said Ward is “an honest voice” for the people.’
“Art Ward is the man for the job and I know he will win reelection in November,” said state Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Democrat who served as mayor for a decade.
He said Ward is "willing to work together to get something done."
City Councilor Mike Rimcoski, a Republican, said he came to the event – with a free ticket – because Ward is a friend.
Other Republicans in the room included Zoning Commission Chairman Frank Johnson and Board of Education member Chris Wilson.
There were a wide array of city officials and employees at the event, including three city lawyers, Park Director Ed Swicklas, Water Superintendent Rob Longo and Police Chief John DiVenere.
Ward's campaign co-chairs are Elliott Nelson, the Democratic chairman in Bristol, and Mayra Sampson, a former party chair who is head of a city union local. Both are long-time supporters of Ward.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Mayor: Cut my pay

With a second round of concession talks with city unions slated for Friday, Mayor Art Ward said tonight he would push for pay cuts for the mayor and city councilors “to demonstrate that we’re in this together.”
Ward said the city’s top elected officials should accept a 5 percent pay cut for the coming two years.
That would slice the mayor’s salary by $5,000 annually and snatch $500 a year from each of the six city councilors.
It’s move the mayor opposed less than two months ago, when he fought to freeze pay rather than slice salaries by 3 percent as city Councilor Cliff Block proposed.
“I guess I did have a great idea,” Block said Thursday, adding that he appreciated Ward’s change in position since the mayor would take the biggest hit of any official.
The mayor, who made the announcement during a speech at Nuchies declaring his candidacy for a second term, said he would be “sitting down” with municipal unions Friday morning.
They will be “talking about the potential for givebacks,” Ward said, that could help him close a $1.8 million budget gap that might otherwise require layoffs to close.
That the unions are willing to negotiate, Ward said, “speaks well for our opportunities” to reach an agreement that would help taxpayers.
Still, he said, “I don’t know what will come of that” session with union leaders.
Ward said he is determined to do whatever he can to freeze property taxes this year, a move that “is not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination.”
Ward, a Democrat, blocked the effort to cut elected officials’ pay when he joined city Councilors Frank Nicastro and Mike Rimcoski in pushing instead for a pay freeze.
Block and two other city councilors, Ken Cockayne and Kevin McCauley, favored the 3 percent cut.
The council couldn’t reach a decision in March because one of its members, Craig Minor, was absent, leaving the others deadlocked at 3-3.
It doesn’t appear there will be opposition to the 5 percent cut now that Ward is on board with it.
Under the law, the mayor and council cannot set their own salaries. They have no power to reduce their pay immediately because it was set by those in power in 2007.
The proposal pushed by the mayor would reduce pay for those elected this coming November.

Current pay for city leaders
Mayor - $102,025
City councilors - $10,156

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 29, 2009

Twitter offers tip

Republican Art Mocabee's Twitter feed this afternoon -- yeah, Art's on Twitter -- read, "waiting for the Chairman to approve my 1st CD Media Opp!!!!! Bumped ya!"
I just can't wait.
C'mon, Healy, let's get moving on this.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Library remembers Daisy

The library is putting up a special display in honor of the late Daisy, "our beloved friend."

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Kern Park cleanup

The Friends of Kern Park have slated a cleanup day at the park beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Ivy Drive School parking lot.
Mary Rydingsward, a founder of the group, said she hopes for a good turnout.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 28, 2009

