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A Chat in Hamden

August 20, 2007

Photo/Sharon Bass
Ed Sullivan, 44, BOE member, running for 8th Council District, husband, father, a relaxed man

By Sharon Bass

Halfway through his first four-year term on the Board of Education, Ed Sullivan is taking a stab at the 8th District Council slot. Depending on the outcome of the Sept. 11 Democratic primary, Republican Sullivan will face either Democratic Party-endorsed John DeRosa or incumbent Mike Germano. If Sullivan doesn’t make it, he will retain his Board seat. He also chairs the Finance Committee.

Sullivan is a late bloomer in the world of politics. He’s the first in his family to run for elected office. And apparently the first to even talk about the topic that’s akin to religion. He said his parents never, never discussed politics. In fact, Sullivan said to this day he has no idea which party, if any, his parents are affiliated or how or if they vote. He did recall his father once mentioning JFK. But doesn’t know if his dad voted for the president who was assassinated in Dallas, or how he even felt about Kennedy.

Sullivan, who’s the parts and service manager for Colony Ford in Meriden, has to a degree carried on the family tradition. He said he thinks his grown son is an independent. But he knows his wife is a Democrat.

Hamden Daily News: So whatever possessed you to get politically involved?
Ed Sullivan: I’ve always been a supporter of education. I got active with the PTAs when I moved here to this town. My son went to all grades here, and with the exception of two years, I was 100 percent active in the schools that he attended. And rather than be a critic [of stuff that wasn’t getting done in the schools] and sit on the sidelines, I felt the way to do it was to get actively involved. The way to do it is to run for office.
HDN: Why the decision now to abandon your BOE seat for the Council?
ES: I feel that what was accomplished in the last two years on the Board of Ed needs to be brought over to the town side.
HDN: Such as?
ES: Meaning spending, keeping it under control. Waste of spending. The goal in me running for the Council is what I’ve accomplished on the Board of Ed in the spending side of it and helping control that budget. We need people on the Council who are also going to impose the same type of detail that I’ve went over.
HDN: Can you be more specific about what you’ve accomplishsed?
ES: Over the last two years, the Board of Ed budget has been brought in two record-low numbers. The first year I was on, we were able to bring in only a 3.74 percent increase. This year we brought in a 2.8, and still be able to maintain all the programs that we have. We did that by reorganization, readjustments; that’s what we need people on the town side do
HDN: But significant changes were made to the BOE budget since you came on. In the ’06-’07 tab, for the first time the self-insured health account was moved over to the town side and less money was take from your budget than was initially budgeted to cover health costs. And in the new budget, school revenues were transferred to the municipal piggybank. Those changes make it difficult to compare them as apples to apples with earlier budgets, no?
ES: In years past, we’d have to freeze the accounts on the Board of Ed side not knowing where our insurance would go. By the town agreeing to keep it on their side -- it’s all the same pot of money -- rather than making it part of our budget allocation; on the town side they have better control.
HDN: But did that and the revenue measure help reduce the size of the increase to the school budget?
ES: Not totally reduce it. Those two actions alone did not specifically reduce the budget. It helped the Board of Education to have a realistic, true budget number.
HDN: Then why didn’t the Board present the mayor with a smaller increase in past years?
ES: I think it’s just someone new, fresh, looking at things differently. Asking that question, Why?
HDN: You ask a lot of questions?
ES: All the time. If I asked a question and I got told because that’s the way it’s always been done, that was unacceptable.
HDN: Were you told that?
ES: Twice. And at that point they then determined that was unacceptable response to me so I never got that response again. I got answers as to, ‘Well, we can look at it this way or this way now.’ We need people to stop doing what they used to do.
HDN: What were they doing?
ES: Just the status quo. You need to be more creative on how things get done and willing to work with everybody. I’ve gone over every line item in great detail as finance chair.
HDN: Some say the BOE has become much more political over the last two years with the new chair. Do you agree?
ES: I have to say the Board of Ed that we have, politics generally don’t come into play. We all seem to work well together.
HDN: What about the Adam Sendroff/Rose Mentone Board vote last February to fill the vacancy left by Jennifer McGrady-Heath?
ES: I don’t know what happened on the Democrat caucus side, so I can’t comment on that. I think Adam is a plus to the Board. He’s working out quite well, in my opinion.
HDN: I was referring the Board of Education’s vote, not the town committee’s.
ES: I don’t know.
HDN: OK, let’s talk about your potential transition from Board to Council. It’s doubtful you’ll get to chair the legislative Finance Committee. Are you OK with that?
ES: Obviously, I don’t anticipate being a finance chair on the Council. Also, let me say, I never anticipated being finance chair my first year on the Board of Education, either. I got it. I’m really happy.
