Monday night’s City Council meeting had all the ingredients for a virtual rats nest of madness. In the end, other than a few bumps, it was rather sanguine considering the noisy narrative playing out days prior. Mayor Joe Ganim chaired the Zoom/teleconference meeting with patience, allowing council members to have their say on projects pro and con, among the virtual sound din.
The legislative body approved $4.5 million for the Harbor Yard Amphitheater because of what developer Howard Saffan cites as unforeseen structural problems at the former city-owned ballpark that is being refitted into a 7,000-seat concert facility, now scheduled for a spring 2021 opening.
Several council members had pushed back on the extra money for the amphitheater among them Maria Pereira, Eneida Martinez, Scott Burns and Matt McCarthy, all of whom were among the seven voting against.
City Council President Aidee Nieves argued Monday night the $4.5 million is a reallocation of $20 million in bonding money that the council had already approved for Downtown developments, not newly authorized money.
On the morning after, East End Councilman Ernie Newton reflected on the vote.
“This is money that the city would have spent anyway. For people trying to frame it as new money is wrong. The city owns that building and whether we like it or not we have a responsibility. The man is putting his own money into the project.”
Newton said he supports the project for its jobs creation.
“Some council members tried to dig up fabricated dirt. You have a right to vote yes or no, but you don’t have a right to character assassinate a man’s integrity. I didn’t like that.”
Newton referenced Pereira who advanced a weekend email push to persuade her colleagues to vote against the measure describing Saffan, a sports entrepreneur and former president of the Webster Bank Arena, as “an absolute charlatan & snake-oil salesman.”
For Pereira it was a night of voting against every tax-incentive/financial agreement on the agenda including projects for Black Rock, Downtown and the East End parcel Civic Block slated for a supermarket, retail-housing mix in the food desert neighborhood.
Some of the projects she declared support for but balked at the rich financial incentives for developers.
Newton echoed a statement he made Monday night “Don’t let the council turn into another Board of Education because we govern by our own rules and not rules of the Board of Ed,” a swipe at the Pereira-era school board that featured fractious splits and continues today with the personality mix.
For the East End project Pereira questioned the commitment to housing by developer Anthony Stewart.
Newton: “This developer is trying to change the culture of our community … Don’t give the impression that housing will not be built … People who don’t live there don’t know what’s going on.”
The council also approved the “Protection for Bridgeport Families and Immigrants” Ordinance introduced by councilor Marcus Brown and vociferously backed by the immigration support group Make The Road Connecticut.
The ordinance codifies Connecticut’s Trust Act that limits communication between the Federal Immigration & Customs Enforcement agents and local police. It also requires the city to train municipal employees on the provisions of the Trust Act and take steps to ensure non-discrimination and inclusion in city services.