(Updated 1:15 p.m.)Citing veterans’ concerns over the New Haven People’s Center’s communist ties, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy pulled funding for renovations to the building from Monday’s Bond Commission agenda.
“I have to say, I’ve thought a lot about this project over the last few weeks. Enough questions have been raised and clearly we do not have a consensus on this particular issue. I’m particularly concerned about the opposition of veterans groups. Therefore I have decided we should not go forward with this project,” Malloy said during the meeting.
Monday was the second time the project has been stricken from a the Bond Commission’s agenda. In April a woman from Wethersfield emailed the Bond Commission to let them know two board members of Progressive Education and Research Associates, the nonprofit organization which runs the New Haven People’s Center, are members of the Communist Party USA.
But proponents of the project and members of Malloy’s administration defended the project during a press conference at the end of May.
Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, who requested the $300,000 project said the money will go to repair what was a part of New Haven’s landscape long before it became the New Haven Peoples Center. She said the 160-year-old building has architectural and historical significance for the state.
On Friday Vietnam vets and motorcycle club members protested the state funding outside the community center.
Malloy said the veteran opposition was enough to give him pause.
“This clearly has become an emotional issue,” he said at a press conference following the Bond Commission meeting.
“I’m concerned about the amount of controversy this has caused, particularly with respect to those individuals who have served this nation in the armed services,” he said. “… Because of the amount of opposition and hurt that this has engendered, I thought it was appropriate to move on.”
Malloy permanently removed the funding from Monday’s agenda and encouraged the group to seek other means to fund the renovations.
Harp said she was disappointed in the governor’s decision and thought many people in her district will be disappointed as well. She said she didn’t know of Malloy’s plans to pull the project.
“I certainly would have appreciated some notice but I didn’t get it,” she said in a phone interview.
Harp said she thinks the people who run the community center will find a way to regroup and save the building.
The Bond Commission’s two Republican members, Sen. Andrew Roraback and Rep. Sean Williams, have criticized the project since it first appeared on the agenda in April. Last week they held a press conference pointing to a newspaper with a Marxist editorial mission, which has its regional offices in the building.
Roraback and Williams praised the governor’s decision. Roraback said the notion that the state was poised to invest $300,000 in an organization clearly political in nature was “outrageous.”
“I’m pleased that veterans were able to change the governor’s mind. It does beg the question how this item ever appeared on the agenda in the first place,” he said. “I think the more the public learned about where their taxpayer dollars were going, the greater the anger.”
Williams said the fact that the money even ended up on the Bond Commission’s agenda was evidence the state needs to do a better job scrutinizing all projects it decides to fund.
“It was an item that had very little detail, something that was sort of out of the blue and I think it was an appropriate decision on [Malloy’s] part to drop it,” he said.
However, the decision was a switch for the administration, which as late as Thursday defended the project. Malloy’s Senior Adviser Roy Occhiogrosso said last week that pulling the project would start the state down a dangerous path.
Occhiogrosso said examining the past or present political leanings of every organization the state gives money to raises civil liberty and First Amendment concerns. He criticized Republicans for playing politics with the project.
“It’s pretty clear they’re trying to score political points but they’re using a playbook from 1955 and they’re not gaining much traction,” he said.