HDN: And you’re saying the Board of Ed is not political?
ES: I don’t feel they’re political. That’s my opinion.
HDN: Is the Council political?
ES: The Council’s very political.
HDN: With your unusual apolitical upbringing, how do you feel about entering such a political arena?
ES: I think I work quite well with everybody I come into contact with. I have that personality. I can put up a good argument if need be, but if there’s circumstances that can change my decision on something, I’ll also listen to the possibility. I think the way the Council is currently we need to make some changes. That’s why I’m running. We need a whole new council, in my opinion. I’m not criticizing any one person on the Council, but to have the same people all for a long period of time running -- and in my opinion not listening to many of the Hamden citizens.
HDN: Do you feel every member of the Council is like that?
ES: I feel that there are a few Council people that are not listening to the majority of the Hamden residents.
HDN: A few? You just said we need a whole new council.
ES: Well, I think we need a new council. I think we need some new, fresh faces. I think we need people who are gonna say no. Period. You can’t say yes to everything. Reality, unfortunately, has to set in and you have to listen to the people who have put you in that spot.
HDN: How’s the campaign going?
ES: I have things already out at the printer being made up, like a palm-type card to be handed out. I have four volunteers currently that are willing to walk my district for me and do whatever they need to help me. And they range in age from 19 to 21. So it’s the younger crowd, and I’m very glad and happy about that that I have support from that group.
HDN: Anxious about whom you will run against in November?
ES: It doesn’t faze me because no matter who I’m running against, I think I have over the last couple of years proven to people that what I say is what gets done. I’ve accomplished enough at this point to run for office in a district as opposed to town-wide.
HDN: How well are you known in the 8th?
ES: The district is big. However people talk, so I’ll run into people that I may have not seen but live in my district and know me or heard of me, primarily because of what I’ve done on the Board of Ed side. I’m looking forward to meeting more people in the town, primarily in my district, which I think would be great. The more people you get to know for anything is a plus.
HDN: How would you feel about debating the Democratic primary winner?
ES: Nobody’s approached me about debating. Someone was asked if I would speak at a PTA in one of the schools in the district. Would I be willing to talk openly like in a town forum, town meeting-type thing? Sure. Not a problem. I don’t like to look at it as a debate. I think I’d rather see something more along the lines of a public forum. Let the public come out and ask the questions as opposed to having a group or committee have preformed questions.
HDN: What does your district want from its Council rep?
ES: I don’t have a definite idea on that. I see some things that get done, other things that don’t get done.
HDN: Can you be more specific?
ES: I mean there are things in certain areas where some private properties may not be maintained to my liking. I have concerns and questions of what people perceive goes on in the area. So it’s kind of hard to pinpoint this is a problem, that is a problem. I want to hear collectively from people. Part of my campaign will be to go door to door to hear what people want.
HDN: How do you feel about the job the current 8th District councilman is doing?
ES: Anytime I see him is at the polls and at Council meetings. I don’t recall him walking the district, in my area anyways for obvious reasons. One, he’s a Democrat. Two, I’m a Republican. So the likelihood of him coming to my door would be nil, to a degree. But there’s also a Democrat who lives in my home. My wife.
HDN: How does that work out being married to a Dem?
ES: We don’t really discuss politics that much on a personal level for two reasons. One, we both have our own views on things.
HDN: Will she vote for you this November?
ES: I would hope I would win her over.
HDN: Do you think she will vote for a Democratic or Republican mayor?
ES: You never know what goes on behind the curtain; you can’t ever say.
HDN: Why did you choose the Republican Party?
ES: When I first registered to vote in West Haven, I registered as a Republican. I thought the Republican Party had the same views as I did.
HDN: Please give me examples.
ES: They were fiscally responsible, looking out for people. The public. Just that type of thing.
HDN: Has the Bush Administration been fiscally responsible?
ES: I’m a little hesitant to answer because it’s a national level.
HDN: Is the Bush Administration looking out for the people?
ES: At times, no. I don’t know that they are. It’s very rough to find somebody in politics that’s always looking out for the people. 
HDN: True. Many on both sides of the party fence think this country has suffered immeasurably and without precedence under the Bush Administration and George’s illegal war. Public education has suffered. More people are without health insurance. We have a huge record-breaking national deficit.
ES: True. [Tax dollars] are going everywhere else than they should be. Education money should be coming in for education.
HDN: And, of course, the Bush Administration may not be the best representation of the Republican Party.
ES: True.

