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Lamont gives New London another swift kick

Last year, when I suggested colloquially that Gov. Ned Lamont directed a bodily fluid from his mouth toward New London, as a $93 million remake of its Thames River port was contemplated without any city involvement or consultation, the chief executive's spokesman howled in protest.

In fact, the former television reporter who in July was named the governor's communications director suggested, while complaining to my editor about the column's reference to body fluid, that he might have to put me on an email-only communications regimen.

We may have engaged in one more shouting match after that — I can give as well as I get — but I haven't spoken with him for months, and, well, given the circumstances, email works for me, too.

In deference to the communication director's sensitivity to body fluid as metaphor, I would suggest instead here that Lamont gave New London another swift kick to the gut last week, when he chose to make a new appointment to the Connecticut Port Authority board and passed over New London's mayor, despite the governor's many promises to give the city representation in deliberations about the future of the port of New London.

"I'm glad New London has a place at the table going forward," Lamont said in a televised news conference last January. A year later, New London still doesn't have a place at the table.

I know that Mayor Michael Passero would like the law changed so that the mayor, whoever it may be, would by rights automatically have a seat on the port authority board as an ex-officio member.

That would certainly be the best way to give the city a lasting voice. Lamont said last year, in response to the bodily fluid column, that he tried and failed to get the law changed. Indeed, he can't seem to get anything through a General Assembly controlled by his own party, not even a tweak of the port authority law.

The governor did not then have any vacancies allotted to his office to fill on the port authority board.

That's not true anymore. Given the resignation in January of one gubernatorial appointee and the terms of two others that expired in December, Lamont could put Passero, who is now just at the start of a four-year term, on the board immediately — before the agency moves next week to deliberate on a deal that could forever change the city's port.

Instead, in his maneuvers to manipulate a deal to close the city's port to traditional cargo, the governor appointed his port authority fixer David Kooris, who had lost his board seat as the ex-officio designee representing the state Department of Economic and Community Development when he left his state job.

Surely Passero would accept a personal appointment and take that promised seat at the table until the law could be changed to give every future New London mayor board membership. But he would have to be asked.

Making this more insulting to everyone in New London is that the Senate president pro tempore, Martin Looney, recently appointed the director of New Haven's port authority to the Connecticut Port Authority Board.

Not only has the state port authority virtually closed New London's port, directing ships to New Haven instead, with local longshoremen getting layoff notices, but New Haven — not New London, which hosts the only state-owned pier — has representation on the state board.

There's another kick to the gut. Thanks, governor.

One of the board members with an expired term, whom Lamont could replace with Passero, is Nancy DiNardo, the former longtime Democratic Party chairwoman, who probably doesn't know much about port development but has ties to a Bridgeport waterfront developer. Lamont chooses party and Bridgeport ties over the people of New London.

Of course the governor's biggest affront to New London is that he is proposing an enormous commercial endeavor, part of a wildly profitable enterprise that will make many people rich on the backs of electric ratepayers, on property that the city can't tax because it is owned by the state.

The meager compensation the port authority has offered, $75,000 to pay for city services and a $50,000 minimum share of revenues from the port operator, is an enormous insult in itself.

Even worse, the recently released memo laying out the terms of the proposed remake of State Pier suggests that the $50,000 minimum promised to New London, from revenues from the port operator, is tenuous at best, since the memo suggests the port operator revenue will stop when the wind conglomerate starts to pay millions in annual rent to the port authority instead.

The city was promised two years of $750,000 in host city payments from the wind dealers, but the memo says there is no promise of more, and the city is on its own to try to extract additional payments in subsequent years of the proposed 17-year contract.

The $750,000 a year doesn't begin to approach what the city could earn if it could tax the commercial enterprise the state is planning, and it lasts only two years.

I wish Mayor Passero luck with trying to extract more on his own from the wind companies, given that he doesn't even have that promised seat at the table.

The good news is that I don't have to listen to the governor's communications director yell at me for describing the boss's treatment of New London as a kick to the gut of a city when it's down.

He can do it in an email.

This is the opinion of David Collins. 


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