Daisy, the pig who promoted reading, is dead at 14

Daisy the Pig, who encouraged children to “Pig Out on Reading” during three national tours that brought her to 48 states, died Monday at the age of 14.
“She encouraged millions of kids to read more books,” said her owner, Paul “Farmer” Minor. “She brought joy to so many lives.”
Daisy, a 115-pound potbellied pig, was featured in countless news stories across America and in many other countries.
The first pig formally invited inside the pork-happy U.S. Capitol, back in 2002, Daisy was touted on everything from Belgium television to the Montel William Show.
She held hundreds of library cards from across the United States, received a letter from former First Lady Laura Bush and was even showcased on the CD cover of “Big Fun on the Hog Farm” by River City Slim and the Zydeco Hogs.
Minor said Tuesday he remembers a time in Virginia where an autistic boy who had never said a word, uttered his first sound when he met Daisy.
Mayor Art Ward said that Daisy and Minor “gave a lot of delight to a lot of people, especially kids.”
But fame never went to Daisy’s head.
How did a simple pig on Hill Street rise to such porcine heights?
“When she was just a baby, she started getting famous because of a number of fund-raisers,” Minor said, including a walk against hunger and the annual “Kiss-A-Pig” contest for the Bristol Boys and Girls Club, which hauled in more than $100,000 over the years as people paid to ensure their favorite contestant got to smooch the porker.
Her big break came 11 years ago, when a Hartford librarian invited Daisy to come and help expose children to the wonders of reading. That gig landed her a spot in a guide for reading programs “and she just took off,” Minor said.
For the first couple of years, Minor carted Daisy around to schools and libraries during his off hours from his telephone company job. Then he retired and started spending as much as nine months a year on the road with Daisy.
Ward said the reading program that Minor put together with Daisy, which included an astounding array of children’s books about pigs, gave students “an appreciation for the things that are being taught and a recognition of the value of animals in the process.”
He said it proved “an ingenious program” to amuse and educate youngsters.
Recognizing last fall that Daisy was aging, Minor looked around for a successor. Six month old Daisy 2 is already an old professional, he said, after making joint appearances with Daisy a number of times.
“He’s wonderful. He learned from Daisy,” Minor said. Plus, he said, the still-growing newcomer “is awesome with kids.”
“There’s no negatives associated with Daisy, D2, Paul or the program,” Ward said.
Minor said it broke his heart Monday when he and his wife took Daisy to the veterinarian for the last time.
“Daisy was in my lap,” he said, and died peacefully.
“It’s just so hard,” Minor added. “That pig’s been sleeping with me for 14 ½ years.”
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Politics wrapup

Republican mayoral contender Ken Johnson has pulled out of the race for the city’s top job.

Citing personal reasons, Johnson told the GOP’s town committee Monday that he would not seek the mayor’s position this year.

Two years ago, Johnson put up a stiff race against Democrat Art Ward, but fell short. He announced his re-election bid the same night and formally declared this winter that he would challenge Ward come November.

The departure of Johnson, who could not be reached Tuesday, leaves the GOP without a mayoral candidate, fueling renewed speculation that former Mayor William Stortz might try to make a comeback.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, where Ward plans Thursday to deliver a formal announcement of his intention to seek re-election, three candidates leaped into City Council races this week, one in each of the city’s districts.

Incumbent Kevin McCauley, a city firefighter, said he would seek a third term as one of the 2nd District’s two city councilors. The other, Republican Ken Cockayne, is also planning to run again.

In addition, Republican Richard Scarola is in the fray, hoping to join Cockayne on the council.

McCauley said his agenda on the council would remain the same, with improving the city’s code enforcement effort “my primary focus.”

In the 1st District, newcomer Kevin Fuller declared that he would seek election, telling party leaders that Ward “inspired me” to run. The district’s two incumbents, Democrat Cliff Block and Republican Mike Rimcoski, have each said they will likely run for another term, but neither has entered the race yet.

In the 3rd District, where the two Democratic incumbents are each stepping down, Democrat Terry Parker announced his intention to seek his party’s backing. Kate Matthews, another Democrat, is also in the race. There is one Republican in the race so far, Derek Czenczelewski.

“I am no yes man,” Parker said, “but I’m no obstructionist either.”

The election is Nov. 3, though primaries are likely. Mayors and councilors each serve two-year terms, with mayors earning $103,000 next year and councilors collecting $10,000.

“I am no yes man,” Parker said, “but I’m no obstructionist either.”

The election is Nov. 3, though primaries are likely. Mayors and councilors each serve two-year terms, with mayors earning $103,000 next year and councilors collecting $10,000.

Reporter Steve Collins can be reached at (860) 584-0501 x. 254 or scollins@bristolpress.com.


Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Push for state health care pool

Press release from the state House Democrats:



State Representatives John Geragosian (D-New Britain), Peter Tercyak (D-New Britain), Tim O’Brien (D-New Britain) andBetty Boukus (D-Plainville, New Britain)  joined Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz Tuesday at a regional roundtable with area small business owners an non-profits to discuss business-friendly health care policies that will help New Britain area companies thrive. 