August 13, 2007

Photo/Sharon Bass
Curt Leng, 32, 6th District councilman, budding entrepreneur, ambitious and bright

By Sharon Bass

At 19, Curt Leng made his inaugural run for the Legislative Council as an independent. He lost. That was 1995. Two years later, he donned the donkey frock and ran for his 6th District (he grew up on Atlas Street and now lives about a mile north on Smith Drive). He primaried and took party-endorsed Michael D’Agostino, now School Board chair. Then Leng beat three-term Republican incumbent, Nick Troiano, in the general election.

In ’99, Leng won the 6th again.

But he soon left the bench to be former Mayor Carl Amento’s chief assistant. He was then appointed director of Community Development. Meanwhile, Leng moved to the 2nd District, married, and in 2003, successfully campaigned for an at-large seat and went to work for the city of Bridgeport.

Leng moved back to the 6th and in ’05, won that district again. He said he wants one more term and in ’09 -- with a growing cast of Democrats, some currently running for Council -- plans a mayoral bid. Unless, Leng said, Mayor Craig Henrici goes for a third, assuming he’ll win a second this year.

Hamden Daily News: What are you up to these days?
Curt Leng: For the last year and a half or so, I started a consulting firm. And I still have the consulting firm but I’m kind of going in a whole new direction for a few years and I’m opening a store in Branford, trying to whet my whistle as a small business owner.
HDN: What kind of shop?
CL: It’s going to be a sports collectibles and comics shop opening in September.
HDN: Your wife has taught at the Highville Mustard Seed Charter School. You did some consulting for the school until April. How do you feel about the discoveries of financial impropriety there at the hands of former director Lyndon Pitter and his board?
CL: I’m very disappointed in what happened.
HDN: What are you disappointed about?
CL: In the behavior of a number of individuals at the school. Though I’m very positive about the school going forward. I think the parents and a lot of the staff have worked very hard to keep the school going.
HDN: How do you feel about the parents’ protest about the charter school moving into the controversial old middle school?
CL: I want to listen more. I’m going to go to the meeting on Tuesday. I’m hoping … I heard there’s going to be a DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] official at the meeting. I think once people listen and have some questions answered, particularly about the younger students, if it’s OK for them to be outside ... If the temporary cap [over the contaminated soil] is still viable.
HDN: Let’s talk about this year’s elections. How do you feel about running against Republican Dick Reilly?
CL: I love election season because it brings you closer to the people that are out there. A lot of people kind of don’t like the silly season. But I think it’s important to have it on a regular basis because it forces you to get right out in your community and go door to door and …
HDN: My question was how do you feel about facing Reilly?
CL: I’m looking forward to running against Dick Reilly. I look forward to running against anyone that would like to run. I respect their right to run. I don’t have any particular problem with him. I don’t know what his policy or issues will be.
HDN: Do you feel fairly confident you’ll triumph again?
CL: When I face an election, I face it the same way every time. I run the same type of campaign every campaign that I’ve run. It’s doesn’t matter if the candidate is an incumbent or is someone who’s a newcomer, or Mr. Reilly who ran for mayor [in ’05]. I am very optimistic.
HDN: Why do you keep getting re-elected?
CL: I spend a lot of time going door to door. I’ve gotten a chance to personally meet a lot of people in Hamden, especially in the 6th. So it’s nice on Election Day when people come to the polls, a lot of times I know the people who are coming. They’ll say, ‘Hey, Curt, how are you?” And I’ll give them a hug.
HDN: What attracts you to the Council?
CL: I’ve always loved government and politics. I’m a vocal person on the Council. I try to make my opinions known.
HDN: Unlike last election season, there’s a significant hurdle for Henrici Democrats to overcome: skyrocketing property taxes for many residents since Henrici took office. On top of that, you were the chief legislative architect of the budget as Finance Committee chair, and then voted against your budget this year and last. How are you going to counter constituents’ complaints?
CL: Sure. Every Council member should be working on crafting the budget. I can’t say everybody does. I aggressively work on the budget. I enjoy doing it. The reason I voted against the budget both times is because not enough areas got cut.
HDN: What should have been cut?
CL: I think there were areas from the Public Works Department to the Parks & Rec Department to overtime line items. If I went through the budget with you, I can almost always find an area or two or three or four that really should have been taken a closer look at.
HDN: Why was that not done?
CL: The budget process is a long process. I think sometimes people get fatigued from cutting or are afraid to cut, because they don’t know how much it might hurt a department. Sometimes people lobby a lot. Town employees lobby or maybe a particular department lobbies Council members and may have more influence.
HDN: Who are the most effective lobbyists in town?
CL: I don’t say this in a negative way, but the most effective lobby is the Police Department. There’s a lot of reasons for that. And one reason is they do a good job. They manage their budget well. In all the years I’ve been involved, I’ve never seen the Police Department have a really bad budget year. In fact, during the [former, former Chief] Robert Nolan years they never even came back to the town for more money. They always stayed within the budget. It is a big budget. And they’re successful in lobbying.
HDN: I don’t understand how the revaluation could have affected the budget to result in a higher tax rate.
CL: It didn’t. Here’s what it affected. It affected taxes on the individual. The burden shifted from commercial to residential.
HDN: So wouldn’t a reval phase-in have been an answer for tax relief, as neighboring towns have discovered?
CL: I thought the phase-in was worth looking at for year one. There was a lot of publicity about three-year phase-in and five-year phase-in and what it would do for the numerous years. You can’t possibly have a crystal ball to know what the budget is going to be in year two.
HDN: Why do other towns do it?
CL: Honestly, it’s politically favorable.
HDN: Is it politically favorable not to do one?
CL: No. I think that politically it would have been the easier thing to do.
HDN: Isn’t a revaluation, such as ours in ’05, actually a gift to businesses since their taxes either held steady or actually decreased?
CL: Unfortunately, yes. I don’t like it. That’s why I use the phrase ‘flawed reval.’
HDN: What do you do when your opinion differs from the Council majority leaders and you get pressure to vote their way?
CL: I think in politics when you’re working with a group you’re always going to have deal with some level of pressure. But I’m really proud of the fact that I vote my conscience.
HDN: Let’s talk about that.
CL: You don’t want to create a fight where there doesn’t need to be one, sometimes.
HDN: You voted against Mayor Henrici’s request for a $570 monthly car allowance. A worthy fight?
CL: The reason I voted against the stipend is I didn’t think it was fair. It wasn’t equal. One person would be getting a stipend while another person had to put in for mileage at the federal standard.

