Passero still is sweating details of Lamont's bad wind deal

I don't ever remember a moment, while listening to a Connecticut politician, more cringeworthy than when Gov. Ned Lamont declared, after signing a blank check last week to rebuild State Pier for a Danish utility, that New London might become the "Saudi Arabia of wind power."

I'll set aside the obvious insult to Democratic ideals here, aspiring to emulate a totalitarian monarchy that disrespects women. It's offensive, even in jest.

Maybe Lamont likes the Saudis for the way they are able to organize the brutal murder and dismemberment of a critical journalist.

What really made me cringe, though, with the governor's Saudi remark, is that he could be so obviously deluded about the prospects of the wind deal he had just agreed to extravagantly finance — tens of millions of borrowed money, inevitable cost overruns and all.

Someone should tell the clueless governor that port development to accommodate offshore wind is happening all up and down the East Coast, and Connecticut is hardly a leader in the industry. In fact, it is lagging behind most Northeast states.

A week after Lamont made his inane comments about New London becoming the Saudi Arabia of wind, the city's mayor still was trying to secure a host agreement with the giant utilities that Lamont gave away the store to.

When I caught up with New London Mayor Michael Passero midday Tuesday, he still was trying to resolve the mess Gov. Lamont dumped in his lap last week, leaving him to negotiate alone some just compensation for his city.

I hope New London residents remember this betrayal the next time the to-the-manor-born governor, happy to reward rich Danish investors at the expense of city taxpayers, asks for their votes. Voters in other Connecticut cities should pay attention, too.

Not only did Lamont exclude the mayor from talks about the wind deal and remaking the harbor in his city but he kept secret the fact that the land would be transferred from the state to the dysfunctional Connecticut Port Authority, a change in the deed with broad implications for the city.

The governor kept the rich wind industry investors in the loop, though. Shame on him.

I chatted about the deal this week with Professor Richard Pomp of the UConn School of Law, who suggested it's another good example of states offering lavish incentives for deals commercial entities want to make anyway.

"It's an old game, and they play it very well," said Pomp, who also talked to Mayor Passero on Tuesday. "Developers have usually snookered the state. They are simply better at this."

The professor seemed especially surprised that the governor left the mayor, with no leverage, to negotiate his own deal for city compensation. If this were a commercial enterprise, the city could be entitled to millions a year in property taxes.

"The governor is giving away the tax base of a municipality and not reimbursing the municipality," the professor said.

The mayor, he suggested, is being made to swim with the sharks, skilled negotiators and lawyers for an international business. The shark tank is my metaphor.

"The mayor should be cautious about signing something whose contours may not be knowable at this time," he said. "It's so easy to snooker a mayor of a small municipality ...  He should have been at the table from day one. He's boxed in."

"He's playing in a very rarified atmosphere ... Drafting and crafting these deals is very challenging," he said.

I know Mayor Passero is working very hard to craft the best deal he can for a city he obviously loves. This is a transforming moment for New London. Without much leverage from the state, he should have at least had a lot of professional firepower at the table with him.

Our governor left the mayor twisting in the wind, all on his own. That silence you hear is from all the gagged lawmakers from eastern Connecticut, Republicans and Democrats alike, who are just as complicit.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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