Carusone At Bat

October 1, 2005

Mussolini or Bush: What's the Diff?

By John Carusone

Let's take a break from local politics and have a history exam. See if you can name the country I am describing. The leaders of that country came to power under controversial circumstances. Once in power they entered into a foreign war under false pretenses. They began to co-opt the media so only positive publicity ensued. They destroyed political opposition with untruthful public harangues. They made peace with key religious leaders. They gutted environmental laws, developed regulations that favored industrialists and developed tax policies, which also favored industrialists and the wealthy. They packed the courts with judicial hacks whose sole purpose was to perpetuate the leaders into long tenure in power.

Of course, I am speaking of fascist Italy of the 1920s. But I will bet some readers would have guessed that the above criteria describe the present administration of George Bush with his far-right gang of right-wing radical conservatives, who are taking this country back decades.

Let's compare.

We know Iraq is a phony war based on total untruths and deception. We certainly are aware of the friendly media supporting Bush, like Fox News. Alleged phone-sex commentator Bill O'Reilly leads the way. His unwavering support of Republican causes and Bush leads him to make one preposterous statement after another. When a caller noted that former Vice Presidents Al Gore and Lyndon Johnson, both Democrats, had important duties as VPs, O'Reilly pontificated that no way did they have such responsibility. He noted that, "Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt had more important VP roles in the Adams and McKinley administrations."

Absolute nonsense. Both had virtually nothing to do with Roosevelt nearly quitting the job to return to law practice, and Jefferson made wine. Radio commentator and alleged doctor shopper and drug user Rush Limbaugh reminds historians of the 1930s Father Coughlin who spent hundreds of hours vilifying FDR. Who, by the way, does history remember positively out of that duo?

The Bush tax system certainly favors the rich. His environmental record is the worst in modern history. Air and water are filthier thanks to the Bush administration's watering down or plain eliminating of previous environmental standards. Their rape of national forests is based on the pretext that by allowing more trees to be to cut down, there will be fewer forest fires. All that with a straight face!

As far as Cindy Sheehan, the Bush crowd responded with the same harsh attacks they always resort to when someone speaks the truth. George Will, conservative commentator, noted, "She has no credibility. She called Bush a 'lying bastard.'"

But wait a second. Isn't she telling the truth? I would hope that my Republican friends will take the opportunity to respond to my point of view. Are there comparisons of regimes to be made here? Is history repeating itself?

September 22, 2005

All About Dick

By John Carusone

Now that the Democratic primary is over let's focus on the Republican mayoral candidate, Dick Reilly.

Dick has an extensive business background. He has been a cost accountant, assistant purchasing manager, assistant operations manager and general plant manager for the Cott Beverage Corporation. He has been a manager for BFI in New Jersey and a vice president of operations for Waste Management. He is now retired.

He is a graduate of the Hamden public schools and Quinnipiac University, with a degree in business management. He has been involved in many community activities -- the Knights of Columbus, Rotary Club, American Legion Post 88 (he served during the Korean War from 1950-1952), Hamden Jaycees, East Side Civic Association and Sleeping Giant Men's Golf Association.

He has four children. I have known Dick for nearly 50 years. He's from my State Street neighborhood. We have played athletics together for most of those 50 years. We were teammates in the early '60s on two Connecticut slo-pitch championship teams. In the picture below of the 1963 State Championship, Dick is in the second row second from left; I am in the same row far right.

Currently, Dick is my assistant coach on the Wallingford senior softball team, the Royals. Next year he and I will be part of the all-star senior softball team in the 70-plus-age bracket representing Connecticut in regional tournaments.

Dick comes from a family that has left its mark on Hamden. Sister Brenda was voted into the Connecticut Women's Athletic Hall of Fame. Brother Howie was voted into the Connecticut Fast Pitch Softball Hall of Fame. Brother Bob was a Hamden hockey player. Brother Ray was a Hamden firefighter. And brother Jimmy carried on the family traditions. I should point out that Dick Reilly has always had the nickname "Pickles."

What kind of a person is he? He is quiet. In fact, some might use the stereotypical description of the "strong silent type." Well, let me add an adjective or two to that description. How about intelligent and perceptive? He is not your usual self-aggrandizing politician. He has a God-given ability to say in short sentences what most politicians need a full page for. He is a fierce competitor. He is not the kind of person who will back down from conflict. You can tell a lot by the way someone reacts on the athletic field as to what kind of public official he would be.

Dick has put together an interesting ticket. Certainly cross-endorsing Vera Morrison for town clerk was a sound strategic move. Second District candidate Gabe Lupo, a policeman, hopes to follow in the footsteps of Jack Kennelly, who was elected to serve the 7th District before becoming police-chief-in-waiting. Ninth District candidate Ann Balogh, a former captain of the Hamden cheerleaders, married 1949 Hamden All-State football star Dom "Sonny" Balogh. Dom passed away but Ann carries on the family tradition of involvement in Hamden. Dom Balogh ran for town clerk with Bill Adams in 1963.

