While it's true that Malloy's Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, has failed to fill some of the most critically important administrative positions in his agency that actually serve Connecticut's schools and children, such as a Bureau Chief for the Special Education Division, Pryor's dedication to retaining corporate education reform consulting companies and corporate education consultants is impressive.
Yesterday Wait, What? explored a $123,930.00 taxpayer-funded payment to Mass Insight Education, an education reform consulting company that has been retained to help develop Commissioner Pryor's "Turnaround Network."
Although the total magnitude of the consulting contract with Mass Insight hasn't been reported, that initial six figure payment is chump change compared to the amount of taxpayer money that is being spent on the salaries and benefits of the consultants and education reformers who have been hired to surround Pryor at the Department of Education.
Leading the way is Chief Turnaround Officer, Debra Kurshan, who is pulling down $149,000 plus benefits. The former head of School Portfolio Development for Mayor Bloomberg's school privatization efforts also served as a consultant to the superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District in New Orleans.
Meanwhile, another hire, Talent Officer, Shannon Marimon, is collecting $110,000 plus benefits. She joined Pryor's operation after working for the TNTP, an education reform group. As the TNTP website explains, the majority of TNTP's revenue comes from its work with clients on a fee-for-service basis. This approach incentivizes TNTP to meet the needs of its clients while continually assessing the value and cost-effectiveness of its services. The fee-for-service model also encourages TNTP's clients to be motivated, active collaborators by literally "investing" them in the success of their partnerships with the organization."
Then there is the growing list of Pryor's "education staff assistants," beginning with his chief of staff, Adam Goldfarb who followed him from New Jersey. Hired at $75,000, Goldfarb is now making $106,000 despite the fact that he has no professional education experience other than serving on the Board of a Charter School in Newark.
There is also Mark Day, the Director of Performance Management, who is getting $105,000. He joined the state payroll after working as an employee of McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm that advertises that it is "the trusted advisor to the world's leading businesses, governments, and institutions. "
Add to that the two $95,000 education staff assistants who are interns from the Broad Foundation's Residency Program, Gabrielle Ramos and Katina Grays. The Broad Foundation is one of the three largest pro-education reform foundations in the nation. Their motto is that they are "Transforming K-12 urban public education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition."
Despite the fact that the Broad Foundation has assets of $2.1 billion, the state of Connecticut is paying these two so they can work on Pryor's education reform agenda while they are doing their Broad Foundation Residency.
And then there are the two law school students/TFA graduates, Andrew Ferguson and Collin Moore. One of whom is working as another one of Pryor's education staff assistants, while the other is working in Pryor's "Turnaround Office." Thanks to Commissioner Pryor, both are enjoying $80,000 incomes.
The list goes on and on...
While there are a record number of essential unfilled vacancies and the core work of the State Department of Education isn't getting done in a timely manner, the sign on the door reads:
Only education consultants and those have taken the corporate education reform pledge need apply.
Soucy testified in court that he attempted to leave $5,000 in cash in Cafero's office refridgerator after a meeting with smoke shop owners hoping to defeat legislation detrimental to roll-your-own cigarette shops. Cafero disputed how the events occurred Wednesday, calling Soucy's testimony a "blatant lie."
But secretly taped FBI video released Thursday shows Soucy did attempt to leave something in Cafero's fridge. Cafero stops him and instructs him to take a walk with his staffer, John Healey, instead.
The transcript of the meeting is below. The video came from a device that appears to have been hidden on Patrick Castagna, the smoke shop investor who initially brought the conspiracy to the attention of federal authorities.
LC is Lawrence Cafero; PC is Patrick Castagna; HRS is Harry Ray Soucy; UF is unidentified female; JH is John Healey.
LC: Just do your business, God bless you, as long as your legal...
PC: Um, we are.
LC: As long as you're employing people, leave people the fuck alone. That's what's wrong with this god damn state.
LC: Guys it's been a pleasure.
PC: Thank you very much sir.
LC: And I might be a future customer. (UI)
PC: Thank you very much for meeting with us today.
PR: Yeah, appreciate it. Thanks a lot, appreciate it.
HRS: Good bye, buddy. (UI)
HRS: So I don't have to do a postage.
PR: I see. Here? Today?
HRS: Right now.
HRS: Right now.
HRS: (UI) walk across the street. We'll do it right now.
LC: Yeah. Uh (UI) state party (UI).
LC: Well, I can't do Jen.
LC: But could I do, uh, somebody else?
HRS: Whoever you want to walk with me (UI) be back.
PC: (simultaneous) I, I, I just, I just want one of your cards.
HRS: (laughs) (UI) is John around?
UF: Um, (UI)
PC: Wow. (UI)
HRS: Is there, you got anything good cold to drink in there? (UI)
HRS: Uh, water. If you (UI). I'll find something later, it's not, ya know.