HDN: What are your constituents saying to you these days?
CL: I got lots of calls and e-mails from people. It’s funny. There are a lot of people who are upset about taxes being increased, but when you look at other towns for example North Haven, they have a higher mil rate than we do now. And it always used to be the mantra, look at North Haven they have such lower taxes and great services and everything’s so good. But the reality is, if you look at communities, Hamden’s actually balancing out pretty well considering the different services we have. Now, would I like to see us curb the increasing? Absolutely. Do I think we can curb the increasing? Yes. I think we have a couple of big hurdles the last couple of years that we’ve had to deal with in order to do a responsible budget. You could have had a budget in both years that had a lower tax increase but actually put the town in worst financial footing.
HDN: So you’re saying in the last two years, there were really no ‘responsible’ cuts to make.
CL: There were areas to cut in both years.
HDN: You seem to carry a trace of that independent streak you said you had when you started out in politics 12 years ago. While you often vote with the machine Democrats on the Council, you try to distinguish yourself. For instance, your campaign signs last year differed from the uniform green-and-whites of the other Dem candidates, and you say they will this year, too.
CL: I like to be an individual and when someone sees the sign I want to make sure they know it’s mine. It’s nice to have a campaign that’s coordinated. Scott Harris is my campaign manager [again. Harris has since moved from North Haven to Hamden and attends Columbia University].
HDN: Anyone else on your team?
CL: Yeah, but I’m not really ready to [reveal names] yet.
HDN: By using different signs and calling yourself an independent thinker, are you trying to distance yourself from the Henrici slate?
CL: Oh, no. In politics I’ve always been an individual. I do what I think is right. It’s pretty hard to press me to do something that I don’t think is the right thing to do. I think that the people who vote for me like that I behave that way and I act that way under the ax. I like to be independent but at the same time, I also try to cooperate the best I can with fellow councilmembers to get things done.
HDN: Did you read the letter published in the Hamden Chronicle last week by Henrici’s campaign manager, Rachelle Gillette?
CL: No, I’m sorry I didn’t.
HDN: She wrote a letter applauding the mayor but didn’t reveal she is his manager. The letter was quite misleading, if not downright dishonest. She came off as Jane Doe citizen who didn’t know the mayor to boot, but took a chance calling him for help with a traffic situation. She writes that he did a wonderful job coming through for her. What do you think of such a dishonest and horribly transparent campaign tactic?
CL: I don’t know. I’ll have to read it.

July 19, 2007

 Photo/Sharon Bass
Craig Cesare, 38, Planning & Zoning commissioner, construction manager, 1987 Hamden High grad, Council hopeful

By Sharon Bass

His father, the late Frank Cesare, represented the 2nd District on the Legislative Council. His brother Austin is serving his first term on the Board of Education and is Councilman Ron Gambardella’s mayoral campaign manager. Now Craig Cesare wants a piece of the action. The Republican is seeking an at-large Council seat this November.

The soft-spoken, somewhat enigmatic father of two is a partner in a residential construction company based in Greenwich. He lives with his family in the 9th District.

