New London mayor takes his campaign on the road

I find it a bit unseemly that New London Mayor Michael Passero would venture far from New London, to the prosperous little rural town of Chester, for a high-octane fundraiser to collect money for his re-election, in an event at least partially organized by a lobbyist.

But I am most shocked that he would accept such a fundraising supercharge from lobbyist Jay Levin, well known in New London for his role in the creation of the state-funded New London Development Corporation, rechristened the Renaissance City Development Association and now financed, with Passero's help, with city money.

Levin's NLDC not only tore down the city's Fort Trumbull neighborhood, after taking much of it by eminent domain, but it also bulldozed a smaller neighborhood near State Pier, turning it over to the state and taking it forever off city tax rolls.

That formerly taxed land, scooped up by the state, is now part of the plans for a Danish wind company to set up a wind turbine assembly terminal in New London on state property, without paying city property taxes.

The invitation to the Oct. 3 Chester fundraiser, with suggested contributions of $100 to $1,000, promises a chance to meet "special guests" and directs RSVPs to Levin. The event is being held at the home of Justin Kronholm, the prominent state Democrat who was chairman of Attorney General William Tong's campaign and is now on the state payroll as his senior adviser.

Levin, while not organizing fundraisers for Mayor Passero, has attended several of the Connecticut Port Authority hearings, and his clients, the New London tugboat and ferry companies run by the Wronowski family, have spoken in favor of the wind deal.

Levin was spotted recently dining in the city with former state Rep. Chris Soto of New London, Gov. Ned Lamont's legislative liaison. Soto, when I asked, said they didn't talk about the wind deal, and he added he paid for his own meal.

It is curious that Soto won his General Assembly seat representing New London after his predecessor was caught introducing complicated tax legislation for Fort Trumbull, handed to him by Levin, which he was later unable to publicly explain.

The wind deal is becoming front and center in the city mayoral race, with both Passero's opponents complaining about how little it seems to benefit New London.

Green Party candidate Frida Berrigan suggests New London should get something lasting and tangible out of the deal, like a community center, which the city so sorely lacks. Republican Martin Olsen complains the city is getting the short end of a deal for which there has been little transparency.

Olsen, a city councilor, said he has not seen cross his desk a single piece of paper related to the deal that could remake the city's port, closing it to much of the traditional cargo, for decades.

Passero, as the race heats up, is also trying to now complain that the city is being shortchanged, even though he joined the principals in a news conference at City Hall in January, celebrating the new agreement that gives the city an increasingly controversial small share of port revenues.

"We have moved light years away" from the historical inequity of getting nothing from the port, the mayor said joyously to the television cameras that day.

Passero was also an enthusiastic host at the recent port authority pep rally, in which the interim chairman of the scandal-ridden agency finally disclosed details of what has been a secret deal to remake the port of New London.

It's hard to stand up for the city getting a better share of a deal brokered and defended by the Democratic party elite when you are taking money at an out-of-town fundraiser organized by one of their own, with help from a wind-cheering lobbyist.

The wind deal is almost sealed, and the city's paltry share of port revenue would seem to be Mayor Passero's legacy.

There are still weeks left until Election Day, though, time enough for the governor to sweeten the deal some more, to make sure the enabling Democrat in City Hall doesn't blow away.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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