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State House Candidates Spar Over Conflicts, Taxes, Development

February 20th, 2015 · 39 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Politics, Development and Zoning, Education, News and Events, State Politics

Testy, wonkish, comedic, grandiose: Thursday night’s 90-minute debate in the Burroughs Community Center filled by about 80 residents of Connecticut’s 129th State House District pretty much had it all, led by five candidates all of whom have served either on the City Council or in the state legislature. The debate was sponsored by the Black Rock Community Council.

The race has shaped up as a battle between two well-financed candidates–Democrat Steve Stafstrom and Republican Rick Torres who squared off in a tight City Council race in 2013 squeezed out by Torres–with former State House members Bob Keeley and Hector Diaz and City Councilman Bob Halstead trying to cut through the static for Tuesday’s winter special election to replace Auden Grogins, now a member of the state bench. The district covers Black Rock, the West Side and portions of the North End and West End.

In the battle over conflicts of interests the candidates agree that city employees should not serve on the City Council as prohibited by the City Charter but allowed by a loophole in state law. In his closing remarks, Stafstrom emphasized his unwavering support for a state government reform bill to ban the practice by informing the audience he has the endorsement of the bill’s two authors, State Senator Marilyn Moore and State Representative Jack Hennessy. The youthful Stafstrom tried to separate himself from his middle-aged opponents, urging voters to put their “trust and faith in a new generation of leadership.”

It was Stafstrom’s way to blunt criticism from Torres and Diaz asserting he was conflicted because his employer, the Bridgeport-based law firm Pullman & Comley, is a financial legal adviser for some city and state development projects. Stafstrom provided a chivalrous defense of his employer’s commitment to Bridgeport, asserting there is no conflict, but if one transpired he’d recuse himself from such a vote in the legislature.

As questions segued from Bridgeport area League of Women Voters moderator Carole Fanslow to the engaged audience, Black Rock resident Fairfield University political science professor Don Greenberg, a sturdy liberal’s liberal opposed to Torres’ conservative persona, engaged with Torres in a heated exchange condemning him for accusations without a credible basis, questioning Torres’ temperament to serve.

Torres issued an impassioned rejoinder, declaring he was being described as a “hot-headed Latino.” He later apologized to the audience and Greenberg directly after the debate. “I like you,” Greenberg said to Torres. “I just don’t like your politics.”

The candidates debated taxation, development, transportation and education, often providing the answers they wanted to give, irrespective of the questions asked, as noted by the moderator. Candidates all agreed Bridgeport does not receive its fair share from the state, but had different takes on how to provide tax relief.

Torres said he wanted to “fix our city from the state’s taxing polices … I will fight anyone that denies Bridgeport it’s fair share.” Torres added the “remedy must come from Bridgeport growth … If the grand list goes up and taxes go down, that’s economic development.”

Stafstrom piggy-backed on the relationships Grogins developed to achieve district results, touting the campaign support he’s receiving from legislative leadership in Hartford such as Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey. “Grogins developed strong relationships in Hartford. Leadership will work with me on comprehensive property tax reform.”

For grandiose declarations, Keeley, the longest-serving state legislator in city history, certainly took home the debate prize, taking credit for landing the moolah for a variety of city projects including creation of the Burroughs Community Center when he served in the legislature. He was defeated by Grogins in 2008. “You would not be here tonight except for us getting you the money,” he told the crowd.

Keeley issued a storm warning for the 2016 municipal budget year beginning July 1 when the revaluation of city property that has been delayed is expected to kick in. “We are in for a walloping tax increase July 2016,” he said. “I’m the reason taxes didn’t go up (for many years). I left and taxes went up and up and up.”

Diaz also added he was part of a delegation in Hartford when he served in the legislature that brought back the bacon for projects such as the ballpark and arena at Harbor Yard. He said emphasis must be placed on bringing more loot for the city. “Hartford gets what it needs, New Haven gets what it needs, Bridgeport needs to be respected.”

Halstead, an urban planner policy wonk, suggested that to rebuild a tax base part of the solution is taxing the land instead of buildings in a city loaded with derelict structures that can be revitalized. “Tax the land and people would have time to fix the buildings … instead of throwing around tax rebates as political favors.”

On education, Stafstrom, Keeley and Halstead said they believe charter schools that receive state funds but operate independently of traditional school districts should be continued as a school choice option. Diaz said financing charter schools at the expense of district schools is not the answer. Torres said he has had “an epiphany” on the issue. Once a charter school proponent he said he no longer supports them.

