Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Essential Blumenthal

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, some Blumenthal watchers will tell you, cannot be left unattended. Like a toddler used to the steadying hand of his nanny, Mr. Blumenthal topples easily when he is left to himself. Propped up by his subalterns – numerous attorneys in his office and, now that he is the front runner in a campaign for the U.S. Congress, any political adepts the Beltway can spare in an important election season for congressional Democrats – Mr. Blumenthal expertly navigates past the political shoals. Left to himself, he shivers the timbers of his handlers.

Recently, Mr. Blumenthal traveled to the Norwalk Inn to celebrate a victory of sorts. Almost eight years ago, the owner of the inn purchased an adjoining property, intending to knock down a house in disrepair that squatted on the property. The owner had no difficulty getting from the town a demolition permit, and he bought the property intending to demolish the long vacant house, which would permit him to expand the Norwalk Inn horizontally.

But the owner’s plans were soon torn asunder. It turned out that the house the property owner wished to level once stood on Grumman’s Hill, no longer there, from which British Revolutionary War Gen. William Tryon watched his troops looting and burning Norwalk. A legend, since discredited, held that Tryon sat in a rocking chair on the hill. The dilapidated house, its windows boarded up and its porch sagging, was very much in need of a patron to restore it.

Blumenthal’s office decided that the patron should be the owner of the Inn, who apparently had purchased a litigatory albatross. In vain did the owner produce his demolition permit. The house, set in an historic district since 1986, was considered historically significant.

Litigation commenced -- and continued for six grueling years, in the course of which, arguing the case himself in Superior Court, Blumenthal maintained the owner had purposely neglected the house he proposed to demolish, frozen for half a dozen years in complex litigation, because he wanted the house to collapse in ruins. Leveling such a meretricious charge is not an effective way to gain friends and influence people, nor could it possibly have improved any negotiation process. The charge urged against Blumenthal by those who oppose his high handed tactics is that he is 90% stick and 10% carrot.

Blumenthal’s charge, as well as the seeming unending litigation, stung because the owner had four years earlier, according to a November, 2006 story in the Norwalk Advocate, proposed to all the disputants in the controversy an offer he thought they could not refuse. The owner offered to refurbish the house or sell it for a dollar to preservationists if he could be certain he would be allowed to add to the Norwalk Inn a third floor, without which he would not be able to afford the rehabilitation.

The inn’s owner, according to the news report, “cited an offer he made in 2002 to save the home if he could build a third story on the inn. Current zoning regulations do not allow a third story.”

The Inn’s owner needed help with a zoning board. He got six years of litigation in the neck.

"The last five years, where were you?” he asked. “We have made offers to you. Nobody responded."

More litigation ensued.

Four years after the knout of litigation, everyone apparently got what they wanted. The owner would restore the house in ruins, a casualty of protracted litigation. It was the time consuming litigation – not any attempt by the owner of the ruined house to sabotage his own property – that brought the house to its knees.

The breakthrough moment came when State Senator Bob Duff and State Representative Larry Cafero intervened to unfreeze the ice. Cafero -- who served as a mediator during the successful year-long negotiation prior to the resolution of the problems – gave a presentation showing the improvements that would be made both to the Norwalk Inn and the historically significant wreck of a house.

Now, at the tail end of the painful process, Mr. Blumenthal would have his moment before the cameras.

At the end of the presentation, Mr. Blumenthal made some brief remarks, as did the President of the Norwalk Preservation Trust and the owner of the inn, pleased that at long last -- pending zoning approval -- he would be given his additional story, without which he could not pick up the tab for repairs. An awkward moment occurred, when Blumenthal mentioned that such legal struggles as occurred during the preceding six years sometimes made friends of the bitterest enemies.

At the end of Mr. Blumenthal’s remarks, Mr. Cafareo said, “Are there any questions? Okay,” and everyone stepped off the dais. There was no pause between Mr. Cafero’s terminal question and his “Okay.” The cameras were immediately shut off.

No one asked the owner of the property if he intended to vote for Mr. Blumenthal, his newfound friend, during the upcoming U.S. senate election.

The cookies provided by the Norwalk Inn owner were irresistible. Mr. Blumenthal, having been suitably attended by the lawyers that came with him and his staff, left on his own steam after a bit of mingling. No awkward moments were recorded after the cameras had been quickly shut down. No hard questions were asked of Mr. Blumenthal. And the abstemious Mr. Blumenthal ate no cookies.

5 comments:

househugger said...

You are wrong when you write that the Grumman-St. John House at 93 East Avenue is not in a historic district. It has been listed in the National Register as part if the Norwalk Green Historic District since 1986. The Inn bought it in 2001. They knew within a few months that the house was in a historic district. The Inn was actually sued by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act. Blumenthal, as Attorney General, is their lawyer. The Norwalk Preservation Trust also sued the Inn. This is a positive result for all parties that would not have happened without the lawsuit.

Don Pesci said...

Re: historic district. Thanks, I made the correction. I agree the result was positive. But the result could not have negotiated by Blumenthal. Once you pull out the litigation pistol, it’s pretty much a fight to the death. Blumenthal should have been negotiating with zoning regulators early on to allow the third floor so that all parties should get what they wanted. That office was supplied by Cafero and Duff. Tod Bryant, the president of the Norwalk Preservation Trust and the lawyer Mr Blumenthal brought with him to the announcement both believe that the litigation was more useful than harmful. I think it was harmful. The agreement hangs on zoning board approval. If they do not approve the plan, everyone is back to square one, and Blumenthal has not intervened with the board.

Henry Berry said...

Yep - Pesci is right - Blumenthal away from the spotlight is like a fish out of water - his whole political career has been a flight from accountability in favor of image-making and immunization from accountability - he has shown some talent for this - but it has depended considerably on the docility and indifference of the CT mainstream media- his play for Dodd's senate seat is a flight from having to face questions about his decisions and actions as attorney general which were catching up to him as my years-long exposure of widespread and alarming scandal in the state's attorney's system slowly spread - I believe Blumenthal will likely be CT's next senator - but I also believe CT voters and residents should know just what they are getting so as to be on guard against the continued erosion of their rights and continued and increasing government remoteness from the legitimate and pressing concerns and questions of citizens.

littlefieg said...

Blumenthal has had 20 years, during which the media has failed to shine a light on his nefarious and treacherous dealings. The CT Legislature has also been kindly turning a blind eye to Blumenthal's mismanagement of the office of AG. He has weilded more power over the state than the governors.

Now with Linda's campaign, she has lit a candle and is shedding more light than all the media combined.

Hearst papers ran a long article on Blumenthal Sunday, but why did they run only 20 year old pictures of him. That seemed odd, as though it was their effort to portray him as young. The upshot is that there is not much difference between Dodd and Blumenthal's ethical nature.

Anonymous said...

Being a lifelong Norwalk resident this was clearly a 6 year fiasco that created a high traffic zone EYE SORE in Norwalk according to most Norwalkers

that would of been corrected amicably years earlier if Blumy did not get involved

according to reports from City Hall friends common council and people in the know Blumenthal was taking this for his usual drag-out Public Relations ride as far as he could with little regard for a solution