STAMFORD – Voters Tuesday will have a chance to vote up or down on proposed changes to the city charter that would, in part, change how officials are appointed to boards and commissions.
It’s a key concern for people wanting to further free up or limit development.
It’s turned what would otherwise be a quiet local election into a contentious political fight, with a large infusion of outside money, and political action committees set up to represent the opposing sides.
The political action committee that wants residents to vote “No” on the charter changes, Stamford for Fair Government, has filed campaign disclosures showing that its largest contributors include developers, attorneys for developers, construction company owners, wealthy Greenwich executives, a Manhattan commercial real estate firm, and prominent members of the Democratic Party.
According to the latest campaign finance disclosure filing, Stamford for Fair Government raised $100,069 during 25 days in October. The group paid GDA Wins of Washington, D.C., $49,791 to design, print and mail political brochures urging residents to vote “No.”
Stamford for Fair Government’s other top expenditures last month were:
- An additional payment of $29,506 to GDA Wins for campaign mailings
- $15,800 paid to Upswing Research and Strategy of Washington, D.C. for polling
- $3,695 to Custom Sign Solutions of Stamford
- $2,908 to NGP Van of Washington, D.C., for voter contract software
Yes to Stamford Charter 2023, the political action committee urging Stamford residents to vote “Yes,” counts among its largest contributors a Stamford business owner, city representatives, members of the Charter Revision Commission, community activists, an attorney who sits on the Board of Education, a firefighter, an accountant, and a retiree.
Yes to Stamford Charter 2023 raised $38,175 during 28 days in October. The group’s top expenditures were:
- $5,051 to Proforma of Cincinnati for yard signs
- $1,700 to Minuteman Press of Danbury for a campaign mailer
- $1,395 to the U.S. post office on Camp Avenue for stamps
A power struggle
Changes proposed by the Stamford Charter Revision Commission would clarify some of the language in the document; require more notice of meetings and hearings; allow the Board of Representatives to hire its own attorney; require expanded financial reporting from city departments and the school district; set residency requirements for eight top city officials; and set per diem pay for elected officials who fill in for the mayor during temporary absences.
If voters approve the changes Tuesday, they become law.
The one that appears to be creating the most contention would allow the Board of Representatives to name people to boards and commissions when the mayor fails to do so. The concern centers on the planning and zoning boards that decide development matters in Connecticut’s fastest-growing city.
Stamford’s Democratic, pro-development mayor, Caroline Simmons, and the Democratic City Committee are urging residents to vote “No.” They say the change in how people are appointed to the planning, zoning and other boards will take power from the mayor and give it to the Board of Representatives.
Those who are voting “yes” to the charter change say it will close a loophole in the existing charter that allows people to remain in their board seats long after their terms expire, leaving them accountable to no one but the mayor. The holdovers happen because mayors have not wanted to risk bringing reappointments, or new appointments, before the Board of Representatives and risk rejection.
Stamford’s largest developer and landowner, Building and Land Technology, opposes the charter changes.
BLT Executive Vice President Brian Carcaterra posted a note on LinkedIn telling Stamford residents to vote no, saying the changes will halt progress and raise housing costs. Managers of the apartment high-rises in BLT’s Harbor Point development are emailing tenants with the same message.
Financing the ‘No’ side
According to the October campaign finance disclosure, the following individuals contributed $500 or more toward the effort to encourage Stamford residents to vote “No” to charter change:
- $13,547 from Catalyst for Connecticut, a nonprofit organization advocating pro-growth policies founded and headed by former Stamford Democratic City Committee Chair Josh Fedeli.
Fedeli also contributed $1,233 worth of lawn signs through Square Wheel Group, a marketing agency where he works.
- $13,547 from Peter Duncan of Rye, N.Y., an executive with George Comfort & Sons, a New York commercial real estate company with interests in Stamford. The company is embroiled in a lawsuit with the Board of Representatives over its plan to build a Lifetime Fitness complex in a largely vacant office park off High Ridge Road.
- $10,000 from Thomas Rutledge of Greenwich, executive chairman of Charter Communications, which opened its headquarters in downtown Stamford last year.
- $10,000 from James Grunberger, property manager of Bull’s Head Realty in Stamford and a Democratic member of the Board of Representatives.
- $10,000 from Nancy Freedman, wife of developer and Board of Finance Chair Richard Freedman.
Richard Freedman is also a member of the Democratic City Committee and a vocal opponent of the charter changes.
- $5,000 from Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey, the law firm of Bill Hennessey, a land-use attorney who has represented developers before the Stamford planning and zoning boards for decades.
- $5,000 from Anthony Gaglio of Stamford, head of Viking Construction.
- $2,500 from John McClutchy, now a Florida resident, whose real estate development company, JHM Financial Group, wanted to purchase the Glenbrook Community Center from the city and convert it into housing units. Simmons supported the proposal but the Board of Representatives blocked it.
- $2,500 from Arthur Selkowitz, a prominent city Democrat who led the effort to build downtown’s Mill River Park and helped found Stamford for Fair Government.
- $2,500 from Garret Moran of Greenwich, retired COO of a private equity firm.
- $2,000 from Jed Selkowitz, chief marketing officer with Catalyst Inc., and son of Arthur Selkowitz.