Councilwoman Betty Wetmore carries on the tradition of the Wetmore family in Hamden government. Her uncle Elton served with me on the first legislative council. Mert Wetmore was a longtime employee of the public schools. Paul Wetmore was a longtime Hamden firefighter whom I appointed deputy fire chief, causing me some grief from Democrats who felt strongly that I should have appointed a Democrat.

More on the under-tickets of both parties later. What do they face in this election? If Amento chooses to run on the Green Party line, will that affect the entire Democratic slate? Time will tell.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

September 15, 2005

Amento Defied Hamden History and Lost

By John Carusone

Carl Amento, the mayor who decided that Hamden's history and traditions did not apply to him, found out the hard way that they certainly do. He ignored the fact that no Hamden mayor ever has won a fourth term. He was clobbered by challenger Craig Henrici 2,973-1,960, winning only one district -- the third.

Henrici's campaign was a textbook effort. He did remember the 1979 Harris-DiMeo campaign. Out of government for an extended period, challenger Harris had only to remind voters of his outstanding background and experiences in order to defeat incumbent DiMeo, whose negative ratings had soared after three terms.

Henrici's direct mail to households was positive telling people what he was going to do for Hamden. I know he never met my father, but the political lesson I learned decades ago from my father was, "In a campaign, tell people what you are for, they know what they are against." Henrici followed this very sage advice.

Amento's campaign bordered on the amateurish. Although he raised $30,000 more than Henrici, he wasted most of it on print newspaper ads, which have gone the way of the dinosaur. These ads are similar to supermarket ads. You are interested in a supermarket ad if you want to find out the cost of a pound of chopped meat. You are not interested if you do not want to know the cost. And so it is with print media ads.

Some other glaring weaknesses in Amento's campaign surfaced later in the campaign. His desecration of the veteran's monument site, building the middle school on Meadowbrook and abandoning the historic town hall all caught the public's attention negatively. Comments heard repeatedly included: "Why did they close town hall?" "Why don't they at least cut the grass?" "I didn't know the building (middle school) was so close to the street. There is going to be a massive traffic jam." "They told us the building would not be seen from the street."

The building on the veteran's site drew condemnation from all sides -- Amento supporters and opponents. Remember, the decisions to abandon the town hall, build on Meadowbrook and infringe on the memorial all flew in the face of Hamden traditions and history. And they came back to contribute to his defeat.

Let me establish one more Hamden tradition for Amento. In the history of Hamden elections, no third party has ever played a major role in the outcome of that election. Let's see if he decides to accept the Green Party nomination. If he does, let me make a prediction -- he will come in third. My advice to him is to lose graciously and let history be the judge of his record.

A final note of congratulations to Matt Fitch, Mike Germano, Gretchen Callahan and John Flanagan for winning their council races.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

September 12, 2005

I Endorse …

By John Carusone

There is plenty of interest in the Democratic under-ticket both with the party-endorsed and some of the challengers. I always like to see candidates who have other than political interests.

Tom Fortuna of the 2nd District fits that bill perfectly. A graduate of Quinnipiac University and the University of New Haven with finance as his specialty, he would be great for Hamden. He is also a professional musician and has been in community and professional theater. If you haven't heard Tom's group play, you have really missed a great show. Tom is an excellent singer and outstanding drummer.

I also look for what I call a Hamden historical past. Candidates Curt Leng of the 6th District and Matt Fitch of the 1st District have that kind of background. Curt's mom and dad, Linda and Dan, were active in my campaigns and his grandparents Andy and Olga Balzano were active in my father's campaign for the RTM in the '50s. They were our neighbors on Benton Street for many years. My father was able to secure an appointment to the Hamden Police Department for Andy at a time when Italians were not entirely welcome in the department.

Matt Fitch's father, George, and I were both appointed to high positions in the school system in 1969. George as high school principal and myself as director of school planning. Matt's grandfather George Fitch Sr. was a Hamden selectman and served on the building committee for Hamden's first high school. Matt's dad was also a reporter for the now defunct Journal Courier. He died young but left a lasting legacy. He is still considered one of the best principals ever.

Another person of interest is 4th District challenging candidate Gretchen Callahan. She brings a degree of freshness to the ticket, as this is her first time running for office. She is an honor graduate of Hamden High School and Boston College. She is a mother of four children. She is running because "I want to be the voice of the people. I don't think that is the case now with the present incumbent."

Mike Colaicoivo of the 7th District is another first-timer whom I have recently served with on the Columbus Day Committee. Mike's Uncle Tony was the head mechanic for years in the Public Works Department and assisted me when I was assistant superintendent of schools setting up the combined automotive program at the Vo-Ed building in 1971.

