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Dinardo Ends a Decade as Democratic State Chair


 Nancy DiNardo is ending a decade as Democratic state chairwoman next month and is expected to be succeeded by her vice chair, Nick Balletto, with the backing of the recently re-elected Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

DiNardo, 65, of Trumbull, one of the nation’s longest-serving state chairs, is leaving on a high note, but her departure also comes at a time of sweeping transition since Jonathan Harris, the executive director, also is leaving.

The state’s majority party is coming off an impressive statewide victory, building an infrastructure that helped Malloy overcome tepid job-approval ratings to win a second term with 51 percent of the vote. He is the first Democratic governor elected in a generation.

DiNardo and Harris are leaving as the governor and other party leaders are assessing how much of the election-year infrastructure can be maintained permanently.

“I think we had a great team,” DiNardo said in an interview Friday. “I loved every minute of it.”

The choice of DiNardo’s successor is up to the 72-member Democratic State Central Committee, but the committee usually defers to the wishes of a sitting governor. DiNardo said she believed that Balletto has the support of both the committee and governor.

“Going forward, I believe that Nick Balletto would do an excellent job in the role of chair,” Malloy said in a statement. “There are important elections in our towns and cities this fall and I know Nick is committed to continuing the work that Nancy and the Connecticut Democratic Party have done to partner with Democrats running for local, state, and federal offices.”

DiNardo and Balletto informed the committee of their plans by email Friday.

DiNardo said she intends to remain active for a transitional period, essentially switching jobs with Balletto by running for vice chair next month. Balletto, 48, who now lives in Guilford, was the Democratic town chairman of New Haven from 1996 to 2002. The city is the party’s single largest source of votes.

Harris, a former state senator from West Hartford, took the role of executive director in May 2011, four months after Malloy was inaugurated.

With Malloy’s fundraising help, DiNardo and Harris oversaw a dramatic expansion of the party’s staff in the 18 months before the 2014 election. The party raised $6.7 million in 2013 and 2014 through its federal account and another $1.1 million in 2014 through its state account.

Harris, a lawyer, is leaving the party post as Malloy is assembling his team for the second term. His plans were not made public.

The role of a state party chair has evolved along with campaigns.

The archetype of a state chairman was John Bailey, the Democratic chairman from 1946 until his death in 1975. During his three decades in power, the state parties tightly controlled the nominating process through conventions.

Today, nominating battles are more often settled by primaries, not  conventions.

Photo: CT Mirror

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Hartford Vigil Set for Slain NYC Police


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Mothers United Against Violence will hold a vigil at City Hall on Wednesday for slain New York Police Officers: Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.

Forty-year-old Ramos and 32-year-old Liu were ambushed and shot at point-blank range on Saturday, while seated in a police cruiser in Brooklyn, New York.

The shooter, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, reportedly boasted about killing police officers before he headed over to Myrtle Avenue and approached the officers from behind. He fired four shots at the car and fled.

The city’s vigil will be held on Dec. 23 at noon at City Hall, 550 Main St., downtown Hartford.

Like other communities across the country, Hartford organizers said this is an opportunity to respond to a police ambush that shocked a nation.

According to  NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton. Liu had been married for two months. Ramos had a 13-year-old son.

Observers said that this police ambush was a retaliation against the court verdict of the killing of innocent black people, including the recent shooting and court verdict for Michael Brown. Brown was reportedly shot in the back.

President Barack Obama said there’s no justification for murder.

Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, called Mr. Bratton on Sunday to offer condolences and later issued a statement, saying: “I unconditionally condemn today’s murder of two police officers in New York City. Two brave men won’t be going home to their loved ones tonight, and for that, there is no justification.”

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Local Farms to Benefit from USDA Project


HARTFORD — Connecticut is one of eight states selected by the United States Department of Agriculture to participate in the pilot project to buy fruits and vegetables for school meals.

The program is provided for under the federal Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill. Under the program, Connecticut will be able to increase its purchases of locally-grown fruits and vegetables for its state-assisted school meal program.

Officials said this is great news for local farmers and the economy because the state is home to a large farming community.

Nationally, USDA Foods – provided by the USDA to schools – make up about 20 percent of the foods served in schools. States use their USDA Foods allocation to select items from a list of 180 products including fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, poultry, rice, low fat cheese, beans, pasta, flour and other whole grain products.

This pilot program will allow the selected states to use some of their USDA Foods allocation to purchase unprocessed fruits and vegetables directly, instead of going through the USDA Foods program.

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Tickets on Sale for Governor’s Inauguration Event


HARTFORD — Tickets are now available for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov.  Nancy Wyman’s gubernatorial inauguration ceremony on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015.

