New London mayor should return some donations

Not waiting to see who his opponent will be, New London Mayor Michael Passero is already amassing an impressive re-election fund with the election still six months away.

Thanks to a fundraising dinner at Tony D’s restaurant in the city on March 25, which featured an appearance by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, the campaign brought in $24,260, according to its first finance disclosure statements of the campaign.

Passero should seriously think about giving some of it back.

At the dinner, the Passero for New London campaign received $5,000 from Downes Construction — five $1,000 donations from five Downes’ officials. The New Britain company has partnered with another contractor to carry out the $98 million renovation of the city’s high school and adjacent construction of a middle school as part of the plan for an all-magnet-schools public education system.

While, as the mayor noted when I talked to him, the school construction project was subject to a bid process, the appearance is still bad. Problems will arise and citizens need to be confident that only the city’s and the students' best interests, and not political interests, will drive how those problems are handled.

If Passero were running for governor, or other statewide office, and a contractor was doing construction work for the state on a major project, he would be prohibited by state law from accepting such a donation.

The same holds true for a $1,000 donation from Jason Julian, whose business is in negotiations with the Passero administration to lease space at Shaw’s Cove for city offices. In a controversial plan, Passero wants to rid the city of three properties that now house various departments and consolidate them in leased space.

At the time of the fundraising dinner the sealed bids had not been opened. Now that Julian was awarded the bid by the City Council, and the right to negotiate a 25-year lease, Passero should return the check.

The mayor left open a door to reconsidering the appropriateness of the donations.

“That’s a good question,” Passero said when pushed on whether the donations, even if legal, were appropriate. “I will certainly look at that and have the campaign look at that.”

As to why he has started early and gone big in fundraising, even though as the Democratic mayor in this Democratic city he is the prohibitive favorite, Passero said he has a positive message he wants to get out in pursuit of a second term.

“It’s important … to show there is progress, that I am achieving the goals I set out when I ran four years ago. And I thought it was important to get everyone in the room and show there is support and appreciation for the work we are doing and a desire to keep the momentum going,” Passero said.

The man likely to challenge that rosy scenario is the lone Republican on the council, Martin Olsen, who has run for the office before, without success. Olsen has all but made his campaign official.

“I’m giving it very serious consideration, put it that way,” he said.

He said the mayor’s deep campaign pockets won’t be a factor in his decision whether to run.

“I suspect they would raise a lot more money, but I would hope, regardless, to have a campaign focused on discussing ideas and policies,” Olsen said.

Passero said it should be interesting, given that he and Olsen are lifelong friends going back to lifeguarding at Ocean Beach in their high school years.

I don’t suspect either candidate will be tossing the other a life ring. Maybe an anchor.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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