Above the din of a pile driver, a departing ferry and an arriving Amtrak train, Republican Bob Stefanowski said Thursday that Connecticut taxpayers are being victimized by a “corrupt tax” and of an unfortunate Democratic governor, Ned Lamont.
Stefanowski was standing in an acoustically challenging location near the New London waterfront, a place with a distant view of a State Pier whose reconstruction is plagued with cost overruns and in the shadow of an FBI investigation.
“You’re going to hear a lot about it by November, the corruption tax,” Stefanowski said, his voice rising. “Remember that name: Governor Lamont’s Corruption Tax.
In his first press conference since a staff shuffle, Stefanowski spoke both cautiously and recklessly, claiming a scourge of corruption without directly accusing Lamont or anyone in his administration of specific wrongdoings.
He compared Lamont unfavorably to John G. Rowland, the Republican governor who resigned facing impeachment in 2004 and then went to prison on a federal bribery charge stemming from a bid-rigging conspiracy.
“The buck stops with him,” Stefanowski said of Lamont. “There have been more allegations of corruption in this administration – I turned 60 this year – than I have ever seen. John Rowland went to jail…for building a hot tub.
Most people familiar with the list of wrongdoings during Rowland’s tenure, who accepted more than $100,000 in gifts and services from recipients of his favors, would question that claim.
Rowland’s plea deal admitted flying for free on planes provided by a charter airline that was given a tax break inserted into the budget by the governor and conspired with his chief of staff and a state contractor to other favors.
“Obviously, Mr. Stefanowski probably doesn’t know much about the details of the Rowland case,” said Arthur J. O’Neill, the Republican co-chairman of the bipartisan House impeachment committee that ousted Rowland from its seats. functions.
Rowland accepted the gift of a hot tub at the cottage which he managed to buy and renovate while facing financial pressures, but it came from an assistant – an ethical question, but one that didn’t played a role in his conviction.
“The thing he went to jail for had nothing to do with the hot tub,” O’Neill said.
No charges have been brought in the FBI’s current investigation into Connecticut’s quasi-public Port Authority, which manages the State Pier and its reconstruction, or an investigation into school building grants. .
It has been public knowledge since February 2 that the FBI, beginning in October, subpoenaed documents relating to the duties of a sacked state budget official, Konstantinos Diamantis, who oversaw government grants. construction of schools and, to a lesser extent, the State Pier project.
No one has been charged with a crime and Diamantis has denied any wrongdoing.
Stefanowski attempted to establish a cohesive narrative unifying his disparate themes of inflation, parental control over education, the governor’s record on taxes, and his control over government.
Last week, the Port Authority revealed that federal authorities had served a subpoena in March demanding records and correspondence effectively covering all the authority’s cases between 2016 and present.
The disclosure gave Stefanowski an opportunity to pause his focus on inflation and return to an issue of corruption and mismanagement he has tried to build on since launching his campaign.
It doesn’t represent a permanent change to his messaging, he said.
“We focus on the economy,” Stefanowski said. “But when he makes massive mistakes, like we see behind here, and I’m the Republican gubernatorial nominee, I have the opportunity to bring it out.”
Originally budgeted at $93 million, the State Pier project is now expected to cost closer to $255 million.
Stefanowski stood with his running mate, Representative Laura Devlin of Fairfield, and other lawmakers next to a simple visual aid depicting the initial budget and the higher $150 million cost: a green chalkboard labeled “$93 million.” dollars” and a red marked “over $242 million.
The green board does not reach the height of the candidate. Red was about as tall as Stefanowski, who is well over 6 feet tall.
“This project is an example of everything that is wrong with this administration,” Devlin said.
Stefanowski said he would have insisted that the Port Authority demand that Ørsted North America and Eversource, developers of the wind project, take responsibility for the higher costs.
“And if you don’t, we’ll find you two more partners,” Stefanowski said. “It’s the difference between a CEO and a guy who ran a small cable company, who didn’t care about the taxpayers of Connecticut.”
The suggestion that Lamont is in over his head is not new.
In an interview with CT Mirror in June, Stefanowski suggested the Governor, an entrepreneur who founded a niche cable TV company, couldn’t have made the cut at GE, the corporate giant where Stefanowski s rose during the reign of Jack Welch. , the late CEO whose legacy faded with GE’s fortunes.
On Tuesday, as he did during the interview in June, Stefanowski described himself as a hard-nosed executive ready to fire people.
The Port Authority has been dogged by management failures involving questionable purchases and personnel issues, leading to the resignation of its chairman, Scott Bates, and a request by the governor for an independent review in August 2019.
“With his campaign in chaos, Bob Stefanowski is once again looking at desperate attacks that have no basis in reality,” said Jake Lewis, a Lamont campaign spokesman. “The facts speak for themselves. Within six months of taking office, Governor Lamont installed new leadership and created tight controls to further enhance accountability and transparency.
Stefanowski blamed Governor Bates for keeping his job as Under Secretary of State.
“Leadership is about empowering people. Leadership is about sending a message to the rest of the organization that we will not tolerate fraud,” Stefanowski said. “Leadership isn’t about taking someone who failed in their first job, cost the state of Connecticut $150 million, and putting them into another lavish job.”
Bates was appointed assistant secretary of state in January 2017, but was not named there after he was removed from his position as a part-time member of the authority’s board. He is appointed by the Secretary of State, not the Governor.
Lamont bypassed Bates when Secretary of State Denise Merrill resigned in June to care for her ailing husband, stepping out of office to name a successor to complete his term.
Stefanowski said Lamont should have pressured Merrill to fire Bates, whose performance as undersecretary of state has not been questioned. Stefanowski said he would have.
“I would walk up to that woman and say, ‘Here’s what I think we should do,'” he said.
Stefanowski said the governor should also have demanded that West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi resign following revelations of fiscal mismanagement and allegations of fraud involving federal aid.
“Here’s the door,” Stefanowski said. “That’s what I was doing in the corporate world.”