One person I am sad to say is not on the ticket is Rose Mentone. She did not qualify to challenge for a seat on the Board of Education. If ever this present board needed a "street smart" politician, this is the time. The Begina fiasco has highlighted the board in a way that has made Hamden a laughing stock of the area. Only board member Mike D'Agostino appeared to see the light on this one.

Town Clerk Vera Morrison is destined to become Hamden's longest-serving Democrat in that position. She has served under Mayors Clayman, DeNicola, Amento and whoever wins this time. Republicans Almon Deane and the legendary Walter Connor both served over 20 years. After leaving office, I had Vera's son John in my history class at Hamden High School and remember what an excellent student he was.

I'm going to write about the Republicans as the campaign progresses. They also have some interesting backgrounds. I will be leading with a column on mayoral candidate Dick Reilly.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

September 8, 2005

If He Loses, Amento Should Leave with Dignity

By John Carusone

As the Democratic mayoral campaign unfolds, it is interesting to see the strategies of both candidates emerge.

Mayor Amento's first public statements continued to take the positive high road. A full-page ad in a local newspaper purported to show the mayor's financial track record. A second public and impressive news release talked of various new businesses breaking ground. It was the full-page ad that caught challenger Henrici's attention, and he has responded with his own version of the state of Hamden finances -- and according to Henrici, Hamden's finances are in terrible condition.

His direct mail, which will reach every house in Hamden, uses quotes from auditors, the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management and other miscellaneous sources to completely undermine Amento's claims of fiscal responsibility. To use a boxing analogy, it appears Amento led with his chin on this one. Henrici, using accurate quotations from "experts" such as Moody's, noted, "Hamden's A2 bond rating is the second lowest of the 7 rankings above junk bond status. Our finances are rated on a par with Hartford and only one classification above the distressed municipalities of New Haven, West Haven and New Britain."

This is not good financial news for Hamden. Bonds to be sold for the already under-budgeted middle school will cost taxpayers millions more in interest cost. The Henrici camp discussed whether bringing out this kind of news will be perceived as negative to their campaign. This is the risk they take. But is this really a negative campaign tactic? I doubt it. The public record of an incumbent is fair political game. It is only negative when personal attacks become the campaign strategy.

One need only to recall the recent national campaign when the "swift boat veterans" attacked candidate Kerry unfairly and untruthfully. On a local level, during my second campaign, a group supporting my opponent made it clear that should the Hamden mall pass, the mafia would be in Hamden because mall owner Ed Fusco and I are both Italian.

Henrici follows up his attacks on Amento's financial record by telling taxpayers what he will do FOR Hamden. Amento also has handed Henrici another campaign issue by his threat to join Hamden's new Green Party should he lose the primary. That's being a spoiled sport. You have to learn to be a gracious loser. When I left office after the Ambrogio fiasco, the local press ran the headline, "Carusone Leaving With Head High." I could have run as an Independent when party support disappeared but decided to leave on a high note.

Only one other mayor in Hamden history left without congratulating the opponent. The local press called that individual a "sore loser." I would urge Amento not to become a third party candidate should he lose, but let history be the judge of his administration. Spoilers are rarely given high grades by history.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

September 4, 2005

No Plan for Katrina

By John Carusone

After watching the wall-to-wall coverage of Hurricane Katrina, I must write this column as a former public official who had to face a tornado.

I do not write this as a vehicle of self-praise for our efforts in reacting to that storm, but as a response to the absolute incompetence that has been shown by officials at all levels in this present catastrophe. Let me make some initial comparisons between Katrina and our 1989 tornado.

We had no warning. The F-4 tornado with winds of 278 mph struck without warning. For Katrina there were MANY DAYS of PRIOR WARNING. We in Hamden had a disaster plan in effect before the tornado struck. Obviously, none of the affected southern states or local communities had such plans. We had food and medical supplies stored in strategic locations. Obviously, the Gulf communities had none.

When the tornado struck, I was in communication with Gov. O'Neill exactly 25 minutes after the storm left. Within one hour we had 65 state Department of Transportation highway crews here assisting our public works department. We had 40 state police with attack dogs surrounding the affected areas to prevent looting. We had shelter arranged at Hamden High School and Quinnipiac University. We had a National Guard battalion to assist in the cleanup. Over 50 United Illuminating crews were at work within one hour. And on and on.

Help was immediate and was seen by all affected residents. I made it a point to be visible on every street. Now, some reader please tell me, Who are the mayors of the affected communities? They have been invisible. They should have been the first officials in the affected areas visible to the people. Certainly, we all recognize how Mayor Giuliani conducted himself after 9/11. Why were there no surplus food stocks available immediately to the Gulf communities? Why no water? Why no instant communication between the affected governors and the mayors?