The General Assembly is currently debating legislation to save small businesses thousands of dollars annually in employee health care costs. The plan would open the state employee health insurance plan to small businesses, municipal employees and non-profits. 


Rep. Geragosian said, “You save money when you buy in bulk.  That is the simple principle behind the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership.  If you were able to join the huge state employee health care pool, your costs would drop dramatically.”


There are currently more than 200,000 people in the state insurance pool. 


New Britain residents Amy Gladysz and her husband John, owners of Orbitech Satellite Services in Plainville, have seen their premiums multiply over the last several years.


“We pay thousands of dollars a year for our insurance policy, but the prescription limits are so low, that we spend thousands of dollars more for the medication we need to stay healthy” Amy Gladysz said, “If our business had access to the state plan, we would save substantially on out of pocket expenses.”


Rep. Tercyak said, “Between co-pays and yearly benefit maximums too many folks are finding that their insurance isn't adequate.  One local business owner has insurance, she told me, but she's developed diabetes and now she learns that she her yearly maximum only covers three months of meds and testing supplies.  Three months.  We can do better than that for her and for other business people.  I say they deserve the choice.  I'm sure a lot of them will find the state employees' insurance options are comprehensive, attractive choices.”   


“The implementation of health care pooling will provide an opportunity for thousands of our fellow citizens to be able to obtain quality health care protection at an affordable cost," Rep. O'Brien said. “Municipalities, small businesses and non-profits will be able to participate and that participation will be voluntary, not mandatory. This is a landmark first step to that needs to be taken now.”


Rep. Boukus said, “Health care costs are making it difficult for businesses to grow and provide jobs in our communities. Government must improve the business climate and lowering health care costs is a good place to start.”


Thomas Morrow, Executive Director of Bristol Community Organization, said that like many small businesses and non-profits, BCO has seen its healthcare costs skyrocket over the last several years. In order to continue offering health benefits, the agency was forced to increase the employee-paid share, by switching to health savings accounts (HSAs).


“My employees complained that health savings accounts were too onerous to navigate and the out-of-pocket costs were too high. The following year, we offered a traditional plan in addition to HSAs and every employee opted into the traditional plan, even though the premiums were higher,” Morrow said. “Having access to the state plan would bring our costs down, while enabling us to offer our staff the quality health benefits they deserve.”


The lawmakers met with businesses owners Tuesday at the New Britain YMCA.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

New schools may be built sooner rather than later

Hoping to save money on construction costs, officials are eyeing a faster timetable for completion of two new schools in Bristol. But it’s an idea that may not pass muster with the mayor.

Because contractors are desperate for work, officials said, the price tag for public buildings has come down sharply in recent months, opening the door to potential savings by speeding up the $132 million project to construct two kindergarten to eighth grade buildings.

“We think it’s appropriate to try to take advantage of that,” said John Smith, a Board of Finance member who serves on the West Bristol School Building Committee.

Current plans call for finishing the new schools in 2015, with the bulk of the construction work carried out in the last couple of years before the doors open. That timetable was set to push off costs for as long as possible.

Mayor Art Ward said he doubts the money will be available to shorten the construction schedule.

“They need to be mindful of the economic conditions,” Ward said. “It’s time for heed rather than haste.”

William Smyth, the acting assistant superintendent for business, said that the weak economy has driven down the cost of construction.

“It’s a good opportunity for the city to realize savings,” Smyth said.

Roger Rousseau, the city’s purchasing agent, said there is an opportunity “to take advantage” of the lower prices to help out taxpayers who will foot the bill.

Smith said that bids on municipal projects around the state are coming in at least 8 to 15 percent lower than expected in recent weeks because of the intense competition for the work from firms that are struggling to find business

“The city’s going to save some money” if it acts more quickly to do the bulk of the project, Smith said.

Rousseau said the more the city can do soon, the more it will help hold down costs in the long-term.

At best, the city could not start most of the construction until 2011 – and even that is problematic given the difficulty Bristol has had in securing both locations for the schools.

