Saturday, August 02, 2014

Don’t Mess With New Britain

You’ll walk the floor, the way I do
You’re cheating heart will tell on you -- Hank Williams

If it had been Christmas, Josh Solomon, the owner of the New Britain Rock Cats  – soon to be renamed the Hartford Rock Cats – might have found a lump of coal in his stocking. But it’s August, and the fiercely patriotic Mayor of New Britain, Erin Stewart, contented herself with a “Dear John” letter requesting a payment of back taxes owed and announcing the end of a once great romance.

 The back taxes in the amount of $164,569.26 actually are owed to Berlin, but the tax bill was paid by New Britain to avoid an interest accrual of $4,937.08.” The Rock Cats stadium straddles the New Britain-Berlin town line.

Ms. Stewart’s letter is a study in smoldering rage. She begins in a business-like manner by advising: “The lease agreement between New Britain and the Rock Cats is clear that they are responsible for these taxes. ... But, if the Solomons continue their refusal to pay their taxes, Berlin can hold New Britain responsible for this payment since we are the property owners. I am not about to let them rack up late fees on the backs of our taxpayers.”

Then comes the hammer: “I am deeply disturbed by the pattern of utter disrespect that this ownership group has shown to their home city over the past few months. In June, they went public with their dalliance with Hartford, which hasn’t turned out to be quite the “done deal” that some made it out to be. Since then, they have continued their radio silence with New Britain. Now they are stiffing the taxpayers of Berlin and New Britain on their tax bill.”

The breakup between New Britain and the Rock Cats, a Double-A minor league baseball club, has not been amicable. Worse, it was first a hidden then a very public divorce. And New Britain, it is clear, does not like being jilted by money grubbing baseball gigolos.

For months, the owners of the Rock Cats ball club had been engaged in a secret romance with Mayor of Hartford Pedro Segarra and other city fathers – but not, Governor Dannel Malloy hastened to point out in this contentious election year, anyone associated with the governor’s office. Mayor Stewart of New Britain is a Republican who recently upset the Democratic applecart in New Britain, and Mr. Malloy is a sort of Huey Long progressive Democrat whose political thumb is buried in nearly every political pie in the state.

Consider the history of the Rock Cats many “dalliances.” The franchise began in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (1965-1969), and then moved to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where it dallied for three years. The franchise then moved to Bristol, Connecticut and played at Muzzy Field for ten seasons (1973-1982). In 1983, owner Joe Buzas moved the team, the New Britain Red Sox, to New Britain. When Beehive Field in New Britain began to show signs of age, the owner of the franchise toyed with the idea of moving the team to Springfield, Massachusetts, but his heart remained with New Britain; whereupon the Red Sox re-affiliated with the Trenton Thunder in New Jersey, and owner Buzas signed a new development agreement with the Minnesota Twins. New Britain Stadium opened in 1996, and the team name changed in 1997 to the current New Britain Rock Cats.

There are, it will be noticed, lots of musical chairs on the good ship “Rock Cats” – lots of petting and pawing and romancing and cheating and broken hearts and wailing by rudely rejected politicians. Ms. Stewart is by no means the first politician to whom the owners of the Rock Cats have pledged their troth. Nor, judging from the flighty franchise record, will she be the last.

When the Rock Cats, following months of closed-door negotiations, officially announced that the team was straying from New Britain to Hartford, the good people of Hartford vented their disapproval at a town meeting. Why was the city of Hartford so anxious to divert to this new venture tax money that might have been used to repair roads, improve schools, stock libraries with books, purchase the service of more police to monitor gang activity in the city and provide the amenities that any livable city should afford their citizens? A lonely rebel at the town meeting – not a politician, of course – wondered aloud whether the Hartford-Rock Cats deal ever could turn a profit.  It was a raucous meeting.

One casualty of the political crunch, lately endorsed in a Democratic primary run for the State Senate by the Hartford Courant, was Hartford City Council President Shawn Wooden, who appeared early on to approve the Rock Cats move to Hartford. Much later, after the town meeting dust-up, Mr. Wooden qualified his endorsement of the move: He still supports the relocation effort, but he’d like someone other than the city of Hartford to assume the bulk of the resettlement costs.

At the present time, it looks like Ms. Stewart is one of the few politicians blighted by the Rock Cats’ cheating heart who still has her head above water. Most of the rest of them – with the exception of Mr. Malloy, who wisely decided to step away from all the smooching and petting – are blowing bubbles.

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