PC: Take a card.
HRS: (laughs) But, geez, I gotta fill out the form.
LC: No, no, no, you know what I mean. Oh, this is-
LC: (laughs) Ray, wait a minute. Take a walk with Johnny, ok?
PC: This is great. This is great.
LC: Johnny Angel.
JH: Yes, sir.
HRS: Hey, John.
LC: You know Ray?
HRS: Yeah. Let's take a walk.
LC: Just do me a favor. I want you to punch out
JH: I knew this day was coming.
LC: Yuh. I want you to punch out.
HRS: Go over to the Officer's Club.
LC: And I want you to just take a walk with Ray.
LC: Have a little discussion, and I'll see you later.
PC: Thank you. It was nice seeing ya.
LC: Take care. It was a pleasure. Nice seeing you.
PR: Alright, take care. (UI) Paul.
JH: Hi. John Healy. Nice to meet you Paul.
PC: Pat Castagna. John.
JH: John Healy, nice to meet ya.
PC: Nice meeting ya. Ah...
Maybe Cafero's lawyer should tell the Minority Leader to keep his mouth shut seeing that the statements he made to the press can be used against him if he's called to the stand.
When asked if he wanted to travel to New Haven to the trial in order to testify and clarify his story, Cafero said no.
According to the Hartford Courant's Vanessa De La Torre, Governor Malloy joined former Hartford Mayor Thirman Milner yesterday in the library of Jumoke Academy at Milner to celebrate the success of Malloy's "education reform" proposals.
Milner explained, "You walk in the school, you can see the difference."
And Malloy was all too happy to take credit for the changes claiming that it was the privatization effort of his administration that accounted for the changes.
But of course, the truth is far from that.
In fact, neither Malloy nor Milner admitted that the changes aren't due to the fact that the local elementary school was handed over, last year, to a private charter management organization but is directly attributable to the fact that the State of Connecticut and the City of Hartford are finally making a real financial investment to support the school.
Malloy and Jumoke Academy's CEO, Michael Sharpe, would have us believe that it is the $345,000 annual contract to hire the FUSE/Jumoke Academy charter school management company that is responsible for "turning around" the Milner School...
The former corrections officer and union official at the center of the alleged scheme to bribe lawmakers to scuttle proposals to tax roll-your-own tobacco stores took to the stand and gave the public a view into how politics operates...and it's not good.
"In my opinion, politics cost money," [Ray] Soucy told his friends at the smoke shop in an FBI recording played Wednesday for a jury in U.S. District Court.
The backroom conversation in November 2011 was the beginning of a salty primer on Soucy's dark view of how the legislature worked - and the start of a conspiracy that would derail a friend's congressional hopes and leave him and six others as convicted felons.
At the time, Soucy and his friends had no idea that his cynical take on the political world was being recorded by Patrick Castagna, a smoke-shop owner wearing a wire for the FBI.
In several calls captured on wiretaps, Soucy made clear he also had easy access to House Majority Leader Joseph Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, a fellow AFSCME member whose conversations and text exchanges with Soucy were played or displayed in open court Wednesday.
And he also described a meeting with House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, about the tobacco tax. According to Soucy, it ended with Soucy placing an envelope with $5,000 cash in Cafero's office refrigerator and telling Cafero there was something for him.
Soucy told Aresimowicz his friends wanted the RYO business left tax free. He made a cryptic reference to $10,000 that his smoke-shop buddies already had given to Donovan's campaign, referring to it as "ten pictures."
In the recordings played Wednesday by U.S. Attorney Eric Glover, Soucy bragged to smoke shop owners Paul Rogers and Patrick Castagna that "no one knows this game better than me."
The recordings and text messages with elected officials demonstrated the amount of clout Soucy felt he had as a longtime union official who spent 19 years in the Correction Department.
At the end of February when the outcome of the smoke shop lawsuit seemed to be moving in favor of the shop owners, they turned to Soucy and asked him for advice on their next move. Soucy told them in order to ensure the "legislation stayed buried" they should give Donovan $10,000 more and $5,000 to Republicans.
Soucy scheduled a meeting with House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero. With Castagna and Rogers in tow, Soucy testified that he left $5,000 in cash in Cafero's fridge at the Legislative Office Building after the meeting. He said Cafero accepted the cash, but had a staffer meet with him at the Officer's Club across the street to instruct him how to properly make a donation.
Soucy said Cafero's staffer John Healey returned the $5,000 in cash, which was later turned into $5,000 in checks for three Republican PACs. Cafero, who has not been charged, gave the checks back immediately after his May 31 interview with the FBI when he learned about the investigation.
On April 3, 2012, Aresimowicz texted Soucy to let him know the committee took up the legislation.
Soucy said Donovan received "10 large" to prevent the legislation.