It has cut a deal for the former Crowley property on Pine Street to house one of the buildings, but officials are still negotiating with property owners for the other parcel eyed for a school on Matthews Street.

The state, which would pay 73.9 percent of the tab, has told the city it has to start the work by June 2010 or it could lose the state aid. Officials are angling for an extension,

Both the Forestville and West Bristol school building committees threw out construction manager bids based on the existing timetable. Members said the positions would be bid again with the tighter construction schedule.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

'Rock For Wishes' needs help

For months, Troy Wilson has been working on a "Rock For Wishes" fund-raiser to collect money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
He's got five bands coming to the May 9 event and plans for an outdoor pig roast, too.
But the corporate sponsor that had promised to pony up $1,500 to cover the costs has backed out, Wilson said, so he's "feeling desperate."
He said he's looking for tax-deductible donations to ensure that the event is a success.
Slated to begin at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 9 at Bleacher's Sports Bar and Restaurant on Middle Street, the money raised will go to help the foundation make dreams come true for sick children who may face a bleak future.
If you can lend a hand, contact Wilson at (860) 544-5246 or (860) 384-4296.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Johnson pulls out, others jump in

Republican mayoral candidate Ken Johnson told GOP leaders Monday night that he was pulling out of the race, citing personal reasons. I'll have more on this later, I trust.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, three City Council contenders announced their plans.
City Councilor Kevin McCauley announced he would run again in the 2nd District.
Two newcomers also entered the race.
In the 1st District, Kevin Fuller declared his intention to run against incumbent Republican Mike Rimcoski.
In the 3rd District, Terry Parker leaped into the fray, joining Kate Matthews in a bid to hold the seats that Craig Minor and Frank Nicastro are giving up in November. Another Democrat, Gloria Marino, has been calling district leaders and may yet enter the contest there.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Tax relief applications for elderly and totally disabled renters

Press release from the city assessor's office:

The Assessor’s Office will accept applications for Tax Relief for Elderly and Totally Disabled Renters beginning Wednesday May 27, 2009 through Tuesday, September 15, 2009 in the Assessor’s Office.

 Elderly applicants must have been at least 65 years of age before December 31, 2008, rent or share rent and have lived in Connecticut for one year.  An applicant’s adjusted gross income, including Social Security Benefits must not exceed $30,500 if single or $37,300, if married.

 Applicants must submit documentation of ALL income and all receipts for rent and utilities paid January through December 2008.  Those who qualified last year should bring a copy of their last year’s application with them when applying. All applicants disabled and under the age of 65 must have proof of disability, TPQY.

 No applications will be taken in the Assessor’s Office between dates of May 15, 2008, through May 26, 2008.  Applications will be taken in the Assessor’s Office beginning Wednesday, May 27, 2009, on a first come, first serve basis.  However, applications will be taken at the Senior Housing Complexes, as follows: 

DATE                                                 LOCATION                          TIME

Friday              May 15, 2009              Meridian Towers                     9:00 am – 12:00 pm

                                                                                                            1:30 pm – 4:00 pm


Monday           May 18, 2009              Birchwood Apts                      9:00 am – 12:00 pm


Tuesday           May 19, 2009              Bonnie Acres                          9:00 am – 12:00 pm

                                                                                                            1:30 pm –  4:00 pm


Wednesday                 May 20, 2009              Stafford Apts                         9:00 am – 12:30 pm

                                                            (490 Stafford Ave)


Thursday         May 21, 2009              Gaylord Apts                          9:00 am – 12:00 pm


                                                             Kennedy Apts                                    1:30 pm –  4:00 pm


Friday              May 22, 2008              Delorenzo Towers                  9:00 am – 12:30 pm                                                                    


Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 27, 2009

New city tax collector appointed

City councilors unanimously backed the appointment of Teresa Babon as the city's new tax collector.
Babon, deputy tax collector in Southington, will start work at City Hall on May 11.
Mayor Art Ward said Babon holds a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Connecticut and has been a certified tax collector since 2003.
Ward said the city had 42 applications for the job, five of whom were interviewed in the final cut.
Babon succeeds Mildred Parks, who retired in December after a long career in the office.
I promised Babon I'd give her a few weeks to get acclimated before doing a longer story about her. So somebody make sure I remember in June, before the tax bills go out.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Budget adoption date changed by City Council