Hamden Daily News: What made you decide to run for Council?
Craig Cesare: Well, this year above all with my own taxes. We all talk about taxes. Every election season, taxes, taxes, taxes. I’ve owned a home now for 10 years and my taxes went up $100 a month and they’re going up again. It’s crazy to me. It’s out of control. You get tired of hearing these people -- politicians on both sides -- saying lower taxes but nobody does anything about it. And before I give up on it all together, I want to give it a shot. See if I can actually make a difference.
HDN: Do you think you can make a difference with a Democratic-controlled council?
CC: Well, first of all we’re optimistic we’re going to elect eight Republicans to the Council. Let’s start with that. Secondly, you have to learn how to cross party lines and work together with people. At the end of the day we’re all Hamdenites.
HDN: From what I understand, the old days of both parties getting along, at least outside of Council Chambers, are over.
CC: It’s unfortunate but sometimes it gets personal now. And it shouldn’t be that way.
HDN: Why do you think it’s become so divisive and combative?
CC: At this point in time, it’s the makeup of the people on the Council. You have a lot of people it seems with their own agendas. Everybody’s running for mayor and they’re gonna do their own things. And the taxpayers become second fiddle. I don’t think it’s impossible to get a council to work together on both sides of the aisle.
HDN: So you’re committed to working towards compromise?
CC: Politics is a give and take. I’m not going to go in there and expect to get everything that I want to see happen. But if we can come together and do something that’s decent for the town. I don’t think it’s impossible. I’m very encouraged. Some of these Council people quite honestly have been here for many years and they’re always there to remind us how bad the town is. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. That’s how I look at it.
HDN: You’re been on Planning & Zoning since 1998, with a brief hiatus when former Mayor Carl Amento first took office. How do you think serving on the commission has prepared you for the Council?
CC: I think just the idea of serving the public. Some argue that Planning & Zoning is more powerful than the Council. It’s definitely prepared me for that. It’s an equal commitment to the Council.
HDN: Can you be more specific?
CC: Unfortunately, it’s been a Democratically controlled government for quite a while. But when we first came on during [former Mayor] Barbara DeNicola’s days [1997-1999] it was a big split between the parties and both were very powerful so we learned how to work with other members of other parties. There’s a lot of things we accomplished together -- productive things -- that were bipartisan on Planning & Zoning. There were a lot of great things that were approved in this town that make it what it is today with bipartisan support.
HDN: Do you fancy yourself as more of an independent thinker than one who toes the party line?
CC: I consider myself an independent thinker because I’ll be honest with you right now, I do what I think is right for the town, the people. That’s the bottom line. For example, quite honestly right now I’m not happy about being a Republican nationally. I think the party has some issues. I will be supporting a Republican in the next [presidential] election. I supported Joe Lieberman [for U.S. Senate last year].
HDN: Lieberman got in because of the Republican vote. Most Democrats, about 65 percent, didn’t want him.
CC: Well, I supported him.
HDN: Let’s talk about the local Republican Party. I know it struggles for members.
CC: Yes.
HDN: What’s happened within the party since the ’05 election?
CC: I have to say the party has become more energized than it has been in several years. Ron Gambardella came out early. I think he energized people. [Republican Town Committee Chair] Mike Iezzi has done a fabulous job keeping the party together under difficult times. It’s very difficult to keep the party together.
HDN: Why’s that?
CC: Hamden has had a lot of what we call the old-school Republicans. They were involved in the party when my father was a newcomer to the party. And they’re great people. They helped make the party what it is. But they never had the transition to the young. The party just kind of got older. As far as new recruitment, now that my brother Austin has been phenomenal with Ron’s campaign, there’s so many new faces right now in the campaign that are Republicans, Democrats. It’s all about Hamden now. The party is solvent. It has some money. It’s never been out of money.
HDN: Has party membership risen over the last two years?
CC: I don’t know exactly. I’m not sure. But I know town committee meetings have been the most people I’ve seen since [Barbara] DeNicola. They sense something in Ron Gambardella. This campaign of Ron Gambardella’s is basically the success coming from the outside in. Years past it came from the inside out. We have people at our functions that we don’t even know who they are. That never happened. Even with Barbara DeNicola. And the Democrats know about that and are concerned about that. I don’t know what they’re telling you, but facts are facts.
HDN: So that’s gotta make you feel hopeful.
CC: It does. It makes you feel great. So the bottom line, this is about Hamden. George Bush has nothing to do with my taxes in Hamden.
HDN: Well, gas prices.
CC: There’s state taxes that are involved in that. It’s not all federal. I just don’t think when it comes down to my property taxes going up, it has anything to do with George Bush. That’s getting old. If they’re [local Dems] are going to focus on George Bush, they’re going to be in trouble.
HDN: Besides getting a grip on taxes, what would you like to do for Hamden if elected to the Council?
CC: The police station is a disgrace. You’re talking about Dadio Farm for a fire station. I think on that property we should do police headquarters and fire headquarters combined. I think we need to restructure the way government is run here. We can consolidate. We can look to put some town buildings that are used now on the tax rolls. I’d like to look forward to what to do with the Board of Education building. Something has to change.
HDN: What else needs attention?
CC: The buildings haven’t been maintained.
HDN: Whose fault is that?
CC: It is the fault of administration to administration. It’s not one person’s fault. They have people who are paid to maintain buildings but it almost seems like the people who are in charge are not pushing the guys to do what they gotta do. Look at the difference with the schools now that they have outsourced the lawn maintenance. The lawns have never looked better, ever. You had a couple of guys there that would cut the grass once every three weeks.
HDN: That’s a sad reality that we’re paying town employees to do the same jobs that we’ve brought in contractors to also do.
CC: That’s right.
HDN: What would you suggest to cut duplicative expenses?
CC: I think what you would do is outsource. My problem is never with the workforce directly. I think the system is flawed. What I would want to do if we outsource something, as people came to retire we wouldn’t fill their positions. In the real world, sometimes it happens. I don’t want to speak for the Board of Education, but the guys that were doing the work at the schools, one is close to retiring and the other one is not too far.

July 17, 2007

Hamden Police Department's Sgt. John Sullivan, Sgt. John Testa and head custodian Carl DiMeo talk shop

By Sharon Bass

As designs are getting underway for the new fire headquarters on the Dadio Farm, police are still wondering -- with increasing frustration -- why they continue to toil in 55-year-old buildings where sewage leaks on equipment and uniforms, where rats roam and where other unsavory and unhealthy creatures and features have existed for decades.

Yesterday, Sgt. John Sullivan, the police union president, Sgt. John Testa and head custodian Carl DiMeo talked to the HDN about the longstanding problems at the two Dixwell Avenue buildings. They want the town to apply for grants to build the force a new home. Mayor Craig Henrici has proposed moving the department into Memorial Town Hall.

The trio say they no like.

