Simmons and Somers: Confused or lying?

The first time I heard Sen. Heather Somers own up to her monthslong effort to secure $10 million in state bond money for her campaign contributors, developers of the proposed Smiler's Wharf, was at 5:30 p.m. last Friday, when her press aide sent me an email confirming it, after three days of my asking.

"In response to a request from the Town of Stonington, Sen. Somers and Rep. (Kate) Rotella submitted a request for $10 million in state funds over a period of three years," the email said, going on to describe it as part of a "public-private partnership."

This contradicted what I had been told by Stonington Director of Planning Jason Vincent, who said it was the developer, not the town, asking for $10 million. Then, in a story published Wednesday morning on theday.com, First Selectman Rob Simmons also directly contradicted Sen. Somers, saying neither he nor Vincent had anything to do with the developer's request for the bond money.

Simmons said the bond money would be used exclusively for Smiler's Wharf. He explained he did write a letter last year to the Department of Economic and Community Development, supporting the developer's request.

Somers says it was a town request. The town says it was a developer request.

Simmons then called the newspaper Wednesday to update his comments in the story already online, suggesting he was confused about the $10 million.

This latest story, eventually told to The Day directly by Somers, is very odd, putting herself and Simmons in a twisted pretzel of assertions.

It turns out, Somers now says, Simmons was confused because there have been two completely different $10 million requests related to Stonington. I guess we are to think it is just a coincidence that it's the same amount of money.

One, in the form of legislation introduced over the winter, which has since died, was $10 million for general Stonington infrastructure, not earmarked for Smiler's Wharf, Somers said. The bill was of course filed publicly but it makes no mention of Smiler's Wharf, just infrastructure for the town.

The second $10 million request,  pending directly before the Bond Commission, is for Smiler's Wharf, Somers said. The paperwork for the request, which I finally obtained this week, specifically says it is for Smiler's Wharf, making that now undeniable.

So, if we are to believe this new story from the senator, she was initially seeking $10 million for general infrastructure and coastal resiliency projects in town. She didn't identify what they are. I've attended coastal resiliency workshops, and there has been no talk of $10 million in planned projects. The first selectman apparently knew nothing about such a broad request for the town.

Why didn't the senator make a similar, vague $10 million request for her hometown of Groton? Wouldn't the same flood waters wash in there?

Why would the senator introduce legislation seeking $10 million in state money for resilience projects that she can't identify and the town apparently knows nothing about? And imagine that this unexplained number is exactly the amount her contributors are asking for from the state, a request she took directly to the Bond Commission, with paperwork that names their project.

Rep. Kate Rotella of Stonington, a freshman legislator, was transparent and forthcoming when I talked to her this week, answering my calls and asking a staff aide to track down the requested paperwork. I am still waiting for paperwork from the senator.

Rotella also contradicted the senator, saying the request to her to support the legislation and $10 million in bond money came from Somers and not the town. She said she agreed to support the senator's bill, after it was filed, because it seemed like a good project, but she added she is sensitive to the evolving opposition to Smiler's Wharf and urges constituents to attend the public hearing at 7 p.m. May 28 at Mystic Middle School.

Sen. Len Fasano, senate minority leader, complained in a letter to the editor that I smeared Somers and said the developer has also given some money to Democrats. That is true, but the developer's bundling of maximum contributions for Somers from five members of his family, stakeholders in the project she is trying to fund with a lot of state money, appears to be very targeted giving, and Fasano would have to be naïve to not see that.

The minority leader rightly called me out for singling out Republicans for trying to wrest the Bond Commission from the governor. It is indeed a broad bipartisan money grab in the General Assembly.

But it is Republicans who suggest using the Bond Commission, not tolls, for lots more borrowing for transportation infrastructure.

But you can't borrow more for transportation if you are already maxing out the credit card by subsidizing controversial luxury apartments and 200-seat gin mills being proposed by your campaign bundlers.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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