On gun control, four candidates agreed with the gun legislation that was passed in response to Sandy Hook. Torres, who does not support the legislation, had a different take, saying, the shooting was the result of a mental health issue that requires more attention, but added “I will not be a zealot for one side” to repeal the law.

On transportation, Stafstrom focused on the necessity for train infrastructure to cut the travel time from Bridgeport to Manhattan. Torres said Bridgeport must be the focus of an economic center rather than a bedroom community. Halstead and Keeley noted that urban renewal must be placed on the East Side for the proposed second city train station there to be viable.

Diaz had the line of the night when it came to transportation reminding the audience of the pedestrian bridge planned to cross Ash Creek to the Metro station, across the line in Fairfield, that is facilities challenged.

“The bridge to Black Rock better have a bathroom in it because there’s no bathroom there.”

Keeley declared he’s the best choice for the legislative seat because “You don’t send a pea shooter into a knife fight.”

CT Post scribe Brian Lockhart’s take here.

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39 Comments so far ↓

  • Bob Halstead

    I don’t have donors like Ed Marcus or Jude Law but 114 Bridgeport residents donated to make my quota for State CEP grant and 350 constituents signed my petition to apply. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

    • Mustang Sally

      Good for you! As far as the eye can see you are the only other candidate to apply for the grant, and it appears you had the support you needed.

    • Maria Pereira

      Bob Halstead, is Lennie’s commentary accurate? Do you support charter schools? I already knew Bob Keeley supported them and used to work for a charter school, however this is the first time I am hearing you support them. Stafstrom will support anything Finch supports, so his position is not a surprise either. Bob, please respond.

  • Bob Halstead

    And wouldn’t ya know I did not get that State grant. An administrative glitch and an insurmountable obstacle imposed on me at the last minute. Good thing I’m not paranoid. I might think this corruption runs that deep. A couple of judgeships and an appointment to commissioner of Motor Vehicles, a very powerful Bond Council. Naw …

  • hope I can sell my house

    I think you are a great guy Bob Halstead and I am sorry for all those roadblocks. I find it so hard to believe people don’t see the conflict/connections, but they don’t or simply don’t care.
    I would like to know where the Black Rock ladies who allowed their picture on Stafstrom’s campaign mailer plan to send their children to HIGH SCHOOL? Sure they got Black Rock School updated (can’t imagine it needed upgrades more than those East Side schools … but they got the money) but which city High School will these proponents of Public Education choose?

    • John Marshall Lee

      I believe that were one to look into the matter to a greater depth, you might find that while making Black Rock a real neighborhood school with K-8 configuration had been desired for a long time, it was on a back burner.
      For reasons that may be easy to understand but hard to prove, it got moved up in priority order it appears, and Bassick HS was left standing without the proper support it appears from conversations this year. Who? When? Why? If people are interested, pursue it.
      But what will new buildings and equipment do to advance the educational results of the Bridgeport School System? What % of the achievement gap so often noted is closed by the community capital investment?
      Time will tell.

      • hope I can sell my house

        Sad that those kids on the East Side were ignored. I think the money trail/chain of events is fairly evident. Of course these people are DEMOCRATS … who improved their own lot before others. Smh.

      • Maria Pereira

        In early 2010, we were in a committee meeting reviewing the five tiers of the Capital Budget. Schools would start in tier 5 and move to tier 1 in the fifth year.

        Suddenly, Patrick Crossin made a motion to move Harding High out of tier 1 and into tier 4 without warning. Black Rock School, which was not even on the five-year Capital Budget, was moved into tier 1 for an expansion. At the time, there were only an average of 42 sixth-grade students in Black Rock School. Black Rock School moved ahead of over 20 schools which had spent years on the Capital Budget gradually move to higher-level tiers.

        Taxpayers have spent over $8 million to build an expansion on a school that would immediately benefit fewer than 50 children and approximately 300 students overall. However Harding and Bassick which serve 1200 and 1100 students respectively were placed on the back burner.

        I remember that meeting vividly because when Mr. Crossin was challenged for this sudden addition to the Capital Budget he stated “Black Rock pays a lot of taxes.” The Harding community was livid and came out in force to the next BBOE meeting with signs that stated “We pay a lot of taxes too.” It was such an insulting remark because as we all know, taxes are based on the assessed value of the home and the mil rate is a set rate, therefore every homeowner pays the same rate based on their home’s value.

