Malloy pulls funding request by group with Communist ties

Hartford — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Monday nixed a controversial $300,000 state funding request that would have benefited a community center in New Haven with ties to the Communist Party.

The governor pulled the proposal from the State Bond Commission's agenda shortly before a scheduled vote. The money was slated for roofing and other repairs to the New Haven People's Center, which occupies a 161-year-old brick residence on Howe Street in New Haven.

Malloy, who chairs the 10-member bond commission and has sole discretion over its agenda, said he changed his mind about supporting the center after learning that some military veterans and veterans' groups were upset over the prospect of state assistance to the organization. He also said commission members were divided on the issue.

"This particular request has engendered a fair amount of controversy because of the ties — the fully legal ties — of some of the individuals to the Communist Party," Malloy told reporters. "But ultimately, what that represents to people who have served in various conflicts became a concern to me."

Established in 1937, the People's Center describes itself as a meeting place for "labor, community, peace and social justice groups."

It also houses a regional bureau of People's World newspaper, which is closely affiliated with the Communist Party USA, and two board members of the center's parent organization are active in the Connecticut chapter of the Communist Party. One of them, Joelle Fishman, is the party's chairman.

Monday marked the second time that the request was taken off the bonding agenda. In April, the proposal's lead proponent, state Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, asked the commission to temporarily hold the item to allow time to research the center's tax status.

Once questions were resolved, Harp asked for the item back on the agenda. She has said she backed the funding request because of the center's long history as a community resource in New Haven. The center is a stop on the Connecticut Freedom Trail in honor of its early contributions to civil rights.

The two Republicans on the bond commission have repeatedly criticized the funding request and argued that state dollars shouldn't go to groups engaged in partisan activities such a publishing an ideological newspaper.

They and other Republicans, including Norwich Rep. Chris Coutu, organized a veterans-led demonstration Friday outside the People's Center to urge Malloy to remove the item from the agenda.

Coutu took a carload of Norwich-area veterans to the event and created a Facebook page to "Stop Malloy and his Hartford Comrades" from approving the funding.

In a video of the event, Air Force veteran Barry Bernier of Norwich told a crowd of several dozen demonstrators that he considers it wrong for state government to finance renovations at the People's Center at a time when many American Legion and VFW halls in Connecticut could use similar repairs.

On Monday, Coutu said he is working with lawyers to file an IRS complaint against the center. He said he is not convinced that the center's parent organization, Progressive Education and Research Associates, has been filing proper paperwork.

A People's Center representative did not return a phone message Monday seeking comment.

"I'm really proud that Hartford isn't going to be embarrassed by giving $300,000 to a community center that basically facilitates the communist party," said Coutu, who is running for the 19th District state Senate seat.

At the Capitol, veteran political observers said it was all but unprecedented for an item to twice get pulled from the bond commission's agenda. While bond approvals are decided by majority vote, a governor holds ultimate veto power in the process as he or she may withdraw an item, denying it the necessary vote.

In addition to the governor, the bond commission includes two Democrats and two Republican legislators; State Treasurer Denise Nappier; State Comptroller Kevin Lembo; Attorney General George Jepsen; Ben Barnes, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management; and Donald DeFronzo, acting commissioner of the Department of Construction Services.

j.reindl@theday.com

Bonding funds approved

The State Bond Commission on Monday also approved several projects in southeastern Connecticut.

• Montville received $350,000 for the overhaul of the bridge that carries Derry Hill Road over an unnamed brook.

• Old Lyme was approved for $275,000 to reconstruct the seawall protecting the Marine District headquarters.

• Camp Harkness in Waterford will receive $60,000 for dining hall and kitchen renovations.

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