City leaders gave themselves a little more breathing room to produce a completed annual budget.
Instead of finishing the job by the third Monday of May, a new law approved by city councilors today allows the budget adoption to occur as late as the first Friday of June.
“It just gives us flexibility,” said city Councilor Craig Minor, who heads the Ordinance Committee that recommended the new statute.
Although the initial draft opened the door for the city to delay its spending plan only this year, councilors agreed with city Councilor Kevin McCauley that it made more sense to allow “the safety valve” whenever a mayor decides there is an “economic emergency.”
Mayor Art Ward said he trusts that mayors will use “common sense” in setting the budget adoption date each year.
Declaring an economic emergency, he said, “is not anything we’re looking forward to doing.”
“I truly believe it will be will exercised with extreme restraint,” the mayor said.
But given the dire outlook for next year, officials are anxious that bad as the overall fiscal picture looks this spring, it could be even worse in 2010.
Having a few extra weeks to work out state and federal aid levels, officials said, may make it possible to keep property taxes lower or preserve more programs and jobs.
“It’s a wise move. It’s a smart decision,” said city Councilor Frank Nicastro, who serves in the state House and spent a decade as mayor as well.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne said he’s concerned future mayors might take advantage of the extra time when financial emergencies don’t really exist.
But he put aside his doubts to join the rest of the council in backing the change unanimously.
Officials anticipate holding a joint session of the City Council and Board of Finance on June 4 to adopt this year’s spending plan. Most have said they would like to see a property tax freeze this year.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Larson's cash crushes GOP foes

Over the past five elections, U.S. Rep. John Larson has raked in $4.67 million in campaign donations while his five Republican challengers have, collectively, raised less than $100,000.
Three of the challengers raised no money at all.
Larson, who has easily buried opponents on Election Day, has raised 49 cents for every penny collected by GOP hopefuls who have taken aim at his 1st District seat since 2000.
Larson, the East Hartford Democrat who represents Bristol, has raised more money from both United Technologies and The Hartford than his challengers have managed to scrounge up from everyone.
In the past four elections, the Republicans have raised $14,000 to oppose Larson. He's raised $4 million.
Larson has pushed for public financing that would even the playing field.
"Elections should be decided on the basis of who the best candidate is, not just who raises the most money. And, members of Congress should be freed to spend their time legislating rather than fundraising," Larson said last fall, after promoting the Fair Elections Now measure.
But so far the Congress has refused to follow the lead of Connecticut and other states that have sought to make financing both more fair and less time-consuming for politicians.
Republicans in Congress generally oppose the idea.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Passenger rail study is likely

State lawmakers say they’ve managed to squirrel away $250,000 in a bonding measure that would pay for a study about the potential for commuter rail service for Bristol and New Britain.

“It’s moving forward,” said state Sen. Donald DeFronzo, a New Britain Democrat whose 6th District includes Berlin and a portion of Farmington.

The money is included in the transportation bonding bill that is typically approved in the days leading up to final adoption of the state budget, several legislators said.

Bristol Mayor Art Ward said he’s “happy to realize that even in these economic times,” state legislators recognize the value of exploring the prospects for upgrading the railroad line between Waterbury and Berlin to allow for commuter train service in years to come.

“This is a good start,” Ward said. “I’m encouraged by the commitment of the state.”

State Rep. Betty Boukus, a Plainville Democrat whose 22nd District includes portions of New Britain and Bristol, said she got the money included to make the study possible during the next fiscal year. As the chair of the transportation bonding subcommittee, she has a key perch to ensure the project isn’t overlooked.

A fan of mass transit, Boukus said that use of the rail line would help relieve pressure on congested highways.

“Hopefully, it will lead to something,” said state Rep. Chris Wright, a first-term Bristol Democrat. With luck, he said, the study “will get things started in the right direction.
DeFronzo said he’s encouraged that Waterbury lawmakers have begun to recognize that a rail spur bringing commuters into their city would help them with long-term plans to create a transportation hub.

The Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency has three transportation initiatives it is pushing for, including the commuter line, a busway from New Britain to Hartford and plans for passenger rail between New Haven and Springfield, Mass.