        This was pure politics, nothing more. This was driven by a small group of Black Rock parents who are referred to as the “Satan Six.”

    • burman

      Actually hope, there are at least three brand-new elementary schools on the East Side, Waltersville, Barnum and Tisdale. That’s just off the top of my head and Harding is set to be replaced by Finch’s ‘Obama High Scool’ on the old GE site.

  • Jimfox

    Both Hector Diaz and Bob Keeley have experience on their side and this is not their first time at the rodeo.
    They would hit the ground running if Hector or Bob makes it to the Big Show on Tuesday.
    Hector had the steady hand last night, Stafstrom was out of his league, maybe he should run for the RTM? Oh! I mean City Council. He had the deer in the headlights look all night, new kid on the block.
    Steve Stafstrom and Rick Torres were the only two Republicans on the dais.
    Steve said “if he had something of a conflict in Hartford, he can recuse himself, or sustain if that didn’t work, he would double recuse himself and that should do it!”
    Bunny Roach, show up, you can hear her big mouth from Southport train station.
    Bob Halstead made some great points on utilizing some of our old buildings around the City and try to get then back on the tax rolls. Overall I say Hector Diaz won the night.
    Did you know Bob Keeley was a City Planner?

    • Bob

      Jim, I just got this from someone who has had professional dealings with Bob Keeley. He is urging me to bring forward Keeley’s track record. I digress to do so in a public forum as I’ve known Bob and his family for about 40 years. He did me wrong, has offered to rectify that wrong and hasn’t produced. Here’s the commentary I mentioned from someone else.

      Bob, now is your chance to give Keeley full credit, post your experience with Grimaldi. This special election is Tuesday,(Longfellow school). Explain carefully his ambitious desire to achieve on the backs of everyone else’s sacrifice. His disingenuous promises, failed track record, DSSD and present actions of putting his nose to the grind, and work full time at one job, instead of starting brush fires with malcontents, whose own records mirror his (Failure). He can be characterized as the modern-day ‘Don Quixote,’ tilting at windmills, and windbags, deranged, disappointing, and typical ‘Daffy.’

      • Hector A. Diaz

        Bob, I believe we also know each other and would love an opportunity to earn your vote. Please feel free to contact me at your convenience (203)666-9361 my personal cell.

  • Bob Halstead

    Bassick High is the public high school for Black Rock if they want to go the public education route. The money seems to have gone to Black Rock School and the Bassick roof has not been repaired since authorization in 2010. The 129th will not have any representation in the lower North End or Brooklawn if Torres or Stafstrom is elected. This part of the district seems to have been forgotten as all the discussion seems to be centered upon Black Rock in this election. These other folks need services and pay taxes as well. Nothing to do with personalities, just a reality.

    • Maria Pereira

      Bob Halstead, you are speaking truth about Bassick High School. Sauda, Bobby and I visited Bassick High School in early 2010 because of the significant roof leaks. We actually entered a computer lab where children were working. There were extension cords everywhere and the water damage was significant and neither John Ramos nor Jorge Garcia had done a thing about it. Both the students’ safety was at risk and quite a bit of computer equipment could have been damaged and we made such an issue about it, the computer lab was relocated and the room shut down.

  • Bob Halstead

    Neither myself nor my partner Trish Swain, Democratic Council members of the 132nd District were consulted about who the Democratic-endorsed candidate should be in the 129th. Even though we were elected by somewhat of a landslide in 2013, the 129th is now being represented by a group of Black Rockers who are calling all the shots. Dude, where’s my democracy (with a small “d”)? It all happened rather fast. Seems the “fix” was in from Malloy on down.

    • Bob Halstead

      In my earlier post I mentioned Jude Law was a contributor to my opponent’s campaign. I meant to say Juda Epstein, the one who does all the foreclosures for the WPCA. No city employees, or maybe just one, a mail clerk, gave a $5 contribution to my campaign. Power the to the People, right Professor Greenberg?

    • Bond Girl

      Is it protocol for the Town Committee to consult Council members regarding the choice of an endorsed candidate? You are likely not the only City Council members in the history of Councils to not be consulted on a candidate choice. It is the DTC or RTC that finds and endorses candidates, that is their job, right?