The ceremony will be held at the William A. O’Neill State Armory on 360 Broad Street in Hartford and is free and open to the public.

Tickets are not necessary and seats are first come, first served.  Doors will open at 11:30 a.m. and the ceremony will begin at 1:30 p.m.

The state’s constitutional officers – Attorney General George Jepsen, State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, State Treasurer Denise L. Nappier, and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill – will also be sworn into office during the ceremony.

The traditional inauguration parade will step off at 11:30 a.m. that morning, commencing near the intersection of Jewell Street and Trinity Street in downtown Hartford, proceeding under the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, turning right onto Capitol Avenue past the State Capitol building, then turning right onto Broad Street and ending at the State Armory.

Guests attending the inauguration ceremony should plan for road closures in the areas surrounding the State Capitol and the State Armory during the parade.

As was previously announced, the 2015 Connecticut Inaugural Ball will be hosted by the First Company Governor’s Food Guard and held later that evening at the Connecticut Convention Center.

Tickets to that event are on sale now and can be purchased online at www.ctinauguralball.com or via telephone by calling 860-246-7772.

 

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President Obama Lifts Bans on Cuba


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In a move that has been hailed as historic, President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed an executive order to “re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba.”

The move to thaw the relationship with this communist country comes after months of secret talks between the Obama administration and Cuban officials in Canada and the Vatican. Talks culminated with a 45-minute conversation on Tuesday between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, which detailed ways the United States would end 53 years of enmity that has caused disagreement in the Caribbean basin. Fidel Castro was not involved in these discussions, officials said.

Obama had to forgo Congress. Only Congress, which imposed sanctions on Cuba in 1961, can dismantle them completely. So the president’s move was mostly a symbolic but powerful one, according to a White House official on background call before Obama’s live speech. This move represents the most significant changes to America’s Cuba policy in more than 50 years, a White House official said.

“These are the steps that I can take to change these policies,” Obama said in his televised speech from the East Room, emphasizing the limits of his unilateral move to help the U.S. “normalize relations” with Cuba.

Unresolved disputes remain, however. Cubans urged for an end of the U.S. pro-democracy programs in Cuba, which they see as a subversive attempt to overthrow Castro. The White House stood firm on those demands, refusing to disrupt that policy.

Obama’s executive order bodes well for Cuba’s economy because Cuba agreed to release political prisoners, including “a very frail” Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor who U.S. officials said was wrongfully imprisoned. The order now allows travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba.

Former Florida Governor and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, challenged Obama’s move toward Cuba, saying to USA Today: “I don’t think we should be negotiating with a repressive regime to make changes in our relationship.”

Bush has  favorable ratings in  large Cuban-American constituencies in Florida.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban American, said he would do all he can as the incoming chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to block Obama’s plan.

While politicos plan to make moves in Congress, most Americans will now be able to travel to Cuba. Previously, there was a ban on all travel to Cuba. Now, government officials and academicians can travel there.

“With the changes I’m announcing today, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, and Americans will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island,”  Obama said.

Other benefits to Americans in this move also allows Cuban Americans to travel and send remittances to their family, US embassies will now be in Cuba, and easier trade relations.

Travel for tourist activities are still banned.

Photo Credit: President Barack Obama delivers a statement on Cuba and the release of American Alan Gross, in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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Another Top Aide for Gov. Malloy Resigns


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Another top aide to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will be stepping down by January 2015.

Andrew Doba, the governor’s communications director, will resign at the end of Malloy’s first term. Mark Bergman is expected to fill Doba’s position, according to a press release by sent by Malloy’s office on Tuesday.

“From historic storms to unimaginable tragedy to the day-to-day operations of state government, we have faced many challenges over the last four years.  With Andrew’s help, we have effectively communicated our vision for the state in the face of this adversity,” Malloy said.  “I want to thank him for his service, and wish him well in whatever is next.”

Doba, a native from Ansonia who has been working as Malloy’s spokesman for three years, said he was honored that he got the chance to honor the governor’s agenda. He previously worked as Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell, a democrat.

“As tough as it’s been, the work we did to advance the Governor’s agenda has been the best job I’ve ever had,” Doba said. “ And while I’m sad to leave, I’m fortunate to have a number of opportunities that I look forward to pursuing in the coming years.”

So far, Doba marks the third top official from Malloy’s administration to step down.

Sources said they expect other top aides to resign before Malloy begins his second term. Last week, Luke Bronin, Malloy’s chief legal counsel who served two years on the job, announced his resignation. He said many Hartford residents have urged him to challenge Mayor Pedro Segarra.

Additional resignations from the Malloy administration includes Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, State Board of Education Member Andrea Comer and Higher Education Commissioner Lewis Robinson.