Hamden Daily News: What about the mayor’s idea to use the old Town Hall?
Sgt. John Testa: We sat down with the mayor about three months ago about getting a new building. He had mentioned about putting us in the Old Town Hall. My suggestion is if you want to fix it up, put the town employees back in there. Then put us up in [Government Center].
Sgt. John Sullivan: The union’s against that for a couple of reasons. That building is probably just as bad as this building as far as asbestos and mold. And we think it’s possible to build here where we are right now. I think there’s enough area here if they knock down the buildings and garages … while you’re demolishing this building you can have a trailer with a lockup facility and front desk area. It can’t be less secure than what we have now.
Custodian Carl DiMeo: I think the Old Town Hall isn’t a solution. People have been moved out of there because conditions aren’t good there. And all of a sudden, they’re going to put us there?
HDN: How long have these problems been going on?
Sullivan: This has been going on since 1971. All the mayors promise they’re going to do what they can and the union always makes it a point to tell them of the conditions. We’ve had OSHA come through. Yale did a study. The unions had private people come in to walk through the building. It’s well known throughout the town that there’s a problem here.
DiMeo: I think it’s a money issue. I’ve been here 10 years and it’s been the same.
HDN: What kind of headquarters does the town need?
Sullivan: I think we need a modern, brand new facility with a sally port [enclosed area for police car carrying a suspect]. It’s for the officers’ safety and the suspects’.
DiMeo: This building has not grown with the population. I live in this town. I’m a taxpayer.
Sullivan: And the amount of police officers hasn’t grown either since the late ’70s. There are some things the new building would need. Interview rooms, which we don’t have now. We interview suspects in the [combination] break room/dinner room/interview room in the Detective Bureau next door to headquarters. We need proper area for the guys to store their equipment. The locker room is just not equipped for the manpower that we have.
HDN: Name the five most urgent problems.
Sullivan: No. 1 is the ventilation. No. 2 is there’s a mold problem. No. 3 there’s asbestos. No. 4 would probably be animal feces. Birds and mice get into the building through any little cracks and crevices. And No. 5 would probably be sewage leaks. The sewage leaks right onto the lockers. It’s gotten onto equipment, your uniforms. At the front desk where the sergeant sits, they’ll say [the asbestos] is capped. What they did was just put new [floor] tiles [over the asbestos].
DiMeo: Those are the five for sure. Asbestos is an issue that really hasn’t been mentioned. I bring up asbestos because my office in both buildings is in the boiler room, and in the headquarters is a pipe over my head [where his desk is] wrapped with asbestos. Parts of that pipe are deteriorating. We’ve had sewage backups. The pump that’s downstairs, where the women’s locker room is, constantly backs up. It’s actually leaked on officers’ equipment in the women’s and men’s locker room. Raw sewage. It doesn’t smell very good.
Testa: You’ve got your mildew and rust. The rodents that were living in the attic. There were rats and birds in the annex building. You have safety issues. You’ve got a door that was pretty much off its hinges. It took months to fix it. The glass in front of the sergeant’s desk is just plastic. It’s not bulletproof. And even if it was, half the glass is missing, so what good is it?
HDN: What kind of message do you feel you’re getting from the town administrations, past and current?
Testa: They don’t care because we’ve been talking about this for years. We’ve got old furniture and desks and the floors are a mess. There’s high traffic here. You can only wash the floor so many times.
Sullivan: I think the message is that we’re trying to avoid other lawsuits for them in the future. There’s a lot of hazards here. You’re starting to get lawsuits against the town because of the condition of these buildings.
Testa: All they do is put Band-aids on this building. I’m disgusted. Our safety means nothing to them, as far as I’m concerned. My thought is we’re not important enough to the town administration.
Sullivan: I think it brings the morale down. You come in, there’s not proper parking for you. It’s not a secure facility. And the guys feel unappreciated. Every time someone comes to this police department, whether it be a civilian, a complainant, a victim, an arrestee, another police officer, the first thing they say is how deplorable our conditions are.
HDN: Tell me about the lawsuits.
Sullivan: Retired Detective Gregory Nutcher is suing the town for medical conditions due to the building. And I think someone else is. There are health issues here obviously because they moved two people out of the buildings. [About a month ago] Nancy DiCristafaro, a civilian secretary, was moved to Government Center but still does the same job. And Sgt. Jennifer Bache was also moved over there. There were concerns of mold for Jen, she’s pregnant, and Nancy was having respiratory problems.
DiMeo: We don’t have proper ventilation here. We’re not getting an airflow from outside. When you go upstairs [in headquarters] the air is very stagnant and thick. I’m constantly congested in this building. People always say I have a cold. You can ask a dozen officers here and they’ll tell you the same thing.
Testa: About six years ago I started having allergies. And I’ve been here for 18 years. It took so many years to develop them. I leave here very stuffy every day.
DiMeo: You can’t really clean up the building. It’s as clean as can [possibly] be. It’s a mess. The custodians have all maintained it as well as they could but it’s falling apart. The screens are ripped. The lockup area is terrible.
Sullivan: Besides the medical conditions, you also have logistical problems. Our lockup is very dangerous for officers. It’s too small. You don’t have the ability to lock people up separately. We need separate facilities for adults and juveniles. There’s a pretty bad odor and poor ventilation. There’s things that can be used as weapons in there. [Sullivan didn’t want to elaborate for obvious reasons.]
HDN: What else?
Sullivan: The most important thing is what’s the mayor going to do about it? What’s the Legislative Council going to do about it? Are they going to act? We’ve talked until we’re blue in the face.
HDN: A little peeved that the Fire Department is getting a new headquarters?
Testa: Congratulations to the Fire Department. I’m glad to see they’re moving ahead -- as long as the administration gets to us and soon.
Sullivan: We support the Fire Department 100 percent getting new facilities. We believe their facilities are just as poor as ours.

May 21, 2007

Photo/Sharon Bass
Willie Mewborn, 65, 5th District councilman, barber, deacon, father, husband

By Sharon Bass

This is Willie Mewborn’s first -- and last -- term on the Legislative Council. The Mill Rock Road man said he’s tired. Between working 12-hour days at his Willie C’s Barber Shop on New Haven’s Dixwell Avenue, tending to folks in need of spiritual guidance and dealing with a precocious13-year-old daughter, Mewborn said he was unable to do much for his district. Also, he said, the politics got to him. He didn’t like what he saw.