      • Bob Halstead

        Oh, I just get such a warm and fuzzy feeling from my fellow Dems.

      • Hector A. Diaz

        Protocol should be through the members of the DTC and RTC the candidates are interviewed and then chosen. The way this candidate was picked with no interview process lends itself to the appearance of favoritism. If it had been done in the manner generally accepted you probably wouldn’t have so many Democrats running for the same position, hopefully after losing this one they will realize when a seat is VACATED it becomes the property of the VOTERS and not any of the parties, making it their choice who fills it.

  • Dave Walker

    I now know why so many Stafstrom signs were in Black Rock. People put signs on people’s property without their permission. Several neighbors have complained and I have helped them dispose of the signs at their request. Ethics? Integrity?

    • Bob Halstead

      I drove through Black Rock last night and I must compliment Black Rock on its good taste for not allowing sign pollution.

    • Mustang Sally

      You should see Brooklawn! Park Avenue is absolutely papered with Keeley and Torres signs that are there WITHOUT permission. PAPERED. Trivial matter, really.

    • Jimfox

      Steve! I’ve been taking down your lawn signs and taking them home to dry, after the wet snowstorm fell on them last night.
      You don’t have to thank me for drying them out, at first I used a hairdryer and about a dozen or so went up in smoke! Next we put them in the clothes dryer and that seem to work best.
      There’s only one thing Steve, if you can purchase smaller-sized wire stakes for your lawn signs I’ll be more than happy to put them back up, or maybe I should wait for the next storm to pass by, just let me know, Steve.
      I think we need about 150 new wire stakes 16″ to 18″ should work.

      Bridgeport is getting Bitter every day!

      • John Marshall Lee

        Jimfox,
        You have made the several weeks of this campaign endurable with your ‘light touch’ and whimsy. I refer of course to your writing activity and not your blight fight. In that direction your attempt to dry the plastic signs shows up as a ‘light torch’ after a ‘light touch’ curbside, and shrinkage was to be expected. Get any responses on the melting activity? Time will tell.

  • Hector A. Diaz

    My signs are in businesses and will probably be at the approved distance on election day, and on some of the vehicles used on that day. Hopefully the other signs serve to inform the public of an election and not whom to vote for. With over $200, 000 of taxpayer dollars being spent by those candidates who sought and received those funds, you would think a billboard or TV commercial would be in the mix, there must be some serious salaries being paid and you the public can see to whom by going to the SECRETARY OF THE STATE’S WEBSITE.

  • hope I can sell my house

    Harding High is what I was thinking of.

  • Dave Walker

    There are several good candidates in this race but the issue is not really about the people, it is about our future. Only two of the House candidates have a real chance to win. Torres represents change. Stafstrom represents more of the same. In walking the neighborhood today, people want change. Hopefully this will be the case on Tuesday and next November.

    • Hector A. Diaz

      Dave, my experience in this type of election proves your theory wrong. You were not living here yet, but you could look it up, special election 1994 Feb 14th 130th district. There are more independents registered in this district than any of the Dems. or Reps. Added to the fact three of those four have been elected in the past, the only one NEVER WINNING an election being the one endorsed, leaves one to expect a surprise.
      Don’t Believe Me, JUST WATCH!!!

  • Jimfox

    You can hear the entire debate today at 1:30PM on RADIO BLACK ROCK 102.1FM.

  • Dave Walker

    Hector,
    We’ll see. Thanks for the history lesson.

  • Godiva2011

    After looking at photos #1, #2 and #4, I’ve come to the conclusion Mr. Keeley is asleep. But at least he stated he knows enough not to bring a peashooter to a knife fight, when making reference to being a legislator. Is there something wrong with this man?

  • Hector A. Diaz

    Has anyone else noticed I am the only candidate whose name doesn’t appear on the OIB name droppings list at the bottom of this page and the previous ones, making it harder for those wanting to see prior post about or from me? Good thing God is on my side.

    • RayFusci

      Hector,
      No one’s name appears until they are mentioned in at least 50 articles. You are currently sitting at 49 mentions. One more mention and your name will magically appear.

      People can click your name whenever it is tagged to any article. Also, anyone can use the “Search” box to search all articles for anything, including names.

  • Hector A. Diaz

    Thank you Ray, I was wondering what the criterion was, still it kind of surprises me Sly Salcedo (no slight on Sly, he is a good man) has more mentions than I.

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