Doba will stay on as a Senior Adviser to assist with the transition, help with the coming inauguration and the start of the legislative session.

His final date of state service will be determined in the coming weeks.

“I am honored to continue to work with Governor Malloy as he continues to build a better, stronger Connecticut,” Bergman said.  “I look forward to working in his administration to continue to build on Connecticut’s progress over the last four years.”

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Mortgage Officer Sentenced for Fraud


NEW HAVEN —  A former loan officer at GMAC Mortgage and Countrywide Home Loans is expected to serve five years in prison for his role in a mortgage fraud scheme arising from the purchases of more than 40 properties in New Haven, New Jersey, according to state officials.

U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced that Andrew Constantinou, 58, of Unionville, Connecticut, was previously convicted on April 18, 2014, of all counts charged in the indictment following a three-week trial before Chief U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall.

The jury found him guilty of conspiracy to commit mail, wire, and bank fraud. Judge Hall imposed the sentence today in New Haven federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and the evidence at trial:

From 2006 to 2008, Constantinou and others conspired to defraud mortgage lenders of millions of dollars of mortgage proceeds by inflating the contract price that the sellers of the properties had actually agreed to accept. The scheme involved multi-family properties in New Haven.

The lower sale price, which ranged from approximately $30,000 to $145,000 less than the contract price, was not disclosed to the lenders from which the buyers obtained financing to purchase the properties. In most of the fraudulent transactions, the buyers did not make any deposits or down payments. Constantinou and his conspirators used some of the fraudulently obtained mortgage proceeds to cover the down payments and deposits. At or shortly after a closing, the borrowers would often receive thousands to tens of thousands of dollars in cash back, although these payments were not disclosed to the lender.

Constantinou and his conspirators submitted to mortgage lenders false HUD-1 forms that often did not match another, undisclosed HUD-1 form that was actually used to disburse the fraudulently obtained proceeds at the closing. As a result of the submission of the false HUD-1 forms and other false documentation in support of the loan, including fictitious leases and false information about the borrower’s assets and liabilities, the mortgage lenders would issue mortgages based on the inflated sales price.

Constantinou was a loan officer at GMAC Mortgage from 2006 to 2007 and at Countrywide Home Loans from 2007 to 2008.  He submitted and received commissions from fraudulent loans as part of the scheme without disclosing the existence of inflated contract prices, secret contract addenda that contained large repair credits, false leases, and other false documentation.

Constantinou worked with an unindicted conspirator, who was a licensed mortgage broker, to originate additional loans as part of the conspiracy. Constantinou and the mortgage broker were former partners at C&S Mortgage and had agreed, by the terms of a 2004 settlement agreement with the Connecticut Department of State Banking, to receive no commissions or money from each other. Notwithstanding that settlement agreement, Constantinou engaged in this mortgage fraud scheme by referring fraudulent transactions to the mortgage broker who, in some instances, paid kickbacks to Constantinou through a shell company and the account of Constantinou’s daughter.

Nearly all of the properties purchased as part of this conspiracy went into default and have been foreclosed upon, causing losses of more than $7 million to lenders.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Hall sentenced Constantinou to serve five years of supervised release and pay restitution of $2.1 million.

Ten defendants have been charged and convicted for their participation in this mortgage fraud conspiracy, including two loan officers, four attorneys, and a real estate agent.  Genevieve Salvatore, Bradford Rieger, Lawrence Dressler, Kwame Nkrumah, and Jacques Kelly have each been sentenced. Menachem Yosef Levitin, Ronald Hutchison Jr., Charles Lesser, and Jeffrey Weisman each await sentencing.

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UConn Begins New Stem Cell Research


STORRS — The University of Connecticut recently announced a new stem cell research collaboration in the field of rare disease with Cheshire, CT-based Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

The collaboration will expand on the work of Dr. David J. Goldhamer, Professor, Molecular & Cell Biology and Associate Director of the UConn Stem Cell Institute.

Dr. Goldhamer has identified the offending progenitor cell type that drives the pathology of a group of diseases and has developed physiologically relevant disease models. These models will be used to further understand the pathophysiology of these disorders and to test potential therapeutics.

“This collaboration targets unmet medical needs for patients while demonstrating the vitality of the life science community in Connecticut,” said Dr. Jeff Seemann, UConn’s Vice President for Research. “As part of Connecticut’s flagship public university and a top 20 public research institution, UConn’s faculty routinely offers tools and expertise to fuel the innovative needs of industry, and that are critically necessary to industry’s ability to succeed in today’s highly competitive global marketplace.”

The research collaboration is expected to focus on the discovery and testing of therapeutic candidates to treat rare and disabling disorders for which there are currently no effective treatments.

