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Rich Snakes, Lame Ducks and Rock Cats

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Last week, I wrote big-time baseball was a game run by billionaires for millionaires. I homered saying baseball was run by billionaires, but I whiffed on the implication that minor league baseball players are well paid.

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First, let’s point out that Josh Solomon, his brother Jim, a restaurateur, and his father Art may be worth billions of dollars. It is difficult to tell precisely their net worth, but they bought the Rock Cats for $15 million, and Art and Josh are partners in a real estate firm that has done $2 billion in business in the past 15 years.

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Josh Solomon is a rich, successful snake. Solomon is president and chief investment officer in DSF Group Investments, a real estate investment company out of Boston.

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In negotiating with Hartford, we know he lied to the City of New Britain about moving, and he enticed the Mayor and Jared Kupiec, his former chief of staff, to follow suit and lie about the deal. It seems apparent Oz Griebel and his people can keep a secret too, as emails show MetroHartford was asked to remove discussion of the Rock Cats from an agenda because New Britain was wholly in the dark. Is there any integrity out there?

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DSF Group Investments has made more than $2 billion in new investments since its inception in 2000, according to the DSF website. Josh’s father, Art Solomon, also his partner at DSF, was a cold-blooded Wall Street tycoon, working first at Drexel Burnham and then with the reptilian-like Lazard Freres, a French multinational real estate investment firm.

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DSF’s website brags of its portfolio, with luxury apartment buildings in Virginia on the Capital Beltway and a famous conversion of the former NECCO candy factory into the world headquarters for Novartis, using National Registry of Historic Places tax credits to do so.

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The Solomons are seasoned capitalists, who know how to make a buck, and who can access and leverage capital to make more money. So tell me again why the city with the highest child poverty rate in the country is going to subsidize their $15 million toy?

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The Solomons could buy the 1.7 acres from Rensselear outright. Why didn’t Segarra ask them to partner with the City and buy the land themselves from us and put it on the tax rolls? That is development. That is noblesse oblige. But this deal, building rich real estate investors a stadium for nothing, is how the one percent does not pay its fair share. And this deal evidences Mayor Segarra complicity in helping the wealthy elite over the impoverished many.

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The Solomons could easily build the stadium, pay the taxes on it, and not break a sweat. Yet here corporatist Democrats in City Hall like Mayor Segarra and City Council President Shawn Wooden sit, playing handmaiden for heartless monied interests.  What happened to the progressive Shawn Wooden who worked with one of the first marijuana legalizers in the country, Mayor Carrie Saxon-Perry?

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One should not be surprised that Alexander Aponte, an attorney with serious ethical problems on his hands, would back this deal. But one does wonder what Shawn Wooden knew and when he knew it.

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On Monday night June 9, in a little reported move, Wooden recused himself from the vote on the City’s proposed purchase of the 1.7 acres from Rensselear because the law firm he works at, Day Pitney, has long represented Rensselear.

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Without the 1.7 acres, the deal falls apart. With Wooden gone, opponents only need to count four votes to kill the purchase, and likely spike the whole stinking mess. Larry Deutsch is one, and Cynthia Jennings is likely number two, as she withdrew her support from the resolution Monday night.

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When did Day Pitney tell Wooden he had a conflict? The Rensselear purchase is a crux of the deal. Shouldn’t he have told us at the start of the meeting on Monday night that he couldn’t talk about part of the deal?

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Shouldn’t he have told us at the press conference two weeks ago? When did Wooden tell the Mayor, another lawyer who should know the code of ethics, that a conflict hampered his participation? In my eyes, this conflict seems to cast a lot of doubt on Wooden’s participation in the press conference, and on his bid to unseat Eric Coleman as Senator for the Second District.

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Both Sen. Coleman and Rep. Doug McCrory have voiced opposition to this deal. There is no unanimity among city Democrats here, and the reasons to dislike this deal keep coming.

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Megan Greenwell, an editor of @ESPNMag, pointed out to me the fact that more than 20 current and former minor league baseball players have filed a class action suit for minimum wage and overtime violations against Major League Baseball and multiple teams, including the Minnesota Twins (the lord and leader of the New Britain Rock Cats).

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While I argued with Megan Greenwell on the Twitter about the use of the word “millionaire”, and feel like it was justified, she opened my eyes to something I knew, having seen the minor league ballplayers living five to a bedroom in a shanty in Glens Falls, New York.

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The attorneys for the minor league players have laid out a great case. The minimum salary for a Double AA ballplayer is $1,500.00 per month. Figure they work 6 to 7 days a week, at more than 10 hours a day, with maybe two days off a month.

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Look a baseball schedule, it will show you their work schedule. Not a lot of days off. A Double AA player could make $7,500 for a whole season, but work 1,300 hours in that same stretch. The math shows less than the federal minimum wage.

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Public monies should not go to support an exploitative industry. At least one Eastern League Double AA team is mentioned in this litigation. So it is highly likely that a player making less than minimum wage could end up playing on a field that we built.

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It is highly likely that the City of New Britain has participated in this exploitation, by providing teams that cheat players out of lawful wages a place to play. It is well and good to hear progressives on Hartford City Council demand living wage jobs for construction workers and vendors, but what of the entertainers themselves?

This strikes me as hardly different than the college basketball model that the City subsidizes to the tune of $3 million a year, in payments to the Civic Center. UConn men make big bucks for the University, but receive inadequate compensation for their work as professional entertainers.

Hartford must not further buttress unfair wage practices by building a minor league stadium for an industry that cheats players for the glory of it all. And that’s what this is all about – the shared glory of a winning team.

Join a tribe, root root root for the home team, as they rob us blind and cheat our children. The Solomons can well afford to pay for this stadium, which, according to emails unearthed by the Hartford Courant, was originally priced at $30 million.

How did we get to $60 million? That is less than five percent of the $2 billion portfolio the Solomons brag about on their website. Did Mayor Segarra do this kind of due diligence on the Solomons before giving them the PIN code to our bank account? If he did, one hopes he would have negotiated harder.

The deeper we dig into this mess, the more and more apparent it becomes why Mayor Segarra tried to spring this on us and ram it down our throats. The opposition at this past Monday night’s City Council meeting is just the start. Mayor Segarra should be prepared to lose and to serve out the rest of his term as a lame duck.

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