The father of three also recounted a harrowing medical ordeal he went through decades ago. And how he defied his doctor’s prognosis that he would never walk or work again.

Willie Mewborn: Well, I won’t be running for Council. My health is deteriorating to the point that I need to be concerned about myself more. I came down with asthma and gout.
Hamden Daily News: Since being elected to the Council two years ago?
WM: Yup, yup. My feet got bad and I went to the doctor and it’s gout. It comes and goes. It’s a disease.
HDN: Is it stressful serving on the Council?
WM: Not just the Council itself, but my life always been pretty full and I’m involved in a lot. I don’t wear my name on my shirt but I care about a lot of people and people depend on me a lot. I’m a deacon at Emanuel Baptist. That’s the oldest black Baptist church in New Haven.
HDN: And that’s a big part of your life, huh?
WM: Yes. On Wednesdays and Sundays I visit people in the hospital and people that are shut in at home.
HDN: Are they church members?
WM: They don’t have to be church members.
HDN: Then how do you know they need a visit?
WM: My minister told me once that I was on Dixwell Avenue for a reason, and people seem to find me. You’d be surprised, a customer that accidentally come in and I’m the person they’ve been looking for.
HDN: What do you mean?
WM: Well, people have trouble in their lives. Trouble with their kids. They need someone to talk to they can trust. And they find it in me.
HDN: Was it hard to decide not to run for re-election?
WM: It has been a mutual-agreement situation trying to make up my mind. The time I’ve served, the only thing that frustrated me was it was more work than I realized because the 5th District, there’s so many things that have been neglected over the years and I just felt it was time to get things done.
HDN: What things?
WM: Well, trees haven’t been cut. Sidewalks and streets haven’t been paved. I’ve been living in this neighborhood for 30 years and I never seen a tree cut, never seen a sidewalk done.
HDN: What prompted you to run?
WM: I fell in love with Carl [Amento, former mayor] and the other Democrats.
HDN: How did this budget season go for you?
WM: That took a lot out of me, but the politics part is something that kind of bothered me a lot.
HDN: Let’s talk about that.
WM: I see each person that plays politics with different things they want, you know, ‘If you vote for me, I’ll vote for you.’ Or put things on the backburner that doesn’t concern certain people. Say for instance, things that concern older people. A lot of Council people and certain people in politics pretend to care; they really don’t care. They really want to make themselves look good.
HDN: And what does that do to you?
WM: It tell me I don’t have the power I need to get some things done that I would like to get done. Being religious and concerned about people and real things, it’s hard to lie to people to see the way I see it.
HDN: You mean, like political deals that benefit just the powerbrokers and their friends and not the community?
WM: Yes, yes. It’s a continual friend-and-family situation over the years that people are concerned about.
HDN: You’ve been exceptionally quiet on the Council. Any particular reason?
WM: There’s some things I should have spoke out against.
HDN: Such as?
WM: In the budget with the elderly programs, cutting the few dollars wasn’t right.
HDN: What about giving raises to nearly all department heads?
WM: I didn’t like it.
HDN: But you voted for it.
WM: There’s just sometimes that you hope that you give to win, you give here and you might benefit somewhere else. I was hoping that the budget woulda came out better. I thought maybe somewhere we could have cut more than we did.
HDN: Back to why you don’t speak out as a councilman. Why is that?
WM: I discuss a lot of things with some of them before the meetings. And there was quite a few times I came with my asthma and either lung infection, that I couldn’t speak clearly, so I let it alone, you know? There was four times I was there with a touch of pneumonia.
HDN: So, tell me something about your life.
WM: I was born in North Carolina. I came here [New Haven] in 1960, and ’68 I built my first house in West Haven. And I got married and had two kids. And I went to barber school and I became a barber. And I’ve been self-employed since then.
HDN: What’s barbering been like for you?
WM: I started cutting hair when I was 12. And it just followed me and I tried to get away from it. I came here and got a full-time job at Pratt & Whitney. And I got sick. I had a bone infection, which is called osteomyelitis, and that threw me for a loop. I was in the hospital for eight months in a body cast. I was told I’d never walk again.
HDN: What year was this?
WM: This was in ’69. St. Raphael didn’t have air condition and I was in a cast up to here [points to collarbone]. I came home and a year and a half later, I had to go through the same thing. Same operation. [The infection] was in my femur, between the hip and the thigh. It’s a bone deterioration almost like tooth decay. And I’ve been blessed because I was told I would never walk again. Never work again. They put me on Social Security when I was in the hospital. And I’ve been working ever since.
HDN: Why do you think you beat the odds?

WM: My faith in God, really. I’m a strong believer in healing. And I can tell you my doctor couldn’t believe what happened because I was told I would have to see him every month for a lifetime. And take medication for lifetime. And I think it was ’78, I got another infection. And he [doctor] said you gotta go back again. So go home and stay in the bed and I’ll call you when I get a [vacant hospital] bed. And one night I got up to go to the bathroom and I felt some bleeding and I looked down and where I was cut before [surgical incision] was really bleeding. And he [doctor] told me to come in. And I went in the next day and took blood and couldn’t find no infection. First [before the bleeding], I went to the doctor and he took blood out of me and said the infection was so bad he had to rush and operate on me right away.
HDN: So this old surgical incision just opened up and you were healed.
WM: And I haven’t seen a doctor since and that was in ’78.
HDN: Wild. Do you think it was a medical miracle?
WM: I just believe I was the one God wanted to help.

