Friday, September 7, 2007

Ciao, Giorgio, and maybe Ciao, Sergio

What's with Sergio?

Sergio Rodriguez, the 26th Ward alderman, works for New Haven's housing authority and thereby hangs a tale.

According to the New Haven Independent, his Democratic rival for the aldermanic seat, Alan Felder, has challenged Rodriguez's right to run for re-election because of his job with the housing authority. The federal Office of Special Counsel is looking into whether Rodriguez's candidacy violates the federal Hatch Act, which forbids people who work for agencies receiving federal funds for running for public office.

According to the Independent story, Rodriguez says a loophole in the law allows him to serve and run.

One wonders whether this arrangement meets the conflict of interest test, which should have no loopholes.

Our system of government calls for checks and balances -- a legislative branch, in this case the Board of Aldermen, balancing and checking up on the actions of the executive branch, in this case Mayor John DeStefano Jr.

Although the Housing Authority isn't technically a part of city government, it really is. If the mayor asks that the agency find a job for somebody, they usually get the job since the head of the agency is a mayoral appointment.

I guess the question then is whether our alderman can be truly independent of the mayor's office and do his checking and balancing. The vote on the Shartenberg site proves that they cannot. This giveaway is even worse than the deals the late Biagio DiLieto made with David Chase's companies that gave Chase the Shartenberg site. At least then, the city got City Hall renovated as part of the deal that allowed Chase to build the Connecticut Financial Center next door to City Hall on Church Street.

Part of that deal was that Chase was supposed to build a parking garage on the Shartenberg site. Obviously, that was never done, but the city did get back the site, one of the most valuable in the city because it takes up the block on Chapel Street between State and Orange streets. Now, it sold the site, worth millions, to the developer for $1.

On the other hand, Sergio Rodriguez has been a popular and responsive alderman. I watched him at a block watch meeting last month. The residents obviously liked and respected their alderman. Residents said later that he had been excellent at returning calls and trying to solve problems. He kept prompting residents to call him with problems.

He did, however, seem to have a "what can you do" attitude on problems where he would have to knock heads with the mayor's office.

There's a primary in the 26th Ward, among others, for the Democratic nomination. Those who feel that the conflict of Rodriguez's employment is a deal-breaker must vote for his opponent, who obviously is an unknown quantity.

The Independent framed the race as pro-City Hall against anti-City Hall, especially with regard to the city's laissez-faire attitude for undocumented aliens. It is rarely that simple.

My politics mentor, the late George Athanson, said history teaches that those out of power favor change until they get into power, and then oppose change. So if Alan Felder is activist to get into power, he may find that the only way to get along is to go along, a position that would put him in the same box Rodriguez finds himself.

It's a lot to think about, which is a nice change, since there is often no contest for alderman.

Think about it, then go out and vote, as long as the feds allow you to have a choice.

Rest well, Luciano

Back in the late 1970s, my wife and I, along with our young daughter, were living in the wilds of Moodus, Conn., and watching the world through a black and white television set. That changed after we watched an opera singer on PBS. Even through the tinny speaker of the tiny set, a brilliance and wonderful love of the music came through.

We ran out and bought a color set with much better speakers. It was worth it to hear the wonderful voice of Luciano Pavarotti and to see the great operatic performances being offered.

Pavarotti died this week at age 71, not from the high living and overeating, but from cancer of the pancreas.

I never met Pavarotti but he was instrumental in getting me a job.

I was applying for an editor's job at what became The Journal News, Gannett's papers in Westchester County, N.Y., after a stint at the New York Daily News that ended when the late Robert Maxwell bought the paper and laid off hundreds of workers, including me.

One of the questions on a general-knowledge test was to identify Placido Domingo. I said he was the second best lyric tenor in the world. Phil Hall, the managing editor who was doing the hiring, called me into his office and asked me what I meant by that answer, since Domingo was obviously a much better singer than "that overweight clown", meaning Pavarotti. I countered that I didn't even consider "that carpetbagger Domingo" worthy of sharing a stage with my Luciano, since Domingo started out life as a baritone and had admitted he became a tenor because that's where the best roles were.

We had a delightful 45-minute debate and, after I reminded him I was there for a job interview, he said he had no doubt about my abilities as an editor, but would never allow me to be a music critic. He hired me the next day.

We have delighted in Pavarotti over the decades, including the Three Tenors. I even enjoyed his "Yes, Giorgio" movie where the 300-plus pound tenor played a sex symbol opera singer. His love for life and food will always be remembered, but it was his singing, his soaring voice, his ability to sing near high C in almost a whisper, his multi-octave range that will always live.

Thank heaven we live in an era where, unlike the great Enrico Caruso, there are methods of sound reproduction that can capture his wonderful renditions for the ages.

Sleep well, Luciano, confident that your voice can now take its heavenly rightful place.

By the way, the Go South travelogue will resume next week with Heading Into the Heart of Dixie

Until next time...

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