State Senate candidate Herron Gaston, assistant chief administrative officer, alleges in a complaint filed with the City Attorney’s Office that the City Council’s budget co-chair Ernie Newton threatened to cut his city position from the budget if he carried out his run for state office.
Newton denies the charges.
“That’s bullshit,” he told OIB. “Gaston should know better. There was talk about cuts. I did not threaten him. I have no clue what he’s talking about.”
Gaston also plans to file a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. He has text messages to back up his assertions.
The council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee last week in fact axed Gaston’s job title, a role also occupied by John Gomes also thought to be a chopping block target by some committee members.
Budget co-chair Scott Burns and his council partner Matt McCarthy led the charge to cut five discretionary appointee positions of Mayor Joe Ganim while adding three positions to the council’s own staff. Newton, during last week’s committee meeting, did not support the cuts in a separate motion. He told OIB after the meeting going down this road was not productive.
Newton said some jobs were “targeted” by committee members, but not by him.
Did others do the dirty work?
In a May 4 article McCarthy told the CT Post:
“We need to cut the dead weight — people who don’t perform,” said Councilman Matthew McCarthy Wednesday. He said he had a list of politically-appointed, non-union jobs in the housing code, public facilities and chief administrative offices totaling “almost half a million dollars.”
All of them mayoral appointees. Who decides performance? How does McCarthy measure performance? Is that the role of the budget/legislative body or executive branch?
Newton had toyed with running for his old state senate seat but Tuesday night threw his support behind embattled incumbent Dennis Bradley who is scheduled for federal trial in a few weeks charged with manipulating Connecticut’s program of publicly funded races.
Gaston received the Democratic Party endorsement on Tuesday.
Gaston, a city minister, says in March he had a phone conversation in which Newton “let me know that he and his colleagues were in discussion about cutting my position specifically because they did not “hire me” to run for public office…”
In a subsequent face-to-face meeting, says Gaston, Newton tried to walk back his remarks by declaring “the white boys” on the committee “want to cut you.”
Fred Gee, a candidate for State House and director of the city’s Small & Minority Business Enterprise backs up Gaston’s assertions of what transpired. Gee was part of the meeting.
Gee says Newton had “warned him” about potential cuts to municipal employees running for state office. Gee told Newton that is a violation of state law.
(See City Attorney response to Gaston complaint Election Law Notice Opinion)
Gee also confirmed Newton’s comments about “the white boys.”
Newton says it was a “private conversation among brothers.”
(translation: Newton said it.)
Ganim, in discussions with department heads and fiscal planners, has bemoaned council attempts to target discretionary hires while padding their own payroll. Ganim is in a battle of wits with the City Council over his proposed spending plan that’s poised for the July 1 fiscal year.
The council, as required by the City Charter, did not formally ask the mayor to call a special meeting for a full council vote on the changes proposed by the budget committee. The clock ran out on the budget on Tuesday so now Ganim’s budget is the authorized document for the new spending year.
Gaston asserts in a phone conversation he had with Newton that his city position would be cut if he ran for office. Newton was interested in his old senate seat but party regulars gravitated to Gaston with Bradley’s looming predicament. Newton was forced to resign his seat nearly 20 years after entering a guilty plea to federal corruption charges.
I hope this email finds you doing well. I write with a great concern regarding the recent attempt by the City Council to eliminate one of the Assistant Chief Administrative Officers’ position. I have good evidentiary reasons to believe that this measure was initially surreptitiously directed towards me, while posing as an adjacent attack directed at my colleague, who also holds the title of Assistant Chief Administrative Officer.
Please be advised that on or about Friday, March 4,, 2022 I received a call from one of my subordinates, Mr. Fred Gee, who is the director of the Small Minority Business Office, where he alerted me that Councilman Ernest Newton phoned him and threatened to eliminate my position as well as Mr. Gee’s position for deciding to run for public office. It is widely known in the community that I am running for State Senate in the 23rd senatorial district against incumbent Dennis Bradley. Further, it is also widely known that Councilman Newton has a strong desire to run for the same seat. Mr. Newton has deep animus with me because I will not give in to his threats to back away from running for State Senate and yield to his demands.