May 18, 2007

Photo/Sharon Bass
Mike Colaiacovo, 35, lifelong Mueller Drive-area resident, ’89 Hamden High grad, community volunteer, councilman, very sweet guy

By Sharon Bass

When first appointed to fill now-retired Police Chief Jack Kennelly’s 7th District Council seat in August ’05, Mike Colaiacovo clearly showed his uneasiness. He spoke rarely and when he did, softly. There was a definite nervousness about him. You kind of struggled with him. Later that year, he was elected to the same seat.

Man, has the Democrat grown up since. Colaiacovo has metamorphosed into an active, popular -- at times even outspoken -- local legislator. His constituents speak glowingly of him. He attends virtually every neighborhood meeting.

Colaiacovo is running for re-election this year. It’s unlikely he’ll be primaried. He’s a member of the Democratic Town Committee and is currently overseeing the new Dunbar Hill School playground project. It was once his childhood playground.

Over sandwiches and fries at the Acropolis Diner, Colaiacovo talked about steering clear of politics and voting his conscience -- and other things.

Hamden Daily News: What drove you to politics?
Mike Colaiacovo: I was always involved in the community and cared about the community. My father owned the Dixwell Garage in the Highwood section and I used to go to zoning and planning meetings with him.
HDN: How old were you then?
MC: I was in the mid to late 20s. Then I started getting involved in elections, which I really love.
HDN: Whose campaigns did you work on?
MC: I started probably in 1992 or ‘93 and got involved in mostly mayor elections. [Former Mayor Carl] Amento’s elections. I worked on state reps, state senators, presidentials.
HDN: Which presidential campaigns?
MC: Um, uh, Joe Lieberman. [chuckles with this reporter] Then I spent a couple of years on the Community Development Commission and I volunteered with Easter Seals for 11 years. Also the American Heart Association for five years. Our heart walk is this Sunday coming up.
HDN: How do you pay the bills?
MC: I work in a shipyard in New Haven, which we build big barges and we prepare barges and I’m one of the supervisors on there.
HDN: You’ve always lived in the same neighborhood. Why?
MC: It’s funny, I had cousin that moved to Bethany and we all grew up together in the same neighborhood. And it was great for him to live in Bethany, but we were all very close and we were based out of Hamden and so we’d go visit him and it was 20 minutes there and 20 minutes back. We started not to visit him and he would stop coming down, even though it was a pretty short distance. So he moved back to Hamden and came to the realization that our roots are here. Everything we do -- all our friends, doctors -- everything’s in Hamden.
HDN: Tell me what it’s been like sitting on the Council.
MC: I enjoy it. I’ve never missed a meeting since I’ve been elected -- committee meetings, council meetings, budget meetings -- never missed one. I’m real dedicated.
HDN: You seem very down to earth and sincere. How do you deal with the politics on the Council?
MC: There’s a certain amount of politics in everything, but if you truly feel that you do the right thing for the town and your district and you truly believe that, I think it’s easy even though there’s tough decisions.
HDN: Have you ever voted contrary to what you believed was right because of peer pressure?
MC: Absolutely not.
HDN: Do you get pressured?
MC: There’s always a little bit of political pressure, but you know.
HDN: What do you attribute to your blossoming as a councilman?
MC: I think -- and I’ve always been a little bit more reserved -- I like to investigate every angle so I learn. I over-think things.
HDN: How do you feel budget deliberations went?
MC: More difficult than last year. Nobody on the Council wanted to raise taxes. I felt there were certain line items that weren’t achievable.
HDN: Such as?
MC: The Dadio Farm and the out-of-state cars [projected revenues of $1.2 million and $1.3 million respectively].
HDN: Anything else?
MC: And the medical insurance account [mistakenly under-funded by over $2 million]. They didn’t tell us right away [about the error].
HDN: How do you feel about pension obligation bonds?
MC: I voted against tabling it. I feel it’s really risky for the town. I’ve got 28 years left on my mortgage. To borrow money at 5 or 6 percent with the hope of making 8 percent, with the reality that we could lose 2 or 3 percent and then have the actuaries tell us how much to put in the budget for that year -- that could really put the future of the town in jeopardy. Because five, six, seven years down the line, they could say, ‘OK, you need $23 million in the pension fund.’ Short term? This year, next year, it would have been good. We would have saved about $3 million, I believe, with the refinancing and stuff like that. And I commend the whole Council who, in a sense, wouldn’t take the short-term op to look really good. And wouldn’t leave a council 10 years down the line in that type of jeopardy.
HDN: Why can’t we refinance our roughly $110 million debt without doing pension bonds? Wouldn’t that save the town money?
MC: That’s a question I have, too.
HDN: Why do you think the Henrici Administration is pushing the bonds so hard?
MC: It’s a temporary solution to the problem. But I don’t think the right solution.
HDN: Do you consider yourself a politician?
MC: No.
HDN: What are you?
MC: I’m a civic-minded person trying to get involved in my community, trying to do the right thing.


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