- $2,000 from Peter Malkin of Greenwich, a real estate investor and principal of Malkin Holdings, known for owning the Empire State and other Manhattan buildings.
- $2,000 from Chris Malloy of Shippan, who heads Stamford Building Co.
- $1,500 from Republican city Rep. David Watkins, a retired business owner.
- $1,500 from Stamford resident Colleen Faccola.
- $1,000 from Stamford land-use consulting firm Redniss & Mead.
- $1,000 from Greenwich resident Stephan Hoffman of Hoffman Investment Partners.
- $1,000 from David Golub of Stamford, a partner in the law firm Silver Golub & Teitell.
- $1,000 from former Stamford Director of Legal Affairs Kathryn Emmett, who listed her occupation as city attorney. Emmett is married to David Golub.
- $750 from Michael Cacace, a partner with Cacace Tusch & Santagata who specializes in real estate law, land use and zoning.
- $500 from Caren Pinto of Greenwich, a News12 reporter.
- $500 from Nicholas Simmons of Stamford, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Ned Lamont, and brother of Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons.
- $500 from former Stamford Mayor David Martin, who listed his occupation as University of Connecticut professor.
- $500 from Laura Burwick, former special assistant to Martin. Burwick sits on the Stamford Board of Finance.
- $500 from Robert Stein, a retired land-use policy expert and former special assistant to Martin who headed the city’s Land Use Bureau from 1993 to 2011.
- $500 from planner Richard Redniss of Redniss & Mead in Stamford who has represented developers before city land-use boards for decades.
Stamford for Fair Government received a total of $92,577 from those 26 top contributors, which is 92.5 percent of the $100,069 the political committee received between Oct. 4 and Oct. 29.
The seven top contributors who do not live in Stamford gave a total of $32,047 to the “vote no” political committee, which is close to the entire amount collected by the “vote yes” political committee.
No real contribution cap
The reason for the odd amount, $13,547, given by the top two “vote no” contributors, Fedeli from Catalyst for Connecticut and Duncan from George Comfort & Sons, is that, according to Fedeli, it’s a cap set by the state for how much businesses and other entities may contribute to political committees of the same type as Stamford for Fair Government. Fedeli said the limit is no more than 10 cents for each person living in Stamford at the last census, which was 2020.
In fact, because of the way the law is written, the “10-cent rule” may not apply to contributions to Stamford for Fair Government. The political action committee’s attorneys likely set the cap to play it safe.
“It’s a conservative approach to contribution limits,” said Josh Foley, senior attorney with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. “They don’t want that to be a point of litigation.”
The October filing also shows that one Stamford Zoning Board member, Rosanne McManus, weighed in on the charter revision debate by donating $75 to Stamford for Fair Government.
McManus is one of five Zoning Board members. Her term expired in 2018, so McManus is one of the holdovers the charter change seeks to address.
Financing the “Yes” side
Contributors to the Yes to Stamford Charter 2023 political action committee who gave $500 or more in October were, according to the campaign filing:
- $10,500 from Steve Garst, owner of a Stamford company called Promotion Consultants, a founder of the Stamford Neighborhoods Coalition, and a Republican member of the Stamford Board of Representatives.
- $5,000 from attorney Steve Loeb, a member of the Stamford Charter Revision Commission.
- $2,050 from attorney Josh Esses, a Republican member of the Stamford Board of Education.
- $2,200 from Marc Moorash, an engineer who helped lead opposition to the mayor’s plan to sell the Glenbrook Community Center to a housing developer.
- $2,000 from Stamford police Sgt. Sean Boeger, a Democratic member of the Board of Representatives.
- $1,000 from Anthony Pramberger Jr., a member of the Charter Revision Commission.
- $1,000 from Bradley Bewkes, a Republican member of the Board of Representatives and co-chair of the board’s Charter Revision Committee.
- $1,000 from Virgil de la Cruz, a Board of Representatives Democrat from Waterside.
- $750 from Janet Sandor, an accountant from Stamford.
- $600 from Stamford retiree Frank Magliari.
- $500 from Jeff Stella, a Board of Representatives Democrat who served on the board’s Charter Revision Committee.
- $500 from Board of Representatives President Jeff Curtis, a Democrat who co-chaired the board’s Charter Revision Committee with Bewkes.
- $500 from Tom Lombardo, a Stamford police captain and Republican chair of the Charter Revision Commission.
- $500 from Patrick Sasser, a Stamford firefighter and activist who four years ago led the successful “No Tolls CT” effort to oppose tolls on state highways.
- $500 from Lori Ann Garst, wife of Steve Garst, the largest contributor to the “vote yes” political committee.
The top 15 contributors to Yes for Stamford Charter gave $28,600, or almost 75 percent of the $38,175 total reported in the October filing.
Many of the roughly 110 contributors to the “vote yes” political committee gave $100 or less.
Voters are talking about the many brochures arriving in their mailboxes. So far, Yes to Stamford Charter sent one 6-by-9-inch mailer. Stamford for Fair Government sent at least eight large “vote no” mailers. There are multiple “vote no” red banners in BLT’s Harbor Point, but it’s not clear whether they were placed by the political committee or the developer.