On or about Wednesday, March 9, 2022, Councilman Newton sent a text message to my personal cell phone and requested that I call him. At his request, I phoned him on or about March 9, 2022 to follow up with him. During the call, he let me know that he and his colleagues were in discussion about cutting my position specifically because they did not “hire me” to run for public office, and that simply he was putting a bug in my ear. I let Mr. Newton know on the call that it is my constitutional right to run for public office and that he and his colleagues might be in violation of State statute. He further expressed that” he did not care about any of that”, and to “not cross Ernie.” I asked him was that a veiled threat and he said it is not a “threat but a promise.”
On or about March 10, 2022, Councilman Newton sent word through Mr. Fred Gee and once again threatened to cut my position and shared with Mr. Fred Gee that he will not be disrespected by me. I then sent Councilman Newton a text message from my private phone number, and said the following in text to Mr. Newton for which I can provide– should I decide to pursue this complaint further:
“ For the record, I WILL NOT. I repeat, I WILL NOT be bullied in submission or allow you or anyone else to quash my constitutional rights! Your actions are ILLEGAL. You do not want to fight with me! I have stood at the polls for you, had my church to back you and walk for you, knocked on doors for you, took personal days from my job to stand all day at the school for you, and backed away from running for a council seat because you are FRAT. I’ve been consistent in my support of you. How dare you try to bully me in the fashion that you have. I don’t take kindly to it. If you have an issue with me, call my number like you always have. Don’t have ANYONE to talk to me or ring my phone over something like this. This is disgusting. You want to run for the same seat! RUN, who’s stopping you??
Further, on or about March 9, 2022 District Leader Ralph Ford, representing the 139th town committee for which I am a part, contacted me via phone to share with me that Councilman Newton contacted him angrily and requested that Dr. Ford speak with me. The tone from Dr. Ford was not pleasant. He said and I quote: “ Stop going around telling people that the folks in Hartford does not want Ernie back up there.” I let Dr. Ford know that I never made such statements and that the alleged statements were patently false. I also let him know that I did not appreciate Ernie threatening me and my livelihood.
Following this conversation from Dr. Ford, on or about March 10,, 2022 I sent Councilman Newton another text message, where I expressed again: “ Having Ralph call me is a veiled “THREAT” you got the right one because nobody threatens me!” Ernie continued, “ It’s not a threat it a promise.” I responded through text: “DO IT!” and Ernie responded; “That” which is a slang phase in the black community to mean the action will be carried through.
Further, on or about Saturday, March 12, 2022—Dr. Ford called a meeting between myself, Mr. Fred Gee, and Ernie Newton in the office of Dr. Ford. During the meeting, Mr. Newton expressed that his colleagues threatened to cut my position and Mr. Gee’s position because we both are running for public office. He claimed that he was simply giving us a heads up.
Moreover, on or about Thursday, April 22, 2021, the Budget and Appropriations Committee met (virtually) with the CAO’s office to go over the department’s budget. During the call, Councilman Matthew McCarthy mentioned that one of the Assistant CAO’s (referring to me except not by name, but by title) was running for State Senate. He asked CAO Hawkins had she thought about cutting my position, or making it part-time. Mrs. Hawkins responded by saying that she did not recommend eliminating any positions from the CAO’s Office. Mr. McCarthy responded by saying, “Thank you.” However, it was later reported to me by someone intimately close to the process– but who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of their own position being threatened, that certain members of the Council met some time after the meeting with the CAO’s Office, and my name specifically came up.
Wherefore, given these series of events, leads me to reasonably suspect that such deliberate actions are targeted specifically at certain persons in the administration, and is a sophisticatedly calculated and backdoor attempt by Mr. Newton and his “politically recruited” allies to aid and abet members of the Budget & Appropriations Committee, where he serves as Co-Chair, to intentionally violate state statute by unlawfully punishing me for exercising my constitutional right to seek public office while maintaining employment as a City of Bridgeport employee.
The unlawful actions of certain members of the council to eliminate an Assistant Chief Administrative Officer position is nothing less than retaliatory. Therefore, this complaint should be thoroughly investigated by the City Attorney’s Office, and any other investigative authority having an interest in protecting the rights of employees against illegal actions taken on behalf of an elected officials. Should it be determined that such council persons acted outside of the scope of their authority, and violated any applicable state or federal statutes pertaining to this complaint, such persons should be properly dealt with under the law.