Courant Profiles Influence Of Stafstrom, Ex Democratic Chairman

Stafstrom wedding
Left to right: Pullman & Comley attorney John Stafstrom; unidentified man known as Woody; Mark Ojakian, chief of staff to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy; Charles R. Gray, member of the Connecticut Airport Authority and spouse of Malloy Chief Counsel Andrew McDonald. Photo was taken at Stafstrom's 2010 wedding.

The Hartford Courant’s Dave Altimari highlights the juice former Democratic Town Chairman John Stafstrom has in Hartford. Stafstrom and his spouse Deputy Labor Commissioner Dennis Murphy, Bridgeport residents, have segued from city players to state players. Governor Dannel Malloy’s chief legal counsel Andrew McDonald, who then was a partner with the Bridgepirt-based law firm Pullman & Comley where Stafstrom serves as a partner, officiated their marriage in 2010. The law firm is Bridgeport’s bond counsel.

As Pullman & Comley attorney John Stafstrom walked into a room to pitch his law firm’s proposal to win a lucrative contract with the Connecticut Airport Authority, it was unlikely he worried about receiving an unfriendly reception.

Sitting across from his six-member team at the Jan. 31 interview was authority member Charles R. Gray, a longtime friend who attended Stafstrom’s wedding in June 2010.

Gray attended with his spouse, Andrew J. McDonald, who at the time was a partner at the Bridgeport law firm and is now Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s general counsel. McDonald, in his capacity as a justice of the peace, married Stafstrom and Dennis Murphy, who went on to become the deputy commissioner of labor in the Malloy administration.

Gray voted to choose Pullman over the two other finalists — Updike, Kelly & Spellacy and Robinson & Cole. The committee voted unanimously to hire Pullman though its proposal was $100,000 more than the one submitted by Updike, records show.

The airport board’s one-year contract is just the latest state pact that the politically connected law firm has won. It previously was awarded the contract to negotiate the state’s deal with Jackson Laboratory, a contract that has already paid the firm nearly $200,000, state records show.

The Courant has also reported that Pullman was named bond counsel for three cities in which Malloy endorsed the Democratic candidates for mayor and after a number of its attorneys made campaign contributions to those candidates.

McDonald emailed an attorney with the Office of State Ethics Monday, seeking an opinion on whether Gray’s vote violated the law. Brian J. O’Dowd concluded that Gray did not violate ethics statutes because the fact McDonald and Gray “have social relationships with a few people who work at Pullman & Comley has no legal significance under the Ethics code.”

On Monday, the chairman of the airport board said she was “quite comfortable” with the choice that the committee made and Gray’s role in it.

In his email to Dowd, McDonald said that he worked at Pullman for nearly 20 years and that when he resigned in December 2010 he cashed out his interests in the firm. Gray, McDonald wrote, never had any financial dealings with the firm, although he was a client many years ago.

McDonald acknowledged that “both Charles and I still have social relationships with a few people who work at Pullman: some I would even characterize as close friends.” McDonald said one those friends is Stafstrom, who he said has been their friend for nearly 18 years.

In his ruling, O’Dowd, deputy general counsel for the ethics board, said ethics laws would apply to Gray because he is McDonald’s spouse. But Gray’s vote resulted in “no financial gain for you or your spouse.”

“Given that you resigned from Pullman & Comley and fully cashed out your ownership stake in the firm, it is not an ‘associated’ business of your spouse, meaning: Absent any quid pro quo, your spouse was free to take official action with respect to the CAA’s selection of Pullman & Comley,” O’Dowd ruled.

Gray said in an email to The Courant that he “did disclose the fact that I knew some of the attorneys at Pullman well to a couple of members of the selection committee, including the chairman. Other members of the selection committee also noted that they had relationships with some of the attorneys from other firms too.”

“Though the code of ethics did not require that disclosure, we work very openly on the authority and I wanted to share that information with my colleagues. Since I have no financial interests in any of these issues, my participation in the selection process was in keeping with all the provisions of the code of ethics,” Gray said.

The chairwoman of the airport authority, Maryellen Jones, also defended Gray’s vote.

“We want to keep things open and fair to everyone and I am quite comfortable that we did all of that in this case,” Jones said.

Because the contract provided such a rare opportunity, the request for proposals drew 13 responses by law firms from New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., as well as nearly all of the big-name Connecticut firms.

The board asked firms to submit estimates on what it would charge for a variety of initial tasks, from developing bylaws to creating an employee handbook and reviewing existing contracts with vendors at Bradley International Airport.

