Chief's charges hang over candidate

In the many, many dozens of municipal meetings I've attended over the years, reporter's notebook at the ready, I don't think I've ever seen one with quite so much drama as the Wednesday session of the New London City Council.

There was the chief of police, the city's ranking law enforcement officer, the designated investigator of wrongdoing, accusing City Councilor Michael Buscetto III of trying to undermine her authority and inciting her subordinates against her.

She stopped short of calling him a bully, a favorite label of Buscetto by his political critics.

But Margaret Ackley, the city's first woman police chief, said the threats, harassment and discrimination that have been directed at her by Buscetto are a breach of the city's ethics code and rise to the level of a complaint she intends to bring in a lawsuit.

Wow.

And then, I thought, as I sat watching the chief level her accusations, you could almost see candidate Buscetto and his ambitions to be the city's first powerful mayor melting away before everyone's eyes, into a little puddle.

It's true they are only accusations. But they are being made by the city's own official maker of allegations. They are serious. They are not going away any time soon, certainly not before the mayoral election.

The City Council set in motion its own investigation into the police chief's allegations. And what with investigations and reports to the council and a civil lawsuit against the city unfolding, it is going to hang over the city administration for a long time.

Given just these serious accusations, why would voters hire as mayor the very subject of the City Council's investigation?

The new job of mayor is so powerful, as set out in the changes to the city charter, that the city could some day end up with a chief executive crippled by harmful accusations or a damaging investigation into personnel issues and policies.

Why start out with one?

Of course he's presumed innocent, but what if he were elected and not exonerated. Why choose a mayor with so much baggage when there are other qualified candidates at the ready?

Surely voters would prefer a mayor who can concentrate from the outset on the many problems that face the city, like the dismal reading scores of its 10th graders, for instance.

Not only did candidate Buscetto and his political ambitions appear to melt away Wednesday night, but you could also get a whiff of the rotting carcass of the Democratic Town Committee.

After all, the old guard of the party, which nominated Buscetto for mayor by a wide margin, should have expected something like this.

It was only just before the last election that Buscetto locked the city's black mayor out of a meeting of Democratic council candidates.

"He attacked my family," Buscetto said at the time, in explanation of his keeping the mayor out of the meeting. "He pulled the race card, and he thought everyone would just roll over."

That atrocious incident was probably one of the reasons Buscetto barely squeaked out another term on the council, finishing seventh out of seven winners.

Many voters, too, were unsettled by the way Buscetto tried to push his way into the vacant city manager's position, one for which he was clearly not qualified.

The other remarkable performance at Wednesday's meeting was by the Democratic Town Committee's chief water carrier, Law Director Thomas Londregan.

Londregan, whose wife and the wife of his son and legal partner, Jeffrey Londregan, are contributors to Buscetto's mayoral campaign, is refusing to make public a letter from the police chief's lawyer describing the specific claims against Buscetto.

Londregan, in refusing to release the letter, which he tucked securely into his inside top suit jacket pocket Wednesday night, before making a show of patting it for safekeeping, cited an exemption in Freedom of Information laws that clearly doesn't apply.

He obviously intends to keep the letter from the public until after Buscetto faces voters in the Democratic primary for mayor next month.

The Day couldn't even get a copy Thursday of the city's audio recording of the police chief's public remarks to the council. A formal Freedom of Information request was demanded.

The Republicans on the City Council ought to vote to get rid of the law director, after they order him to remove that letter from the chief's lawyer from his suit pocket and begin to clear the air of secrets.

I nominate Councilor John Russell to make the motion, since he was the only one to courageously vote Wednesday not to go behind closed doors to discuss the chief's allegations.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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