A state official reviewing the credentials of the Communist-linked New Haven People’s Center suggested routing taxpayer money through city hall to avoid a direct connection with the organization, according to documents obtained by Raising Hale.
“If there is any concern with giving the grant, I would suggest that we pass it through the city of New Haven on behalf of the organization,” Steven Kitowicz, an Office of Policy and Management principal budget specialist, wrote in an email to his boss, OPM Secretary Ben Barnes.
The State Bond Commission is considering a $300,000 grant for a new roof at the People’s Center.
Kitowicz vetted the People’s Center and its parent organization, Progressive Education and Research Associates, after officials at OPM and Gov. Dannel Malloy’s office received a tip from former state employee Mary Plaskonka.
Plaskonka also pointed out the organization’s links to the Communist Party USA.
“I know that Joelle Fishman is a Communist,” OPM Undersecretary Gian-Carl Casa said in an email. Fishman is vice president of the People’s Center’s parent organization, Progressive Education and Research Associates.
“I once saw her handing out The Daily Worker on the Green and asked her if it had classified ads for jackboots,” Casa said, referring to the footwear of totalitarian regimes. “She wasn’t amused.”
After his review of public documents available online, Kitowicz said PERA had filed the required documents with the Internal Revenue Service and the Secretary of the State.
Plaskonka sent an email three days before the commission was set to vote on the grant, warning that the organization might not have the ability to properly oversee use of taxpayer money.
Prior to retiring in March, Plaskonka oversaw Department of Social Service grants that went through the commission. She said DSS did not vet most grants sponsored by legislators and only received paperwork to support them after the money was allocated.
The first document OPM has related to the New Haven People’s Center, according to a request for documents going back to 2005, was Plaskonka’s April 24 email.
DSS, the agency responsible for the grant to the People’s Center, had no documents at all, an agency spokesman said in response to Raising Hale’s Freedom of Information Act request.
Instead of voting on the item, it was removed from the commission’s agenda.
“A couple of reporters are all over us on this,” Occhiogrosso said in an email to Barnes and Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba immediately after the commission met. “I think it makes sense for us to have a statement from you explaining what happened, and why it happened. Can you pls call Andrew and work it out?”
“The project was pulled at the request of the Delegation member that originally submitted it. It may be resubmitted in the future. The administration is satisfied that the project is eligible for funding once any concerns of its legislative sponsors are resolved,” Barnes wrote. “Is that enough?”
“This is going to prompt a bunch more questions, but let’s see if we can get away with just this,” Occhiogrosso said.
The commission is expected to consider the People’s Center grant at its June 4 meeting.
The ‘other’ project
The OPM document request also turned up a May 3 email discussion about a mysterious “’other’ project.” OPM Spokesman Gian-Carl Casa did not respond to an email seeking comment.
“Here we go,” Casa said forwarding an email from Connecticut Law Tribune columnist Karen Torre to Phyllis Silverman, Sen. Toni Harp’s legislative aide, and Vinnie Mauro, special counsel to the Senate and a former New Haven alderman who recently ran for chairman of the city’s Democratic Town Committee.
“How’s the ‘other’ project going?” Mauro said in response.
“The person you suggested we speak with is fine with it,” Casa said.
“Ok we should chat again today to figure out what next,” Mauro said.
“OK. We’ll check in,” Mauro said.
Two days earlier, on May Day, DSS Spokesman David Dearborn forwarded the Raising Hale story “DSS has no records related to project with Communist ties” to OPM.
“Thanks,” Casa replied. “All nine of his readers will be interested.”
“LOL,” Dearborn said in response.
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DSS has no records related to project with Communist ties
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