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1998, 2007, 2014: Hartford’s Story Remains the Same

Sometimes, covering the city of Hartford, I feel like I write the same story over and over again. It’s like things change, but they stay the same. We may get a new layer of asphalt on the road, but they never paint the bike lane.

This week, I feel like I’m rewriting a bunch of different stories, some from this summer on the stadium, and some dating back to 2007, some from 1998. I’ve been paying close attention to the stadium deal, and I do not even know what it is at this point. How can anyone with all the changes?

Mayor Pedro Segarra released new stadium numbers Tuesday, September 16, 2014. Is this the third or fourth set of numbers? And this was a done deal? West End real estate denizen Amy Bergquist on Facebook dissected this set of numbers:

“They’ve added some revenue line items from the version of the cash flow that was released about a week ago. Personal Property Taxes seems to be the most significant new line item. DoNo Hartford LLC Property Taxes increased a good amount from the previous version.

“Parking Permit Fees decreased greatly from the previous version. The issue I have with this is that how were these numbers determined? What are the assumptions used to get the estimates? Are they just backing into the $60 million?”

Amy, I’d say, yes, they are backing into the $60 million. It’s like we didn’t learn our lesson from the Patriots-cum-UConn stadium. Sports is not a good investment, and I wrote that back when I reported for the Advocate in 1998.

The uncertainty of minor league baseball showed why sports is not a good investment when shortly after the new numbers came out Tuesday night, the Twins severed their deal with the Rock Cats. The Twins have until September 30 to choose a new AA partner.

They may stay with the Rock Cats for a two-year deal, they may not. My bet is they already have a new team in mind they’ve been talking with. I don’t think the Twins can fully negotiate a new relationship in two weeks, not after being in bed with the same AA team for 20 years.

Nothing like karma for the Solomons. How does it feel when someone strikes a deal behind your back?

The Rock Cats seem unlikely to acquire a new Major League partner in the next two weeks if the Twins don’t re-sign. Does that mean the New Britain stadium sits empty next year?

The Pohlads and other MLB teams looking for AA-affiliates have many options outside of New Britain for their AA team.

With the Twins poisoning the Rock Cats, other suitors may not want to touch them either. And if the Pohlads and Twins don’t want to do business with the Rock Cats, why on earth does the City of Hartford?

I can’t help but feel the organized anti-stadium opposition in part pushed the Twins away. When I wrote the People v. Rock Cats score card a few months back, I never envisioned the People might get an assist from enemy billionaires. People 6, Rock Cats 0.

This insecurity in minor league baseball is one of the reasons I opposed this kind of infrastructural investment by the City from the start. I grew up in Waterbury, where AA minor league baseball no longer lives.

But from 1966 to 1986, the Waterbury AA team switched affiliations nine times: Giants, Indians, Pirates, Dodgers, Giants, A’s, Reds, Angels, Indians again, and then gone. That’s changing teams once every two years or so. And minor league baseball helped Waterbury how?

This is not a model of stability, and not a reason to invest tens of millions into a stadium. Segarra’s pipe dream looks worse and worse. The damage from this stealth re-election campaign is spreading across Greater Hartford, but look for Segarra to stay the course.

In suggesting this stadium development project is Segarra’s re-election campaign, I feel it requires some deeper analysis. The elite in Hartford political circles are split on Segarra’s leadership. Many have distanced themselves from him.

If Mayor Toni Harp in New Haven had to more raise $700,000 in 2013, Segarra will need to raise more than $700,000 to win in 2015. Where will this money come from if the elite shy away from Segarra’s car wreck of an administration?

Segarra faces a re-election battle without a sufficient donor base. How does one build a donor base when the Democratic Town Committee has abandoned you? A giant construction project.

Consider how former Eddie Perez financed his campaigns: city contractors. My April 18, 2007 column, entitled, “Peek Behind the Mayor of Oz’s Curtain (or, Parsing Perez’s First Campaign Finance Filing)”, described Perez’s mayoral campaign financing practices.

Perez relied heavily on companies with city contracts, like JCJ Architects (then known as Jeter, Cook & Jepson) and Diggs Construction from Kansas, to finance his re-election campaign. He raised tons of money – $2,000 from JCJ alone – and dominated with the advantages of incumbency.

Perez enjoyed some small donors, like Frank Chiaramonte of Harwinton, who gave $100, but that paled in comparison to the thousands rolling in from big donors with city contracts. And how did that turn out for us?

Since Segarra lacks Perez’s domination of the Town Committee, he needs to come up with something else: a new crop of city contractors. Start a multi-million dollar project so the contractors know they need you in office to keep their bread buttered.

When Segarra’s first campaign finance filing comes out in January, look for names of city contractors to pepper his Form 20s. All the usual suspects will join in – JCJ will be back, Landino’s people at Centerplan, construction companies, and so on. JCJ knows how the game is played.

It is surprising Segarra has not started his re-election fundraising yet with a PAC or some similar device. At the same time, he cannot be seen to be tapping his donors too soon.

The power game is predictable, which is why we pushed very hard for public campaign financing last year with Charter Revision. It failed by 300 votes. Why? I’m told people didn’t want to give council members Raul DeJesus public monies.

At this point, Council member DeJesus actually looks to be among the smartest members of that tribe, opposing this stupid stadium gambit. A public campaign financing system for mayoral elections would allow us to have smarter policy making from the executive branch, instead of policies designed for re-election.

I’ll close the way I did on April 28, 2007. Because sometimes in Hartford, we fight the same battles over and over again, and really make no headway.

“Does Perez really need to raise $250,000 to be Mayor of one of the poorest cities in the United States?” I asked. Today, we simply change the name and amount, and the question still stands: does Segarra need to raise $700,000 to lead one of the poorest cities in the country?

Frank Chiaramonte, circa April 18, 2007, gets the last word: “I wish we had public financing of campaigns. This stuff is ridiculous.”

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