One of the largest legal issues will be drafting and negotiating a memorandum of understanding to transfer management authority over Bradley from the state Department of Transportation to the new board, which was established last year by Malloy in hopes of making all of the state’s airports, but specifically Bradley, more of an economic engine for the state.

Each firm was asked to estimate fees for 10 legal items. Some firms did not provide specific numbers. Two that did so were Pullman and Updike.

Updike has been the general counsel for the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority for 10 years and its counsel to that board, Hugh Manke, was the lead attorney on Updike’s proposal to the Bradley board.

Updike’s estimated legal fees were $161,215, records show. Pullman’s estimated fees were about $270,000, according to its bid proposal.

Another Hartford law firm, Shipman & Goodwin, which was not one of the three finalists, submitted estimated fees of $150,000. Robinson & Cole, the third finalist, did not submit total fees, just hourly estimates.



  1. The basic subject of this article is a bidding process for legal representation relative to the further development of Bradley Airport it appears and the amounts involved are relatively small in terms of State government spending ($150,000-270,000), in the same range as the amount spent in the 2011 Bridgeport Education Grants budget for food, restaurants, etc. ($190,000) by the way.
    What is interesting in the story is the ‘sensitivity’ those involved (perhaps many if not most of them are lawyers) showed about ‘conflict of interest’ and the open, accountable way they seek to explain the subject.

    Appearances of conflict are rife when it seems long-time relationships are being favored or when the lowest bidder does not win. But we are not informed whether the project allows reopening under certain circumstances to increase the money spent on the legal services, or whether the bidder is the party at risk, if it has not estimated wisely and accurately the time and assigned talent who will complete the work. Interesting subject and practical case study for those of us in Bridgeport where the standard for ethical behavior seems to be set lower and where any questions are often quickly dismissed or set in a process that does not see the light of day in a timely manner. Changes are coming. Time will tell.

  2. I am glad Stafstrom and his partner have moved on to Hartford politics. Stafstrom has been the chief adviser to Finch and Company and we all see how that worked out. The city is screwed up like hogan’s goat.
    Stafstrom’s firm bid $100K more than the firm with the lowest bid, what’s $100K amongst friends? This guy is a snake, I hope he stays out of Bridgeport.

  3. Beacon,
    Let me shed some light on this subject. I do not know any of the particulars but the money amounts you quote for preliminary legal work. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
    At some point this new board will pay compensation to the DOT for the money they sunk into the airport when it was under their control. Pullman & Comley will be right in the middle of those negotiations.
    Then the Airport Board will have to bond for hundreds of millions to pay the DOT. And Pullman & Comley will get a percentage of this bonded debt.
    And then this new Airport Board will get a percentage of all future capital expenditures all outside of the normal state financial oversight.
    We are not talking chump change here, we are talking about lottery megabucks.

    1. Bob,
      Thanks for supplying details and the larger picture. Always good to understand the Big Picture!!!

      In that regard, last year the 2011-12 BOE budget presented to the City (by Sherwood because he and Ramos could not get on the same page, or something like that was explained by Sherwood to B&A) ran about $215 Million, the same as the year before, I believe. Perhaps that is not important but the following is.

      On the revenue side the monthly report from finance to the Council shows about $173,850,849 of revenues, while the expense side shows about $241,300,000. I knew the deficit was significant, but what is missing here? If BOE Grant “expense budget” was $19 Million last year, is this in the budget and therefore in addition to the $241 listed??? Did you ever get info from BOE that let the City Council regularly and routinely understand the financial process? Did the members of the BOE get such info regularly and routinely? Just asking. Time will tell.

  4. The big question, is Pullman Comley the best bang for the buck for state and city bonding issues? Maybe they are. They were at one time. That was a long time ago before the ‘schism.’ Turning in a bid of $100k more than the lowest other guy smacks of patronage and costs me and you money we didn’t have to spend. Pervasive. I wonder if the same nefarious paradigm exists with the Bridgeport BOE contract awards. Are we spending more money on, say, food services than we should be? Are the favored few getting awards based upon quid pro quo? Worth a look.

  5. tc,
    If you think Stafstrom is out of Bpt, you are more naive than most. Bellinger was Stafstrom’s hand-picked BOE sinker. They almost pulled it off. A for effort.

  6. They get an “F” for failure. The whole thing just stunk too bad. They could not take the stink off that effort with any brand of bleach for whitewashing. That is why they did not get backing from the legislators. Plain and simple.


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