Hartford Mayor Bronin and City Leaders Sued, Accused of Discrediting Brainard Airport

Hartford Brainard Airport (Credit: Google Map Data, 2023)

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HARTFORD – Three companies at Hartford-based Brainard Airport have sued Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, City Councilman Nick Lebron and Hartford State Rep. Jimmy Sanchez, claiming the City of Hartford and the three men went out of their way to make disparaging public statements about the airport in an effort to force its closure.

The plaintiffs are seeking at least $15,000 and plaintiff lawyer Gregory Jones told CT Examiner Thursday that he’s in the process of determining how much the companies were impacted by the allegations and how much money and business they lost because of it. “I can’t put a number on it just yet,” Jones said.

The 79-page lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Hartford Superior Court, claims the defendants were on a “crusade” that “caused damage to the plaintiffs’ businesses, interfered with the plaintiff’s state contracts and business expectations with customers, defamed the plaintiff’s businesses, and caused the plaintiffs to incur lost profits and damages, all without any reasonable or legal grounds to do so and knowing that such conduct was contrary to the recorded deed covenant and established facts and information available to them.”

The plaintiffs are Hartford Jet Center, LLC; Pegasus Air Charter, LLC; and Hartford South Hangars, LLC.

With regard to Bronin, who was mayor at the time and the two other defendants, the lawsuit claims that they engaged in a “conspiracy by, inter alia, engaging in public acts of misrepresenting to the Hartford City Council regarding the city’s contractual obligations under the 1959 deed, the economic viability of Brainard Airport, and the potential best uses of the land on which Brainard is situated.”

Brainard is the home to about 130 planes and sits on about 200 acres.

Despite allegations of a conspiracy peppered throughout the lawsuit, Lebron told CT Examiner that there was no such thing. All he wanted was the airport to respond to the needs of the community and better market itself to that community, Lebron said.

“I wasn’t disparaging the airport,” Lebron said. “I pointed out the fact that the airport” wasn’t being properly utilized “for the amount of land that was being used.”

Lebron told CT Examiner that he attended a 2022 meeting at the airport with the plaintiffs and others to talk about the feasibility of the airport and its usage.

Lebron, who called the lawsuit “frivolous,” said “my conscience is clear and I was never involved in any broader conspiracy or do I think a broader conspiracy happened.”

At the 2022 meeting, Lebron said he told those in attendance, including the plaintiffs, that they needed to better market the airport and to tell residents, many of whom he said did not know there was an airport nearby, why it would benefit those residents.

“There was a general perception out there that it was a rich man’s play yard,” Lebron said. “That’s what a community member told me. I’m definitely not in favor of elitism or, you know, the benefits of the few sacrificing the many.”

Lebron said that at the airport meeting, when he broached the subject of marketing, he was shown a PowerPoint presentation “of a young African American man from Windsor [working on the planes]. Well, it was almost tokenization. I let them know that if they were going to lead with that in terms of marketing out to the broader community,” it wasn’t a good idea.

Lebron said he favored using some of the airport acreage for youth sports.

But Jones told CT Examiner that “there are a lot of smoking guns out there” of the three defendants disparaging the airport and its usage.

Jones noted that only the state could close the airport but he alleged city officials made it clear they wanted to do just that.

“It was their comments over a period of time,” Jones said. 

Bronin, through a spokesperson, gave CT Examiner a statement that was written by Hartford Corporation Counsel Howard Rifkin which said, “This is a frivolous, and frankly, bizarre lawsuit, and I’m surprised that any lawyer would file it.”

Sanchez could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit alleges that “Sanchez’s work on the Hartford City Council to close Brainard Airport directly benefited himself and his employer, the Metropolitan District” or MDC.

The plaintiffs further alleged that “the MDC, chaired by William DiBella – a member since 1975 – is on published record as is [State Senator John] Fonfara since 2006, as wanting to close Brainard Airport and issue its adjacent land for purposes of redevelopment and building a power plant or other similar plant.”

According to the lawsuit, “DiBella is a registered Connecticut lobbyist specializing in energy and was previously Sen. Fonfara’s largest campaign contribution aggregator and a supporter of Fonfara’s energy-related legislative committee actions….”

In a Thursday afternoon interview with CT Examiner, Fonfara called Brainard “a bad habit …. Arguably this land is far more valuable than for the 100 pilots who want to fly to Nantucket. This [lawsuit] is frivolous.” Fonfara called the airport “a money loser subsidized by Bradley Airport for many years. This local airport has virtually no commercial business, as opposed to Tweed [Airport in New Haven] which has a lot of commercial business.”

Brainard is owned by the state and is run by the Connecticut Airport Authority.

DiBella could not be reached at presstime.

The lawsuit also alleges that the City of Hartford and the three defendants misled, among other people and entities, the city council, public and state legislature on re-purposing the use of the land.

The lawsuit claims the defendants were brazen in their alleged campaign to discredit the airport.

The defendants “have engaged in a prolonged campaign of tortious conduct to damage the plaintiffs’ businesses and force the untimely closure of Brainard Airport, including a refusal to adhere to restrictive deed language requiring the cutting of trees in reckless disregard of the just rights or safety of others using Brainard Airport; inserting expensive and conflicting storm water removal requirements; knowingly spreading false information regarding claims of retail and residential housing or commercial/industrial use for warehouse or [a] energy-related plant despite the known lack of legislative support to pay for remediation of the pollution on the Brainard Airport land before any development could occur,” according to the lawsuit.

As of presstime, the defendants had not named an attorney to represent them in the matter. It’s not clear if Rifkin will be part of the defense legal team.


Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950

Robert.Storace@ctexaminer.com