Connecticut was one of the first states to fund stem cell research.

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Deadline to Enroll in ObamaCare Today


Updated Monday, December 15, 2014 @ 5:34 p.m.

HARTFORD — In order to begin health coverage under the Affordable Health Care Act by January, residents must enroll by this Monday, state officials said.

Consumers who elect not to enroll before the Dec. 15  deadline will still have until Feb. 15 to enroll and avoid a tax penalty.

Connecticut residents, who are enrolled  in health insurance after Feb. 15, 2015, will be fined either 2 percent of household income over the federal income tax filing threshold, or $325 per individual, $162.50 per child, or $975 for families– whichever is greater.

This is an increase from last year’s tax penalties, which were 1 percent of household income over the federal income tax filing threshold, or $95 per person and $47.50/child, whichever was greater.

After the Feb. 15, 2015 deadline, only people with special circumstances like a change of address, change in employment, or birth may enroll for coverage.

Residents can compare plans and shop for coverage online, over the phone, or with the help of an in-person assister. Call center representatives are available  at 1‐855‐805-HEALTH (4325).

In-person assistance is available at the AHCT enrollment centers in New Britain and New Haven, at 12 Community Enrollment Partner sites, and via licensed insurance brokers. For more information, visit www.accesshealthct.com.

In advance of tonight’s midnight deadline for coverage beginning Jan. 1, Access Health CT Acting CEO Jim Wadleigh has released the following statement:

“The deadline to sign up for quality, affordable health care coverage that begins on Jan. 1, 2015 is tonight at midnight.  If customers have an application started and select a plan before midnight tonight, they can still get coverage beginning Jan. 1, as long as they complete the application and get us all the relevant information by midnight this Friday, Dec. 19.

We hope that this grace period will allow ample time for customers to complete their applications and have any remaining questions answered. We urge costumers to use Access Health CT’s customer resources to get the assistance they need to get coverage beginning on Jan. 1, 2015.

 

 

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Congress Passes Massive Spending Bill


Updated Monday, December 15, 2014 at 9:39 a.m.

By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON —  After much wrangling between the White House and Congress late Saturday, the Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending package expected to be signed by President Barack Obama by this week.

The Senate greenlighted the measure in a 56-40 vote. Several liberal Congressional leaders called the omnibus spending bill a compromised budget. That’s becasue conservative lawmakers scaled back Obama’s health and immigration policies. The bill only funds the Department of Homeland Security until February. This department oversees most immigration policies.

The Senate also nixed all spending on Obama’s signature education initiative,, Race to the Top. And there is no funding for Common Core Stte Standards.  Moreover, Republicans weakened the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which installed policeis to protect homeowners and other financial consumers. And Democrats compromised, saying they secured more money for enforcment budgets.

The rollback on key provisions of the Dodd-Frank law would allow big banks to sell off risky fiancial instruments, while having access to federal aid if banks falter. Some obervers noted that similar measures have helped created the 2008 recession and forced government to bail out banks that were “too big to fail.”

The massive omnibus spending bill will fund the federal government operations through September 2015.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) voted againt the measure, saying it’s clear this is not an acceptable budget to many Democrats.

“I was really so heartbroken to see the taint that was placed on this valuable appropriation bill from on high,” she said on the House floor.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) disagreed with that characterization of the spending bill, calling it a “responsible” bill put forth by a bipartisan vote to “keep the government running and address the American people’s priorities.”

Before the measure passed in the House with a 219-206 vote, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough urged House Democrats to vote for the bill. And the White House administration issues a statement, saying the administration was opposed changes to the Dodd-Frank Act, aimed at reducing taxpayer risk.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), speaking about the Dodd-Frank regulations, said that the move on fiancial reform reflects a conservative agenda rather than a progessive one.

“The alternative to passing this bill would be worse–another short-term continuing resolution or a government shutdown,” Murphy said in a statement released to the press. “Either would inflict real pain on millions of people in Connecticut and across the country.”

The bill also appropriated billions to fight Ebola in the U.S. and overseas, supports Connecticut economy by funding defense programs, which is a life blood of the state’s economy.

“The bill will surge manufacturing whith more Blackhawk helicopters, F135 Engines for the Joint Strike Fighter,  development for new submarines and combat rescue helicopters, he said.

Other Congressional leaders opted to avert another shutdown as the one in 2013.

Rep. Jim Himes, (D-Conn.) said he voted for the measure because the “doesn’t want a government shutdown and because everyone” demand that the U.S. government be functional–not dysfunctional.

Other key measures include increased limits on individual contributions to national political paerties and a reduced budget for the Internal Revenue Service.

In addition, the spending bill funded core domestic government operations and provided money for military operations abroad.

 

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