"I know," Aresimowicz texted back. After a little more back and forth he texted: "I will talk to Chris."
Aresimowicz has not been charged in the case.
At this point in the investigation, Soucy still didn't know the FBI was recording his conversations. Soucy didn't start cooperating with the FBI until April 25 when he learned at the Omni Hotel in New Haven that one of the smoke shop investors was really an undercover FBI agent.
Gary Holder-Winfield this week became the second mayoral candidate to qualify for the Democracy Fund, which grants public money to campaigns that limit individual donations to $370 (rather than $1,000) and forswear contributions from outside political committees.
"That is not just a campaign strategy, that's how a good mayor should govern," Holder-Winfield, a state representative, stated in a news release. "We owe it to the people we seek to represent-they deserve nothing less than our full devotion to a clean, open, honest election that rises above shady tactics and big money."
He joins Justin Elicker, an alderman also running for mayor, who has already qualified for the fund. (Read about that here.)
To qualify, a candidate must raise a minimum of 200 contributions of at least $10 from New Haveners.
A coalition of health and anti smoking advocates called on the legislature Wednesday to increase state taxes on cigarettes by 95 cents a pack, citing a new poll that found broad support for the proposal among Connecticut voters.
The poll, commissioned by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, found that 70 percent of the 500 voters sampled between May 7 and May 9 supported raising the tax. The advocacy groups, which also included the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, and the American Heart Association, held a press conference Wednesday morning in the Legislative Office Building to unveil the poll.
Tension is mounting at the state Capitol this week as legislators battle over Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposal for a budget that would take effect as he is running in his 2014 re-election campaign.
The stakes are high for both Malloy and lawmakers because the issue could be resolved in an unpleasant way - with spending cuts that some Democrats oppose or fiscal gimmickry that Republicans oppose.
One scenario could mean that the legislature and Malloy would need to find about $500 million in cuts or other fiscal moves to balance the projected $21.5 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The annual battle fight is taking an extra twist this year because Malloy's proposal exceeds the state's mandated spending cap.
The legislature can change what is allowed under the cap, but that would require 22 votes in the state Senate - and senators interviewed by The Courant on Tuesday said flatly that Malloy doesn't yet have the votes. That increases the power of key Democratic swing voters like Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury and Sen. Paul Doyle of Wethersfield.
"I'm not there yet,'' Hartley said of adopting Malloy's position. "No.''
The key witness in the federal trial of Robert Braddock took the stand Wednesday morning to begin testimony about his role in delivering nearly $30,000 in conduit contributions to the Chris Donovan congressional campaign.
Harry Raymond Soucy, a former state Department of Correction union official, is expected to testify over the next two days about the conversations he taped as a cooperating witness for the FBI.
Soucy was arrested on April 25, 2012 after meeting with an undercover FBI agent at the Omni New Haven Hotel. Afterward, he wore a wire and also videotaped meetings and conversations with Josh Nassi, Donovan's campaign manager, and Braddock, Donovan's campaign finance director.
File this one under the headline; Connecticut Republicans reiterate dedication to snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory...
Faced with the reality that Governor Malloy has spent the last two years alienating just about everyone and every group that was part of the coalition that put him into the governor's office, the Republicans could be facing an unprecedented opportunity to beat an incumbent governor.
It would take a history buff to recall when that last occurred in Connecticut.
So with that in mind, the Republican Party's upcoming 35th annual Prescott Bush Awards Dinner provided the Connecticut Republicans with a special chance to showcase the type of leadership they'd bring to the state if Connecticut voters elected a Republican governor in 2014.
Given that reality and the opportunity to invite any person in the nation to serve as their keynote speaker, who did the Republicans turn to for their big annual gala event that is taking place next Monday night?
Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin.
Call it colossal stupidity or a deep and abiding commitment to alienating the very voters that the Connecticut Republicans would need if they actually wanted to win the next, or any, gubernatorial election.
That's right, the Connecticut Republicans chose Scott Walker, the wing-nut, tea-bagger, ultra-conservative, anti-teacher, anti-state employee, anti-union, pro-corporate education reformer to serve as their keynote speaker and the "face" of the biggest event the Connecticut Republicans hold each year.
The Governor Scott Walker who opposes abortion including in cases of rape and incest, supports abstinence-only sex education in public schools and opposes any state funding for services related to birth control and the testing or treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.
The Governor Scott Walker who supported Wisconsin's Constitutional ban on same-sex marriages and, as governor, tried to undo the state's domestic partner registry because it created, "a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals."
The Governor Scott Walker who returned $37.6 million in federal funds meant to set up a health exchange in Wisconsin because he thought it was related to President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Walker also rejected $11 million in federal funding to improve the state's Medicaid enrollment system because he claimed it would make it easier for the poor to get healthcare.