Officials currently estimate the cost of upgrading the 24 miles of track between Berlin and Waterbury – including fixing bridges and adding new depots – at $52 million.

It has been 17 years since the last study of the passenger rail option, officials said. At the time, the idea was dropped as too costly, but there is far more support for mass transit now than there was in the early 1990s. The earlier study also focused primarily on the prospects for tying in to MetroNorth’s track in Waterbury for use by New York City-bound travelers.

There are currently four freight trains a day running between Plainville and Berlin and one between Bristol and Waterbury. The average speed on the single track is about 20 miles an hour, with some sections requiring slower speeds but some sections allow faster travel.

The track in Bristol heads west into Plymouth before dropping south to Waterbury. To the east, it runs through Plainville and New Britain to the main Connecticut Valley line in Berlin.

Pan Am Railways, which owns the track, does have experience with rail lines servicing both freight and passenger needs. Along the Haverill, Mass., Pan Am has 38 MBTA commuter trains that share the tracks with 20 freight trains and 10 Amtrak trains.

Berlin to Waterbury rail line

24.5 miles

Single track

Owned by Mass.-based Pan Am Railways

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Armenians remember genocide victims

More than 200 people, many of them from New Britain, gathered Saturday in the state Capitol to honor the memory of at least a milllion Armenians slaughtered in the final days of the Ottoman Empire nearly a century ago.

They also came seeking a long-delayed justice.

“If we allow the world to forget, we are not only dishonoring the memories of those who have gone before us, we are ensuring the suffering of others who will come after us,” said state Rep. Chris Wright, a Bristol Democrat whose Armenian grandfather came to America just before the genocide that started in 1915 in modern-day Turkey.

The ceremony marking the 94th anniversary of what President Barack Obama last week called “one of the great atrocities of the 20th century” included one survivor of the holocaust, Zaven Der Aprahamian of West Hartford.

Candles were lit in the state House chamber to honor him and the other known survivor who remains Connecticut, along with three more to recognize a trio of survivors who died during the past year. Two other candles were lit to “respect our past and our glowing future,” said retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. George Rustigian.

The candles had to be blown out minute later, though, because of fire prevention rules at the Capitol.

But there was plenty of fire in the address from keynote speaker Matthew Karanian, a New Britain native who practices law in Los Angeles.

Karanian said that Turkey, which denies the holocaust, “has engaged the world in a preposterous debate” for nearly a century rather than acknowledging that as many as 1.5 million out of 2 million Armenians perished within a few years because of a deliberate governmental policy to rid Anatolia, the historic Turk heartland, of the ancient Christian people.

He called for creative use of the law to search for ways to force Turkey to account, to make it pay reparations for the vast wealth it grabbed by emptying village after village of the Armenians who lived there.

Turkey’s continued denial of its role in the massacre, he said, “protects the profits of its crimes.”

Karanian, who helped found the Armenia Law Review, said there needs to be both recognition by Turkey of its responsibility and restitution in order to honor the victims, the survivors “and also so that we may honor ourselves.”

The Rev. Kapril Mouradjian, who heads New Britain’s Armenian Church of the Holy Resurretopn, said that knowing “the cry of innocent blood” so intimately, Armenians “are appalled by the terrible violence done to families all over the world.”

State Rep. John Geragosian, a New Britain Democrat who said he’s been attending the annual remembrance day for two decades, said he’s seen the number of survivors dwindle rapidly over time, leaving ever fewer eyewitnesses to tell the story of what happened.

That is, he said, what makes the ceremonies so important.

They need to go on forever, Geragosian said, in order “to speak for those who cannot speak anymore.”

The idea, Wright said, is to keep alive “the memory of this atrocity so that the rest of the world will also remember and not be allowed to forget.”

“We are a strong people, a people who have survived an attempt to eliminate us and who have persevered,” Wright said.

What happened 94 years ago?

Thought the slaughter of Armenians in Turkey happened over the course of eight years, it has become the convention to mark as its beginning the April 24, 1915 “Red Sunday” arrest of about 250 American leaders in Istanbul.

