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New Haven state Sen. Toni Harp says her proposal for a $300,000 state grant for renovations at the New Haven People's Center, hastily removed from the agenda of the State Bond Commission the other day in part because of the center's connections to the Communist Party, will come before the commission again. That's good, as Connecticut will benefit from a full discussion and clear judgment on the issue instead of its embarrassed suppression.
The People's Center, located in a three-story brick building on Howe Street, describes itself as "a meeting place of labor, community, peace, and social justice groups." That is, the groups housed there engage mainly in left-wing politics, and the center is essentially the headquarters of Connecticut's Communist Party. The center's activity coordinator and spokeswoman, Joelle Fishman, is state party chairwoman and often has been the party's candidate for Congress in the New Haven area. The center's president, Al Marder, is a party member too, and the party's newspaper is assembled there.
This doesn't bother Sen. Harp. The People's Center "is open to many groups in the city. It serves a public good," she tells the New Haven Register. "If we were in the middle of the Cold War, it might be different. Communism isn't a threat to the United States or the people of New Haven."
Yes, as international communism disintegrated with the fall of the Soviet Union and the liberation of eastern Europe and as "Red" China has become sort of capitalist, there won't be as much questioning of the loyalty of Communist Party members. There's no foreign apparatus giving them subversive orders anymore.
But communism is no threat here only if what remains of the economy's private sector is dispensable. For that's what communism means: The government controls and allocates everything - no markets, no free enterprise, no economic liberty, no political liberty.
Sen. Harp's eagerness to bestow patronage even on those of her constituents who are devoted to the destruction of the private economy is telling, though perhaps not so surprising in the "sanctuary city" and People's Republic of New Haven. But does her echo of the old European alliance of socialists and Communists - sloganized as "no enemies on the left" - reflect the attitude of other leaders of Connecticut's Democratic Party, and particularly the attitude of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who controls the bond commission? Is the governor really prepared to have the government subsidize so directly the private economy's overthrow?
Quite apart from this particular politics in New Haven, why should state bond money underwrite such political activism at all? It's one thing to allocate public funds on an equal basis to all political candidates who qualify under campaign finance rules. But to award funds on a purely patronage basis to certain political groups and not others? If Communist Party headquarters deserves government money for renovation, why not Democratic and Republican headquarters too, and those of the Working Families Party and the tea party? They all have more members than the Communists.
State bonding money has been supposed to be used for truly public facilities - schools, roads, bridges, and such. Of course political patronage inevitably influences those decisions. A project in the district of an influential legislator is more likely to get approved than a project somewhere else. But the projects themselves must make a good claim to general civic use and service to the public interest rather than partisan politics. The bywords of the New Haven People's Center - "labor, community, peace, and social justice" - are all part of left-wing political code. If they weren't, two Communists wouldn't be running the place.
So before renovating the People's Center is considered New Haven's most compelling capital need and not just Sen. Harp's political need, the governor and the bond commission should visit the city and take a look around. Maybe Harp herself should too.