It's interesting to view FEMA under its new order in the Department of Homeland Security. They have become a paralyzed department having to wait for direction before proceeding. During our tornado, FEMA responded when Congressman Bruce Morrison met with the first President Bush to show him pictures of the disaster. With our Deputy Fire Chief Walt McDowell familiar with FEMA regulations, we followed their rules to the letter until they became involved and later labeled our recovery "the best in the nation."

Another factor with our success is that I had total authority to make decisions. I declared a state of emergency and a curfew for the affected area. There was no administrative "turf warfare" as there is now in the affected hurricane areas. When I directed the high school cafeteria to open, then-superintendent Shaw protested that I had no such authority. I ignored him and had my staff open the cafeteria to feed the hundreds that were already there. We even had a morgue set up at the M.L. Keefe School with initial plans to bring bodies to local hospitals. Thankfully, we had no fatalities.

Let me again make it clear. This column is not designed to praise our efforts. It is designed to show the utter failure of those public officials in the affected southern communities. Why, in such a disaster-prone area, were there no contingency plans for a catastrophic event? I thought because of terrorism, major cities would have been better prepared.

A thought regarding Gov. O'Neill. He responded so quickly to my requests, he did not care what my political party was. It has been sickening to see Republican Gov. Haley Barber of Mississippi pander to his "friend" George Bush and praise "Bush's early and effective response." Can you imagine telling the people of Biloxi that aid was early and effective?

This has been a national debacle. We are now not only killing innocent civilians in Iraq, but watching innocent American mothers and children, the elderly and the sick dying on our streets in full view of the world. Suppose the Gulf states had their complete National Guard units available so there was no need to bring in units from other states? There is no question that the response time would have been cut by days. Still, those guard units from other states were not prepared to step in immediately -- and Katrina was labeled a category five hurricane.

I had National Guard troops here one hour after the tornado struck. There was no looting or lawlessness in Hamden. We had a plan. They did not.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

September 1, 2005

So Long, Old Hamden

By John Carusone

When Mayor Amento decided to run for a fourth term, I had serious reservations about his being re-elected. Certain decisions he has made will forever alter the historical traditions of Hamden.

Political leaders can generally be characterized into two distinct categories: those who respect the historical traditions of their community, and those who ignore those traditions and look only for short-term gain. Sadly, Mayor Amento falls into the latter category. As a result of his decisions to abandon historic town hall, to build on Meadowbrook and to allow building on the veteran's monument site, Hamden's future will never reflect our past. That is a profound statement.

The Memorial Town Hall has been Hamden's center of government since our incorporation as a town in 1786. Town hall has been abandoned and the government moved to a 20-year-old building in need of expensive repairs. An historical analogy makes the foolishness of this decision quite clear. In 1950, President Truman decided that the White House was in need of major repairs. Just suppose Truman proposed eliminating the White House and purchasing a 20-year-old building on Pennsylvania Avenue to become our nation's government center.

That's exactly what was done in Hamden. And building the middle school on Meadowbrook forever ends the plan favored by every modern Hamden administration to develop the area as the town's central park. To further compound that debacle, Amento has allowed the building of the middle school to infringe on the veteran's monument thereby eliminating most of the original area designated for it. I can't help but wonder what the negative reaction to all of this would be from previous Hamden leaders who have passed away.

What would Iwo Jima hero and former mayor Bill Adams have to say about these decisions?

How about fighter pilot Dick Harris, who flew the famous Chance-Vought Corsair in World War II and later became mayor and supported my original decision to build the monument?

I know what former school board member Jerry Zaretsky, a Pearl Harbor survivor, would have said. He was my invited guest when we broke ground for the monument.

I have known every Hamden first selectman and mayor from Michael Whalen to the present time. Every single one has had to face decisions that affected Hamden traditions -- and each came down on the side of preserving those traditions. Two come to mind immediately. Bill Adams said no to developing Meadowbrook and created Freedom Park across the street from the town hall dedicated to Hamden's veterans. Rumor has had it that Bill's ashes were spread over the park. Republican Lucien DiMeo said no to developers who wanted to turn the abandoned Centerville School into commercial property, and instead renovated and added to the school to build the current Miller Library complex, with an area dedicated to Hamden's legendary writer Thornton Wilder.

When I took office, there was a great deal of pressure to allow the abandoned Boston-Maine railroad area to be sold to developers. I decided not to do that, but to purchase and develop the area to become what is today the Farmington Canal Trail. Carl Amento was my assistant town attorney when we developed plans to renovate and add on to town hall; to make Meadowbrook open space and develop it into a central park; and to develop and dedicate the former seventh hole of the golf course for the veteran's monument. He has gone back on every one of these decisions we made together during my administration. I intend to vote for Craig Henrici in the upcoming primary.

What is sad about all of this is that Henrici can't change any of it. That is Hamden's tragedy.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)
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