In a tightly controlled town hall-style meeting attended by close to 200, the governor fielded questions from a select few on issues ranging from health care, early childhood education and gun control Wednesday in council chambers.
Accompanied by an entourage, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, along with Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, arrived in Middletown city hall promptly at 7 p.m. to a room filled beyond capacity, answering 11 questions pre-screened by topic and "picked from a hat," according to staff.
This first of such events this year expected to take place across the state, was attended by many city and board of education employees, and other residents who faithfully attend public sessions.
“This administration has dealt with a number of crises with grace and with dignity, most recently with the tragic events in ,” said Mayor Dan Drew, who introduced the program.
"The lieutenant governor and governor have handled every one of these issues with integrity and with intensity.”
Malloy started off by awarding a proclamation to Eli Cannon’s and NoRA Cupcake Co. co-owner Phil Ouellette for his dedication and commitment to the North End of Middletown.
Never one to miss an opportunity for a quip, Ouellette said, “When Mayor Drew called me this morning and told me that the five original people he wanted to give this award to couldn’t make it, I was thrilled to take their place.”
The second question, from the former chair of the Democratic Town Committee Lisa Santangelo, was about eliminating the property tax on vehicles. She told Malloy when she first heard about the proposal, she was pleased, but then wondered about the impact on municipalities and a loss of revenue.
“No other state in the nation taxes cars like we do,” Malloy said. Rates, he said, per town across Connecticut “vary from less than 11 mils in one small town to 75 mils in another. That’s $11 per $1,000 in value” of a vehicle.
Joseph Camilleri of Rocky Hill asked the governor about the choice of placing a 95-bed nursing home to house elderly prisoners and the mentally ill near his home. the proposed inmate convalescent center at the former home of Haven Hospital. Camilleri asked if residents will be free to leave the facility.
“The answer is no,” Malloy said. “These are individuals who are receiving end-of-life treatment,” adding that the state can’t access federal dollars and Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.
The plan is to change that, the governor said. “I’m looking you straight in the face; six months, and we’ll have a conversation,” Malloy said.
Intermittently throughout the event, gun rights advocates spoke out, charging Malloy with "suppressing" their rights. Prior to the start, several expressed disappointment at the format of the meeting, including retired Middletown police officer Tom Sebold and Gail Whitright of Middletown, a Connecticut teacher and Propositionusa.com founder, who came with a two-page statement she had planned to make.
"When are you going to stand up for Americans?" repeats throughout Whitright's statement, which says President Obama signed a small arms treaty with the United Nations, "whose goal is total gun confiscation."
"They talk about gun control, and 8,650 times a year, Americans defend themselves, and this today was an example of us not being able to use our First Amendment [rights]. [Malloy] would not let us speak," Whitright said to a television reporter after the forum.
Sporting an American Flag cap, an articulate and ardent Dave Perry, Middletown business owner and Glastonbury resident, asked Malloy why gun owners, he felt, are being singled out as a way to combat violence when more crimes are committed by other populations. (see video for his full remarks).
He asked about the governor's security detail in light of the proposed gun control which contains an exception for the assault weapons and high-capacity magazine ban for law enforcement officers. "Is this because you believe your life is more valuable than mine or my family's?," Perry asked.
Malloy answered no, adding that if registered gun owners pass a background check, they keep their weapons. "That's a compliment. There are people who believe these guns should be confiscated or taken away. What we're saying in this state is, 'we don't want them sold in this state anymore.'"
"I think everyone in this room should know if their neighbor has one of those weapons who shouldn't have one of those weapons," Malloy said, calling it a "common-sense approach." Perry countered with calling 10 magazine rounds an "arbitrary number."
Before 2004, Malloy said, magazines were limited to 10, saying he was uncertain what Perry considered "modern" handguns.
Betsy Morgan, director of the Middlesex Coalition for Children, commended the governor on his support of early childhood education but then expressed concern about two programs slated for elimination — Family School Connection, a program of the Child Trust Fund, and Even Start.
Malloy had staff make a note with the promise to get back to Morgan with answers.
Founder of the Ryan Woods Autism Foundation Brenda Woods pleaded with the governor to consider revising voluntary services under the state departments of Developmental Services and Child and Family Services.
“Early childhood is great but these kids grow up and they spend more time as adults than they do as children,” Wilson said.
Malloy assured Wilson the issue was in the forefront of his priorities, including he has a grandnephew and grandniece “on the spectrum” of autism.
One woman asked about the large number of empty state buildings in the city, if there is an inventory and what is being done with them. Her mention of one such structure boarded up near Connecticut Valley Hospital was met with applause from some audience members.
"That is something I inherited," Malloy said, "but that I'm not proud of." He then explained how the high costs of converting these buildings has hampered efforts to repurpose them.
Another moment of levity broke out when Liz Frazier, director of Even Start, accompanied by mothers and children, walked to the speaking area with an infant girl on her hip and Wyman offered to hold the child so she could speak.
"Do you need a grandma?" Wyman asked as Frazier implored Malloy to retain Even Start's services intact as her clientele are "women going to high school, going to learn to speak English."
"I don't have an easy answer for you," Malloy told her.
The brisk meeting wrapped up within an hour and as Malloy departed swiftly, many stayed behind, including Drew, council and board of education head Patricia Charles and members, and state Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-100th, to help residents whose questions were unheard.
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