The Governor Scott Walker who was part of the right-wing effort to suppress voter participation by requiring that only government-issued IDs could be used before a person was allowed to vote.
And the list goes on...
Imagine the statement the Connecticut Republicans are making to the Connecticut voters who are yearning for new and innovative leadership...
The Connecticut Republican Party could have chosen anyone in the nation to showcase their ideals and principles and they chose Scott Walker.
The Connecticut Republicans have proven, yet again, their commitment to failure and have made the case, even more clearly, that if we are going to get the change in leadership our state needs and deserves it will have to come from a candidate that is running separately from the state's two existing political establishments.
The Republican leadership in the state legislature lost credibility with its decision not to present an alternative to the budget submitted by the governor and now under debate by the Democratic majority in the General Assembly.
For the past several years Republicans, long in the minority in both the House and Senate, have submitted their own spending plan. These proposals have often centered on privatizing human services, consolidations, staff cuts, and changes in tax policy. Those reviewing those alternative budgets could expect to find some creative math, but neither party is guilt free on that count.
Having a proposal of their own gave Republicans a ready response to the inevitable question, "Well, what would you do?" Failing to outline what they would do undermines the GOP's criticism of the spending plans of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his fellow Democrats in the legislature.
Legislators last May circled around Gov. Dannel P. Malloy at the state Capitol and celebrated as he signed into law what many called a "landmark" education reform package.
What a difference a year makes.
This May the Democratic governor and his education commissioner say those reforms they guided through the legislature are at risk because of the funding cuts approved by the legislature's Democratic-led budget-writing committee.
"This would seem to be a significant problem... These [initiatives] will be very difficult absent significant investment," Stefan Pryor, the governor's education commissioner, told members of the State Board of Education this month
One interesting aspect to all this is the extent to which the Republicans never learn. Sometimes, they can be more obtuse than Democrats. Karl Rove has hypocritically suggested that Bush would have been impeached had he ever dared do such a thing as Obama didn't do; when in fact, he did do what Obama didn't do, and remained, sadly, un-impeached. Obama might not want to go through it, but if I were the head of the DCCC, I might be looking forward to a repeat of 1998, when the Democrats made unexpected gains, helped in part by the disgust engendered in a substantial part of the electorate by what most considered an unjustifiable push toward impeachment. Compared to the "case" against Obama, that against Clinton was incredibly strong. Clinton did, in fact, arguably commit perjury. Obama happened to be president while an agency headed by a Bush appointee, with which he was not supposed to interfere, and with which he apparently did not interfere, engaged in questionable, if understandable, activities. If the Republicans impeach it's a recipe for electoral disaster, particularly if the Democrats seize the moment and mount a coordinated counter attack. People want jobs, and they want Congress to do something about it. The Democrats may not be able to pass legislation, but they sure as heck can keep shouting about the fact that Republicans are wasting their time on trivia while people are suffering. Truman rode a "do-nothing Congress" to an against the odds victory. Despite the gerrymandering, the Democrats might be able to do the same if they could just get their act and voices together If they must pursue the IRS issue, and it's worth a few hearings, the Democratic senators should be promising to find out why the people working for George Bush's appointee did this sort of thing. But, alas, this is probably asking too much. For reasons unfathomable, Democrats are much more comfortable while in a defensive crouch.
Using a series of secretly recorded phone calls and conversations, the federal government began Monday to outline for a jury its case against Robert Braddock Jr., former House Speaker Chris Donovan's congressional campaign finance director.
Braddock pleaded not guilty last summer to charges related to a conspiracy to hide the source of $27,500 in donations to Donovan's campaign. The U.S. Attorney's office alleges that a group of tobacco store owners tried to funnel money to Donovan's campaign in order to the defeat legislation that would have increased taxes on roll-your-own cigarette shops.
Donovan, who lost his congressional bid in a Democratic primary after the arrest of his two top campaign advisers, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. He was mentioned frequently during Monday's testimony and could be heard briefly during one of the recorded conversations played for the jury, although nothing he said explicitly pointed to knowledge of an illegal conspiracy.
Even though Donovan was not present in the courtroom, his friend Audrey Honig Geragosian showed up and issued a short statement on his behalf. In that statement, he said it was a sad time for him to be connected to a campaign finance scandal, after having worked throughout his career to improve the state's campaign finance system.
"The government charged people who worked for me, which hurts just as much today as it when it happened a year ago," he said.
In the statement, the former House speaker stressed that he has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
"Whatever anyone might say or imply, I have not been charged in this case, I am not on trial in this courtroom, and I will not be deterred from continuing to work hard for the causes that are important to the working people of Connecticut," he said.
The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news.
The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of the calls.
In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown, but more than a hundred journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.
In a letter of protest sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said the government sought and obtained information far beyond anything that could be justified by any specific investigation. He demanded the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies.
"There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know," Pruitt said.