The Ottoman Empire, then an ally of Germany in World War I, went on to oust hundreds of thousands of Armenians from their homes and historic communities, forcing them to walk for miles, often without food and water. Many were simply left in the desert to perish, historians agree.

After World War I, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the Republic of Turkey, a secular state, rose in its place.

Here's Wright's address at the ceremony:

Good Morning.  As the grandson and great-grandson of Armenian immigrants to this country, I am both pleased and honored to be here today on this occasion commemorating the genocide of the Armenian people nearly a century ago and keeping alive the memory of this atrocity so that the rest of the world will also remember and not be allowed to forget.  In my case, my grandfather came to America in 1914 at the age of 14 from Persia, where his family was from.  Once here, he joined his brother, who was already here, and made his way to Bristol, where he rented a room in a house owned by my grandmother’s family, an Assyrian/Armenian couple who were also from Persia.

The genocide which began the next year had two effects on my family.  First, upon hearing the news of what was happening back home, my grandfather’s brother returned to the “old country” to defend his people and fight the Turks, and was killed while doing so.  Second, my grandmother’s family, who were planning to move back home and had even bought a trunk in preparation for their move, decided to stay.  My grandfather, who raised my mother as a widowed single parent and helped to raise my brother and sister and myself until his death in 1986, spent the rest of his life here, never returning home to see his family again.

I have always been proud of my Armenian heritage, always placing it above my father’s French background, probably to my grandmother’s annoyance.  But I am most proud to be an Armenian because we are a strong people, a people who have survived an attempt to eliminate us and who have persevered.  It is important that we keep the memory of those who suffered and died during the genocide alive and that we not let the world forget what happened, for as we know all to well, when we forget the atrocities that were committed in the past, we are all too likely to see them committed again the future.  History has shone us time and time again that this is true, from the Nazis to the Balkans to Rwanda to the current President of Iran, who is trying to develop a nuclear program and has stated his desire to see Israel whipped off the map. As Armenians, we must keep reminding the world of what happened to us, because if we allow the world to forget, we are not only dishonoring the memories of those who have gone before us, we are ensuring the suffering of others who will come after us.  Let’s not let that happen. 

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Roberts property project on hold... or dead?

Plans for a $7 million recreation complex on the former Roberts property are, more or less, dead.

“There’s no money for it,” said Mayor Art Ward. “Right now, unfortunately, it’s not feasible.”

The city’s long-term projects list includes only a $700,000 allocation for the project – sometime after 2014.

Ward said that it was purchased as open space and that’s what it will stay for the time being, useful for passive recreation and dog walking.

Though the 47-acre site on Chippens Hill has been eyed for softball fields, it doesn’t appear that anything will happen there for years given the need to create a long driveway, parking and much more. The infrastructure simply doesn’t exist on the parcel to create much of anything yet.

City Councilor Kevin McCauley told the Roberts Property Committee this winter that he would still like to see it reestablish itself “and get something done” on the site off James P. Casey Road, but the lack of money makes it unlikely that officials will push for the recreation complex.

Ward said he thought the land might make a good spot for one of the two new schools sought by the Board of Education, but others disagreed so the city is in the process of buying farmland off Matthews Street instead. Chippens Hill Middle School is across the street from the former Roberts property.

The plan sought by the committee called for a leveling the property, building an access road, adding 300 parking spaces, putting in a baseball and a softball field, making a paved walking trail along the site’s perimeter and perhaps having a large multi-use field, a concession stand, a dog park, playground and more.

Sports leagues in town, ranging from the Bristol Soccer Club to McCabe-Waters Little League, pleaded for the city to move ahead with the project, citing a drastic shortage of playing fields in town.

City councilors have voted to use the site for active recreation, though Ward and his predecessor, William Stortz, opposed the sports complex.

Ward said that any plan is likely to prove costly. That won’t fly given the economic woes afflicting the entire nation, the mayor said.

The project isn’t going to happen “for the foreseeable future,” Ward said.

The city bought the property eight years ago for $1.23 million with the intention of using it for recreation. One official, former city Councilor Tom Ragaini, said at the time the site was “the perfect spot” for a sports complex.

A controversial $11 million plan for the land was gunned down several years when Board of Finance members complained that it was too costly.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com